§ Mr. Lang
I expect to receive the final report of the Scottish Development Agency study by the end of March, when I would hope to make public as much as possible of that report, subject only to considerations of commercial confidentiality. [Interruption.] I understand that the SDA steering group has now seen some preliminary findings from the consultants and, although I have not yet seen them, I hope that these, too, can be made public on the same basis.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think, in the circumstances, that it is. I ask the Scottish Nationalists to behave in a parliamentary fashion.
§ Mr. Lang
I am happy to help the hon. Gentleman. I expect to receive the final report of the Scottish Development Agency study by the end of March, when I would hope to make public as much of it as possible, subject only to considerations of commercial confidentiality. I understand that the SDA steering group has now seen some preliminary findings from the consultants and, although I have not yet seen them, I hope that these, too, can be made public on the same basis.
§ Dr. Reid
Seven months after the announcement of the closure of Ravenscraig, the answer that we shall have to wait yet another four months is not just pathetic but criminally complacent. When will the organisation that calls itself the Scottish Office do something about steel? Does the Minister accept that if the hot strip mill is dismantled and removed the Motherwell plant will be impossible to sell? As one of the shop stewards said, it will be like an electric kettle without an element. What concrete 279 steps will the Secretary of State take to prohibit such removal? On Clydesdale, what concrete steps has he taken to ascertain whether there are potential purchasers and to facilitate such purchasers for all or part of the plant? If the Minister cannot give concrete answers to those questions it is obvious that he intends to do as little in his new post as he did in his last.
§ Mr. Lang
It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not listen more carefully to my answer. He certainly had plenty of opportunity to hear it. Had he done so, he would have heard me say that the preliminary findings had been made available to the SDA working study and that I hoped that they would be made public, subject only to considerations of commercial confidentiality. The information will therefore be available in much less than the three or four months to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
The hon. Gentleman asked about disposal of the hot strip mill. I hope that during the first three months of next year it will be possible for the preliminary findings of the consultants' study to be taken fully into account in debates on this matter and to be considered by British Steel. It should be possible for further action to be decided upon in the light of the emerging information, ahead of closure of the strip mill at the beginning of April.
§ Dr. Bray
Is the Secretary of State aware that the Government have got themselves into the position that any future for Ravenscraig has to be in the interests of British Steel itself? Will he seek concrete discussions with British Steel, following the interim report, as to what might be in the interests of British Steel in terms of assistance from the Government for the opening of new markets and the introduction of new technology? Is he aware that already a west German flat products producer is being retained in operation to supply markets previously supplied by obsolete east German plant?
§ Mr. Lang
In the past 15 months, my right hon. and learned predecessor and I have had four meetings with British Steel and about five exchanges of correspondence. I do not think that anyone could accuse us of not being in touch with British Steel and we shall continue to keep in touch as apopropriate.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the consultants' findings. British Steel has co-operated with the consultants in the preparation of their report and has undertaken to consider the findings. There is every opportunity for the matter to be considered further in the proper quarters.
§ Mr. Oppenheim
Does not the history of the steel industry show that when politicians override the decisions of business men it costs jobs in industry as a whole in the long term? When politicians talk in terms of the need for commercial decisions to be overridden in the national interest, they are usually talking about their own narrow political interests.
§ Mr. Lang
My hon. Friend makes an effective point. From 1975 to 1985, no less than £14 billion of taxpayers' money had to be put into British Steel to support it when it was under nationalised control. It is important for this decision to be taken by British Steel as a commercial decision. Our purpose is to ensure that all possible relevant avenues are explored so that we can ensure that the interests of the Scottish economy are upheld.
§ Mr. Dewar
Does the Secretary of State recognise that it is not enough to list his disappointments and disagreements with Sir Robert Scholey to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry and to the press if no action follows? On his own evidence to the Select Committee, there have been expressions of interest about purchasing Ravenscraig as a going concern, but they have been blocked because of British Steel's withholding of vital information. What steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to allow such interests to be pursued? Is not the withholding of that information a restriction on competition and offensive to the Government and to Scotland? Does it not also reopen the whole question of a possible referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission as being a restraint of trade?
§ Mr. Lang
We have encouraged British Steel to consider the disposal of those parts of the Scottish industry that are not required for its own purposes and we have encouraged those who have expressed interest in acquiring parts of the industry to approach British Steel with their offers. There are appropriate mechanisms by which competition issues can be pursued.