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(Urgent Question):To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills if he will make a statement on the action the Government are taking to secure the future of the steel industry.
The steel industry across Europe and around the world is facing challenges on a scale unprecedented in recent history, and today we have had further devastating news of redundancies, this time at Tata. So let me begin by saying something to the people of Scunthorpe, Redcar and anyone else living in a community where the local economy is built on steel. I know that the current situation is unbearably difficult and that you are deeply worried about your future and the future of your families, but I assure you that the Government are doing and will continue to do everything within their power to support you in the weeks, months and years ahead. For decades, the United Kingdom has prospered on the back of your industry. We will not abandon you now, in your time of greatest need.
There is no straightforward solution to any of the complex issues involved, but the Government have no intention of simply standing by. We have already announced a package worth up to £80 million to support people who have lost their jobs as a result of SSI’s liquidation and to mitigate the impacts on the local economy; we have asked Amanda Skelton, chief executive of Redcar and Cleveland Council, to chair a local taskforce; we have ensured that money reaches workers’ pockets quickly via the redundancy payments service; we have brought workers and opportunities together at a jobs fair at which more than 1,000 vacancies were showcased by more than 50 local employers; we have provided additional flexibilities to local further education colleges to allow people to take up training to enhance their job prospects; and we have set aside money to fund those proposals from the taskforce that will make an immediate and lasting impact on the local economy.
We will do what we can to soften the blow of any further redundancies among steelworkers—including, of course, those in Scunthorpe. Jobcentre Plus and rapid response support will naturally be available, and we are setting up a taskforce that Liz Redfern of North Lincolnshire council has agreed to chair. I will carefully consider what the taskforce proposes by way of additional support that may be necessary.
Alongside our immediate help for individuals who are laid off, we are taking steps to ensure a future for Britain’s steel industry in an exceptionally difficult market. Excess capacity in global steel is enormous—more than 570 million tonnes last year, almost 50 times the UK’s annual production. The price of steel slab has halved in the past year alone. In the three years since SSI restarted production at Redcar, the plant has lost more than £600 million.
There are limits to what the Government can do in response. No Government can change the price of steel in the global market; no Government can dictate foreign exchange rates; and no Government can simply disregard international regulations on free trade and state aid—regulations that are regularly used to protect British workers and British industry.
To identify where progress can be made, I hosted on Friday a top-level summit with key players from the UK steel industry. Bringing together industry leaders, trade unions, Members of Parliament and senior figures from government, the summit created a framework for action that will help us to support steelworkers now and in the future.
First, we will drive up the number of public procurement contracts won by UK steel manufacturers and their partners through fair and open competition. This Government are committed to a major programme of infrastructure spending. I am determined that the UK steel industry should play a central role in its delivery. The new public contracts regulations give us more scope to offer greater flexibility around how we include social and environmental considerations in our procurement activities. We intend to help other departments and business to take full advantage of these flexibilities, building on what we learned from projects such as Crossrail.
Secondly, we will consider what lessons can be learned from other countries in the EU and beyond. This will include the resilience of the steel sector in competitor countries and market share of national manufacturers.
Thirdly, we will look at what government can do to boost productivity and cut production costs. This includes addressing energy and environmental costs, regulation, skills and training. An extensive review of business rates is already under way, and the Government will look very closely at all proposals.
These steps will come on top of the action we have already taken. For example, we have paid out more than £50 million in compensation to energy-intensive industries in the steel sector. We also plan to offer further compensation in respect of feed-in tariffs and the renewables obligation. This constitutes state aid, which must be approved by the European Commission. The approval process is under way, but it is taking longer than anticipated, and longer than I would like. My Department is working closely with the Commission to answer its concerns and impress upon it the importance of prompt approval. I also plan to meet European Commissioners next week to reinforce our concerns about unfair trade issues and gain their support for urgent action. We have already voted to support extensions of duties on wire rod. We will demand action wherever there is evidence of unfair trade.
