Welsh Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 4th February 1980.

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Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry 5:17 pm, 4th February 1980

The right hon. Gentleman was talking not only about the future but also about the immediate past. I am not evading the issue; it is the right hon. Gentleman, I am afraid.

I am willing to confess that all hon. Members deem the present situation to be serious. I do not deny that. I am entitled to put in some of the factual material that the right hon. Gentleman omitted from his speech. Despite the increased variety of the Welsh economy since 1945 and the arrival of new industries, new firms and new processes, we still suffer from severe structural imbalance. There is still excessive dependence on a few basic industries, notably coal, iron and steel, and tinplate. Proportionately, too many of our people, for several generations, have had to look to too few industries for their jobs and opportunities.

It was said two weeks ago in this House, during a debate on the Northern region of England, that when the South-East of England had a chill, the North-East caught pneumonia. That graphic illustration has often been true of the economy of Wales, though slightly less so in recent years. Without being too optimistic, I venture to suggest that what has been remarkable since the oil crisis of 1973 has been the resilience and powers of survival of some of the newer industries. I feared that some of them would not show this resilience and power of survival. It has also been encouraging to note the ability of many employers in Wales to learn new skills in new processes.

I should like to refer briefly to the difficulties of the iron and steel industry that have occupied so much of this debate. There must be major changes. That must be obvious to any reasonable and objective person. Such changes are prescribed not only by technical and technological innovation and by the present state of world markets for steel but also by the emergence of new producers of steel in the Third world and elsewhere.

Some of the painful changes prescribed or planned by the British Steel Corporation are almost inevitable if we are to have an effective and successful industry. I shall say nothing about present strikes, particularly the iron and steel strike. I hope, like others, for a reasonable solution and that a settlement will be arrived at very soon. Britain cannot afford strikes and industrial stoppages. Wales cannot afford them. I look forward to the day, in the near future, I hope, when those overseas will have no occasion to use the term "British disease". It is an appalling phrase. I have heard it frequently in other countries. It is a sad commentary on our system that other countries should use such a phrase.