2015 Steel Summit Commitments

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 11:12 am on 10th July 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Minister of State (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Clean Growth) 11:12 am, 10th July 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. It was also a pleasure, as is often the case, to listen to Anna Turley, who is my friend and who speaks so passionately on these matters. I congratulate her on securing the debate. It is always good to see such a doughty group of campaigners for this vital industry.

The hon. Lady will know, as will her colleagues, that I visited her constituency and saw for myself the shock caused by the closure of what was once an exceptionally large and productive plant and the concern expressed by people who had lost highly productive jobs that were critical to the UK’s economy. She also knows that the Government, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who has responsibility for the sector, want to do everything that we can to ensure the return of those jobs. She has done wonderful work in her constituency, ably supported by Nic Dakin, other parts of her region and its mayor, to reopen that site as part of the new, low-carbon economy. I am in no doubt about the passion with which she speaks and of what a hammer blow that closure was for employees, their families and the whole region.

The hon. Lady is right to raise what has happened since the closure. That was clearly a momentous time for the industry, and some tough questions had to be answered by the Government and the industry, working together. There have been signs of progress. We have seen a recovery in the world price of steel. The UK has benefited from the decline in the value of our currency, which has made our exports more competitive. However, we are under no illusions about the difficulty of the international market, which we will raise with President Trump when he visits us this weekend.

We are all deeply and profoundly disappointed with the section 232 tariffs. Huge amounts of work have happened behind the scenes to try to focus the US on potentially legitimate concerns about over-capacity production in China, rather than on penalising its closest allies and their industries. Those conversations have happened—my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade raised it directly with the US Secretary of Commerce last week. We will continue to make the case for a UK and EU exemption to the tariffs. We have shared legal support on these exemption questions with UK firms and with the industry, and we are pressing hard on behalf of those companies for assurances on the product exclusion process.

Those are the direct impacts of the tariffs. The indirect impact can have a chilling effect on the supply chain, which we are aware of. Indeed, we voted in the EU in support of provisional measures to curb steel imports only last Thursday. We will continue to offer a doughty response, which we must do on behalf of British-based companies.

That 2015 plant closure was such a pivotal moment. We received the five asks of the steel industry, which looked not only at what could be done in the short term but also at the long-term outlook for those companies. A number of changes to the industry’s structure have happened since. Greybull Capital acquired Tata’s long products business, which is based in Scunthorpe and is now part of the British Steel group. The Scottish mills have reopened under the ownership of Liberty Steel, which also bought Tata’s speciality steel business, based in Sheffield and Rotherham.

We should all be pleased to see the Tata-thyssenkrupp venture in Port Talbot coming to fruition. I visited it myself and saw the pride in that long tradition of steelmaking. I pay tribute to the management and the unions, who worked so hard in making that deal happen. Securing those jobs was vital. The deal was accompanied by the decision to invest in the blast furnace. The company will now work to ensure the commitment that as much as possible will be done to avoid any compulsory redundancies until 2026. I have to pay tribute to the pool of highly skilled workers who are dedicated to the future of the industry. We are incredibly lucky to have them.

However, the Government have done our bit, too. We set up our industrial strategy. The hon. Member for Redcar rightly raised energy costs. The Dieter Helm review that we commissioned found that, while our energy companies pay more than some of their European counterparts, it is often because other countries decide to spread those costs to consumers’ bills.