Since Victorian times, British steel has helped to make Britain great. In 2015, it is vital that all of Britain comes together to forge a stronger future for the men and women to whom this country owes so much.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Before we proceed, let me gently say to the Secretary of State that although on a one-to-one basis I always think him a very civil fellow, it is a considerable discourtesy or incompetence—or both—for a Secretary of State to take twice the length of time allocated for answering an urgent question. If the right hon. Gentleman judges that he has more material that he wishes to share with the House, which of itself could be very helpful, that is fine—but the implication of that is blindingly obvious: the right hon. Gentleman should offer to deliver an oral statement of up to 10 minutes. What he should not do is fail to communicate with me in advance, ignore the convention and greatly exceed his allotted time. It is, I am afraid, discourteous and incompetent—and it must not happen again.
We would have welcomed a statement from the Secretary of State. Today he has brought more devastating news for British steelworkers at Cambuslang, Motherwell and Scunthorpe and concerns for workers employed by Caparo, following the devastating news of the hard closure of the Redcar plant last week. May I, on behalf of the Opposition, convey our solidarity with those who have been affected—the individuals concerned, their trade unions, their families and their communities—and ask the Government to do all they can to work with every agency and jurisdiction to support them?
Let me say first to the Secretary of State that it does not help him to continue the spin about the £80 million. The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise admitted last week that it was £50 million, and even that is questionable. Spinning does not help the workers one little bit.
Let me further say to the Secretary of State that all Opposition Members understand the real and difficult problems facing the steel industry. Some of us have worked in the industry ourselves, or have family members involved in it. We know about the heat of the steel plant and the whiff of the coke ovens. We understand all too well that the industry faces huge challenges, not least as a result of not being allowed to operate on a level playing field. No one is trying to minimise those challenges. What we cannot understand is why Ministers do not appear even to have a view on what represents a minimum credible steelmaking capacity in Britain’s long-term strategic interests.
The overwhelming impression given by the Secretary of State and his colleagues is that, despite their high-flown rhetoric about northern powerhouses and the march of the makers, they seem content to allow Britain’s entire steelmaking capacity to disappear in the face of blatant Chinese dumping. Will the Secretary of State tell the House—and we need a direct answer to this, so I hope the Minister will stop chuntering—whether he believes that the price of the Chinese steel that is being dumped on our shores reflects the true cost of producing it? If not, what is he doing about it? Even if the workers producing steel plate at Scunthorpe offered to work for nothing, that Chinese price could not be matched.
While the Chinese President is riding down the Mall in a gilded state coach, British workers are being laid off because our Government are not standing up for them. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure a level playing field so that the British steel industry can have a future? Will he immediately carry out the five emergency actions for which the industry called at the steel summit? He mentioned three actions in his statement, but I fear that they may be too little, too late. Why has he so far been so reluctant to defend the British steel industry during this crisis, when it is so important to our strategic national interests? Will he tell us now whether the
Government even have a position on what represents the minimum credible steelmaking capacity in Britain’s strategic interests? If they do, what is it?
Notwithstanding the Secretary of State’s well-advertised laissez-faire views, will he now reverse his refusal even to accept that the Government need an industrial strategy, and stand up for Britain?
It is a shame that the shadow Minister has taken this attitude. He has decided that he wants to play politics with a very, very serious situation, and that is a real shame. I could stand here and talk about the massive job losses—thousands—during Labour’s time in government. I could talk about the decline in manufacturing. But that would be wrong, because now is a time when people in the industry—producers, manufacturers, trade unions and others—want to see politicians come together and deal with long-standing challenges to the industry.
The shadow Minister asked a number of questions. First, he asked whether we would do everything we could for the workers and their families who are affected. Of course we will. We have already announced a support package for the workers in Redcar, and I have talked about the taskforce that is being set up in Scunthorpe. We will listen to local people and locally led taskforces who come forward with proposals and ideas about what more we can do to support those areas, and any other area that may be affected.
