HC Deb 27 November 1972 vol 847 cc3-5
2. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what recent discussions he has had with the British Steel Corporation about future developments in the steel industry in South Wales.

15. Mr. Jeffrey Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has had with the British Steel Corporation and the Welsh Council regarding the contributions which the steel industry will make to the Welsh economy over the next decade.

36. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what recent discussions he has had with the British Steel Corporation over the future of the steel industry in North Wales.

Mr. Peter Thomas

I maintain close contact with the corporation and I have also discussed matters with the Welsh Council.

Mr. Hughes

Is the Minister aware that the Stewarts and Lloyds works at Newport is now rolling for stock and the rundown dates have been put back, and that meanwhile Clydesdale, into which capital has been poured, after 19 years' teething troubles, is reliably reported to be losing £1 million this year? Why do not the Government tell the British Steel Corporation to keep the reliable and profitable Newport works open and not to sell the site, particularly in view of the difficulties with steel in South Wales?

Mr. Thomas

I was interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman said and I hope that the British Steel Corporation will take note of it. He will appreciate that decisions of this sort inevitably must be taken by the BSC and I hope that the BSC will take into account all matters, particularly those to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

Mr. Jeffrey Thomas

Is not that answer a thoroughly unsatisfactory if not irresponsible one? Is the Secretary of State saying that before the BSC made its announcement about the 4,500 redundancies at Ebbw Vale he had no discussions with the BSC and the Welsh Council? Will he tell the House whether he regards the position of Mr. Mel Rosser as Chairman of the Welsh Council as somewhat embarrassing in view of his directorship of the BSC? Is the Secretary of State in a position to say whether it is right that BSC is investing money in Rhodesia and in South Africa, and is he—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has asked three supplementary questions; I think that is enough.

Mr. Peter Thomas

I certainly am in contact with the directors of the BSC and have been for a long time. My officials are in constant contact with officials of the BSC. I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman said that my answer was irresponsible; it was a factual answer. The proposals recently announced for Ebbw Vale largely reflect the corporation's announcement of March 1970 that it saw no long-term future for iron- and steel-making there, and the recent announcement was confirmation of it. The BSC hopes to have consultations and discussions with the union on the proposals. As to the BSC intending to invest in Rhodesia and South Africa, a refutation of that allegation was made recently by the Chairman of the BSC.

Mr. Michael Roberts

I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the deep concern in South Wales over the future of the steel industry. Is he satisfied that there are sufficient facilities for retraining to meet any eventualities?

Mr. Thomas

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that there is deep concern, and has been for some time, in South Wales over the prospects of rationalisation of the steel industry, because we in Wales are more dependent on the steel industry for employment than is any other part of the United Kingdom and it is a concern which I share. As for the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I must point out that retraining is something which clearly must be looked at very carefully in the light of other matters which will be needed to remedy any loss of job opportunities which may arise.

Mr. Jones

Do the Government propose to take instructions from the corporation in regard to the future of Shotton or do they intend to surrender that works?

Mr. Thomas

The hon. Gentleman knows full well—I have had many discussions with him, and he was part of a deputation which met my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the other day—that the Government have only recently received the British Steel Corporation's overall investment proposals. These are being urgently studied. No decision has been taken on Shotton. We hope that a statement will be made shortly, but any decision should not be taken quickly because there are many matters to be considered, in particular regional and social implications.

Mr. George Thomas

Since the last word lies with the Cabinet, and bearing in mind that the Secretary of State is the voice of Wales in the Cabinet, may I ask whether he is aware that we expect him to protect the jobs of our steel workers and that retraining schemes are no substitute if there are no jobs for the men who have been retrained?

Mr. Peter Thomas

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that retraining schemes by themselves are not the answer if there are no job opportunities. Other things have to be done, and in particular one would have to make full use of the powers which exist under the provisions of the Industry Act. With regard to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I must remind the House that it is the responsibility of the corporation to recommend the course which it considers to be in the best interests of the steel industry; but in considering the overall programme of investment the Government will take careful account of the implications on employment in the regions, and particularly in Wales so far as I am concerned, and the social consequences of closure will be given particular weight.