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Steel Industry

Volume 495: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2009

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Steve McCabe.)

I welcome all Members to the first Westminster Hall debate this morning. It looks comfortably attended, and I have no doubt that it will be interesting. I have great pleasure in calling the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) to open the debate.

Thank you, Sir Nicholas. Any debate that you chaired, even if it consisted of only one speaker, would be interesting.

We are here to discuss the steel industry. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Regional Economic Development and Co-ordination is to reply, because those of us who know her in her role as the Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber know of her dedication and her hands-on, let’s-go-and-see-what-can-be-done approach. I hope that at the end of this debate she can convey the message to her colleagues in Government that we need a slightly better co-ordinated response than we have had until now.

I asked for this debate because the announcement of hundreds of steel industry redundancies in my constituency and in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) is causing deep distress and concern, particularly as it appears that many of the redundancies will be compulsory. Much of the previous reduction in steel industry employment in south Yorkshire and elsewhere has been on a voluntary basis, but this situation is serious indeed.

There are many aspects of the crisis, but the basic message is simple: under the Conservatives, Britain lost its coal-mining industry; under Labour, Britain must not lose its steel-making industry. I wish to make a series of concrete proposals that I hope will stave off the worst of the impact of job cuts. I do so not with false hope nor a promise of what is beyond the power of the Government, the company or unions to deliver, but I have been raising concerns about steel across the board for the past two or three years, particularly in the past year as the worldwide recession began to develop.

Let us be clear: this is not a made-in-Britain crisis. Exports are plunging faster in Germany, unemployment is rising faster in Spain and America, and the economy of Japan may shrink by up to 12 or 15 per cent. On comparative terms, difficult as it may be for some to understand, Britain is perhaps better placed than most of our big OECD partners. But have we got sufficient grip in responding to the crisis in the steel industry? Has there been sufficient co-ordination and co-operation between Departments—I have to say politely that I do not think that that is the case—or, indeed, between the company and the union?

Corus has to ask itself hard questions. Would its dealings with the Government not have been more fruitful if, instead of its go-alone approach, it had co-operated fully with the main steel union community to work out common positions? The outgoing chief executive officer of Corus, Mr. Philippe Varin, and the new CEO, Kirby Adams, are open and friendly. They meet MPs, and they put their cards on the table. I am not making a personal criticism, but a structural approach in which the company and the union spoke as one to the Government could have borne better fruit.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this debate, and on his outstanding and sterling work in defending the steel industry, particularly in his constituency of Rotherham. He makes an important point about Government intervention, but does he agree that the Welsh Assembly Government and their ProAct scheme, which resulted from discussions, particularly with the steel union community of which he and I are members, has made a significant difference? Does he agree that it should be rolled out in England as well?

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. The scheme shows the devolved Government in Wales working well. Perhaps I should have put it on the record when I began speaking that I am a member of the trade union community.

The position of the steel industry is as it has always been: steel is the canary in the coal mine of global capitalism. Whenever a crisis is about to break, steel is hit hardest and early. Steel stocks are sold but not renewed, orders do not come in and the steel companies panic. Their answer is always the same: cut down on staff even though labour costs are a small part of total steel production costs.

We are dealing with Corus, which is part of the Indian conglomerate, Tata Steel. I know Tata from my work as an international trade union official. It is a caring company that has always sought to look after its employees, which is why I supported its takeover of Corus, just as I supported the merger of British Steel with the Dutch company. I argued in the 1990s for the newly privatised British Steel to seek European and global partners, but British Steel’s parochial and provincial leadership after privatisation was poor and without any strategic vision.

Tata is a successful, profitable company. Its turnover for the financial year 2009 was $29 billion, up $3 billion from its turnover of $25.8 billion in the financial year 2008. That was on a smaller tonnage of steel delivered: 28.54 million tonnes in the financial year 2009 compared with 31.68 million tonnes in 2008. One can actually make money out of steel while producing less, if the prices are right and there is enough demand.

Tata’s profit before tax this year was $2.13 billion dollars. We are not talking about a bankrupt or cash-strapped company. Corus figures in Europe were also strong: turnover increased in the financial year 2008-09 to $21.4 billion, with higher prices offsetting lower output.

The men whose jobs have been lost in two major Corus cost-cutting exercises in the past 18 months have contributed to the survivability of the company and its continuing strong profits. It is sad that it appears that the only way the good ship Corus can stay afloat is by throwing overboard or sinking its hard-working and loyal employees. My first demand today is for Corus to accept its duty of care to the steelworkers who deliver profits for its shareholders and large salaries for its executives.

I welcome the fact that the furnaces at Rotherham and Stocksbridge have not been shut down. The British Chambers of Commerce report today that the worst of the recession may be over. Insha’Allah—let us hope so. The stocks of steel and cars that have been waiting to be sold are now being sold, thanks to the scrappage scheme.

The most important policy objective that this or any Government could follow is to maintain demand. Corus says that the best help it could have is stimulation of demand. The leaders of the world’s steel community at the OECD steel committee meeting in Paris on 8 and 9 June noted that the best help that steel can have is continued Government stimulus aimed at long-term growth. In that regard, the constant attacks by the Conservative party and the right-wing press on the Government’s demand-side policies are deeply damaging to the future of steel. The right response to an economic recession is not to stop spending but to maintain investment programmes. Minimising debt, as called for by Opposition spokesmen, the BBC and other conservative forces in Britain, would be a one-way road to fewer steel and other jobs.

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says about demand. Does he agree that it is in Corus’s best interests, and it is its responsibility, to try to maintain capacity? Eventually, the marketplace will work and world demand will come back strongly, especially for niche products, specialist skills and the high-quality steels that British steel focuses on. We must ensure that when the turnaround comes, Corus has the essential skills and the capacity to take advantage of it.

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course, the other thing that we must maintain is a strong position in the European Union. That contrasts with the position of his party, which wants to pull us out of Europe. That, of course, would exclude us from so many key markets for steel.

My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. Would he not agree that the scale of the steel industry and the global nature of steel production make it essential that the Government not only act to sustain demand in this country but work with other countries, particularly the EU but other countries as well, to sustain demand internationally? To cut demand by cutting public expenditure in this country will completely undermine their attempts to do so.