The shadow Minister talked about China, and I referred to overcapacity. China is obviously one of the main countries with overcapacity in the market, but there are others. A recession in Brazil is leading to more steel in the market and there is overcapacity in Russia, Turkey and many other countries. The problem goes much wider than just China and requires EU-wide action. We have already voted for action and we will do so again whenever we are presented with evidence. As I said earlier, next week I will go to Brussels to meet the relevant Commissioners and push for much quicker urgent action. I am sure that the shadow Minister supports that.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about the industry’s suggested actions. UK Steel has five key suggestions and when we had the summit on Friday with many members of the industry—producers, manufacturers, trade unions, Members of Parliament, local leaders and others—we went through each of the actions one by one and set out exactly what we can do. I hope that the shadow Minister can take the same attitude that people took in the summit and understand that although there are some things that the British Government can do, and that where we can we are doing them right away, there are other things, such as action against unfair trade, state aid issues and so on, on which we must work with our partners in the EU. We cannot be a country that sets out to break the rules. I know that the shadow Minister is not suggesting that we break international obligations and rules, but I hope that he has had an opportunity to reflect on his attitude so that he can work much more constructively.
What consideration is my right hon. Friend giving to the creation of jobs in areas that have been struck by the closure of steelworks? In particular, I am thinking of the creation of new enterprise zones with capital allowances such as the Teesside advanced manufacturing park, which could create 2,000 new jobs near Redcar.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is exactly the kind of response that can help with the impact on the ground in the affected areas. Part of the support package for Redcar is about ensuring that there are funds available to help local businesses that come forward with plans to create jobs.
It is absolutely disgraceful that the Secretary of State did not mention Dalzell works or Clydebridge in his opening remarks as steelmaking is iconic in Lanarkshire, but I will move on.
Today’s news is not unexpected, but the announcement by Tata will affect people across my constituency, not just the steelworkers but the local newsagents, crane drivers, lorry drivers, caterers and cleaners. Although Lanarkshire has seen grave blows to steelmaking over the years, I must tell the House that we are not finished yet. The Scottish Government have already set up a taskforce to help and the First Minister has pledged to leave no stone unturned in her efforts to keep these plants open. We need more action from the UK Government. Will the Secretary of State please speak to the Prime Minister, especially after the summit on Friday attended by my hon. Friend Margaret Ferrier, and ask him to speak to China and to address energy prices now, not in April? Will he ask the Prime Minister why he did not address the issue of steel with the European Council? Finally, to echo what has already been said, when will we have an industrial strategy to move things forward?
I am pleased to tell the hon. Lady that, as the Prime Minister confirmed in the House yesterday, we will raise the question of steel with Chinese counterparts during the state visit. Understandably, she talked about the impact in Scotland of the job losses and concerns about the industry. She is right to do so. She will know that these issues are UK-wide, including high energy costs and unfair trade, and we will work with the Scottish Government on any of those issues if they come forward with proposals or ideas. She rightly refers to the taskforce being set up in Scotland, which is very good, and the Secretary of State for Scotland has offered to join it, which could be a step forward.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that although restrictive EU state aid rules prevent the Government from intervening directly in the steel industry, the Government’s efforts to support communities such as Redcar at this difficult time represent strong and decisive action?
Yes. My hon. Friend will be aware of the action we have announced to help workers and their families in Redcar with the job losses that have been announced. If there are any more, we will look into taking similar supportive action.
Caparo Industries’ entering administration is another major blow for the steel industry on top of the blow after blow it has sustained daily. That will be particularly felt in Hartlepool, where 200 people are employed by the company, which pumps millions of pounds into the local economy. Yesterday, the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise launched the metals strategy with the vision of increasing gross value added by 50% and making the steel industry the principal supplier to the UK’s infrastructure projects by 2030. What is the Secretary of State doing to bridge the gap between the short-term existential threat to the industry, with companies, skills and jobs dropping like ninepins day after day, and that long-term vision? Frankly, if he does not take urgent action now—within days—there will not be a British steel industry left by the end of the year, let alone 2030.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right to mention Caparo Industries and the news that came out in the past 24 hours about its administration. That could clearly have a significant impact on communities in West Bromwich, Wolverhampton and elsewhere. As for having a longer term focus, the metals strategy—I believe that the hon. Gentleman was at the launch yesterday—is just one of our responses. We are ensuring that we listen to industry, work with the relevant sector councils and get full support not only for the large companies but for companies all the way down the supply chain as regards steel and other British manufactured products.
