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Steel Industry — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 11th May 2016.

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Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Labour, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland 2:30 pm, 11th May 2016

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I know that the Minister will agree with this. What would we be saying, as a nation, to Greybull or the seven potential buyers of strip and tubes in Britain if we removed ourselves from the European Union? They are purchasing, obviously, in the context in which we are a member of the European Union. The implications of removing a pillar of the deal that has just happened—it took more than 12 months in relation to long products and Greybull—would be so massive that it does not bear thinking about, but then again, the Brexit campaign is more politically led than economically led. I make that quite clear because the matter is that important, and not just for steel. The Chemical Industries Association has come out very strongly on remaining within the European Union, as have trade unions in the manufacturing sector, because it is the only practical option if we are to retain any form of manufacturing in this country.

Another matter is business rates. This one cannot be immediately resolved, but it needs looking into. The review of business rates that concluded in advance of the Budget did not go far enough to deliver savings for UK producers. Business rates in the UK are up to 10 times higher than those paid by competitors in France and Germany. The Government should act now to level the playing field by removing plant and machinery from business rate calculations. Including plant and machinery in the calculations is anti-investment and anti-industry. Tata Steel recently invested £185 million in the construction of a new blast furnace in its Port Talbot steelworks and, in return for that investment, received a £400,000 increase in business rates. That is patently uncompetitive and ridiculous.

Back in March 2012, I gave a speech in relation to the closure of Thamesteel in Kent. That just goes to show how long we steel MPs in this place have been fighting, not just for our constituencies but for our countries’ steelworks, our steel culture, our steel families and our people. I want to repeat what I said that day, quoting a Teesside man of steel:

“When I see a blast furnace, I see a thing of beauty...I see something that has given thousands and thousands of people a way of life, a good, honest wage, the ability to pay their mortgages, go on holidays and bring up their families. That to me is fabulous, that is a beautiful thing. When you come to Middlesbrough and see that skyline...That blast furnace is the heart of Teesside. As long as it pumps, there is life in Teesside.”

It was not just a Teessider’s fairy tale when we saved TCP. The men and women from Kent, Stocksbridge, Rotherham, Hartlepool, Corby, Port Talbot, Shotton, Llanwern and Trostre all have the same view of their steelworks, as does every single steel community. It is a story for all steelworkers in Britain. There is a way to save our steel sites and UK steel if the Government do something to facilitate the process and lend their support, so the question for the Minister is: will you follow through on those promises, because now is the time for action?