Steel Industry

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 22nd March 2007.

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Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister of State (Science and Innovation), Department of Trade and Industry

Despite significant restructuring over the past 30 years, the UK steel industry remains a significant employer and an intensive research and development contributor to the UK economy. We believe that the investments, strategies and measures implemented in the sector provide a solid platform for the future prosperity of UK steel operations in a rapidly changing global landscape.

Photo of Ashok Kumar Ashok Kumar PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Benn, Secretary of State), Department for International Development

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the recent news that Tata Steel will take over the Corus iron and steel making company? What help and support will be given to Tata Steel to ensure that we have a strong manufacturing base on Teesside? Manufacturing is our bread and butter, as 3,000 jobs depend on it directly, and 30,000 indirectly.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister of State (Science and Innovation), Department of Trade and Industry

My hon. Friend brings much professional expertise to this subject, and is a steely champion of that important industry. We are pleased that Tata has chosen to invest in the UK steel industry through its acquisition of Corus, and believe that that will lead to a fruitful and productive partnership. The Tata deal will provide access to low-cost raw materials, and to high-growth markets for products in which Corus has a particular strength. That will enable the company to compete on a global scale and thereby help secure the future of plant located in the UK. I look forward to having an early meeting with the leadership of Tata Steel.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

While I accept that we are in a global trading situation, I do not share the views of Dr. Kumar. It is extremely dangerous that our strategic industries are being acquired by overseas interests. Corus is not the only one: more industries in this country have been acquired by overseas interests than is the case with virtually any other country in the EU or elsewhere in the world. Does the Minister accept that the remittances and profits are sent overseas and so do not benefit the UK Exchequer or taxpayer? Does he also agree that jobs can be transferred abroad extremely easily?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister of State (Science and Innovation), Department of Trade and Industry

That was a passionate onslaught on the reality of globalisation. We have had enough banter—some of it not very good—about real worlds this morning, but globalisation is here to stay. The important thing is that British industry should regard it as a challenge and not a crisis. We welcome inward investment and, just as British companies will take over companies in India and elsewhere, some of that business will go the other way. I am confident that the deal is a good one for the UK steel industry, and for jobs.

Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Labour, Hartlepool

In an era of globalisation, the ability to innovate is essential for the long-term sustainability of the UK steel industry. My hon. Friend the Minister will know that Hartlepool's steel pipe mills are a good example of that innovation, as he opened one last year. However, price is also important, and sterling is nudging $2 this morning. I know that the problem is extraordinarily difficult, but what can my hon. Friend do to ensure that the UK steel industry remains competitive in the global economy?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister of State (Science and Innovation), Department of Trade and Industry

I certainly remember opening that plant. I learned a great deal, and was very impressed by the R and D work going on there and by the sheer skill of the work force. Corus has invested a great deal in the steel industry, and I have no doubt that Tata will do the same. The general message is that we need to compete by adding value to the excellence of the goods and services produced in this country. Sir Nicholas Winterton spoke of challenges in the global markets, but the inward investment by Tata augurs very well for the British steel industry and its highly skilled work force.