This morning, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change website, the price of electricity for large industrial users in the UK was 9p per kWh. In France and Germany, that price is 4p per kWh. That differential is such that the blast furnaces in France and Germany are not under the same pressure as those in this country. Does the Secretary of State agree that we must breach that gap and will he further agree that Labour needs to consider the fact that at every vote on differential energy prices in the last Parliament it was on the wrong side of the argument?
My hon. Friend highlights that there have been some long-running challenges not just for the steel industry but for industries that are large users of electricity. The challenge has happened under successive Governments, but he is absolutely right to raise the question of competitiveness. He will know that £50 million of compensation has already been paid directly to such industries as a result of some of the action we have taken, and once we get EU approval, which I hope will be very soon, we can pay for a lot more compensation and help.
I thank the Secretary of State for his warm words of support for the steelworkers and their families in my constituency who are coming to grips with this dreadful news today. However, we have been having warm words from this Government for more than four years while we have been saying that action is needed. We need action from the Government now on business rates, on energy costs, as David Mowat has just pointed out, and on Chinese dumping. Will the Secretary of State act? By requesting urgent action, I mean action before Christmas.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for joining the summit on Friday. By being there, I hope he now realises that there are areas where action can be, and is being, taken, but I hope he will appreciate that some of the areas we have talked about today, such as further energy compensation and unfair trade, require working with our EU partners. I know he understands that and I am more than happy to reassure him, and will continue to show him directly, just how seriously we are taking this issue by making sure we respond as quickly as possible.
I echo the words of my neighbour, Nic Dakin. The news this morning is a hammer blow to the economy of northern Lincolnshire and many of my constituents will be affected by it. Can the Secretary of State elaborate a little more on the taskforce that has been established under North Lincolnshire council’s leadership? What Government resources will be made available to it? Echoing the earlier words about enterprise zones, an application, sponsored by both North and North East Lincolnshire councils and the LEP, is already in for enterprise zones in the area. An early decision would be helpful.
I will speak to my colleagues and push for an early decision, as my hon. Friend has suggested. On the taskforce, as he will appreciate, it has just been set up. The chair has been appointed. I want to make sure we listen to the taskforce and local leaders about what is required and how we can help. I understand that the first taskforce meeting is taking place tomorrow, so no time is being lost. We will be represented on that taskforce and listening carefully.
The Secretary of State has referred on a number of occasions to the state aid situation. I do not understand why, as a BIS official admitted at the steel summit on Friday, this was not a top priority for UK state aid clearance with the European Commission. The official also admitted that it would not make any difference now because we were so close to getting a decision. Why was it not at the top of our priorities, and why does the Secretary of State not get on a train to Brussels and stand over officials until they approve it and get the money out to the industry that needs it?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue about state aid, but he knows as well as anyone else that this process is not under the complete control of the UK Government. We of course made it a priority, and we made that clear in the summit. It is a priority, it remains a priority and we are making progress, but I am the first to admit that the process is too slow. We are doing everything we can to speed it up, including meeting commissioners directly.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise this. We have already taken a lead on this in the European Union. In recent votes we have voted for action wherever evidence has come forward, and I am glad action that has been taken, but clearly there is more to do. That is one reason why I will be visiting commissioners in Brussels next week to push for that action much more promptly.
One of the many insults the Redcar workforce have had to endure recently is the theft of their pension payments. Following action by the Community union, I understand that the issue of missing employee pension contributions is being tackled. What are the Government doing to ensure that the workers receive the missing employer contributions, and will the Secretary of State promise me here today that this will not be yet another entitlement that is disgracefully pinched from the £80 million support package, like the redundancy payments?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, for taking part in the steel summit on Friday, and for the constructive way in which she has helped workers in her constituency and highlighted wider issues around the steel sector.
I know the hon. Lady welcomes the support we have already provided. I am happy to repeat that at the moment the advice is that the £80 million of support for Redcar workers and their families who are affected by this will go a long way to help the local community and local economy, but if more is required and the taskforce comes forward with a proposal, we will look at that.
On employer contributions to pension plans, we are happy to try to help in any way we can. I know the hon. Lady has provided some information on this and I think there is more coming. We will take a close look at that.
