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Coal And Steel Workers (Housing)

Volume 887: debated on Monday 3 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales what advice he has given to local authorities regarding benefits available from EEC sources for the housing of coal and steel workers.

This is a matter which the Government will be considering in conjunction with the coal and steel industries and with the local authority associations.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that Welsh local authorities are getting their full share of these benefits? Is he further aware that many local authorities are completely unaware of the eighth programme, announced by the European Coal and Steel last year, which provides housing loans for coal and steel workers at as low a rate of interest as 1 per cent?

I appreciate the point being made by my hon. Friend. It is one of the matters which I discussed in Brussels and Luxembourg last week. We made it clear to the Commission that in our view local authorities have an important rôle to play in the housing scene in Wales and the Commission accepted this. On the question of the awareness of local authorities of the scheme, I shall be taking this further, now that I have returned from my initial discussions with the Commission.

Why is the Welsh Office only now considering making this advice available? Why has it not done so already?

The scheme that has been set up in Europe involves national and regional authorities—but not local authorities—the unions and the coal and steel industries in Europe. There is a different philosophy between the European way of doing things and the British way of doing things in this respect. The rôle of local authorities does not figure prominently in the European scheme. It was with the idea of making an adjustment for the British situation that I had discussions with the Commission last week.

Is not this a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul? Is not the whole operation merely a recycling of our own money? Does not my hon. Friend feel that his time would be better spent if it were devoted to more fundamental questions, such as the Welsh steel industry, which is suffering badly from Common Market strategy, and the coal industry, which could be halved as a result of action taken by bureaucrats in Brussels and Luxembourg during the next 10 years?

I think that I spend my time very usefully in trying to achieve practical results for Wales. We are a member of the Community, and if money is available it is my duty, together with my right hon. and learned Friend, to try to get it for Wales.

On the question of halving the coal industry, I think that no greater lie was given to this scare than the announcement last week of a £1 million exploration programme into the reserves of the South Wales coalfield. That is a good answer to my hon. Friend's question.