§ 3.39 p.m.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if, at this point, I repeat a Statement which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Industry on the steel industry. My right honourable friend's Statement reads as follows:
§ 1. "With permission, I will make a Statement about the steel industry.
§ 2. "No one in the House can welcome the position in which much of the steel industry finds itself. It has been nationalised, denationalised and then renationalised. It has been encouraged by Governments to carry out unrealistic investment programmes. The party opposite refused to allow BSC to close surplus steel capacity. Its workforce went on a three months' long strike. Now the market has collapsed and the high value of sterling has created serious difficulties for private and public steel firms alike—here and in Europe.
§ 3. "BSC, which should have been allowed to contract gradually by the last Labour Government, cut manned steelmaking capacity from 21½ million tonnes of liquid steel to 15 million and shed 50,000 jobs in 1980. Works were closed and manning levels slimmed to raise productivity.
§ 4. "A report by BSC on its plans has been placed in the Library of the House and in the Vote Office. The aim is for BSC to become internationally competitive. Mr. MacGregor has reorganised the corporation into separate businesses, each responsible for the production and marketing of a specific product range. He is planning a manned capacity of 14.4 million tonnes of liquid steel annually but is committed, if the assumptions behind the plan are not sustained, to reduce the corporation to a size 989 that can in fact make a profit. BSC's results will depend not only on its own performance but on factors such as exchange rates, the European market and any upturn in steel ordering in the United Kingdom. Mr. MacGregor admits that his plan is optimistic and I think he is right. He has made it clear to Government and to the managers and workforce of the corporation that there will be no future for any operations that are not competitive.
§ 5. "BSC has asked the Government for an extra £150 million in 1980–81 bringing the total external finance requirement to £1,121 million and for £730 million in 1981–82.
§ 6. "This is huge money for taxpayers to find, particularly when unsubsidised private sector steel companies, some in competition with BSC, face extreme difficulties. The Government are greatly concerned about the impact of the European steel recession plus BSC's vigorous marketing on private firms. I therefore recently authorised BSC to negotiate viable joint private companies with those firms whose operations overlapped its own. Agreement on one such company, Allied Steel and Wire, was announced on Friday. Transitional arrangements for some of the assets of Duport Steel were announced yesterday.
§ 7. "Setting up more joint companies takes time and will not entirely deal with the problem of competition between BSC and the private sector. I have stressed to Mr. MacGregor that BSC must compete fairly with private firms and have pointed to widespread complaints that BSC is unfairly undercutting private firms. He replies that BSC and private firms' prices have increasingly been undercut by other EEC producers. The corporation has therefore had to price down. The private sector has had to do the same. He has assured me that it is not BSC's policy to sell its steel more cheaply than imports, but only to match the prices charged for them.
§ 8. "Mr. MacGregor has further undertaken personally to investigate any specific allegations of unfair pricing that are put to him by companies or by honourable Members. I have asked my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to monitor these complaints and to report to me.
§ 9. "And, in order to make BSC's operations more transparent, and to pave the way for further privatisation, Mr. MacGregor has agreed to consider placing those BSC businesses which are in competition with the private sector in separate Companies Act companies.
§ 10. "Mr. MacGregor has said that by all normal commercial criteria BSC is bankrupt. Because BSC is a statutory body it cannot be liquidated like a private sector company and the Government and taxpayers cannot therefore at present escape from funding BSC. Recognising therefore that the BSC plan is optimistic, but recognising also that BSC should be given a last chance to cease to burden the taxpayer by becoming profitable, the Government are prepared, on condition that the corporation behaves responsibily towards the unsubsidised private steel makers, to approve BSC's Corporate Plan and to provide the finance needed to implement it. 990 BSC's target is to reduce its loss before interest from an estimated £480 million in 1980–81 to £225 million in 1981–82 and to achieve breakeven in 1982–83. We shall increase BSC's external financial limit for 1980–81 to £1,121 million and have set its external financing limit for 1981–82 at £730 million. These large figures reflect BSC's substantial though reduced losses, but also provide for heavy redundancy and closure costs and a limited programme of essential capital expenditure.
§ 11. "I must also emphasise that, if Mr. MacGregor's optimism is not justified, further closures and redundancies may be necessary. The Government will monitor progress closely in each of BSC's businesses. Mr. MacGregor will give us his assessment of progress by July.