My hon. Friend is right. The Conservatives are like the Bourbon kings, of whom it was said they learned nothing and forgot nothing: they want to return to the politics of the 1980s and 1930s, and we know where that will lead us. The Prime Minister’s leadership of the G20 in April showed Britain in the vanguard of creating an international response to the world recession. At the forthcoming G8, he will meet President Sarkozy.

I will not deal with it in my speech, but one of the big issues to be discussed is opposition to any rise in protectionism, which we see in China, Turkey, Russia and potentially in the United States.

No, I really want to finish because other colleagues from steel communities want to speak on this matter.

What must the Government do? I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to open a channel of communication with Ministers to plug them into the scandal of the overly high prices that our electricity companies charge to industrial users. If hon. Members look at Hansard from 8 June 2006, at column 382, they will see that I asked the then Secretary of State for Department of Trade and Industry, now my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to take action regarding the fact that electricity prices for industry were much lower in Germany than in the UK—and they still are and no action has been taken.

On 22 January, as can be seen in Hansard, I asked the then Energy Minister, now the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O’Brien), what could be done, given the rapid decline in oil prices, to get electricity prices down. I do not want to read out the answer that I received, because it was not adequate. I have repeated that point in the House, in letters to Ministers and in private conversations with them, but there has been no grip on this problem of Britain’s having much higher electricity charges than the rest of Europe, which has cost the jobs of steelworkers. I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to put effective pressure on her ministerial colleagues who are responsible for the oversight of these wretched utility companies and ensure fair prices for steel.

We also need joined-up government with the Department for Work and Pensions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (John Healey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough had a good meeting with Lord Mandelson and his ministerial team last month. We asked for a senior civil servant in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to be placed in executive charge of co-ordinating Government activity across Departments. Can the Minister tell us the name of that person, and if not will she write and let me know?

One bit of co-ordinated activity would be to use all the DWP’s funds, not as stretcher-bearers to help those who have lost jobs, but instead to create in-work training schemes so that some workers can be kept on the company payroll on training or community help schemes, rather than going out the door.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this debate. I, too, declare an interest as a member of the Community trade union. My right hon. Friend may be aware that I secured an Adjournment debate a few weeks ago, in which I mentioned a joint report from the TUC and the Federation of Small Businesses on supporting the work force in work. The conclusions of that report were that Government money would be much more wisely spent on that so that industry, especially the steel industry, could keep its work force in place, ensuring that we have the capacity in Britain to meet demand as it increases.

I agree with my hon. Friend. I wish that the civil servants in Whitehall would read these debates and that Ministers would act on the points made by Back Benchers who are a lot closer to the steel industry than others. I will come on to that point in a second.

Undoubtedly, we need to think differently. There is a sense that, in terms of industrial support policy, we are on tramlines that have not altered for the last 25 years: any job reduction is good and anything that a company wants to do has to be accepted, and the Government are powerless, as if decisions about electricity prices or tariffs or how to ladle out public funds to support people in difficulties are immutable things that, like the weather, cannot be altered. The Government must understand their responsibilities and act.

We need to see what can be done to use DWP funds to keep some workers—not all—on the company payroll in training or community help schemes, rather than have them go out the door. In particular, the role of the Communitas training outfit, which has specialised knowledge of steel, needs to be highlighted. I understand that there will be a meeting with Communitas later today, and I hope that the Minister can assure me that the Government will act to press Corus to co-operate fully with it, because that is the only training organisation that originates from the steel community. There are plenty of private training organisations and all the quangos that get a lot of Government money, and I am sure that they do God’s work in their own way, but Communitas can do the steel industry’s work better than anyone else. Corus must be told that, if it is to get Government help, it must co-operate with Communitas.

In particular, the £5 million that has been announced to help steel must be used jointly with the union and Communitas and must not be a blank cheque given to Corus to use for its own purposes while men go out the door. That £5 million is welcome, but it needs to be increased. The paltry sum of £5 million for thousands of steelworkers contrasts sadly with the new wages of £9 million announced for the new boss of the Royal Bank of Scotland, even though this bank is under Government supervision. Can my right hon. Friend understand—I do not ask her to comment on it—the outrage of families who now have to face the dole while the Government sign off on a £9 million pay package for this greed-soaked bankster? This not a moral maze; it is immoral, and the sense of injustice at the double standard, whereby the rich in the City are protected while the steelworkers of south Yorkshire are sacrificed, should not be underestimated.

In talks with Ministers—my right hon. and hon. Friends and colleagues—they all insist on their ideological commitment that there is not much to be learned from European Union, where different and more innovative policies to support steel are in place. I have heard all the reasons and excuses from Ministers, both at the Dispatch Box and in meetings, but they increasingly sound hollow. When the upturn comes, and it will, we will find ourselves importing steel from Germany, the Netherlands and France because we will have lost the capacity and the will to make steel across the board in Britain. Why are other Governments leading and the British Government lagging? Can we look, for example, at stock-piling some steel products to be sold, at a profit, when the upturn comes?

If a full-scale Dutch or German-style wage subsidy is ruled out, why not a temporary exoneration of social charges on the wage bill, as in Sweden? The Government’s refusal not to follow a single European model but to incorporate some of the better ideas from Europe makes the UK much more expensive now for steel operations. Why are we not able to help with credit insurance? Without accessible credit insurance the cost of raw materials and electricity is even higher for Corus. These are arguments about the need to help the industry, though the industry could help itself by working jointly with the Communitas union and presenting a common approach based on showing the jointly decided priorities to Government.

Steel is not like other industrial production. A steel plant cannot be moth-balled. The electric arc furnaces of the south Yorkshire steel industry are a key component in the new green economy, for which my right hon. Friend the Minister is a wonderful ambassador and enthusiastic advocate. But does she understand that Rotherham and Stocksbridge consume about 1.5 million tonnes of scrap metal a year? Where are all the unused, derelict cars going to be stored if they are not swallowed up as scrap by the electric arc furnaces of our region? Are they to be stacked up on street corners?

