HC Deb 29 July 1974 vol 878 cc5-7
Mr. Nicholas Edwards

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he has yet received the report of the task forces appointed by his predecessor to assist in dealing with the consequences of steel closures; and whether he will make a statement.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Barry Jones)

The task force reports were submitted to our predecessors and are now with my right hon. and learned Friend. They will be considered in the light of progress and decisions on the detailed review put in hand by the present Government of the British Steel Corporation strategy and in particular of the closure proposals which formed part of that strategy.

Mr. Edwards

Can the hon. Gentleman say how many jobs and prospective jobs have been created in the steel towns since the task forces were established? When will he follow the oft-repeated advice of the Secretary of State for Wales for the Government to get off the back of the British Steel Corporation and allow it to get on with its massive development programme?

Mr. Jones

Disregarding the political point at the end of that supplementary question and speaking in terms of the employment consequences, even on the most pessimistic assumptions there could be significant employment consequences for the three areas concerned in Wales. We are determined to tackle these problems. It is now almost a year since the reports of the task forces were completed, and they will need to be up-dated to take account of the review and any changes in local circumstances which have taken place. That is the situation.

Sir A. Meyer

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has in the meantime made matters very much worse for the Shotton area by the simple expedient of doubling the regional employment premium which will provide a still further differential against Flintshire which does not have development area status as against Merseyside which does?

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman is taking far too dismal a view of the situation. The Government are aware of the arguments and representations put forward for changes in assisted area status in certain parts of Wales. No decision has yet been taken. A change in the status of one assisted area cannot be considered in isolation from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Wigley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that if we did not have steel closures the task forces would not be necessary? In view of the fact that the previous Government brought doubt on the future of the steel industry in Wales, can we have an assurance that no plant will be closed until the situation has been scrutinised in detail?

Mr. Jones

It is immensely to the credit of the present Government that they have instituted the most detailed review possible. At every one of the meetings that has taken place regarding the three steelworks, either on the plant and site at Ebbw Vale or in Cardiff or in London in preliminary meetings, a Welsh Office Minister has been present.

Sir Raymond Gower

In regard to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), while the motive in increasing the regional employment premium is a good one may I ask whether the hon. Gentleman agrees that in the Cardiff area and South Glamorgan, for example, the situation regarding the steel industry could be exacerbated by the doubling of the premium in areas immediately outside the county? Does he not agree, therefore, that the exclusion of South Glamorgan from development area status will be an even bigger handicap than it has at present?

Mr. Jones

The needs of the Cardiff area have never been overlooked by the present Government.