The Government have already identified in their national infrastructure pipeline over 500 major infrastructure projects, some of them very large, such as HS2. We are the first country in the EU to change the rules on procurement to allow us to take social and environmental issues into account, which I think ultimately gives us more flexibility. We can start to take immediate advantage of that, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General will help to take that forward.
My heart goes out to the steelworkers and their families both north and south of the border impacted by this announcement. I welcome the establishment of the Scottish steel taskforce this morning to address these issues, but it is a disgrace that the Business Secretary did not once mention Scotland in his reply to the urgent question.
May I ask the Business Secretary why the Prime Minister did not raise the steel issue at the European Council last week—the Business Secretary did not answer the question from my hon. Friend Marion Fellows? Would the Prime Minister not be better served working with our partners in Europe to save jobs, rather than falling out with them to save his own?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman has heard me talk about the challenges facing the industry; these are UK-wide challenges and of course that includes Scotland. When it comes to us—whether the Prime Minister, me or other Ministers—talking to our EU partners, we have had a number of conversations and taken action, for example by voting in the EU and the relevant EU Councils for action on unfair trade. We will, of course, continue working with the EU, because that is what is required, and when the EU does take action, it will be a lot more meaningful than if individual countries try to take action.
We need a steel industry in this country not least because it is imperative for our national security and I am grateful to Ministers for the interest they have shown in this issue. At the steel summit the Secretary of State committed to setting up three working groups. When will those groups first meet and how quickly will they report? On the additional energy compensation to which he referred, I urge him to shoot first and ask questions later.
I thank my hon. Friend for taking part in the steel summit and his contributions. These working groups have already been set up and each and every one of them has begun work. In fact, I can announce which Ministers will be chairing and leading the work for each group: it is the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General on public procurement, the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise on international comparisons, and the Commercial Secretary on competitiveness and productivity. All these working groups will have their first meetings later this week.
The hon. Gentleman knows that we have already started taking action. As I have said, we have voted for action at the EU. We have in fact led the way on certain products. He will also know that the process is EU-led in terms of investigations. We have provided evidence where we found it. If he is aware of any stakeholders that have evidence that he thinks we may not have, I would like to see it.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his team on their prompt and compassionate action on this problem and on dealing with this challenge. What consideration has he given to potentially pre-ordering steel for infrastructure projects, particularly on issues of national security?
My hon. Friend makes a good suggestion. As part of our approach to procurement, that is exactly what we are looking at. One thing that came out of the summit was that the industry understandably wants certainty about future demand. There is a commitment from the Government on major infrastructure projects involving HS2, aviation capacity, civil nuclear power and Trident, and if that kind of commitment could be more cross-party, it would help to provide that certainty.
The crisis in the steel industry has been caused not only by the fall in world demand but by the increase in the costs imposed on producers in the UK because of green energy policies that have put electricity prices up by twice those of our competitors. Can the Minister really justify fiscal policies such as the carbon floor price, which are designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions, while we are exporting jobs to countries that are more interested in the health of their economy than in King Canute’s attempts to change the world’s climate?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this matter, which goes to the heart of one of the competitiveness issues facing the industry—namely, the relatively high energy costs. Some of those costs are imposed here domestically, and some are imposed directly through EU policies. Where we can take action, such as through the compensation package, we are doing so. I hope I can assure him that we want to pay more of the compensation that we have already announced as quickly as possible. That is why we want to get EU approval as quickly as possible.
I really do not think that this is a party political issue, as illustrated by the fact that we have had a Backbench Business Committee debate on the matter, which led to the steel summit in Rotherham. Will the Secretary of State answer the question put to him by my hon. Friend Tom Pursglove? He urged him to shoot first and ask questions later. Let us put in place what we think is right, and worry about whether the EU agrees with it afterwards. We need to do this now; otherwise, there might not be a steel industry left to worry about.
I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but he will know that the rules on state aid, unfair trade and compensation exist to protect British industry as well. Indeed, British industry, including steel manufacturers, would be the first to complain if other countries were violating those rules. Frankly, if we are going to complain about others violating the rules, we need to have clean hands ourselves.
