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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:25 pm on 23rd January 1992.

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Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 8:25 pm, 23rd January 1992

I echo what the hon. Gentleman has said. That is the right way forward.

The other question of great concern is the contribution that British Steel is likely to make to the reinstatement of the site. It has already been mentioned that the site will probably not be included in the enterprise zone. I hope that it will not. I believe that in the short run nobody will want to do anything with that site, if it is not to continue as a steelworks, until it has been thoroughly examined and reinstated. We have to get new jobs in the area quickly; we therefore want attractive areas in which people will want to invest, rather than places where people will be saddled with a whole range of problems. It is important that those two issues are kept separate.

In this connection, British Steel must co-operate fully in terms of making every bit of information that it has available to anybody and everybody who needs it for the purpose of reinstating the site. It is also important that British Steel should make a contribution which does not amount merely to a scorched-earth retreat. It must recognise that it has gained a great deal from the community of Lanarkshire, and that it has shown a remarkable contempt for that community in not even being prepared to meet the work force through all the years that this battle has been going on. I am talking specifically of top management, though not necessarily the middle management. It would be helpful if the Government could indicate just what measures they are prepared to take to secure a real contribution from British Steel on those fronts.

The suggestion that there is any easy, quick fix which can resolve this matter has already been addressed. A solution cannot be plucked out of the air. I have already indicated that there were moments in the past when we might have secured it. We should still explore the options. The hon. Member for Motherwell, South has indicated some of the ways in which we might move forward, and I hope that they will be explored. Nobody wants a situation in which this misery is dragged out to the point where false hopes are maintained only to be dashed again. The community has to lift its eyes to a future that will last.

The suggestion that somehow or other simply nationalising the plant could solve all the problems is a mean one. It does not change anything fundamentally about the reality of the situation. While the European Community might allow nationalisation to take place, the notion that it would do so without very serious scrutiny of the motivation, mechanisms and financial implications is one out of cloud-cuckoo-land. The go-ahead that has been given for the French plant has been on the basis of four months' thorough investigation by independent Swiss auditors, with everything held on ice while it is being carried out and with major protests now coming from Spain and Germany at the Commission's allowing it to go ahead.

It will therefore not be possible to take the steelworks over on the cheap, because that would be anti-competitive and contrary to the Community terms. If it were taken over, the question to be asked would be whether it was really the best use of public money, even for the people of Lanarkshire. I would like to ask the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), if he were here—I choose him specifically because his constituency is next to mine—whether he really thinks that the people of Banff and Buchan, with the hon. Member as Prime Minister, would necessarily regard £200 million to nationalise a steel plant in Lanarkshire as the best way to spend the Scottish taxpayers' money. The answer is that they probably would if they were absolutely sure that this would save those jobs permanently and create an industry that would last, but if it would only lead to tears two years later, they might well ask whether the money could not have been invested in a way that would better have secured the future of the economy of Lanarkshire.

It is important that the people of Scotland focus on how they would make such decisions if those decisions were under their own control, rather than simply blaming the Government and British Steel management for the way they have failed the people of Scotland so far, on which there is wide agreement.

It must be accepted that the community of Motherwell and the surrounding area wants recognition of what it has done and the responsibility that it has undertaken. The hon. Member for Motherwell, South gave a moving testimony to the people he represents. He has illustrated far more fully than I could what British Steel certainly owes to that community, and what the people of Scotland and of Britain also owe to that community, which has conducted itself with considerable dignity and intelligence. That has been recognised by the overwhelming majority of people throughout Britain. Indeed, in a leader in the Financial Times, which unfortunately does not have a very wide circulation, it is indicated that that community deserves the very best that we can give it. I hope that some rather less sanguine organs south of the border may read that message and accept that at the end of the day the work force and community of north Lanarkshire deserve the kind of investment that will secure the long-term future for them and their children.

I wish to stress—as I have on numerous occasions, although I have not had the right answers yet—the role which I believe that the new town development corporations can play in this. It remains a fact that the Government intend to wind up the new towns. I accept the argument that they have been successful and that their role is coming to an end, but the expertise which exists in those new towns has attracted to Scotland investment which would not have come to Britain at all but for that expertise. We should redeploy that expertise to give the people involved the opportunity to attract new investment to the new sites in other parts of Lanarkshire. I do not mean just to advise; they need power and authority, and the kind of organisation that they have had in the new town development corporations. I urge the Government to look again at how that can be done. We should not be stealing jobs from other parts of Scotland or the United Kingdom but attracting mobile investment which might otherwise go elsewhere in the Community or to Japan or north America. That seems to me to be a worthwhile aim. We should not give up the expertise that we have at the very moment when we need it most. It would be an extraordinarily foolish Government who did not recognise the case for redeploying that expertise.

This has been a long debate—it has been going on for years. In many ways, I hope that it will not continue for many more, but that there will be hope and a future. No one can suggest that there are easy answers. We need co-operation involving all sorts of organisations—ultimately, across political parties and between Government, local authorities and the public and private sectors. We must put the machinery in place. The people of Lanarkshire deserve the best. If we cannot give them such co-operation, we shall have failed them.