§ 12. "To implement these decisions some changes in the law are needed and I have today published the Iron and Steel Bill 1981. This amends the Iron and Steel Act 1975 to ease the transfer of businesses to the private sector and to permit an extensive rundown of the corporation if that proves necessary. The Bill will write off some £3,500 million of BSC's capital immediately, will provide a power to write off a further £1,000 million later and will make consequential adjustments to the corporation's borrowing limit. This does not represent the commitment of additional funds; it marks the huge cost to the taxpayer of over-ambitious, centrally directed investments and the uncompetitive use of many of them.
§ 13. "The plans involve job losses in areas where unemployment is above the national average but which are already Assisted Areas, so considerable support is already available to encourage new investment and to help the jobless to find work. The Government do not intend to alter the Assisted Area status of any steel closure area at this time but we do not underestimate the problems for the communities and people concerned. I shall, if necessary, consider whether any regrading would be appropriate.
§ 14. "We shall also seek to ensure that market conditions in Europe are improved. The production quotas imposed under Article 58 of the Treaty of Paris expire on 30th June and we are already discussing with our Community partners the measures to replace them. We intend to ensure that reductions in capacity are equitably shared among the members of the Community and that, so far as possible, short-term market conditions do not invalidate long-term commercial objectives.
§ 15. "The financial provision we propose will require approval from the European Commission.
§ 16. "The Government may have had to spend taxpayers' money this time, but we are seeking powers to relieve the taxpayer of the inescapable obligation to fund BSC indefinitely. The Government intend the competition the private sector faces from BSC to be fair and we expect more public/private steel firms to be created which will be in the private sector. It is a tough time for all who work in the steel industry. There can be no guarantee of survival. But for those who are or who become competitive there is far more hope of a secure and 991 prosperous future than for those who do not become competitive".
§ My Lords, that ends my right honourable friend's Statement.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Lord Beswick
My Lords, the noble Earl has made a very important Statement and we thank him for making it. There will, as indicated in the Statement, need to be legislation and the opportunity for deeper discussion will come later. I should like to say at this point that we should all have a certain amount of sympathy, and the maximum amount of understanding and tolerance, for those responsible for making major decisions in this industry. It is easier to criticise others than to reach conclusions oneself which stand up to later events.
But having said that, I must say that I regret some of the language of this Statement and the repeated attempt to pose the problem as one between the private sector and the public sector and, indeed, as between the British Steel Corporation and the taxpayer. In paragraph 10 of this Statement, it is said that this is the last chance for the British Steel Corporation "to cease to burden the taxpayer". But let us be certain of this point. If the biggest steel industry in Britain goes bankrupt the taxpayer, the citizen of Britain, will be in a much worse position than under the provisions of this Statement. So let us not look at it in the sense of the taxpayer versus the British Steel Corporation. It is a question of Britain and British citizens endeavouring to stake out a claim to remain in the steel industry of the world.
I am sure, however, of one thing: that it is right to write off the amounts stated here—£3,500 million with the possibility of £1,000 million later on. But it is said in the Statement that this is writing off the capital. Would the noble Earl be good enough to say what exactly is meant by "capital"? Are we quite certain that it is the capital of BSC, or are we talking about some of the accumulated loans? And having written off this amount of money, can the noble Earl say what the working capital of BSC will be after this operation has been put into effect?
I should also like to ask about the 14.4 million tonnes target. May I be allowed to remind the House that, although the Statement tends to put a lot of the blame on the last Labour Government, this programme springs from the 10-year plan of a Conservative Government. I do not criticise them, but that is a matter of fact. It was the 1973 White Paper which laid down target of 36 to 38 million tonnes by the mid-1980s. In the review for which I was responsible I came to the conclusion that probably 37 million tonnes was a credible target, although there were many who urged me to plan on the basis of 40 and, indeed, 42 million tonnes. But we came down to 37 million tonnes. The White Paper described this 10-year plan, involving £3,000 million investment—at 1972 prices, I might say—as:a bold, high investment course".This was the original plan from which a lot of our later difficulties have stemmed.
Having got that as a background—36 to 38 million 992 tonnes by the middle 1980s is what the Conservative White Paper set out as a reasonable target—we are now told that the target is to be 14.4 million tonnes. I should like the noble Earl to give us a little more assurance that we are seeking to get a fair share of the European steel industry when we fix a target of 14.4 million tonnes. Let me say, in all this welter of words regarding the taxpayer and the public and the private sector, that we are talking now to a large extent about the national willpower. In the case of some of these other European countries, they are going to get their target through sheer national willpower. I should like to think that this 14.4 million tonnes represents our fair share and that the nation really is going to be behind the achievement of that target.
