(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, if he will make a statement on the future of UK steel production following Greensill Capital’s recent insolvency.
As many right hon. and hon. Members will be aware, it would not necessarily be appropriate for me to comment on commercially sensitive matters at this stage. However, I do appreciate that many Members of this House have expressed concerns to me, individually and in groups, about their constituents working in the steel industry and the families and workers that the industry supports.
Following Greensill Capital entering into administration on 8 March, I and the Department continue to follow developments very closely. As many hon. Members know, I have directly spoken to local management on a number of occasions, and I have also spoken to representatives of the trade unions—as recently, in fact, as yesterday evening. On all those occasions, I have seen a strong and united commitment across management, across the unions and certainly among officials in my Department. I have seen a united commitment to the workforce and our steel industry.
The Secretary of State has been dragged here to finally say something, because earlier in the week he had nothing to say. I do not expect him to disclose commercial information, but it is in the commercial interests of UK plc and the customers, suppliers and workers in Rotherham, Stocksbridge, Hartlepool, Scunthorpe, Newport and elsewhere to know whether the Government will step in if Liberty fails to refinance.
We have called for a plan B. It is in our national interests for all options to be on the table. Those options should not be blinkered by ideology, because domestic steelmaking is a cornerstone of our national security and economic prosperity. What is more, Liberty Steel businesses are viable and have made the switch to electric arc furnaces, at great cost. Can the Business Secretary confirm that he is considering all options, from immediate support—if due diligence is met—to public ownership, should the business fall into administration? Does he agree that nationalisation could be the best value-for-money option, especially when we look at British Steel, which the Government spent £500 million on and then sold off on the cheap to the Chinese?
Let us be honest: UK steel and steel communities have been betrayed by this Government, because they have no vision nor any plan. There was not a single mention of steel in the Secretary of State’s plan for growth. There has been very little sector support during covid. The clean steel fund keeps being kicked up the road. There has been no action, despite promises, on the crippling issues of high energy prices and business rates. There is no buy-British guarantee in Government contracts. He just scrapped the industrial strategy. It is no wonder that the investment climate in UK steel is so uncertain. Will he finally take this opportunity to set out his vision and plan the future of UK steel?
I appreciate that questions are getting very long in this House.
Order. I think I am the judge of that. The Secretary of State may be new to the Dispatch Box in his new position, but the Opposition are entitled to two minutes, and the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) was within that time. Please, let me make those judgments.
I am very happy to defer to you, Mr Speaker; I have huge regard for your position, as I have mentioned many times. With respect to the remarks of the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) about my being dragged back to the Dispatch Box, that is not the case at all. As she knows, I was the Secretary of State who reconstituted the Steel Council on 5 March. That was a top priority for me, because I feel that we have a future for UK steel: the Government’s infrastructure plans will need around 5 million tonnes of steel over the next decade. It is absolutely a commitment of mine, as Secretary of State, to ensure that we have a viable steel industry in this country.
In 1998, 234 jobs were lost at a steel mill in Darlington. In 2001, the Llanwern steelworks closed, with 1,300 jobs gone. In 2003, 95 jobs were lost at the Shotton site in Deeside, and 116 at the Avesta site in Panteg. In 2004, we lost 156 jobs in Scunthorpe and a further 80 in Lincolnshire. In 2006, two closures led to losses of 250 jobs and 40 jobs. Of course, in February 2010, Teesside Cast Products was mothballed, putting 2,400 jobs at risk. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with the Opposition’s abysmal record on steel, the Government are right to discard their failed vision and continue with our proactive approach to helping the sector?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What devastated the steel industry was, as we know, 13 years of Labour Government. We have made it very clear, with our industrial decarbonisation strategy, published only last week, that we remain committed to a UK steel industry and a decarbonised future, and also to green jobs, particularly in in our levelling-up agenda.
I call the SNP spokesperson, who has one minute.