We marvelled last week at the new roof at Wimbledon, which was made with Rotherham steel. It did not bring Andy Murray quite enough luck, but it will still be there next year, as I hope will he. Half of the steel made in Rotherham goes to the car industry in the UK. If Nissan, Honda and other car manufacturers can no longer source steel in Britain because steel has gone under, they will relocate to the continent to be closer to suppliers of steel as Governments there have been willing to think out of the box and put in place pro-steel job policies.

The 800 jobs threatened in south Yorkshire represent about £3 million in local demand. There is a lot of talk about family policy these days. The best family policy is, and always will be, a secure job with fair pay so that a home can be created and children supported as they grow up. That is now under threat for too many steel communities in Britain.

Labour Members know the devastation that was caused to towns and communities when the Tories shut down the pits. My right hon. Friend the Minister represents those communities in south Yorkshire, and I am confident that she will do all in her power to help, but so far we have had more words than concrete action. It is not too late. If Labour loses steel, Labour loses power. It is as simple as that.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) on securing this important debate. He referred to the impact of redundancies on steel towns and areas, with specific reference to Rotherham and Stocksbridge. The work force in Stocksbridge of approximately 850 will be reduced by 379. It does not need a mathematician to work out that the impact will be serious.

Over the years, Stocksbridge has weathered many storms, most of them from the late 1970s and early 1980s when the Conservative Government did little to intervene in the massive contractions that hit the steel industry. Stocksbridge then employed more than 6,000 people at the steelworks in the valley, but that number was reduced to 600 before increasing to 850.

Steelworking in the area goes back to the 1840s, when the works were founded by Samuel Fox. To this day, the valley is known not as the valley of the Little Don, but as the valley of the Fox, such was the impact of steel on the area. Stocksbridge exists for one reason only—steel. Without steel, Stocksbridge would still be a hamlet of a few dozen houses; instead, it has a population of 13,500. As my right hon. Friend said, the structure of the steel industry in places such as Stocksbridge has a similar effect to that of mining in any pit village. The place exists only because of steel, hence the importance of Corus Engineering Steels, even now, to towns such as Stocksbridge.

Another point that my right hon. Friend made that is worth repeating relates to the quality of the work in Stocksbridge, Rotherham and other places that provide components for niche markets, including aviation—planes have a little bit of Stocksbridge in them, whether in the landing gear or elsewhere—as well as components for the energy, oil and gas industries, and increasingly for the new green technologies, such as turbines.

If Britain is to specialise in high-value steelworking, Stocksbridge is at the niche end and highest value end of that market. Its specialisms are such that previous attempts to move steelworking capacity elsewhere have always led to its return to Stocksbridge. Attempts have been made to close the operation in my constituency, but it has always come back because the skills required to produce steel are so specialised that it has not been possible to maintain production without returning to the area. That is not surprising, because its 160 or 170 years of specialist steelworking and secondary skills in metallurgy and so on are second to none.

A long history of steelworking does not give an area an automatic right to survive, but that long history and the skills that have been built up over generations in areas such as mine means that Stocksbridge, Sheffield and so on have a right to be supported by maintaining the steel industry in their areas. What is made in Stocksbridge will be critical to the economy as it goes into an upturn. We hope that green technologies, the energy industry, aviation and the automotive industry will soon move into more positive times. Companies such as Corus will then be critical if British manufacturing is to exploit the new opportunities that will be available in the long term.

We all know why we are where we are with Corus. Demand is down and Stocksbridge is working at 25 per cent. capacity. Energy prices have crept up, as my right hon. Friend said, and it was inevitable that redundancies would be announced. We all hoped that those announced at the beginning of the year would be the only ones, so the latest announcements have been soul destroying in places such as Stocksbridge. Many of those who worked at the plant knew that there was a possibility of redundancies, but they still came as a shock when they were announced. The announcement ran like a tremor through the town: everyone was talking about it, and everyone started to worry not just about the job losses and what they would mean for local families, but about the knock-on effect on the local economy. In a small town such as Stocksbridge, many local businesses exist only because of Corus—even the local sandwich shops exist only because of Corus. On top of that, many contractors, such as electricians and so on, who are not on the Corus payroll depend on Corus for their survival and livelihood.

What can the Government do to support UK steel, and Corus in particular? First, as my right hon. Friend said, continuation of the Government’s economic stimulus is critical. The car scrappage scheme has been helpful to Corus; it should continue and, if possible, be expanded because it has done a great deal to help UK steel, and it could help a great deal in Corus’s fight for survival.

Secondly, we would like the Department—I hope that the Minister will comment on this—to do more to stabilise energy prices in the industry, which have been a huge and ongoing problem for a number of years. Since I came to the House, both Corus and the community have told me repeatedly that the price of energy, compared with that of our European neighbours, has been a key problem for Corus’s competitiveness. The more the Department can do to help to stabilise energy prices, the better it will be for the company in the long term.

Thirdly, if our Prime Minister is to engage in discussions with the French on Anglo-French collaboration on infrastructure projects, with nuclear power being a key part of that, I hope that he will do his best to ensure that British industrial interests are well represented in those discussions. British manufacturing could have a key role in building the future infrastructure of the UK and France. We know that the capacity potential for British manufacturing and specifically steel to fulfil the requirements of the new generation of nuclear power plants to be built in this country is around 90 per cent.—it is possible for UK steel manufacturing to provide up to 90 per cent. of the components required for the new generation of nuclear power plants. There are European rules on competition and so on, but it would be good to know that the Government are doing all they can to ensure that UK steel manufacturing is well placed to exploit the opportunities that will be available. Our Prime Minister can play a key role in delivering that.

A £5 million training package was announced two weeks ago. My right hon. Friend referred to ProAct, which is a Welsh scheme, and I understand that a similar scheme in England would cost around £44 million. The Department should consider introducing such a scheme. If the Welsh can do it, why cannot the English? I would like to hear from the Minister today how the Department is working with Corus to ensure that that £5 million is well used and delivers what it needs to deliver. It is a small sum. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham that we need much more such money, but we need to ensure that the money that has been provided is used properly—used to secure the long-term future of the plants in Stocksbridge and Rotherham. What is the status of the Minister’s discussions with Corus, and what commitments is she trying to secure from Corus on the proper use of that money? We need guarantees from Corus that the money will be used to secure the long-term survival of the company in South Yorkshire. That is critical—from my point of view, it is the most important aspect of the discussion today.