May I also ask, as this is 14.4 million tonnes of crude steel, what of the profitable end of the business in the finished products? There is very little information here as to how much of the money which will be made available will go into the production of steel and how much into the finishing end. I should like to ask the noble Earl how the amount of money that is being made available is being allocated as between the production of crude steel and modernising the finishing end of the business. I ask him that question particularly when I see that paragraph 9 of the Statement reads:Mr. MacGregor has agreed to consider placing those BSC businesses which are in competition with the private sector in separate Companies Act companies".That is to pave the way for further privatisation. Do we understand from that that the profitable parts of the steel industry are going to be made into companies and will then be privatised, to use this wretched word, thus leaving the public sector with the less profitable production of crude steel?
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, from these Benches I wish to thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I am afraid I cannot entirely go along with the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, when he refers to the £1,121 million as a welter of words about the taxpayer. It seems to me that this is £200 per head per person in this country, which is something rather different from a welter of words. May I ask the Minister how much collaboration there has been with the trade unions in working out these new plans and what commitments have come from the unions about ensuring that in fact everything possible will be done to see that this industry—an essential industry, granted—does not lose any more of the taxpayers' money? If I may revert to the discussion we had previously on the Bill, may I ask the noble Earl to comment on Ravenscraig and why it was impossible to get the supplies through to Shotton? This highlights the kind of problem which taxpayers need to understand when they are asked to finance an industry to this extent.
We welcome the development of new forms of collaboration between the public and the private sector. We believe, not as a matter of dogma but on past experience of this industry, that if more of the industry moves into the private sector it is likely that the industry will be more successful and that the loss to the taxpayer will be reduced. When we look at the taxpayers' position, what could we not do with £1,121 993 million in terms of the development of the railways, in terms of new roads, in terms of better training?
While I am on the subject of better training, it was previously said that steelmen in their forties—skilled men—were becoming unemployed for the rest of their lives. Surely in this plan there can be a plan to ensure that these skilled steelmen—high quality people—are converted to other skilled jobs: retrained into them and made use of. It is perfectly ridiculous to suggest that because they are no longer wanted in the steel industry there is no future for them.
Finally, we come back to the question—here I think we agree with what was said by the Labour Front Bench—that this is essentially an issue which must be seen in the context of the European Economic Community. We need an agreed EEC plan for steel. I would add—here we are perhaps not in agreement with the speaker on the Labour Front Bench—that this is likely to happen only if people believe that we are in earnest about EEC plans, and indeed about the EEC.
§ 3.59 p.m.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, not for the first time the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has made my task easier by delivering a robust answer to some of the points raised by the Opposition Front Bench. Of course it is true, and it remains true when one is discussing the share of private or public capacity in the steel industry, that this is an enormous burden on central Government financing and that this burden can be shouldered—as the Government are indeed, for the reasons I have given, shouldering it—but doing so inevitably means that the burden will be suffered somewhere else. There are plenty of opportunities in this economy for the expenditure of over £1 billion, whether in social programmes, reinvestment programmes or restructuring programmes, which I think all of us would welcome, on whichever side of the House we happen to sit.
That said, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick—in what I suspect is in sharp contrast to his honourable friends and perhaps a few of mine in another place—for saying that it is easier to criticise others than to make these decisions oneself. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, seemed to think that we were seeking to blame the Labour Government. I think that he was perhaps in on the end of a comment I made in response to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany. In respect of the earlier Statement, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, was saying that British Steel was in a pickle as a result of present central Government policy and I was trying to show that under successive Governments this problem has been accumulating, and that if I, as a not uninterested party, were to condemn a particular political party it would be the party opposite for, when in Government, postponing the necessary decisions on de-manning.
The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said "Well, this is all very fine, but the European Community has the national willpower"—that was the phrase he used—" to back its steel industry", and either we are not doing so (although I think I have demonstrated that we are) or it is necessary to do so. I think that is again the same point, answered by the noble Baroness, 994 Lady Seear. In the main, steelworkers are well paid. Steel redundancy payments are, in the main, very good and competitive relatively, and the noble Baroness raised the issue of skill retraining. My department—the Department of Employment—spends considerable amounts of public money in the retraining area. I myself have had the great interest of visiting skill centres in Port Talbot and elsewhere, which are coping admirably with this and have been very well responded to by their customers, and what is being done is appreciated in that light. But national willpower is at the expense, of course, of national willpower in some other area of activity, and that we have to take on board.
