HC Deb 20 October 1975 vol 898 cc21-3
23. Mr. Michael Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he expects to announce the Government's decision regarding the British Steel Corporation's proposals for the closure of primary steel making at Shotton.

Mr. Kaufman: As I told the hon. Members for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) and Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) on 13th October, an announcement will be made as soon as the Government have completed their consideration of all the issues involved.

Mr. Marshall

Is the Minister aware that the closure review has now been going on for 20 months and that because arguments over Shotton are still taking place the whole strategy of Welsh steelmaking is at stake, as is the future of Port Talbot? Will he assure the House that the matter will be resolved speedily, because at present the cost of the programme is escalating violently?

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Gentleman must reconcile his view with that of his hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), who takes a contrary view about the way in which the Government should seek to arrive at their decision. In addition, uncertainty was caused in the industry in earlier years, following the activities of the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) and his two henchmen at the time. Therefore, to arrive at our decision we have had to look at the matter again. We shall take a decision as soon as possible, but we shall not rush into it, since it is a decision of vital consequence for a large community in Wales.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Will my hon. Friend take it from me, as a Member in the area concerned, that closure of steelmaking at Shotton would have the gravest economic and social consequences throughout the whole of North Wales and also in Cheshire and on Merseyside? Does he agree that it is important that the Government should consider this matter most seriously, because unemployment in the area is unacceptably high?

Mr. Kaufman

The human attitude taken by my right hon. Friend contrasts with the arid book-keeping attitude adopted by so many Opposition Members. We are trying to look at the human as well as the corporate problems. We shall get our decision right, and will not be rushed into it by the Opposition.

Sir A. Meyer

Does the Minister agree that if, after the lengthy delay, which is causing doubt and dismay, the decision goes against Shotton, the consequences for the area will be terrible indeed?

Mr. Kaufman

I recognise the serious consequences for the area if Shotton were to be closed. That is why we are taking our time over the decision. If the Opposition had remained in office, I believe that Shotton would now be on the verge of closure.

Mr. Heffer

Is my hon. Friend aware that people in the North-West, particularly on Merseyside and in North Wales, are delighted that the Governmetn are looking at this matter so carefully? In an area such as Merseyside, with an unemployment rate of 10.6 per cent., we cannot afford to have Shotton closed, with the consequent loss of jobs in many surrounding areas. We accept that the Government are right to take their time.

Mr. Kaufman

Because of the serious problems in the North-West and in the special development area of Liverpool, and the effects of a decision about Shotton, as well as its effects in North Wales, we have decided to examine the matter very carefully indeed. We shall get the decision right, and shall not be rushed into it.

Mr. Heseltine

Is it not a fact that there are now well over 1 million people out of work, and that if the Government delay much longer the modernisation of the steel industry, that phenomenon will continue for British manufacturing industry until we come to understand that the shortage of high-quality steel at a price which the world is able to afford undermines the credibility of our industry throughout the world?

Mr. Kaufman

The credibility of the British steel industry was undermined by the activities of the joint steering group set up by the then Conservative Government, by the prying and meddling of McKinsey, which they set on to the British Steel Corporation, and by the then Tory Ministers—the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) and the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley)—in their attempts to arrive at a corporate plan. The kind of language used by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) ill becomes the Tory Party.

Mr. Marshall

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the first possible opportunity.