Why is steel so important? It is easy for people who live in Sheffield to forget that others do not necessarily consider steel to be so important. Sheffield was once the largest steel producer in the world and stainless steel was invented in Sheffield, so it is easy for us to forget. We have to ask ourselves the question again and again and to remind people why steel is important, because we in South Yorkshire take it for granted.

Steelmaking is a primary economic activity. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, it is a barometer of the health of the economy and of the health of British manufacturing. Given that in recent debates, it has been recognised that we have become over-dependent as a country on financial services and the service economy and that we need to rebalance the economy in favour of manufacturing, now is the right time to think properly and strategically about the future of steel, because steel is a critical part of any manufacturing economy such as ours. In particular, Corus Engineering Steels is a critical part of the steel industry because of its production of components for the niche end of the market and because it represents exactly where the UK needs to be in terms of manufacturing—at the very top of the highly skilled, high-value end of component manufacturing.

Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Newport, East (Jessica Morden), I should like to help hon. Members by informing them that it is my intention to start the winding-up speeches at 10.30, because I want the Minister to have the full amount of time to respond to what is clearly a very important debate. That is advice to hon. Members to indicate how long they can speak for, and perhaps to indicate, if Members have not thought of speaking but would like to, that there is still an opportunity to get in. I call Jessica Morden.

I shall speak briefly, Sir Nicholas.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) on securing this very important and timely debate. He made a convincing case for more Government support for the UK steel industry without, as he said, offering false hope. In my constituency as in many others, the dramatic drop in steel demand has had a tragic impact on workers and families. The job cuts announced by Corus in January have led to more than 500 losses at Corus in Llanwern, with the mothballing of the hot-strip mill. That has been a devastating blow for the very loyal and dedicated work force, who have stuck with Corus through thick and thin, not to mention the knock-on effects on contractors and suppliers.

During the current recession, steel has been hit more quickly and more severely than expected. We all understand that the industry faces extreme difficulties, but before the recession, companies such as Corus were making extremely healthy profits, and I agree with my right hon. Friend that we must avoid, where possible, short-term decisions that affect the long-term future of the steel industry as a whole. In the past, knee-jerk reactions have affected sites such as Llanwern in my constituency and we should do everything that we can to avoid that now.

As chair of the all-party group on steel and metal, I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills for agreeing to come to a meeting of the group before the recess. That follows up the steel summit held by the group in May, at which representatives of the industry and the unions had the opportunity to voice their concerns and have a full and frank discussion with the Secretary of State. I look forward to my right hon. Friend the Minister reporting back on progress made on the issues that we discussed, including, as has been mentioned, action to stimulate demand for steel through the construction and automotive sectors and the car scrappage scheme; assistance with trade credit insurance; and security for energy purchases and prices. It is clear that the burden being placed on the industry by energy companies is unreasonable and unfair; I am thinking especially of the demands to pay up front. That problem could worsen as the country emerges from recession. Traditionally, most bankruptcies occur when companies’ working capital increases as they start to ramp up production. If energy suppliers continue to demand those payments up front, that will put an even greater strain on resources.

Most crucial is the retention of skills in the industry. It would be helpful if the Minister responding to this debate talked about that. It would also be helpful to have her feedback on the commitment made during the steel summit about working groups with industry and the Department to consider the issues in detail. It would be useful to know what progress has been made on those groups and how often they have met.

Other European countries are helping their industry through problems such as that relating to trade credit insurance and are offering, for example, generous arrangements for short-time working. We need to ensure that we have a level playing field to allow us to compete. We need progress on the measures now, because the benefits in all the areas that we have discussed today will undoubtedly take time to filter through to the industry. Momentum will certainly gather with measures such as action to stimulate demand, but every day is crucial, and we need help to come as soon as possible for communities such as mine in Newport, East.

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) on securing the debate. It is important for all our communities and I am pleased to see how many hon. Members from the all-party steel and metal group are present, representing their steel communities. We all have a common interest and a common cause.

Like Stocksbridge, Scunthorpe was built on steel. Before the discovery of ironstone, Scunthorpe was no more than five small villages. There have been enormous structural changes over the years, but the work force have responded with dedication and skill and have kept production up, even though fewer people have been employed. However, although Scunthorpe has fared better than many plants in recent times, the recent announcement of 500 job losses is a very heavy blow to the town. Of course, it is a blow not just to steel production and the steelworks, but to the whole local economy, because those are good jobs with decent pay. Taking those jobs out of the local economy has a knock-on effect all the way through the economy—on other jobs, other industries, the supply side, services and manufacturing.

In addition, we do not know what the future will bring. I endorse what my right hon. Friend said about the pressures on steel and about the pressures being global. This is not a national but an international issue. Other companies all over the world are suffering in the same way as we in the UK are.

It is important that we work together to forge partnerships and to seek common cause. There should be common cause between the trade unions, management, local authorities, the regional development agency, Government and ourselves as local Members of Parliament representing our communities and the people who work in the steel industry. The Government can take a wide range of measures to help steel, but I accept, as my right hon. Friend said, that the Tata group is a very profitable group and it has some responsibilities in relation to seeing Corus get through the current period.

One advantage of being part of a very large conglomerate is that there is some shielding from downturns, which of course are not unknown in the steel industry. Many of us have been through many downturns. In the past and particularly the 1980s and ’90s, the first thing to go was jobs. I take a lot of encouragement from the fact that Corus and the Tata group have had a more thoughtful approach. They have genuinely been trying to minimise job losses and find savings in other areas, which is exactly the right thing to do.

With my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey), I recently held a meeting with all the trade unions in Scunthorpe to talk about how we as local MPs could work with the unions, the company and the local council, all of which are committed to seeing us through the present difficulties, to help the steel industry, which is so important to our whole economy. Some of the issues that we discussed have been touched on in the debate and they include support for UK manufacturing. Manufacturing is an important part of our economy, but it has not had the support that it deserves.

