HC Deb 21 January 1980 vol 977 cc6-9
3. Sir Anthony Meyer

asked the Secretary of State for Wales when next he expects to meet the secretary-general of the Wales Trades Union Congress.

12. Mr. Alec Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Wales when last he met the Wales Trades Union Congress; and when he proposes to meet it again.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

I have met the Wales TUC a number of times since I took office, and I hope to continue this practice. I last met it on 29 October, when it met the Prime Minister.

Sir A. Meyer

When my right hon. Friend next meets Mr. George Wright, will he draw his attention to the remarkable results of a poll published in The Times today which indicates that the overwhelming majority of trade unionists support totally the Government's proposals to amend the trade union legislation'? Therefore, will he ask Mr. George Wright by what conceivable right he considers that he can use the trade union movement in Wales to batter the Government's policies?

Mr. Edwards

I am sure that Mr. George Wright will note both the poll and my hon. Friend's remarks. It is quite clear that, if the trade union movement in Wales takes that action, it will have a damaging effect on business and, therefore, on job prospects in Wales.

Mr. Alec Jones

When the Secretary of State next meets the Wales TUC, perhaps he will take the opportunity to explain both to Mr. George Wright and to the overwhelming number of trade unionists in Wales the benefits which have accrued to Wales as a consequence of the Government's policies: first, in eroding regional policies seriously; secondly, in closing skillcentres; thirdly, in cutting the WDA budget by about 30 per cent.; and now proposing to axe savagely the steel and coal industries and those industries which supply them. Does he not realise, therefore, that the Wales TUC and the people of Wales make two demands: a reversal of present Government policies and action to prevent the de-industrialisation of South Wales?

Mr. Edwards

If we are to prevent the de-industrialisation of South Wales—indeed, of Britain as a whole—industry must be competitive and be manned at the levels of our competitors overseas. It does no service to British industry to think that we can put off the day when these necessary and difficult decisions have to be taken. There is very good evidence forthinking—and much of it was presented during the broadcast in which the right hon. Gentleman took part last week—that, because other countries have acted quicker to face the changes in the industrial pattern, their steel in-industries are now stronger than ours and better able to face the challenge of the future.

Mr. Kinnock

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it does not take opinion polls in The Times or anywhere else to prove that 100 per cent. of trade unionists and all other workers like to have jobs? When the right hon. Gentleman sees Mr. Wright, if he does at some time in the future—assuming that Mr. Wright is willing to see him after the conduct of his disastrous policy—will he take note of the fact that, as a result of his Government's intervention in the steel industry by insisting on stringent cash limits and unrealistic break-even dates, the impact on the Welsh economy could be the loss of as many as 30,000 or 35,000 jobs and prove him and his Government to be the most disastrous in any post-war year and for considerable years before that in adopting a policy of conscious industrial destruction?

Mr. Edwards

The hon. Gentleman says that he and others are good judges of what are the views of trade union members. I note that the trade unions did not seek to obtain the views of their members before launching into their present strike, which undoubtedly is doing great damage to the South Wales economy. We know of at least one industrial company, which already has cancelled its planned investment programme because of that strike. The situation which confronts the British steel industry, its management and its unions—and I am now answering it—is that they have to organise their steel industry so that it can compete in a competitive world.

Mr. Alan Williams

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the company to which he refers would have gone ahead with its project months ago had he not altered his regional policy and made it necessary to renegotiate the package? Can the right hon. Gentleman also confirm that that company has one of the best industrial relations records in Wales? Is he aware, further, that the American management had indicated prior to Christmas that it was considering cancelling the project because of the downturn in the British economy?

Mr. Edwards

I can confirm that under the new criteria we were able to produce selective financial assistance, which would have enabled that project to go ahead. I am aware also that the management of that project has said that its reason for not going ahead is the present industrial chaos and the strikes taking place in Wales.

Mr. Ray Powell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Mr. George Wright has forecast over the weekend that there will be a 50 per cent. increase in unemployment in Wales? If he is aware of the prediction by Mr. Wright, one of the leaders of the trade union movement in Wales, what are his plans to try to reduce the number of unemployed in Wales that we know will be forecast in the next two months?

Mr. Edwards

On the one hand, it must be right that the country gets its spending plans in line so that too great a burden of interest rates and taxation does not fall on productive industry. But we have also made clear that the Government accept their responsibility to take remedial action in facing the industrial changes taking place in South Wales. We have already announced those measures in the case of Shotton. We are considering the position in South Wales in the light of recent actions and decisions by the board of the British Steel Corporation.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, because of the alarm and despondency about Government economic and industrial policy, the TUC in Wales is to organise a national day of action and protest on Monday? This is intended to bring home to the Government the deep feeling felt by trade unionists in Wales. What action is the right hon. Gentleman taking on the representations made by the TUC in Wales about the import of coking coal? There are large stocks of coking coal in Wales. What action is he also proposing about investment in the Phurnacite plant? This is vital and an urgent decision is required.

Mr. Edwards

I have been asked three questions. The hon. Gentleman suggests that industrial action by the TUC will help the Welsh economy. I cannot think of anything likely to be more disastrous. I wish that the hon. Gentleman had heard the remarks of the head of Merry-weather and Son Ltd. when he announced the coming of its plant to Ebbw Vale on Friday, about the real issues that decide the success or failure of British companies. The hon. Gentleman should be emphasising what is necessary to make successful companies like Merry weather come to South Wales instead of trying to create a situation that will put the company off coming.

On coking coal, the Government have made clear that this is a matter for negotiation between the British Steel Corporation and the National Coal Board. They are free to use the funds being made available by the Government to work out arrangements between themselves. The Phurnacite plant is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. No announcement has yet been made about it.