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Steel Industry Closures (Job Losses)

Volume 981: debated on Monday 17 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has had with the European Economic Community regarding the anticipated 50,000 loss of jobs in Wales as a result of the cutbacks at Llanwern and Port Talbot steel plants and consequent effects on the coal and other industries.

My right hon. and hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Employment and the Minister of State, Department of Industry and their officials have discussed the BSC proposals fully with the Commission, and I and my staff are in close touch with these developments. I do not anticipate that the number of jobs lost at Port Talbot and Llanwern will be as high as the hon. Gentleman estimates.

In view of the disastrous consequences on the Welsh economy of the closures, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that I and my colleagues who met Commissioner Vredeling in Brussels were surprised that the Government had had very little contact with the EEC and that the Welsh Office had had no contact? Will the right hon. Gentleman listen to the EEC's comments about not immediately making closures but, if they have to be made, phasing them over a period? Will he accept that in two or three years' time we may find that we have less steel-making capacity in this country than we require? Will the right hon. Gentleman further accept that the EEC is talking about cutting 6 million tonnes, while BSC is cutting 6 million tonnes in this country alone?

As usual, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. I saw Commissioner Vredeling in Brussels before Christmas, and my officials have been in touch with EEC officials since then. We are maintaining the closest possible contact with the EEC in these matters, and we shall continue to ensure that we obtain everything to which we are entitled from EEC funds.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that statements by Commissioner Vredeling that the United Kingdom has been slower than other member States in taking up benefits available are untrue?

We have taken all the benefits to which we are entitled under existing schemes from the moment that it was possible to do so. As my hon. Friend knows, a completely new scheme has been proposed, which has not yet been approved by members of the EEC but which Commissioner Vredeling favours. We are now discussing the proposed scheme with the Commission to see whether it can be modified so that it is acceptable and can be used in addition to existing schemes. If it is modified in a suitable way, we shall certainly use it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Newport is possibly the largest steel making area in the country, yet the Government's plans are all based on providing 350 jobs when job losses of 8,000 are anticipated in the town? The right hon. Gentleman appears to be complacent not only about the attitude of the EEC but also about that of the WDA, and what does he plan to do?

The hon. Gentleman does himself no credit when he suggests that the work force at Llanwern, first, comes only from within the town of Newport, and secondly, can only travel to sites within the town of Newport. He is well aware that the travel-to-work area is much larger than that. I hope that he is not suggesting that the admirable Llantarnan site, for example, is not entirely suitable and will not provide jobs for his constituents, as well as others.

If the right hon. Gentleman believes that the figure of 50,000 job losses given by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) is somewhat high, what does he consider to be a reasonable estimate? When he met Commissioner Vredeling, did they discuss the consequences of steel closures? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that when we met Commissioner Vredeling a week ago he was far from satisfied with this Government's response to the steel industry closures and the effects on South Wales.

A number of things have yet to be decided, so I can not give an estimate of the total number of job losses. The National Coal Board has not yet come forward with firm proposals. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) was asking about the consequences of the cutbacks at Llanwern and Port Talbot, and I am not aware that any responsible body is suggesting that they would cause 50,000 job losses. I do not believe that even the right hon. Gentleman would suggest that. The Wales CBI came to see me last week and that was not its view.

When I saw Commissioner Vredeling, the latest BSC proposals had not been put, and I clearly could not discuss them with him. Since then, my officials have been in touch with Commission officials. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry, has had conversations with the Commission recently, as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.