Sometimes, a small intervention can make a huge difference. One example is the car scrappage scheme, which is having a beneficial effect. Car manufacture is not a major component of output in Scunthorpe, but some companies there supply the car industry, and there is a knock-on benefit right through the economy. That is an example of a successful scheme that the Government have put in place.

We could bring forward major infrastructure projects, such as Building Schools for the Future and the construction of new health centres, as well as road and rail improvements, which the Government have announced and which I very much welcome. A lot more could also be done on social housing and house building, which help with demand for steel and make a useful contribution to our economy.

We could promote major investment in new clean energy. We will have to have an awful lot of new power stations in the very near future. The growth of the green economy has real potential for steel manufacturing, and the Prime Minister very much believes in it, but a great deal more could be done.

We need to consider anti-dumping measures. There have been allegations of slab coming in from Ukraine at prices that are below the cost of production. We need to be wary of that and to watch what other countries are doing to ensure that there is no trade distortion. We also need to look at what we can do to promote world demand, as the Prime Minister has been doing through the G8 and the G20.

We need to explore ways to support the work force and companies in minimising job losses. We could be put at a serious disadvantage compared with what other European countries are doing to support their work forces through wage subsidies. I know the arguments on that subject and I know that this country opted out of an EU scheme in the ’80s, when anything to do with the EU was anathema, but it is at times like this that one can see the benefits of the EU, because European countries such as France and Germany are getting the benefits of the social systems that are in place.

The Welsh ProAct scheme has been mentioned, and it seems to be very successful. My right hon. Friend the Minister should look at it carefully to see how we can help through initiatives such as Train to Gain, which has been used quite successfully. How can we use support for skilling and temporary support for the work force to reduce job losses in this difficult period? We also need to ensure that UK manufacturing and UK steel get a fair share of Government contracts.

Energy prices are an issue—a complex one, as I know from my work on the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change. It is fair to say that deregulation in the UK brought advantages for manufacturing and domestic consumers, but there is a bit of a disparity between UK and European prices. The price of gas is competitive in European terms, but the price of electricity is not, and questions need to be asked about why those disparities exist between the UK and the rest of Europe.

In some parts of the steel industry, credit insurance is a problem. I would have thought that the Government could do something to support credit insurance and to put in place measures to provide some underpinning. I hope that the Minister will look at that.

Finally, there is the question of partnerships. Steel is crucial to our local economies and to our national economy. It is in all our interests to ensure that we have a successful and viable steel industry, because steel production is part of the manufacturing base. It is important that we all work together and that the Government, the company, the trade unions, local authorities, regional organisations and trade organisations look at what we can do to ride out the world storm and ensure that we have a successful and viable steel industry in place to take advantage of the inevitable upturn. In relation to the steps being taken in other parts of Europe, we must not put our industry—steel or manufacturing—at a disadvantage. That is the Government’s responsibility, and they have introduced some very helpful and successful measures, but the points that I have raised need to be carefully considered.

Sir Nicholas, you and I have shared a great interest in manufacturing over many years in the House. As somebody who left school at 15 and served an apprenticeship in the steel industry, I can say that I have steel in my veins. That is why it is sad to be having this debate. It is particularly sad given that the steel industry in this country was probably one of the most productive and competitive in the world. The management and the work force had come together, but some irresponsible financiers around the world have brought the economy of our nation and those of many others to their knees. We are now seeing the consequences of that in the announcement by Corus.

I stress—I know that the Minister will take this back to her colleagues in the Government—how important it is that we understand the comment by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) that the steel industry is important to this nation’s wealth-creating base. Governments now face a range of challenges, but that is particularly true of those who allowed their economies to develop into service economies, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said. We now need to reposition our economies and move them back a little in the direction of wealth creation and manufacturing, and steel is very important in that equation.

The steps that the Government have taken to stimulate the demand side of the economy are laudable and will probably mitigate the worst effects that we might have seen, as will the action taken by our Prime Minister at the G20 and the action that he will take at the G8 later this week. However, the importance of the steel industry is sometimes not understood in Whitehall. Had it not been for the steel industry, the RB211, which is probably one of the greatest aerospace engines the world, would never have got into the skies. Had it not been for the steel industry in Sheffield, Concorde would never have flown. Had it not been for the steel industry in Sheffield and the surrounding area, including Rotherham—I take a little exception to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham said about the cover at Wimbledon, because I do not think that all the steel was made in Rotherham, but we will debate that later—we would never have been able to extract oil from the North sea. The North sea is the most difficult terrain in which to extract oil, but we did it because of the brilliance of the engineers and the steel manufacturers in South Yorkshire.

We are now entering a nuclear renaissance and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe said, we are moving into the green energy sector and green energy industries, which will involve not just hundreds of millions, but billions of pounds. We need to get into the supply chain as we have in the past. The British steel industry is at the start of the supply chain.

Detailed discussions are taking place with companies such as Forgemasters about investing in 15,000-tonne forging presses, which are among the largest in the world. If those discussions are successful, they will give the country a lead in the nuclear sector, which will be very welcome. I hope that the discussions reach a fruitful conclusion, because that would send a good message that we believe in the steel industry and in British manufacturing and that we will move our economy more toward wealth creation than toward the service sector. That is not to knock the service sector, which is important, but it is also important to get the balance right.

The skills base in the steel sector, which is probably one of the most productive and competitive in the world, must be supported in the current situation, which is not of the sector’s making. This is not the ’80s or the ’70s, when we were unproductive. We are talking about some of the most productive work forces in the world. In a few years’ time, if we are not careful, we will be saying, “What the hell were we doing? Why didn’t we keep this skills base?” You know, Sir Nicholas, that in the early ’90s we were arguing about the skills and manufacturing base of this nation. Lord Heseltine, as President of the Board of Trade, said, “Do not disband those work forces—those design engineers and development engineers,” but what did we do? We disbanded them, and we are now paying a massive price for that. Let us not do that again.

