Hywel in Parliament - Debates

Welsh Day Debate

12th March 2003

Dr Hywel Francis MP (Labour Aberavon) intends to make the following statement today in the Welsh Day Debate:

The Welsh Day Debate has always afforded us a time for reflection.

One of my constituents recently gave me a piece of advice by quoting one of our distinguished predecessors in this House, Aneurin Bevan who once anecdotally said,

'Instead of living in a Wales that possesses you, create the Wales you desire'.

As a representative of a steel constituency, Aberavon, I wish to reflect on the centrality and importance of steel – despite all the problems that have beset and continue to beset it.

As recently as December 2000 the Wales TUC in its document, 'A Strategy for Modern Manufacturing in Wales', highlighted the modern advanced nature of the industry:

'With plants in Wales producing record amounts of quality steel with much fewer workers that even 10 years ago, it would be hard not to recommend steel as a shining light for manufacturing. Far from being an industry light years away from a sustainable Wales, steel and aluminium are amongst the world's most recyclable and recycled materials.

The announcement this week Mr Speaker, that Corus is reviewing once again its UK operations with the possibility of 'significant capacity reductions' causes deep concern, especially in steel communities.

I welcome the positive comments made this week by the Secretary of State for Wales and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in support of steel. We all know that steel has a vital and strategic role within Welsh and Britain manufacturing.

I would urge my Rt Hon Friend, the Secretary of State for Wales to pledge that he will work to ensure that there are no further cuts in capacity in Wales and in so doing secure the long term future of Shotton, Llanwern and Port Talbot.

Despite the current internal and external problems of Corus particularly in relation to the sale of its aluminium production in Holland, the economic indicators for Welsh and UK steel are good and improving.

The exchange rates in relation to the euro are becoming increasingly more favourable

The demand for steel in the UK is buoyant and strengthening especially in the construction industry.

Steel prices are stabilizing and improving.

Industrial relations are good as evidenced by the significant efficiency savings made recently in Welsh plants. Llanwern is in profit and Port Talbot and Shotton are performing well.

Steel workers in the UK are widely acknowledged as the most efficient in the world.

From my experience there has been a growing optimism, despite the trauma of recent capacity cuts and the explosion at the No. 5 Blastfurnace. The rebuilding of that furnace in record time has symbolized a re-birth of the industry in Wales. Very recently that new furnace broke its production record by producing 33,000 tons of liquid iron during the month following its formal opening. This was one of many records broken at Port Talbot recently, in the hot mill, cold mill and the 'capl' line. Improvements of consistency in operations and improvements in quality have been recorded.

And that sense of optimism for steel communities is also represented by the community leadership provided by the steel unions in highlighting the importance of skills enhancement and lifelong learning. The ISTC's training arm Steel Partnership Training in many centres from Shotton to Ebbw Vale have led the way. In my own constituency unions have come together with educational providers to form the Port Talbot Union Academy. And again in my constituency, through support from the Wales TUC's Wales Union Learning Fund and the Welsh Assembly Government, Amicus and the local authority, Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, have created the unique work-based learning initiative at the new Baglan Learning Centre.

It is therefore critical Mr Speaker that Government in Cardiff and Westminster, works in partnership with the Welsh steel industry as never before to secure its long term future by pledging by every means possible to secure all productive capacity throughout Wales.

I began by talking about the importance of reflection. As an historian I am only too well aware that as the Welsh economy diversifies there is potential for what is called cultural tourism especially in the South Wales valleys and this will be highlighted in reports by the Welsh Development Agency and the Bevan Foundation to be published later this month.

I recently heard the new Archbishop of Canterbury reflecting on what he called 'political virtue' and how he defined this through the poetry of Waldo Williams whose verse exemplified in his words 'the Welsh double commitment to the local and the international in a framework passionately seeking peace'.

We meet at a time Mr Speaker of local and international crisis. We should reflect in a Welsh way on that political virtue and that political legacy of the local and international community we cherish.

If we are to develop cultural tourism in Wales then we could start by reflecting on the lives and ideas of two Welsh political thinkers who were both 'modernisers' in their own way.

Firstly there was Richard Price of Llangeinor, friend of the American and French Revolutions of the eighteenth century who gently advised his American friends to conduct the kind of foreign policy that would make the United States respected in the world.

And there was Henry Richard of Tregaron and Liberal Member for Merthyr. Known as 'the Apostle for Peace' he initiated a debate in this House on 8th July 1873. His motion called on the Government of the day to contact foreign powers with a view to the improvement of international law and the establishment of a permanent system of international arbitration.

In his own modernizing way he was a Welsh visionary who anticipated the necessity of a United Nations decades before its emergence.

We should, Mr Speaker, reflect today of all days on the political virtue of striving to secure the local, in our Welsh communities dependant on the steel industry, and the international, by securing peace through the United Nations.

By doing so, we will achieve Aneurin Bevan's dream of a Wales we all desire.

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