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Steel Industry — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:23 pm on 11th May 2016.

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Chair, Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, Chair, Education, Skills and the Economy Sub-Committee 3:23 pm, 11th May 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I thank my hon. Friend Tom Blenkinsop, a great parliamentary champion of steel, for securing this all too crucial debate. I also thank him for giving evidence to the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills on 28 April, during its inquiry on the UK steel industry, as a follow-up to our December report. Yet again he gave the Committee his valuable insight and wisdom about, and experience of, the industry. Steelworkers and the steel industry could not be better represented in this place than by my friend and colleague.

Reference has already been made to trade defence instruments and market economy status, and I will not dwell on them. I want to focus on three things: time, confidence and Government action. On the question of time, I do not think anyone can be any doubt that, given the scale and relative complexity of the operations, the sale of Tata’s steel business will not be a straightforward or quick process. Such sales take years to plan and execute. Although it is welcome that there are seven bidders expressing an interest, and a firm offer is needed sometime after 23 June, due diligence and negotiations on matters such as the pension scheme will take time. Bimlendra Jha, the chief executive officer of Tata Steel in the UK, said to the Select Committee that with the kind of losses that Tata is enduring,

“urgency is important. We cannot continue to bleed.”

He would not commit to a definite timescale, nor to keeping all steel facilities in the UK open and all jobs safeguarded within those facilities until such time as a buyer is found and a deal formally done.

That being the case, the role of Government is crucial. What can the Government do to safeguard assets, capability and employment during this potentially lengthy sales process? Will the Minister articulate further the nature of any co-investment? Would the Government provide bridging finance and other help to cover the transition between Tata ownership and the new owners of the business?