The Government have done a first-class job to date on the demand side. We must make sure that we keep the strategic work forces together and do anything that we can, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe says, to bring those partnerships together to see us through this difficult time. The present difficulties are not of our making.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the now generally very good relationship between the union and community and the steel industry is a good reason to support the industry in these difficult times?

I could not agree more. Even though it is difficult for Government, we must look at the matter strategically and ask, “Is this an investment for the nation in keeping the skills base of the sector together, whether that means Corus or other areas?” That is the question that we must ask my right hon. Friend the Minister, so that she can take it back to Whitehall and, through her persuasive powers, make sure we reach a satisfactory solution. If we allow the work force to be broken apart, it will be difficult for them to come back, and we will pay not just a human price, which is very important, but an economic price, because we shall not have the skilled work force to create the wealth that the nation wants when the upturn comes.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will take what has been said back to Whitehall and knock a few civil servants around, because sometimes they do not know a right lot about manufacturing. Occasionally it would be nice to invite them to the north to see how we operate; but we will educate them, I have no doubt, from the leafy suburbs of London. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will do a first-class job in Whitehall.

I add my congratulations to those that other right hon. and hon. Members have expressed to the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) on securing this important debate.

The picture that several hon. Members have painted of what the steel industry faces is grim. There is an approximately 50 per cent. fall in demand. It is a worldwide phenomenon, and in Europe recovery has been described as some years off. That means that there may be massive overcapacity in our steel industry for some years to come. The effects of that can be seen in the closely allied construction industry, which is on its knees, and the automotive industry, which is suffering greatly. Although several hon. Members have mentioned the scrappage scheme as a stimulus, there are still car manufacturers on the brink of disaster because promised help to the automotive industry from the Government has not yet materialised. I hope that, although it is not part of today’s debate, the Government will take that fact on board.

Steel is vital to the future of manufacturing, but, as several hon. Members have mentioned, we must not forget the supply side—the chain of smaller individual companies such as design engineers, whose predicament is just as bad as, if not worse than, that of the steel manufacturing side. It is incumbent on us to consider the plight of those businesses as well, and ensure that as much as possible is done to protect them.

Corus has already shed 2,500 jobs this year. On 26 June it made an announcement about a further 2,000 jobs, most of them in the UK. We have not talked a great deal about Teesside, but the fact that the consortium tore up the deal to take 80 per cent. of the output in Teesside is a matter of extreme worry to the workers there. In Port Talbot the picture seems somewhat better. The way in which the work force and management have worked together to make £150 million of savings is a fantastic, salutary lesson in partnership. Port Talbot would appear to be in great shape to survive the worst exigencies of the recession. Only 1,000 jobs remain in west Yorkshire, apparently, out of 6,000 10 years ago, so it is incumbent on us to make sure that we do not lose the tremendous skills that hon. Members described earlier. We must keep the core base of skill and ability.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) has talked movingly about the quality of the work that we do in this country in manufacturing, which is not lauded loudly enough. We do the clever stuff. Right hon. and hon. Members have talked about the oil industry and our managing to create the means of access to North sea oil from the most difficult parts of the North sea. The effect of the redundancies is felt in every part of the communities that the companies in question serve, right the way down to the sandwich shops that the hon. Lady mentioned. The right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) spoke very well about the importance of a multi-agency approach and how all agencies and everyone involved in the community, including Government agencies, quangos and local authorities, can get together to work for the most productive way of surviving in these times.

What is the solution? I gather, although he has not mentioned it this morning, that the right hon. Member for Rotherham has called for redundant staff to be paid £20,000 per annum and to be given public sector or community work. We have also talked at some length about wage subsidies. The Government have rejected those, and I tend to agree about the problems, such as the dead weight problem of subsidy being given to people who would have received payment anyway, and the fact that we cannot be compared with the rest of Europe, because in the UK unemployment benefits are not 60 to 70 per cent. of an individual’s wage. The cost of employment subsidy elsewhere in Europe is minor relative to what would happen in the UK. In addition, an unfair playing field is created when one company uses employment subsidy and another does not.

The call for short-time working subsidy relates not necessarily to the individuals but to a strategic argument about ensuring that workers do not walk away from an industry with an important future in UK manufacturing.

The hon. Lady makes a good point, but there are other ways to protect skills. The Government have announced £5 million to be spent on enabling skills to be retained. In the context of the thousands of jobs that we are talking about, it is something of a drop in the ocean, and I shall be grateful if the Minister will discuss how that sum will be utilised. How thinly will it need to be spread for workers throughout the UK to benefit?

A number of hon. Members spoke of the Welsh ProAct programme. The jury may still be out on its effectiveness, but I would not close the door on any sort of wage subsidy. It is worth considering, particularly if vital skills can be protected.

What can the Government do? I have already mentioned the £5 million that they have offered. Several hon. Members mentioned trade credit insurance. Having called for help to be given to companies experiencing difficulty in obtaining trade credit insurance, I was delighted recently to hear that the Government have introduced a scheme to share some of the risk with insurers. If the steel industry and its suppliers are still experiencing problems in obtaining such insurance, I would ask the Minister to consider what can be done.

Right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned energy prices. I shall be interested to hear from the Minister whether anything can be done to smooth the trends in energy prices. Their unpredictability is causing so much difficulty for steel manufacturers and others. Another factor that the Government could consider is procurement. The Olympics is a prime example; the Government could ensure that British steel is procured for construction, as it would help our aspirations.

The right hon. Member for Scunthorpe spoke of renewable energy. Wind turbines, transport infrastructure, home building, building schools for the future and many other creative ways of using steel have been suggested to the Government. To their credit, the Government have made a large number of announcements. The House would like to see those announcements materialise and become a reality. Warms words are great, but they will not create jobs unless the Government put their money where their mouth is.

The United Kingdom is a great place to do business. We have the best in innovation, we have a brilliant infrastructure, we have a flexible work force, and we have lower labour on-costs than many other countries. Steel is at the forefront. If we do not have steel, we will not be able to go forward with any of the areas of manufacturing that I have mentioned. The Government must support the steel industry, or the threats to steel in Sheffield and elsewhere may cause the unkindest cut of all.

