UK Steel Industry

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:49 pm on 9th July 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole 4:49 pm, 9th July 2019

It pains me to disagree slightly with Sarah Champion—for whom I have a high regard and whom I consider a friend—but it is simply not the case that the Government have done nothing. It is also a little rich to take lectures from Labour, under whose last tenure in government the number of people working in the steel industry halved and UK steel production fell.

It is not the case that the Government have done nothing. This Government have acted to defend the steel industry in a number of ways, whether by creating the scheme that enables the company to be reimbursed for its high energy costs, by restructuring business rates, which have a direct beneficial impact on the site in Scunthorpe, through the millions of pounds that they made available shortly before the liquidation of British Steel to cover the EU carbon credits, or through the tens of millions of pounds that the Government were prepared to put in but could not do so because an arrangement on a commercial basis, as required by UK and EU state aid laws, could not be achieved. The Government have a strong record of supporting the sector and supporting steel workers in Scunthorpe.

It was the UK Government in the EU that led demands to change procurement rules within the European Union, just a few years ago, to make it easier for us to procure UK steel. Of course, those procurement rules are still a challenge for us. The Government cannot just turn around, as some people think, and say, “We are going to use UK steel in all Government contracts.” That would be illegal under UK and EU law, and—for those who think that a no-deal Brexit is the answer to all this—it would even be illegal under World Trade Organisation rules.

Having used half my speech to slightly disagree with my friend the hon. Member for Rotherham, I will say why we need the Government to act now and set out some things they need to do.

As Nic Dakin outlined, our area relies strongly on the steel industry. Scunthorpe is a steel town; north Lincolnshire is, in many ways, a steel district. Most of the workers—the lion’s share, probably—live in my constituency. We cannot underestimate the impact of steel workers on our local economy, because these are some of the best paid and most skilled jobs we have in our area. I am not prone to hyperbole—well I am, but let us pretend I am not—but to lose them would be devastating on our local economy.