If the Secretary of State really believed what he was saying today, he would have made an oral statement instead of having to be dragged here yet again to answer an urgent question from the Opposition Benches. Why is he again raising the issue of £80 million for Redcar? It is not £80 million, as he knows all too well, because his own Prime Minister has blocked access for the entire sector to get hold of EU globalisation adjustment funding, of which £5 million could have been accessed by the sector to help the 5,200 workers who are directly affected. More than that, the Secretary of State knows that our EU and US allies have personally taken action against Chinese dumping. Act now, or we might not have an industry left!
I hope that the hon. Gentleman has welcomed the written ministerial statement that we issued today. Coming to the House to respond to this urgent question gives us a further opportunity to debate the matter, as we have done here before. What matters most, however, is action, as he suggests. [Interruption.] When it comes to action, he will know that for the first time ever, a British Government have taken action in terms of supporting duties by the EU. As I have said, we will take further action, and we will not hesitate to do so once the evidence is there.
The steel industry is a vital national interest. It is also vital for many of our communities around the country, and I encourage the Secretary of State to maintain a laser-like focus on it throughout the coming years. Will he also look at another issue that the steel industry has raised—namely, the quality of the steel, particularly structural steel? There is no point in buying cheap steel and putting it into buildings, only for them to develop problems in 20 years’ time. Let us buy British steel of the right quality.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. I agree with him wholeheartedly about the importance of the steel industry to the economy as a whole and to our manufacturing base. It is without question a vital national asset, as he says. The important issue of quality must be considered alongside the question of markings and of ensuring that the quality is properly tested. Those issues came up in the taskforce, and we will be looking at them very closely.
I welcome today’s announcement of the £100 million Chinese investment by SinoFortone into the London Paramount theme park, but our Chinese partners need to know that this country is more than just a theme park. We need a steel industry and a manufacturing strategy. Will the Secretary of State explain what talks he is having this week with visiting Chinese officials on dumping, on state aid and on environmental regulation? When will he stand up for Britain?
This week, there will also be announcements on further incoming business from China into Britain, and on opportunities for British companies to export to China, worth a total of more than £25 billion to the British economy. That will help to sustain thousands and thousands of jobs throughout the country, including in the hon. Gentleman’s own constituency. The Prime Minister said yesterday that, when he sits down with Chinese Ministers, officials and others, the issue of unfair trade will be discussed.
As a former steelworker of 31 years’ standing, may I say that Chinese dumping and Government neglect are killing the British steel industry while the Government are simultaneously gifting future nuclear jobs to China? Is not the posture of this Government towards China today that of a supplicant fawning spaniel licking the hand that beats it?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to be reassured that we will bring up the issue of unfair trade with China. We will do so.
Is not the Minister one of the people who, at the general election a few months ago, campaigned as a representative of the workers? Well, now he has got a job and he has to prove that. The closures are spreading like wildfire across the United Kingdom. It started at Redcar and we thought it was a little disturbance, but over the past 10 days more and more closures have been forecast. He is now in the Government, and it is his job either to stop this carnage or to give way to someone who can make a fist of it.
I hope that, when the hon. Gentleman was sitting on these Benches supporting a Labour Government, he made similar noises about the halving of our manufacturing base. I hope that it was made clear in the statement today, and in my answers to other questions, that we are taking action where we can and that we will not hesitate to do so.
Mr Skinner is many things, but he has never been accused of being what might be called a silent lamb. I think we are clear about that.
Steel is one of our foundation industries, and it can still be saved. Will the Minister examine the European material from the North East of England Member of the European Parliament, Judith Kirton-Darling, to see just how the state can properly intervene? Will he do that before Teesside and other parts of the UK follow the same path to ruin as Ravenscraig in central Scotland, where the community has still not recovered, 25 years later?