It is good, Sir Nicholas, to see you in the Chair. May I add my words of commendation to the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) for securing what has been a timely debate and for his typically forthright remarks. Although our views of history may not be entirely shared, I enjoyed his line—I suspect that most here this morning will not have noticed it—of saying that the BBC was a force of conservatism. That was particularly entertaining. However, I agree with him on the question of protectionism. If it does not embarrass him too much, may I say that I think we agree on that?

The country has been producing steel for longer than almost any other nation. As the home of the industrial revolution, Britain retains a strong reputation for quality of finish, especially in the production of higher value products, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) rightly pointed out. However, we are far from being the largest producer, as we heard this morning. Indeed, figures show that Germany, Italy, Spain and France now produce more than the UK.

Even before the recession, there was a worrying decline in UK steel production. In 1997, output stood at 18.5 million tonnes, a level retained for much of the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, however, production has fallen. At the beginning of 2008—before the recession—output stood at 13.5 million tonnes. That was a 27 per cent. fall in steel production, but it occurred during a period of global growth. Will the Minister explain why, during those years of growth, steel production in the UK fell so far and so fast?

Allied to that fall is the fact that energy prices have badly affected heavy industry. As the right hon. Member for Rotherham pointed out, steel production is self-evidently energy-intensive. Energy prices have a tremendous impact on the competitiveness of UK steel producers and their suppliers; yet, despite that, the Government’s data show that average industrial electricity prices rose by 111 per cent. in real terms over the past five years; and, as a number of hon. Members said, average industrial gas prices rose even further—by more than 130 per cent. in real terms. Those rises have outstripped rises in most of those countries with which our steel producers must compete. Will the Minister explain why UK industrial energy prices have risen so much, especially when compared to those of many of our competitors? What does she say to those in the industry who blame the Government for failing to address the problem before it became a crisis?

Members rightly spoke of the value of steel production to the UK economy. As a passionate supporter of manufacturing, Sir Nicholas, you will know that access to working capital is vital. It is the lifeblood of major industries. That is why, last November, the Conservative party set out its plan for a single national loan guarantee scheme. Worth about £50 billion, it would be available to all sectors and to all viable businesses, irrespective of their size. By making the rules common and clear, we believe that such a scheme would ensure that businesses had access to the working capital that they clearly need.

In contrast to that, a plethora of ideas has been announced by the Government. My worry is that, to date, they have all too often failed to deliver the actual finance. I take the automotive assistance programme as an example. Car production is a crucial consumer of steel, so helping that trade would not only help the car plants but help the steel workers of Sheffield and Rotherham.

In January, Lord Mandelson announced the automotive assistance programme, telling us that it was open for business. Since then French, German and American Governments have delivered financial aid, specifically to their car producers. The money is in their bank accounts. However, despite the promises of Lord Mandelson, not a single penny has been received by British car firms. Why not? Ministers talk about providing real help. Why, under the current Government, are our car firms the last to receive the help that they have been promised? Perhaps the Minister can tell us.

The recession has hit steel hard. The sharp falls in construction, and in automotive and allied engineering production, have led to a sharp reduction in demand for steel. Those sectors represent two thirds of the UK market for steel. In that difficult context, it is not surprising that Corus has recently been struggling to cope. Hence, the company decided in January to mothball some facilities and to cut 3,500 jobs, including 2,500 in the UK.

As we heard earlier, it is the recent announcements about compulsory jobs cuts on Teesside, and in Scunthorpe and Rotherham that are of most concern. It is clear that the company takes a rather different view to the Government. It believes that the upturn is a long way off. On 25 June, the chief executive of Corus, Kirby Adams, told the BBC that the recovery

“appears to be some time off, so it is vital that we take this proportionate and responsible action now. We have to achieve long-term, sustainable competitiveness in a global and over-supplied steel market.”

In response to Corus’s announcement, the Government have offered £5 million to help to retain key jobs. It would help Members if the Minister could tell us what that means in practice, and who will and will not be helped. Also, what commitments has the company made in return for that £5 million of aid?

Furthermore, it would be very helpful to hear from the Minister what strategic interest the Government place in continued UK steel production. Some have said that Lord Mandelson does not consider steel to have strategic industrial importance. Is that Government policy?

I have been in dialogue with Lord Mandelson’s Department—I cannot remember its name because it keeps changing—and know that he has taken a very deep interest in the Sheffield steel industry. Will the hon. Gentleman please tell me where his perception comes from?

That point has been put to me in representations from the industry. It has asked me, “Is this an issue? We can’t get a commitment from Ministers.” I hope, therefore, that the Minister will make that commitment today. However, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we have had too many Ministers in too short a time—I am on to my eighth set of Ministers in my role—so I hope for some stability, and I sincerely hope that the right hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) lasts longer than her predecessors.

The redundancies in the steel industry are devastating for the workers and their families. I welcome the Government’s announcement of a taskforce to help those in danger of losing their jobs, and I hope that the Minister will set out the exact role of the taskforce, where its limits will lie and its progress to date. Furthermore, will she reconsider some of the rules on the existing retraining packages? Sometimes, retraining and support packages are not available until somebody has been out of work, and on benefits, for six months. That seems to make very little economic sense and is intensely frustrating for individuals who want to move on. They will often have good skills, but will need to retrain and will not want to wait for six months before a programme can kick in. Will she look carefully at the rules and undertake to remove any unnecessary restraints? It is vital that we reskill people so that, as Members on both sides have said, we can get them back into work as soon as possible.

This has been a timely and informed debate and has shown how steel is integral to many parts of the economy—not just manufacturing but across the different sectors. It has also highlighted the urgent need for change, both in rebalancing the economy, as hon. Members have said, and in the way in which the Government support industry. The Minister needs to answer some crucial questions. Why, even before the recession, did UK steel production fall by nearly one third? Why are Government aid programmes not delivering money to the businesses to which it was promised? How do Ministers intend to help workers, from Corus and elsewhere, to reskill and to re-enter work as soon as possible? I look forward to her answers.

