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Steel Industry

Volume 551: debated on Wednesday 17 October 2012

I have had regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on issues that affect Wales, including the future of the steel industry.

I thank the Minister for his reply. May I warmly congratulate him and his colleague on their new positions, which I believe were as a consequence of their apprenticeships on the Welsh Affairs Committee?

Tata Steel is a major investor and employer in my constituency. Nearly £250 million has been invested recently in the steel plant at Port Talbot, which is strongly supported by the Welsh Government, the local council, the local trade unions and the local management. This is a strong regional partnership, so what will the Wales Office do to assist the steel industry in these challenging times? Will the Secretary of State speak to the Business Secretary, his Cabinet colleague, to address the issue of a level playing field in energy costs? Will he visit the steelworks in my constituency at the earliest opportunity?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for his kind remarks. One of the most enjoyable parts of my first term in Parliament was serving under his chairmanship on the Welsh Affairs Committee.

The Government absolutely recognise the strategic importance of Tata Steel as an inward investor into Wales, and the Wales Office has close links with the company. I will certainly speak to the Business Secretary about what more we can do to support Tata’s inward investment. We do recognise that particular issue associated with energy costs. That is why we have made £250 million available for intensive energy users, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman and industries in Wales will be making representations about how they can benefit from that money.

As my mother comes from Aberavon, I understand only too well the importance of the steel industry and I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis) on asking his question. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree, however, that the great news we have received today that employment in Wales is up by 40,000 and unemployment down by 7,000 is a good start?

The labour market statistics for Wales were particularly good today. Unemployment and worklessness are down and overall employment levels are up. There are great reasons for optimism, but there is no reason to be complacent.