HC Deb 02 June 1980 vol 985 cc1029-32
12. Mr. Coleman

asked the Secretary of state for Wales what recent discussions he has had with the chairman of the British Steel Corporation about the effects on employment in Wales arising from steel closures.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

I have had formal meetings with the chairman on six occasions in the past year, most recently on 26 May, and have had a number of other conversations with him about BSC's plans.

Mr. Coleman

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the feelings of apprehension that have been generated in Wales about additional unemployment arising from the statement by the chairman-designate of the British Steel Corporation in Wales last week? Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he was given any advance warning or notice of what the chairman-designate was going to say? If not, since he is the Minister responsible for unemployment in Wales, will the right hon. Gentleman summon this gentleman to explain more fully what he said, so that hon. Members can, in turn, question the right hon. Gentleman about this statement?

Mr. Edwards

I met the chairman-designate on his recent visit to Wales. He made clear to me—he is not yet in the chair—that he has taken no decisions about the future of the industry in Wales. He was asked at a press conference whether he could slow down the present closure programme. He pointed out that the situation in the steel industry on a world-wide basis had deteriorated since the original plans were made and that everyone would have to fight like fury to defend the present position, let alone slow it down and reduce the numbers involved.

Sir A. Meyer

Will my right hon. Friend agree that, although it is true that pressure on the steel industry from outside factors is even more intense than was thought, the programme of closures originally proposed none the less bore signs of hasty panic measures? Might it not be possible to achieve an equally slim-line steel industry by more carefully thought-out measures, if only the corporation was given extra time?

Mr. Edwards

The chairman-designate made clear to me that he does not believe that time is on his side. He is operating in a world-wide market. He spent a good deal of time telling me about the world-wide conditions as he sees them. If the agreements at Llanwern and Port Talbot are concluded, we have perhaps, a basis for future operations in Wales on which we should seek to build.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, even without Mr. MacGregor, unemployment in Wales has reached calamitous proportions and that the policies of the Government seem to be leading to an even deeper recession? Is the right hon. Gentleman now prepared to make a statement about possible special development area status for steel areas, particularly those that have been most affected?

Mr. Edwards

That issue does not directly arise from my conversations with the chairman of the British Steel Corporation. I can say that as soon as the Llanwern agreement is concluded—I understand that not all the unions have yet agreed—the Government will—indeed we are doing so now—urgently consider granting special development and development area status to the places affected and will make an announcement as soon as possible.

Mr. Best

My right hon. Friend's remarks will be welcomed as a prospect for building in the future if the demand for steel should increase. Will he assure the House that he intends to continue to have frequent meetings with the chairman of the British Steel Corporation to ensure that the cutbacks now being achieved will not be so trenchant as to prevent any worthwhile expansion should the opportunity arise in the future?

Mr. Edwards

The chairman-designate emphasised to me the importance of trying to seek fresh markets for the British Steel Corporation. He spent part of his conversations with me discussing ways in which that might be achieved.

Mr. Barry Jones

Has the right hon. Gentleman any information about bids by Lonrho and others for the remainder of the BSC Shotton works? Will he be consulted?

Mr. Edwards

I have no firm information about the inquiries made. At present I have no reason to think that a firm proposal is before the British Steel Corporation that is likely to lead to a deal being announced.

Mr. Alan Williams

In view of the answer that the Secretary of State have to my hon.[...]port (Mr. Hughes) will he confirm that a full six months have elapsed since he met my hon. Friends and I to discuss possible pending steel redundancies in South Wales and the question of assisted area status? Will he assure the House that those six months have been used constructively in getting contingency clearance from Brussels for enhanced assisted area status?

In view of the time available to consider his response, will the right hon. Gentleman promise that there will be an immediate announcement—I mean, by that, during this parliamentary week—of the Government's intentions for these areas? Will he bear in mind that Wales expects full special development area status for all areas in which people travel to work at Margam and Llanwern?

Mr. Edwards

We made clear at that meeting that we would not take a decision, or make an announcement, until final agreement had been reached at Llanwern and Port Talbot. I understand that final agreement has not yet been reached at Llanwern, although I am hopeful that it will be reached in the near future. We are in touch with the Community. We shall be taking a decision as a matter of urgency.