Two specific points were put by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. The Bill will write off all the loans from Government in toto: £509 million current expenditure, as it were and £3,000 million capital. Working capital is financed out of the external finance limit generally—the cash limit—and I understand that about £180 million of next year's £730 million will be for increased working capital. I say particularly to any of my noble friends on this side of the House that they must recognise that a great deal of this expenditure is of course—not to put too fine a point on it—for the buying out of surplus labour in this industry. That, therefore, is the task that we have undertaken—with some responsibility and some courage—and, whatever views there may be about that, certainly I think most would agree that this task is long overdue.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend to answer a little more fully the very cogent point that was put by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear; namely, what assurances have been obtained from the trade unions concerned that if the Government put this very large sum of taxpayers' money into this industry there will be full co-operation in the re-organisation, no repetition of the disastrous strike of last year and an effort to improve productivity?
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for reminding me of the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. One of the difficulties of the opening statements is that they can raise a number of issues and I should have picked up that point. I do not think that any such assurances can come from central Government. Again, not to put too fine a point on it, central Government is backing the management of this crucial national industry. It is confident in this management and it is going to allow this management the necessary funds for it to try to get the steel industry into operable condition at a very difficult time.
As my right honourable friend's Statement said, Mr. MacGregor has acknowledged that there is an element of optimism in his commitment. Therefore, the Government have approached it with a responsible scepticism. But the alternatives to not allowing this new and slimmer steel industry to "have a go" would not only be very expensive in public expenditure terms—as the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, pointed out and which I am glad to confirm—but also would negate the commitment that we have always had to a domestic steel industry so long as it put its house in order in the way it has indicated that it is determined to do 995 under Mr. MacGregor and for which it needs our finance in order to have any chance of succeeding. If my noble friend turns to Hansard tomorrow, he will see that it is no starry-eyed statement so far as the Government are concerned, and it was given with some scepticism and we shall have to "watch this space".
§ Lord Byers
My Lords, this is not a question of asking for an assurance from the Government at all. The question put by my noble friend Lady Seear was what undertakings or commitments were given by the trade union movement so that the corporate plan of the British Steel Corporation would have a chance of succeeding. In the Statement there is no reference whatever to consultation or to commitments undertaken, not by the Government but by the unions.
The Earl of Gowrie
I have to rest on my answer. As noble Lords would expect from someone in my department, obviously I think it crucial that there should be the closest co-operation and consultation between managers and unions as to how to make their practices viable and how to justify these large expenditures of public money. But we rest very firmly—recent events in another industry have in no sense altered this—on the necessity for allowing the managers and the unions to do this together. I do not think it would be very productive for me to repeat assurances that might have taken place between unions and Mr. MacGregor to the House, and which, in the light of later events, I could not justify if they do not come off; but I repeat—I emphasise this—our confidence, illustrated by the Statement of my right honourable friend, that this industry, its management and its unions are now in line to "have a go", and that is really what we are backing them to do.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the announcement of the closure of the Duport steel works in Llanelli will have a devastating effect on my native town? There is already a current unemployment rate of 15 per cent., and it is expected that this will be raised to 20 per cent. as local suppliers are hit. Does the noble Earl now think that the Government's decision last year to withdraw the town's development status as part of their cuts in regional aid was a grievous error? Is it not quite inadequate to deal with it, as the Statement says:The Government does nor intend to alter the assisted area status of any steel closure area at this time but we do not underestimate the problems for the communities and people concerned."?Fine words butter no parsnips. The need of this town is urgent and immediate, and I hope we shall get an immediate announcement to deal with this part of the problem.
On the position of that private steel company itself, is it not the case that it is regarded as being one of the most efficient in Europe, that it cut down its labour force by 50 per cent. and is not at any rate part of the trouble here due to Government policy? First, there are the energy costs related to the two electric arc furnaces which are used in the factory; energy costs which are now higher than the wages bill of the factory and 30 per cent. higher than that element in the costs 996 of Duport's competitors on the Continent and elsewhere. Then there is the recurring problem of high interest rates on bank overdrafts, which has run the company into this grave situation, and then there is the exchange rate itself. In this situation, where so much—or at any rate some—of the fault is the fault of the Government, at least can they make some amends to the people of Llanelli?
