Steel Sector — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:19 pm on 18th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 5:19 pm, 18th January 2016

My Lords, the devastating impact of job losses in the country as a result of Tata’s announcement of more than 1,000 job losses across Wales, Corby and Hartlepool is devastating news for all of the workers, their families and the close-knit communities surrounding the plants. The impact is a double whammy for Wales because steel is an industry which has contributed significantly to the added value of the economy there, adding several percentage points to GVA figures. Of course, this latest news comes on top of job losses at Tata’s Newport plant last year, along with job losses across the UK announced by a number of operators in September 2015, and the complete closure of the Redcar plant.

Steel is the foundation of many of the UK’s most important manufacturing sectors, including aerospace, defence, automotive and construction. However, the industry suffers from a perfect storm. Countries such as China are engaging in ruthlessly uncompetitive practices which are destroying the steel industry, energy prices are too high and emissions regulations are too restrictive. The Government centrally, although they are doing some work on this, still, perversely, do not require their own contractors to buy steel from the UK. The Minister, in repeating the Statement in this House, for which we are grateful to her, mentioned that there is some progress on these matters, but the general view around the country is that although progress is being made, it has sadly been too little and it has certainly come too late.

Central to ensuring that our steel industry survives and thrives is the urgent need for an industrial strategy. The Chancellor declared recently that Britain would be carried aloft by the march of its makers. But manufacturing exports have slumped and manufacturing output is still below its level of seven years ago, before the crash. There is a lot more still to be done.

I have some questions for the Minister. When did she or her colleagues raise the issue of the dumping of steel directly with the Chinese? Can she give us chapter and verse on that? Can she spell out the support from the UK Government that will be made available directly to the families and communities affected by the latest round of cuts? She said that the Government would help where they can, subject to state-aid rules—but there is a humanitarian crisis on our doorsteps and we really need to see action. What work is being done by the department on the supply chain that supports these companies affected by job losses and, presumably, reductions in activity? Many of these are small and medium-sized companies that help to keep the British steel industry going. What work will be done to support the UK buyers of output from these plants who may well now have to seek alternative supplies on the market?

The steel industry is of vital strategic importance to this country and the Government need to safeguard its future. We are very conscious that there are issues in the market of price and overcapacity, but these have been there for a long time and have been raising concerns about the structure of the UK steel industry for most of the previous Government and certainly during this one. Where is the action?

We are keen that the Government support key strategic industries in this country and make sure that highly skilled jobs are not lost. I hope that these sad events will trigger a reconsideration of the Government’s hostility to an industrial policy and strategy. We hope that they will get to grips with this crisis. It would be a tragedy for the steel industry if they did not, not only for those who have lost their livelihoods but for those of us who wish to make the case for modern economic progress.