HC Deb 28 July 1980 vol 989 cc1020-3
3 Mr. Wigley

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will seek a meeting with the new chairman of the British Steel Corporation to discuss the impact of steel closures on employment in Wales.

13 Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has had any recent discussions with the British Steel Corporation concerning the steel industry in South Wales; and what proposals he has for the employment of redundant steel workers.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

I met the chairman most recently on 7 July. There will be further meetings as necessary. The remedial measures that I have announced will result in the provision of 2¼ million sq ft of factory space with the potential for between 7,000 and 9,000 jobs and 600 acres prepared for industrial development, all in steel closure areas in Wales. The Shotton travel-to-work area has been upgraded and decisions have been taken to upgrade the Port Talbot and Newport travel-to-work areas and the Cwmbran employment exchange areas.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Secretary of State aware of the report in today's Financial Times which suggests that the chairman of the British Steel Corporation might recommend the closure of Port Talbot and/or Llanwern because of the steel crisis? Will he give an assurance that at this point he has no knowledge whatever of any such proposal? May we have an assurance that if such a proposal were forthcoming without prior discussion with him he would resign his post?

Mr. Edwards

I can give the assurance that I am not aware of any such proposal. Indeed, the chairman of the BSC, when he came to see me, made it absolutely clear that he had not yet taken decisions and that he wished to assess the situation fully before he took such decisions. He said that such decisions were still some little time away.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Secretary of State agree that many influential reports state that the steel industry is in a catastrophic position? Does he accept that Wales has relied heavily on the industry in the past? What advice has he to offer redundant steel workers? Where are the Eldorados with new jobs and new opportunities? Does he agree that the Prime Minister in Swansea was talking sheer bunkum?

Mr. Edwards

I agree that the situation in the British Steel Corporation is extremely serious. That is why we are making special provision in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and other affected constituencies. The Welsh Development Agency is announcing a further 184,000 sq ft of factory building in Newport under an agreement with Wimpey. That is in addition to the factory space already announced in that constituency. The number of factory allocations this year and the number of visits are at high levels. That shows that continuing investment and new job opportunities are still arising in Wales.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is not the catastrophic plight of the British steel industry, particularly in Wales, due in large measure to the refusal by the previous Government in 1975 to permit the British Steel Corporation to slim itself down into a competitive position?

Mr. Edwards

Undoubtedly the British Steel Corporation is not in a competitive position. I fear that one of the reasons is that decisions to match the record of its competitors overseas were put off.

Mr. Hudson Davies

Does the Secretary of State accept that the Government have a bland complacency about the level of unemployment in Wales? Is he not aware that at this moment negotiations are taking place and that the British Steel Corporation is intent on the further purchase of foreign coal to the detriment of employment in Wales and the coalfields in South Wales? Does the right hon. Gentleman not feel some sense of shame that he bears the title of Secretary of State for Wales while attached to a Government who seem hell bent on working against the interests of Wales?

Mr. Edwards

I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is in the interests of the British Steel Corporation, if it is to be competitive, to buy uncompetitive coal.

Mr. Coleman

May I ask the Secretary of State a question arising out of that asked by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley)? Will he say categorically that, if he is not consulted by the British Steel Corporation about future steel industry closures in Wales, he will resign his office?

Mr. Edwards

All that I can say is that the new chairman of the British Steel Corporation, like his predecessor, is punctilious about keeping me informed. When the chairman came to see me recently he told me that it would take him quite a long time to make his assessment of the British Steel Corporation's prospects and that he had not yet taken decisions.

Mr. Alan Williams

Does the Secretary of State accept that if, after allowing the closure of Shotton, he allows one or both of the great modern steelworks at Llanwern and Margam to close, it will be a blow as bitter and with as lasting a political impact as the decision by Churchill to send troops against the miners? The right hon. Gentleman is supposed to be the voice of Wales in the Cabinet. We have heard about amicable discussions. Has he taken any action to prevent the closure of either of those steelworks? Most important, if the chairman eventually recommends that one or both should close, does he intend to take action against such a decision?

Mr. Edwards

I shall want to see whether the chairman of the British Steel Corporation puts up proposals for a strong and viable future industry that can provide jobs. The closures are being contemplated today, at least in part, because the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues put off the necessary decisions about closures.