HC Deb 29 May 1968 vol 765 cc1797-800
1 and 50. Mr. Milne

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) if he will make a statement on the result of Her Majesty's Government's discussions with the Norwegian Government and the European Free Trade Association arising from the decision to site aluminium smelting plants in Great Britain;

(2) if Her Majesty's Government will publish a White Paper giving details of the negotiations and discussions arising from the decision to site aluminium smelting plants in Great Britain.

21. Sir E. Errington

asked the President of the Board of Trade when he will be in a position to announce his decisions as to the location of the United Kingdom aluminium smelter works; and when approximately work will be started on approved projects.

34. Mr. Lubbock

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will now announce his plans for the construction of aluminium smelters in the United Kingdom.

46. Mr. Ridley

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement concerning the representations from members of the European Free Trade Association that the use of investment grants, as exemplified by possible aluminium smelters, are in breach of the European Free Trade Association Treaty.

67. Mr. Sheldon

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will now make a statement on the construction of aluminium smelting plants in Great Britain.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

Negotiations are still in progress with the British Aluminium Company and the R.T.Z./ B.I.C.C. Consortium about their proposals to erect smelters at Invergordon and Holyhead respectively, drawing power from the public electricity supply system. Planning permission has been sought in both cases.

Alcan Aluminum (U.K.) Ltd. is now applying for planning permission for the construction of a smelter at Lynemouth, near Blyth, of which the first stage would have a capacity of 60,000 tons and which would have an ultimate designed capacity of 120,000 tons. This smelter would draw power from a power station to be erected by the company, using coal to be supplied by the National Coal Board under a long-term contract.

In considering the companies' proposals, the Government have taken careful account of representations made by other governments. There have been full exchanges of views with representatives of the Canadian Government; and, following the discussion at the E.F.T.A. Ministerial meeting, I had talks in Oslo last week with the Norwegian Minister of Commerce and Shipping. The outcome of these discussions was recorded in a communiqué which I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The United States Government also have made known their views.

Mr. Milne

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this decision will be hailed with delight by all of us in the North-East. I pay tribute to all those who have contributed so much to making the decision possible and I assure them that this opens up a new era in the industrial history of south-east Northumberland.

Mr. Crosland

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for those remarks.

Mr. Ridley

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, if it were not for the 25 per cent. investment grant, it would be economical to build smelters? If the answer is "No", does he not think that this is a subsidy which it ill befits the British people to have to pay?

Mr. Crosland

No, Sir. The level of investment grant open to these companies—which is more than the figure which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, since they are all in development areas— is exactly the same as the level of the investment grant open to any company that chooses to go into a development area, and, therefore, no question of subsidy arises.

Sir E. Errington

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman the reason for the delay in arriving at the decision on the smelter at Holyhead? This matter has been going on for some time, and I should have thought that a decision was now possible.

Mr. Crosland

The hon. Gentleman is quite right, the matter has been going on for some time. But the fact is that we are considering here the creation of an entirely new industry in Great Britain which involves the most intricate questions of regional policy, fuel policy and international policy. Rather than to go as rapidly as possible for what might be a premature decision, 1 think we were right to take the time we need in order to examine the matter with complete thoroughness.

Mr. Lubbock

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what calculation he has made of the savings on the United Kingdom balance of payments from the contribution of these three plants?

Mr. Crosland

We would judge that by the early 1970s it would be in the region of £30 million a year.

Mr. Maclennan

Can my right hon. Friend say when a decision will be announced for the other two sites which have been considered for smelters, particularly at Invergordon? Can he say what capacity those plants are intended to have?

Mr. Crosland

Negotiations are going on very actively with the two other companies concerned and, of course, I want a decision as soon as we can reach one. We are working on plans for an initial capacity of 100,000 tons for each of the other two companies.

Mr. R. W. Elliott

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept from this side of the House that the pleasure which his hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) has expressed will be universally shared in the North-East of England? We welcome the choice of Lynemouth as a great addition to our hopes for the future of the North-East.

Mr. Crosland

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman.

Following is the communiqué:

Mr. Kare Willoch, Minister of Commerce and Shipping, had discussions with Mr. Anthony Crosland, President of the British Board of Trade, in Oslo this afternoon on the plans for the establishment of new aluminium smelter production in the United Kingdom. These discussions were undertaken in pursuance of the agreement reached at the recent meeting of the E.F.T.A. Ministerial Council in London.

The Ministers exchanged views on the likely effects of the British plans on Norwegian exports of aluminium to the United Kingdom. It was not possible to reach an agreed evaluation of these effects. Mr. Crosland said that he would discuss the arguments put forward by Mr. Willoch with his colleagues in the British Government on his return to London and would let the Norwegian Government know as rapidly as possible the view of the British Government in the light of the latest discussions. Both Governments would then report to the E.F.T.A. Council.