HC Deb 15 December 1980 vol 996 cc7-9
6. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Secretary of Wales what representations he has made to the chairman of the British Steel Corporation to ensure that in preparing his corporate plan he takes account of the consequences for coal and other related industries if Port Talbot or Llanwern steel plants were to close.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

I am sure that the chairman of the British Steel Corporation is well aware of the possible impact of any reductions in steel-making capacity on coal and other industries in South Wales.

Mr. Powell

Is the Secretary of State for State aware that in Wales over the weekend it was suggested that the MacGregor plan was a deliberate attempt to escalate unrest and uncertainty within the industry and to create strike action to give the BSC the excuse that it needs to liquidate the corporation? Does he still share the opinion of TINA—that there is no alternative? Is he aware that in Wales he is now referred to as Nick the Ripper, the industrial rapist of Wales?

Mr. Edwards

I note with more respect than I have for any comment made by the hon. Gentleman the comment made by Mr. John Foley, one of the leaders of the steel industry in Wales, who on Friday said that the plan will mean that Wales will remain one of the great steel-producing areas of Western Europe and that the industrial base has been protected. It should be of some importance to the hon. Gentleman that if the plan goes through many coal mines and jobs in coal mining in Wales will be preserved. Indeed, there will be an increased take in coal if the plan goes through at Llanwern.

Sir Raymond Gower

Contrary to the views expressed by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), did not many of the trade union leaders who were quoted over the weekend express relief that the proposals were not more damaging than had been expected.?

Mr. Edwards

It is too early to make a final assessment of the proposals put forward by the chairman on Friday. Ministers will be meeting the chairman later this week to discuss the plan in detail. The Government have not reached any formal conclusions on it. If the plan goes through on the present basis, Wales will remain a major steel-producing area. The chairman appears to be showing that he recognises the contribution in terms of increased efficiency that has been made at Llanwern and Port Talbot and is seeking to build on that early success.

Dr. Ifor Davies

Is the Secretary of State aware that the corporate plan includes a devastating reorganisation of the Velindre plant, which is related to Port Talbot, and that the proposal has been received with incredulity having regard to the high efficiency and the low costs of that plant? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that no decision is taken on this matter until full consultations have been held with those concerned?

Mr. Edwards

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has already told the House that it is unlikely that the Government will be announcing any conclusions on the plan until the end of January. Conservative Members have in the past few days argued that time should be given for consideration of the implications of the plan, but the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues seem to want to rush into debate before we have had time to read the plan in detail.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is not this a unique opportunity for the House to stress the almost unhoped-for possibility of saving a large portion of the Welsh steel-making capacity if only we can transcend party quarrels and encourage both sides of the industry to get on with the job?

Mr. Edwards

The central feature that emerges from the corporate plan is the chairman's determination to restore the BSC's place in the market, to win back its market share and to sell more steel. We should be getting enthusiastic support for that constructive approach from the Opposition Benches and not snide criticisms trying to score cheap political points.

Mr. Coleman

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that within the MacGregor massacre there are 1,700 reasons why West Glamorgan county as a whole should be regraded as a special development area? Will he represent this now to his right hon. Friend and restore to the county the means whereby its future prosperity can be assured?

Mr. Edwards

I recognise that any changes that result from the BSC plan will require urgent further reconsideration of the development area status of the affected part of Wales.

Mr. Alan Williams

Will the Secretary of State accept that, while we are glad that Margam and Llanwern were not axed, we note that they have been given only six months in which to secure their survival? Does he realise that the 5,000 redundancies that were announced are an acceptable further blow to an already tottering Welsh economy? Is he aware that the 20 per cent. increase in the value of sterling under the Government has been a major factor in the loss of home and export markets and that the BSC has not been helped by the recent mini-Budget, because the extra national insurance contributions for employers and employees can have only a deflationary effect and add to the domestic recession, while the 2 per cent. cut in interest rates has not helped sterling and has been yet another example of the Government's doing too little far too late?

Mr. Edwards

Every comment that the right hon. Gentleman has uttered seems to be self-contradictory. He is arguing, apparently, that there should not have been an increase in the national insurance surcharge. But if that had not been done we would have had a higher public sector borrowing requirement and it would have been even more difficult to bring down interest rates. One lesson that we all ought to have learnt in recent years is that it is not within the power of Governments effectively to control the exchange rate.