I commend the shadow Minister for securing this urgent question on what is an incredibly important topic, not least for the workforce, who I assume are listening very closely to the Secretary of State. Of course, this issue is important not only to England and Wales but to the people of Scotland. The Dalzell and Clydebridge steelworks are very much at the forefront of my thoughts, and so too are GFG’s wider holdings, such as the Lochaber smelter. I am very conscious of the fact that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism made a proactive and informed statement to the Scottish Parliament yesterday. I would welcome assurance from the Secretary of State that he will engage in open and transparent dialogue with my colleagues north of the border moving forward. Finally, I would welcome a little bit of clarity from the Secretary of State on quite how far his Government are willing to go in respect of supporting what are, as I understand it, perfectly viable businesses.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point, and he will be pleased to learn that I have spoken to representatives of the Scottish Government. We have mutual and very strong interests in the ongoing future of the businesses under the GFG umbrella, and he will know that my door is always open to conversations with him and his counterparts in the Scottish Government to see a way through. As far as specifics of Government intervention, I have said repeatedly that it is not appropriate now, given where we are, for me to disclose anything of that kind, but of course this is an ongoing situation that we are monitoring extremely closely.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, for his recent visit to Teesside and for all he is doing to support the industry at this difficult time. Under the last Labour Government, steel production in this country fell by almost 50%, so we should take no lectures from Labour on this. In Redcar, we lost our blast furnace in 2015 with the closure of SSI, but the only reason we have any steel manufacturing left at all is that the Government stepped in and saved British Steel at Lackenby and Skinningrove. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will address key industry concerns such as energy pricing, that he will champion the UK steel charter and that it is our policy to increase domestic steel production, and will he work with me and Ben Houchen on a new electric arc furnace for Redcar?
I commend my hon. Friend, who, only in his brief time as a Member of Parliament, has made a real impact on these discussions and in representing Redcar. I remember a Redcar that was represented by a Liberal Democrat precisely because of the closure of the SSI plant, and I am delighted to see that it is now represented by an excellent Conservative MP.
The circumstances surrounding the collapse of Greensill Capital throw up a lot of questions about how decisions are being made regarding the use of public money to guarantee loans to struggling companies during the pandemic. It is important that Parliament has sight of those decisions to properly scrutinise them. On 12 November 2020, in response to a parliamentary question tabled by the shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Minister said that the list of companies offered coronavirus business interruption loans would be published “in due course”. Does the Secretary of State agree that transparency is essential for effective scrutiny, and will he commit to publishing the list of companies that have received Government-backed loan support without delay?
I will certainly look into the hon. Lady’s request. This is something that has been brought to my attention and I will try to see if we can publish something soon.
It is absolutely right to support the steel industry, given the jobs and the simple fact that steel is a fundamental material in our construction industry, and the Government do. I am sure the Secretary of State will note my Environmental Audit Committee inquiry looking at sustainable building materials for the future, such as engineered wood, which is stronger than steel and embodies carbon. Does he agree that we must explore these avenues alongside supporting existing industries as we transition to a greener economy?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s report and his contribution to the debate around the green industrial revolution. He is absolutely right that, alongside steel, we should consider all forms of innovative and novel materials—advanced materials—that can help us build back greener and more sustainably.
The three fleet solid support ships, at 40,000 tonnes, are equivalent in size to the two aircraft carriers. That is a lot of steel. Only this week, the Ministry of Defence finally conceded that they will be designated as naval vessels, meaning that they will be built in British yards. When the Secretary of State goes back to his office, will he get on to the Defence Secretary and tell him they must also be built with British steel?
I admire and am always impressed by the right hon. Gentleman’s passion for these issues, and I think he is absolutely right. We do have a need for huge amounts of steel in infrastructure in this country. That is why I have said repeatedly that there is a future for the steel industry in the UK.
Obviously, steel is also a crucial part of this Government’s decarbonisation strategy. Can my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents in Oldbury, where a Liberty Steel site is currently based, that he will ensure that Black Country steel is placed at the heart of that decarbonisation strategy and that they will get the support they need from the Government as we go through this difficult time for Liberty Steel Group?
I assure my hon. Friend that we are committed to the steel industry in the UK. That is why, last week, we published the industrial decarbonisation strategy, which I was very pleased to commission as energy Minister. I look forward to speaking to him about the next steps forward for this industry.
British steelworkers make the best steel that money can buy, but they are having to compete with one hand tied behind their back because electricity costs our steel companies 86% more than in Germany and 62% more than in France, an issue I raised with the Secretary of State when he met steel MPs on 3 February. On 22 February, the Prime Minister told me from the Dispatch Box that
“we must indeed address the discriminatory costs of energy.”—[Official Report, 22 February 2021; Vol. 689, c. 647.]