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, I of course recognise the experience and knowledge, and, if I may say so, the very legitimate human concern of the noble and learned Lord for the workforce in Llanelli. It is of great importance and concern to any Government when closures take place and people are made redundant. Not only is it a human and political concern, but, as the noble and learned Lord is well aware, a very expensive matter for Governments. But in a way, though I recognise that the noble and learned Lord is talking about the private steel industry, his comments do illustrate the dilemma in which these large primary producing industries find themselves. In order to have a chance of being competitive they have to de-man, and the noble and learned Lord recognised that this had taken place; that is an expensive business for central Government if they de-man privately, and it is also an expensive business when nationalised industries de-man. But it is an essential and necessary business if competitiveness is to take place.
In the area of high energy costs, I think there is a case for saying that there was a time when the pricing policy of Her Majesty's Government reacted swiftly, and I would have thought very defensively, to the new energy situation in the world, more swiftly than our competitors had done. I really do not think that that is any longer the case. I think if the noble and learned Lord investigates the current energy pricing in the European Community countries, who are our principal competitors where steel is concerned, he will find that these prices have now come into line. NEDO has a working party on this and the CBI have investigated this, and the Government are in no sense doctrinaire about this. We will consider any evidence about pricing which makes the situation difficult for these large contractors. Also, the noble and learned Lord will be aware that they are able, as jumbo customers, to negotiate individual tariffs with the generating and gas boards respectively. So of course that will be taken into account.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord Shinwell
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that despite the very important questions addressed to him by my noble friend Lord Beswick and by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, it is doubtful whether Members of your Lordships' House feel fully informed on this subject? Certainly I confess that I am unable to follow much of what we have heard this afternoon, for the simple reason that there appear to be so many contradictions. I want to make it clear that I understand that we on the Back-Benches can do no more than ask a few questions; we have not the privilege that is available to those on the Front Bench. I want to make it quite clear that sooner or later, but sooner rather than later, Members of your Lordships' House will have the right to demand that there should 997 be a full-fledged debate so that we can be fully informed. But I leave that to those concerned, the Chief Whip on the Government side and the Chief Whip on the Opposition side.
When the noble Earl says that he is unable to furnish assurances, then it is a matter for whom? After all is said and done, the Government, rightly or wrongly, depending on the point of view—and, I should say in the circumstances, rightly—have accepted the burden involved, with all the financial implications. In the long run that burden is going to be transferred to the taxpayers of the country; there is no question about that. The human element is going to be left to those who have lost employment, have received some redundancy payments but have a very bleak future confronting them. That is the situation. There is one question I want to ask, because I confess I do not understand much of what has been said. We are told that the target of production is to be 14.4 million tonnes—if I stand to be corrected, I should like it to be at once. That is the national target of production; there may be some additional targets. But leaving that aside, can we be informed what that is going to cost the British Steel Corporation, and what is it going to cost the Government and ultimately the British taxpayer over a period of years? My further question is this: How many steel workers and ancillary workers are likely to be employed in consequence? We are entitled to know.
I have many more questions in my head but I will leave the matter there. My final question is this: When we have been told—not in your Lordships' House, but as a result of debates and questions asked in another place and some items in the national press—about the Government taking all possible measures to ensure that those who have been dispossessed of employment will be looked after, with the provision of investment in certain parts of the country, can we have some information about that? How far have they got? How far have they proceeded? Are any factories already at their disposal? Have they been taken over by any business element? Of course, the answer is, no. We are entitled to have this information. I want to ask, this further question before I sit down. The Government have a responsibility, and having a responsibility they must inform both Houses of Parliament and the public in this country of all the facts that are involved.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, on the last point which the noble Lord raised, about the joint ventures between BSC and the private steel sector, he will be aware that BSC and Guest Keen Nettlefold announced last Friday the formation of Allied Steel and Wire Limited, a joint public/private venture to rationalise certain of the rod, wire and bar interests in Scunthorpe and South Wales. We would hope to see an increase in these kind of arrangements. If the noble Lord will kindly look at what I said in the Statement I repeated, about the predictions for the private sector and their participation, I think he will find some assurances there.
