Steel Industry

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 28th March 2001.

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Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West 9:30 am, 28th March 2001

I am grateful for that intervention. All those who wear pound badges should visit steelworkers and explain to them that the choice in many industries in this country, including farming, is often "euro or your job". The main crisis that has hit the steel industry is not a crisis of productivity or efficiency, but of the value of the product. The effect of the weakness of the euro and the strength of the pound is that the steelworkers' product is artificially expensive when exported to Europe, while that produced in euroland is artificially cheap when sucked in here. That is the reason for the crisis.

Corus has, understandably, taken a line on this. It is an international company with roots in several countries, mainly the UK and Holland, but all its decisions are informed by the need to survive, to be prosperous and to pay handsome dividends to shareholders, and are not influenced by the national interest. We have all experienced that in the bruising meetings that we have had with the head of the steel company, who is difficult to contact and to relate to. We found those meetings--unlike the one yesterday, which I shall come to--anything but productive.

The Trade and Industry Committee urged Corus and all companies to consider the long-term damage that would result from the loss of experienced staff and their ability to carry out effective research and development. The cuts in Corus involved restructuring research and development, which meant that the research and development staff and resources that would go to the Netherlands would be disproportionate, to the great loss of this country. The Committee also made a point about the difficulties that the euro has caused.

I happened to be present when the Select Committee on Trade and Industry interviewed Sir Brian Moffat and his comrades. In its report, the Committee described in graphic detail how it saw Corus and its role, and it asked the company to reconsider its decision. Great damage is likely to occur if Corus goes ahead with its proposals. We know about the heartbreaking loss of jobs, the families involved and the damage to people who face the insult of redundancy, knowing that their skills are no longer required. Many of them will never work again due to their age. However, the damage to our economy will result in a loss of capacity. If things go ahead as planned, a blast furnace may be lying on its back come the summer. That loss of capacity is irreplaceable and cannot be rebuilt. It will do enormous damage to the future prosperity of Wales and the rest of the country. The Trade and Industry Committee laid heavy emphasis on that in its report.