What progress has the Secretary of State made in addressing this critical issue since our 3 February discussion, and does he think that the Chancellor understands that there can be no post-pandemic recovery without a strong and healthy steel industry?
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor is fully aware of the importance of the sector. The hon. Gentleman will know—I think he attended the Steel Council where this issue was raised—that we have commissioned work to see what can be done to redress the balance he alludes to.
I was really pleased to hear the Prime Minister speak yesterday about the opportunities he sees for British steelmakers in major projects such as HS2. Can my right hon. Friend provide more information on that and can he—I know it is difficult—reassure the Liberty Steel workers in Scunthorpe that the Government will do all they can to support them?
I would like to reassure my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was absolutely right to say that we need a huge amount of steel—about 5 million tonnes—over the next decade and that this Government are committed to an ongoing steel industry. As she knows, I have spoken to local management and workforce representatives, and we are doing all we can to look at all options to make sure that this vital piece of infrastructure continues and remains a going concern.
We know that David Cameron was an adviser to Greensill Capital, with shareholdings of potentially tens of millions of pounds, and that he made private texts and calls on a number of occasions to the Chancellor to help secure funds for Liberty before Greensill, a high-risk company, went bust, putting thousands of jobs at Liberty Steel at risk. What investigation will BEIS carry out? Will the Secretary of State ensure that in future taxpayers’ money is no longer interfered with by David Cameron and former Conservative Ministers, but is instead invested directly to protect our jobs in British steel and other vital industries?
The hon. Gentleman will know that officials often meet with a range of businesses affected by policy changes—that is part of policy development—but it is always done with proper and due consideration.
A key part of our efforts to drive long-term green growth is to support workers in high-carbon sectors such as steel to retrain in new green technologies. Does my right hon. Friend agree that upskilling and retraining workers will be integral to our efforts to level up opportunity right across the country?
I am delighted to relate to my hon. Friend that she is absolutely right. We need to retrain people in new green technologies, which is precisely why I, as energy Minister, with my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), set up the green jobs taskforce to look at exactly the requirements and skills we need to drive the green industrial revolution.
We know that Greensill was a major financer of the Gupta Family Group and, understandably, the questions today have focused on the employment concerns that its workers might have, but we do not know what other businesses may have relied on financing from Greensill and been affected. When does the Secretary of State expect to have that information fully pulled together, and can he undertake, as far as is allowed by commercial confidentiality, to keep Members of Parliament informed of any other businesses that might be at risk as a result of the collapse at Greensill?
The hon. Gentleman makes a legitimate point. The collapse of a company like Greensill has ramifying effects, and I, Ministers and officials in the Department are looking closely at the potential impact.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his personal engagement with me on this issue and for acting so quickly. Liberty Steel is a big employer in the Black Country and we have been hit particularly hard by the worst effects of the pandemic. I know that he needs no convincing about the importance of the steel industry in our part of the west midlands, so will he continue to prioritise this issue and work with me to help protect jobs in West Bromwich East?
I would be very happy to work with my hon. Friend to protect jobs. She is doing a great job of representing her constituents. All I would say on this is that we published last week the industrial decarbonisation strategy, which is the first of its kind in the world, and we are absolutely committed to a continuing future for British steel.
Liberty Steel has a diverse portfolio with a long supply chain. These jobs are often trade-unionised, so they have better pay. Losing them will have a big impact across our country. How will the Secretary of State protect the different elements of this complex company, such as the tubing plant in Tredegar in my Blaenau Gwent constituency, with its loyal and skilled workforce who have kept it going through tough times?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. The company has a range of assets spread across England and Wales, in particular, and we are looking very closely at what specific assets and jobs are necessary. We hope to support the company in its entirety.
The funding challenges faced by Liberty are serious, but I have been reassured by meetings with my right hon. Friend, and by the Prime Minister’s response to my question yesterday, that the Government are committed to doing whatever is possible to safeguard jobs and livelihoods in the UK steel industry. However, in the longer term, for steelmaking to thrive in the UK, we must make sure that UK infrastructure projects use environmentally friendly UK steel, providing well-paid jobs and helping to level up. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that future procurement processes will favour British steelmakers such as Speciality Steels in Stocksbridge?
I reassure my hon. Friend, whom I have met on several occasions on precisely this issue, that we remain committed to decarbonised steel and a decarbonised industrial strategy, which I have referred to. That is the basis on which we can have a strong future for the industry.