I cannot accept that anything is being hidden from the noble Lord or from the House. I think this issue is a fairly clear one if you go back to first principles. All of the United Kingdom, and indeed all of the European, steel industries are in severe difficulties due 998 to structural and technological changes, but also a deep recession in demand. The task before the Government is how to distinguish between expenditure granted for the restructuring, which I think most people accept is necessary while they regret the displacement of labour concerned, and money which is tiding a great and crucial industry over a conspicuous international slump in demand. Those are difficult and nice judgments as regards what monies one should ascribe to each component. Nevertheless, I do not think there is anything complicated or hidden about the need.
On the specific question the noble Lord asked me, the plan is for 14.4 million tonnes per annum capacity for British Steel Corporation only; and I mentioned that the private sector has a role in collaborative as well as independent activities on top of that. But, of course, production and the meeting of these targets will depend on demand.
Finally, I recognise that the House likes more in the way of assurances from Ministers, but when we are dealing with markets and with demand it is rather hard to give assurances. My own intimations and hunches are reasonably optimistic. I do see the de-stocking process throughout the Western world beginning to end now and I should have thought that demand, even if it is a rather fragile flower, will start poking its head above the surface once more. But one cannot, as it were, guarantee when spring will arrive; one is simply fairly certain that it will come.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has been trying on three occasions to ask a question.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, I know that my noble friend has been trying to speak, but we have taken nearly three-quarters of an hour on this Statement. I know it is a very important Statement, but the House might feel, when my noble friend has asked his question and my noble friend the Minister has replied to it, that we should then go on to the other business.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, in his initial statement my noble friend said that he had had the assurance of Mr. MacGregor that they would behave responsibly towards the private sector, meaning private sector producers. Does that also apply to the steel stockholding private sector? Currently BSC's stockholding, which they have acquired and bought with taxpayers' money, is radically undercutting the private sector because the public sector is propped up with Government funds.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, I recognise and the Statement recognises that where, for I think sound reasons—and reasons that my noble friend with his experience would on the whole share—public monies for capital, for redundancy and the rest are put into an industry, it is absolutely essential that the industry does not use its provision of that kind and on that scale to undercut the private sector. Yet at the same time we in Government ask, of course, that the managements of these industries behave competitively, and 999 they will sometimes exercise that remit with an eye to the main chance to the interests of their industries—and who is to blame them? That is why my right honourable friend has asked Mr. MacGregor to take this into account and has designated a junior Minister to monitor whether this is taking place. As regards the question which my noble friend raised of the subsidiaries of British Steel, I shall draw that in the initial stages to my right honourable friend's attention and see that it is part of his monitoring process.
§ Lord Beswick
My Lords, I know that the Chief Whip wants to get on, but I did not get an answer to my question about the working capital that remains. I wonder whether the noble Earl would be good enough to write to me? I asked, when the redundancy payments and so on had been made, what working capital remained for BSC and what proportion would be employed on the finishing end of the business. May I also ask—and this will assist the noble Baroness—whether the answer to the question about assurances from the steel workers and the fact that there is no mention of it in this Statement, is that the unions have not been consulted about the Statement?
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, on the question of the figures I thought that I had answered the matter, but perhaps I did not break it down in sufficient detail. Of the next year's external financing limit, the cash limit, which is £730 million altogether, £180 million is budgeted for redundancies and closure costs and £200 million for capital expenditure. I think that that meets the noble Lord's point. I shall return briefly to the subject of the unions. The unions were consulted closely on the Corporate Plan and the majority of the unions have, as it were, put their names to it. I was simply reluctant to give assurances from this Dispatch Box about how the future would turn out, because as I said in my previous answer I remain guardedly optimistic.
§ Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe
My Lords, I think that the House will as always accept the advice of the noble Lord the Chief Whip. However, I think that the Government perhaps ought to realise that this kind of Statement, this extraordinary Statement in every sense of the word, requires proper debate. I think that the whole House, even those relatively silent Members on the Benches opposite, will wish to discuss the Statement at some time perhaps before the Bill is taken.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
My Lords, following the point raised by the noble Baroness and recognising the importance of this Statement, I must say that it has occurred to me in the last 18 months or so that Statements have got out of hand. There are a great many of them. The responses from the two Front Benches are very long and the Back Benches, following what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said, do their best. But, even so, the whole matter is prolonged for a great deal of time. I wonder whether the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition and the usual channels could get together and give us some advice because I really think that it is required.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend and perhaps we can take up his suggestion and discuss it through the usual channels. I, of course, can only interpret the feeling of the House on a particular occasion, and if I have erred on this occasion I can only say that I am sorry. My instinct was that three-quarters of an hour was probably enough.