It is with a sad heart that I have to stand here today and talk about possible closures at the Clydebridge works in my constituency and the Dalzell works in the constituency of my hon. Friend Marion Fellows. My thoughts are with all the steelworkers throughout the UK. We must do everything we can for the workers. There is never a good time for job losses; that is especially true so close to Christmas. We welcome the Scottish Government’s action to set up a Scottish steel taskforce, but we need to know what the UK Government are going to do. For months on end, MPs on both sides of the Chamber have been asking for action to save the steel industry in the UK. I am glad to hear that the three working groups are up and running, but what are the Government going to do about the dumping and about the high energy costs? When are they going to start listening to the Members in this Chamber?
May I thank the hon. Lady for taking part in the steel summit on Friday? She will know that one thing we talked about was support for workers, and I welcome the creation of a taskforce in Scotland. As I said, we will support that and help in any way we can. She is absolutely right to emphasise that we must do everything we can for the workers who have been affected and their families, and that is certainly the way that we will move forward.
Clearly, urgent action is needed to stem the flow of job losses in the steel industry, and what the Business Secretary has had to say today is woefully inadequate. What is even more inexplicable is his refusal to commit to a long-term strategy for the future of the industry. Elsewhere in government there has been a commitment to a 25-year strategy to secure the future of food and farming, so why can he not do the same for steel?
I thank the hon. Lady for joining the steel summit on Friday. We collectively discussed the issue of strategies, procurement and pipeline, and the whole supply chain. I hope she will be reassured that since that meeting we have already, for example, set out a metal strategy, which has steel as a very important part of it.
The Minister has used many words about action, getting things done and taskforces, but from my constituents’ point of view this does not look like action at all—it looks like disinterest. Five asks came out of the steel summit. Does he even know what they were? What is his response to those asks?
This is an opportunity to remind the hon. Lady of action that has already been taken—for example, the compensation of more than £50 million already provided to the steel industry for higher energy costs, and our becoming the first of all 28 EU member states to adopt new procurement rules, which will give us the kind of flexibility that I know she wants to see.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the hard closure of the Redcar steelworks will cost hundreds of millions of pounds to secure the assets that are there, and the continued bad news on closures will cost hundreds of millions of pounds more, potentially running into billions. Has he shared this information with the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Does the Chancellor understand the impact this will have on his much-vaunted deficit reduction plans?
Of course the sad closure of the steelworks—the coking facilities—at Redcar is well known and understood throughout the Government, and every Department that needs to be involved in providing support and help is involved.
The steel industry is a key strategic sector for the Welsh economy—indeed, Tata Steel is considered by the Welsh Government to be an anchor company. What representations has the Secretary of State received from
Welsh Ministers on the current crisis? What discussions are planned to co-ordinate Government action to ensure that all levers are used to preserve Welsh jobs?
On this issue, a number of very good suggestions were made by the industry, trade unions and others at the taskforce. One related to certain industries that are now, thankfully, going through a huge growth phase, such as the automotive industry, which is a big user of British metals, including steel. We will be working closely with each of those industries to see how we can hard-wire the requirement for British products and British steel into their products.
Caparo Wire in Wrexham is one of the businesses threatened by the news of the past 24 hours. If the Secretary of State really believes that the UK needs a strategically based steel industry for our industry and for our defence purposes, how big should that industry be? Will he identify where and how he is going to retain capacity within the industry, which is under immediate threat?
On capacity for the British steel industry, we have, unfortunately, seen a steady decline under successive Governments. What we need now is to provide more certainty to steel producers, be it in relation to energy costs, their concerns about unfair trade or the supply chain, so that they can build their plans for the future. That is what we will be helping them to do.
The first thoughts of those of us on the Liberal Democrat Benches are of course with those affected by this devastating news. I must bring to the attention of the Secretary of State his predecessor’s comments in last week’s Standard, where he said that it is clear where the focus of Government attention is when all the focus in the Chinese visit is on currency convertability to help the banking sector and not on dealing with this problem of the dumping of Chinese steel, which is affecting British manufacturing. Will he give an assurance now that the Prime Minister will raise this specifically with the Chinese premier today?
First, let me tell the hon. Gentleman that alongside the Chinese visit this week we will have an announcement of more than £20 billion of business deals which will support jobs throughout the country, including in his constituency—I know he will welcome that. On his specific question about whether the Prime Minister will raise the issue of steel with the Chinese, the answer is yes, he will.