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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend Tom Blenkinsop on securing this important debate today. I rise to speak not because I have a major steel manufacturer in my constituency, but because I have more foundries than any other constituency in the country. I want to emphasise the strategic importance of the steel industry to the metals industry throughout the country. Quite rightly, the focus has been on the immediate impact of the steel industry’s demise on employees and the communities surrounding steel production, but the knock-on effect will spread throughout manufacturing and the key manufacturing regions in this country. The west midlands, particularly the black country, is hugely significant in that respect.
The foundry industry in the black country is absolutely crucial to two other manufacturing success stories in this country: automobile manufacturing and civil aviation. Anything that reduces the capacity of those two industries to be successful and to drive our exports will have implications far beyond the immediate closure of the steel industry.
I want to compliment the West Midlands Economic Forum, a research group, and its steel taskforce, which is trying to bottom out the implications for local industry of the demise of the steel industry and act as a mouthpiece for it in securing alternative supplies. We must be clear that there is a real threat to companies. We know that some are already seeking alternative suppliers of steel, quite rightly, because they need continuity and certainty for their forward business planning. If they cannot rely on the British steel industry surviving, then for their own survival, they have to look elsewhere. That vicious circle has implications for our native steel industry. Even if we get it up and running—I believe it has a great future if we do—it could lose some of its future market share as a result of the decisions made during this period of uncertainty.
It is absolutely essential that we have more from the Government than just the benign warm words about the industry that we have heard. My hon. Friend Angela Smith emphasised that we need a proactive declaration that will generate confidence not just among the steel-producing industry but among the thousands of small businesses that depend on it for their future. That means seeing what measures are being taken in Europe within the very tight rules that I admit the EU applies to ensure that there is not unfair and uncompetitive practice. Other Governments in the EU have successfully done that in support of their industry.
Finally, I will cite investment in research and development. In France, there is investment of €20 million to €30 million a year, leveraging further private investment; €l9.1 million has been given to the German Salzgitter company for innovative new steel processes; and there is long-standing relief in Germany for energy costs worth up to an estimated €8 billion a year. If they can do it in Germany, we should be able to do it here. We look to our Government to say that they are willing to implement such measures, to provide the necessary reassurance and confidence that our steel industry will survive and that its role in manufacturing will continue.