As always, Sir Nicholas, it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) on securing what is, as has been recognised, a very important debate. He demonstrated his considerable expertise in the matter as well as concern for all constituents affected. I also thank him for his kind opening remarks about my work, particularly as Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber. The many contributions today, especially by colleagues from the Yorkshire and the Humber region, demonstrate the keen effect on the region of the recent announcements by Corus, although I am obviously aware that other regions have been affected too. We all feel strongly about the knock-on effect that the recently announced reductions in output and employment have had on individuals and their families, on our communities and, as right hon. and hon. Members have said, on suppliers.

My right hon. Friends the Members for Rotherham and for Wentworth (John Healey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) recently met the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, and have a follow-up meeting in the not-too-distant future. I hope that I can illustrate that there has been a focus within Government on this issue to establish what can be done to reflect the many concerns raised today by all hon. Members, many of whom referred to the fact that this is a global issue and that steel companies across the world have made huge cuts in output in an attempt to weather the storm of collapsing demand for, and prices of, steel, during a period of de-stocking. Obviously, the UK sector is not immune and has had to cut employment in an attempt to reduce costs and balance supply with demand. Short-term working and pay freezes have also been introduced across the industry.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) asked about previous falls in steel production during the period of growth. The explanation relates to some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough. During that period of growth, the UK steel industry exploited some of its strengths by concentrating on high-value-added steels. Some of the basic bulk steels were being produced more cheaply in emerging economies, such as China, India and those in central and eastern Europe. That was the reason for the change during that time.

I accept the Minister’s point—it was a good point—but does she accept the concern, raised by many hon. Members, about the lack of competitiveness of energy prices, particularly in this country? Why has that not been tackled until now? Why did we wait until it became a crisis?

I am going to come to that point, which was also raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham.

Right hon. and hon. Members set out the number of recently announced redundancies, which, as I have said, are tragic for individuals and their families and for communities. Corus currently employs about 24,500 people in the UK, but after the reductions, that could fall to about 20,000 or less. However, a substantial UK steel business will remain, which we must not lose sight of, if we are to do many of the things that right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned today. Some steel businesses have mothballed plant and equipment and some complete closures have been avoided. It is the job of the Government and others to look at what we can do to assist in such times.

Let me reiterate how important the steel industry is to our economy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) referred to some of the work that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has been doing. He will also recall that the Prime Minister and I recently visited Sheffield Forgemasters, which again shows how much importance we attach to the industry.

Let me return to the wider issue of Government support. Obviously, to start with, we considered how to protect the wider UK economy. That is why we intervened in the banking industry. In January, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills set out a number of ways to help businesses. Along with regional development agencies and local government, we decided to bring forward billions of pounds worth of infrastructure, to which both right hon. and hon. Members have referred. We are increasing capacity in the motorway and rail network, improving and building new social housing and primary and secondary schools, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) referred, focusing on hospitals, energy efficiency, carbon capture and many other green technologies. Such development is vital for stimulating the demand for steel.

In the meetings that Corus had with Ministers, a number of key requests were made. First, there was the fiscal stimulus, and the need to promote the demand for steel by intervening and bringing forward investment. Secondly, Corus mentioned trade credit insurance, which could be used by not just itself but customers and suppliers. We introduced the trade credit insurance top-up scheme as a direct response to the industry’s requests. A third request from Corus related to trade credit insurance and energy.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham raised the issue of energy supplies. Although wholesale electricity prices are falling, the effect will take time to feed through, particularly for those who are locked into long-term agreements. In one case, Corus is looking to negotiate a long-term agreement with Electricité de France. Officials from my Department have met separately with both companies to encourage them to reach agreement. There was a meeting on 3 July, and I will write to Members when I know the outcome. Although commercial decisions are involved, we are considering what we can do to encourage companies to make a mutually successful agreement in that respect.

I want to address the issue of what we are doing with regard to the £5 million offer that has been made to Corus. Moreover, let me mention the support that has been made available to those who, unfortunately, will be made unemployed as a result of the recent announcement. Many hon. Members talked about the Train to Gain initiatives, including one worth £2 million at the Corus Scunthorpe site to support apprenticeship programmes. There has been support for apprenticeships at the Rotherham and Teesside plants and support for Corus employees at the Redcar site. All those plants are being supported by Train to Gain. It is vital that regional development agencies, the Learning and Skills Council and Jobcentre Plus work together to continue to provide that support, which has already been effective.

However, following discussions involving the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Prime Minister, we are considering ways in which we can effectively use the £5 million of training support. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Jessica Morden) said, how do we ensure that when the upturn comes, the people who are working in our steel industry, particularly in Corus, are fully equipped, trained and skilled to take advantage of the available markets? I have met the trade unions, Yorkshire Forward and Corus in the Yorkshire and Humber area. However, wider discussions are going on, and we are saying that £5 million is on the table. We want to consider the points raised by right hon. and hon. Members today. We want to know what Corus can offer in the areas of proper training, skills and job guarantees in exchange for the Government and RDAs working to provide that assistance. That is not a meaningless offer; it is a very real offer and one that has not been made in the past. During previous recessions, Governments stood by and let people sink or swim. They did not say, “This is what we can do in terms of a fiscal stimulus.” They did not have regional development agencies, which the Conservative party intends to scrap. The RDAs provide vital help for people, communities and businesses during such times.

No, I will not, because I have only three more minutes. As I said, those are the issues that we are taking forward at this point in time. Questions have been raised about ProAct in Wales. Obviously, certain offers have been made, but so far there has been no take-up. As for the money we have on offer to Corus, we want to ensure that we get good results for the employees of the companies. We want to ensure that it can continue to exist so that the suppliers and the communities can also benefit.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham asked what was happening in the Department. We have a range of staff working in the Department from the sector unit, the regional policy unit, and the skills and innovation teams. I will pass on the points that have been made about energy prices. I have already had discussions with the Secretary of State and the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, and I will pass on the points that were raised in this debate.

Let me assure all right hon. and hon. Members that we do see a future for the UK steel industry. There is a huge commitment to it. I hope that the interventions that have already taken place and those that are still to take place—at regional, national and international levels—will demonstrate that we are a Government who are committed to helping people during these difficult times and looking to stimulate demand for steel in the future.

We come to the end of what has been an excellent and well-informed debate. I congratulate all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part.