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Steel Industry

Volume 669: debated on Wednesday 15 January 2020

3. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the future of the steel industry in Wales. (900127)

The UK Government are committed to supporting a productive, modern and vibrant steel industry in Wales. With that in mind, I have already had discussions with the Welsh Government and unions. I plan to visit the steel industry in Wales within the next few days, and I look forward to my meeting later today with the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), who has initiated a meeting with other Labour colleagues to discuss the steel sector.

We know now that Liberty Steel is cutting 72 jobs in Newport, and although it is based in the seat of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), those job losses will affect people across our city—east and west. The losses follow the disastrous decision to mothball the Orb steelworks at Christmas. The UK steel industry is disappearing before our eyes, and it is happening on this Government’s watch. We can see with Flybe that this Government can take steps to save jobs and industries when they want to, so when will the Secretary of State sit down with his ministerial colleagues and agree a plan that will protect jobs, livelihoods and the steel industry across Newport, Wales and the rest of the UK?

I am pleased to say that that process is already happening. I am sitting down not only with my ministerial colleagues but with the hon. Lady’s ministerial and parliamentary colleagues, as well as unions and management, all in the space of a few days. I am absolutely conscious of the huge impact, uncertainty and worry that the current circumstances are resulting in. I will say it again: it is our shared responsibility with the Welsh Government to steady the situation and rectify the position. There are a number of ways of doing that; energy prices is one, and business rates is another, which we will look at closely to see how we can help.

This is my first appearance at the Dispatch Box in 2020, so may I wish all hon. and right hon. Members a happy new year? I welcome the new Secretary of State to his place, and I wish the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), well. Given the average length of tenure of previous Wales Office Ministers, his first achievement will be to last more than a few months. I understand that he is a junior Whip as well, which may be even more challenging.

The Liberty Steel announcement is yet another blow to the steel industry, following Tata Steel’s announcement about Orb. Our thoughts are with the steelworkers and their families at this very anxious time. I must commend my hon. Friends the Members for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and for Newport West (Ruth Jones) for all the work they have done on this. I am sure that the Secretary of State has heard Welsh Government Economy Minister Ken Skates ask the UK Government to intervene more directly to reduce energy prices. Will he use his voice in Cabinet to make that call?

I thank the hon. Lady. I am sure the whole House will want to extend its congratulations to her on becoming a grandmother this week. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I hope she will not mind my mentioning that for the public record.

The answer to the hon. Lady’s question is, of course, that the UK Government made £53 million available in, I think, 2018, by way of compensation for energy prices. The conversation I want to have is also with her colleagues in Cardiff—perhaps she can lead this herself—about business rates, and where Welsh Government can help the industry in that regard as well. However, the shared ambition to make sure that there is a future for steel in Wales is absolute, and the hon. Lady can rely on the fact that I and my Cabinet colleagues will work to ensure that.

My question was about energy. In other countries, large companies pay far less for their energy. All that Welsh steelworkers need is a fair deal. Steel is a foundation industry, and this UK Government and this Secretary of State need to do far more. Will the Secretary of State act now, decisively—or will he be just a bystander in the decline of the vital steel industry in Wales?

The hon. Lady may have misheard me, but I have already commented on the £53 million being made available by way of compensation for energy prices, and I restate what I said just now: one way in which the Welsh Government could step in now, and help significantly with the certainty around steel, is by addressing the issue of business rates. It would be a powerful message if she and I, combined, could make that case to Welsh Government.