Ravenscraig

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:40 pm on 23rd January 1992.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington , Clydebank and Milngavie 9:40 pm, 23rd January 1992

I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), who has brought dignity back to the debate. He reminded us that 400 miles away many people are sad and have been deeply damaged by what has occurred. We must keep that memory constant.

My hon. Friend was also right to remind us that when Scholey promised that steel would continue to be made at Ravenscraig until 1994, Labour Members knew that that was not a reprieve, but a stay of execution. Sir Robert Scholey—never kind and gentle to Scotland—thought that that was how long he would need in Lanarkshire. That was his pessimistic estimate because he wanted out of Lanarkshire. The Government's principal fault lies in their running of the economy, which was such as to surpass even the pessimism of Sir Robert. The economy was run down to the extent that Sir Robert felt that he could move out two years before his pessimistic promise.

The Government must come to terms with their guilt. The decision has been put down to market conditions, but a market does not just occur. A market is constructed mainly by Government policies. The recession that the Government have created is the reason, above all, why we are here on this sad night.

We must look ahead at what we can do. We would not start from here. It is a tragic point from which to start. We would certainly not give any promises that we cannot deliver.

My memory of tonight is of the quiet dignity of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray). Motherwell has been served well by its Members of Parliament. I shall remember the quiet dignity with which my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South has pursued this issue for a decade or more. He is constantly seeking solutions.

A strange absence from the debate has been talk about private sector leadership and the enterprise culture, of which we heard so much in 1988 and 1989. What has happened to them? Why are they not mentioned now? Now we are thrown back, as we always knew that we would be, on the need for public sector intervention.

We must obviously carry on seeking a buyer, and we must give every encouragement to that buyer if one can be found. Another striking thing about my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South—and all good wishes to him—is that he has more ideas than are produced from all the resources of the Government.

The enterprise zone concept must be pursued with all energy, not picked up again whenever bad news appears. The Government are jerked into activity only when there is bad news. There is no zeal about them. We must stop all dishonesty about capital involvement, an issue to which the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) referred. There must be nothing tricky about the resources that will be put in. We must be told clearly just what are the new resources.

We must examine the capital infrastructure that is needed, and let it be clear that there is no political game playing between regional councils and the Government over roads. We must demand an environmental clean-up from British Steel. That is the least we should have. British Steel must go beyond the legal minimum, and I hope that the Minister will assure us that he is persuading, even forcing, the company to do that.

We must get the full educational and training resources of the country into Lanarkshire. There must be a full analysis of the job and investment prospects. Let us abandon the pretence that the local enterprise companies can cope with education and training. In their employment training and youth training programmes, they are concerned with 2 to 3 per cent. of the work force and the available-to-work force. The local enterprise companies are involved with only 20 per cent. of 16 and 17-year-olds who are on YT schemes. That is not the way forward with education and training in the context of which we are speaking. Reference has been made to the possibility of upgrading the education institutions of Lanarkshire and making sure that the universities and colleges in the area are fully involved.

We must review the rundown of the East Kilbride development corporation. It is extraordinary that the Government are not prepared to look at that issue. What dogma is behind that? What difficulties are there between Scottish Enterprise, the local development agency and East Kilbride development corporation?

It is sheer folly for the message to be sent out in respect of the East Kilbride development corporation, "We are winding down." It is extraordinary that that should he happening now in Lanarkshire, which has the most successful job development agency in the country. The message now going out reads, "We are winding down and shutting up," even though that body last year, in the dire conditions of the time, attracted 1,100 jobs and £34 million of capital to Lanarkshire. Yet the Government will not even address the question whether the East Kilbride development corporation can be kept going.

The Scottish Office must take full responsibility for that state of affairs, for it has acted with truly Thatcherite zeal. Even the present Government could not have done more. The contrast, on the issue of public expenditure, between the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office is truly remarkable. The Welsh Development Agency budget went up 98 per cent. between 1979 and 1990. The Scottish Development Agency budget, in the same 11-year period, stagnated; it increased by only 2.4 per cent. That happened at the choice of the Government.

When the Welsh had steel closures in the early 1980s, at present-day prices an additional £187 million went to the Welsh areas, and good luck to them for that. When Scottish Enterprise was set up—we knew that it would happen—there was a cut of nearly £200 million in its budget. Its budget in Lanarkshire, until there was a protest, was cut from £7 million to £4.2 million, a reduction of 42 per cent. The original allocation to the Lanarkshire development agency went down from £7.3 million to £4.2 million. There was then a protest and the Government realised—again, in embarrassment—that the figure should be adjusted, and so it was. Unless the Government are constantly brought to face the problems, they will back away from and neglect Lanarkshire.

The Government have failed Lanarkshire. Last Monday, the Secretary of State pretended that the closure of Ravenscraig would add just 1 per cent. To Lanarkshire's unemployment rate. Over a period of 11 years, Motherwell lost 60 per cent. of its manufacturing jobs, and Lanarkshire as a whole lost 40 per cent. of its manufacturing jobs before the closure of Ravenscraig. In the Lanarkshire travel-to-work area in 1979, male unemployment was 10 per cent. It is now 20 per cent. That is a measure of the Government's derelict position on training in Lanarkshire. The Government should go, and they should take their guilt with them.