The Secretary of State is well aware that Liberty in Rotherham employs 900 people, along with five times that number in the local supply chain. Our steel goes into defence, energy, aviation—all key strategic industries. In this post-Brexit world, will the Secretary of State please make a commitment that all Government procurement projects using steel will commit to buying British steel for them, because a full order book is the best way to see a future for steel in this country?
On procurement, I want to relay to the hon. Lady that we have constructed in government a UK Steel and BEIS Procurement Taskforce, which met for the first time only a couple of weeks ago, on 12 March, chaired by my noble Friend Lord Grimstone. We are absolutely committed to seeing what we can do to make sure that we have a strong steel industry in this country that will support the huge infrastructure needs that our country has in the next decade.
I strongly support all the measures that the Government will be taking to ensure that public orders concentrate on UK-made steel, where that is possible, but what further measures can the Secretary of State take to ensure that energy prices are realistic and competitive? If we have very dear energy in this country, it will be a major problem for our steel industry.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to electricity and energy costs. I am in regular contact with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to see what can be done, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) said, to address that problem.
The Greensill affair raises the issue not just of Liberty Steel’s refinancing but of ex-Prime Minister David Cameron bending the ear of the now Chancellor, although he was not on the lobbying register. With ex-Minister Eric Pickles overseeing the body regulating current Ministers’ interests, how can the Government ensure transparency on conflicts of interest when they seem to operate a culture of friends with benefits and mates’ rates, with British steel jobs being mere collateral?
Obviously, I completely reject the hon. Lady’s characterisation of what goes on. She will know that officials often meet huge numbers of business people who are affected by policy. That is part of policy development, but it is always done in a transparent, open and proper way.
The Labour party talks about vision. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this Government’s commitment to net zero and their clear vision of being a technology-led innovation superpower, as demonstrated by initiatives such as the Clean Steel Fund, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, and the Future Fund: Breakthrough, mean that the future of UK steel is positive and in very good hands?
Obviously, I entirely agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. Reflecting on two years as a Minister within the Department, I can tell her that we have had the 10-point plan for the green industrial revolution, the Energy White Paper, the decarbonisation industrial strategy, and, as she says, we have committed hundreds of millions of pounds to making sure that we drive the green industrial revolution. It is a very exciting time to be in Government and I look forward to speaking with her precisely about how we can move forward.
With booming metal prices, GFG’s business in Scotland, including Liberty Steel in my Motherwell and Wishaw constituency, remains profitable. Notwithstanding his previous answers, I must press the Secretary of State to echo the promise given by the Scottish Government and do all in his power to protect this profitable industry. Will he do so?
That is a fair question, but the hon. Lady will appreciate that the assets in Scotland relate particularly to aluminium smelting, whereas in England and Wales their job is really focused on the steel industry. None the less, we are looking at all options to see what we can do to sustain these crucial jobs.
An acquisition strategy based on supply chain financing arrangements, plus a future receivables derivative scheme, plus an additional month’s cash-flow, and a liberal mix of state guarantees has the characteristics of a potential Ponzi scheme. Has my right hon. Friend been able to ascertain the facts here, or is this an issue for investigation by the Serious Fraud Office?
My hon. Friend raises very serious questions about the business model, which I am not prepared to go into now. What I will say is that, in the first two months of my tenure as Secretary of State, I have pushed forward audit reform as a big issue. A consultation on it is under way. It is issues relating to things such as Greensill capital that show how necessary it is for us to reconsider what we are doing on audit reform and to have the best standards in the world.
I think we all understand the importance of commercial confidentiality, but, where significant sums of taxpayers’ money are concerned, that cannot not be a barrier to full accountability. The Secretary of State will be aware that the Scottish Government are out for guarantees north of £500 million as a consequence of Greensill’s difficulties. Is that not something for which there really ought to be full explanations?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. My understanding is that the Scottish Government are very exposed to Greensill’s financial engineering—let me put it that way—and there should be far greater transparency in this regard.
A strong domestic steel industry is vital to so much of what the Government do, from frigates and submarines to schemes such as HS2. With that in mind, may I ask the Secretary of State whether he will work with colleagues across all of Government—not just with the Treasury, but with the Ministry of Defence and the Transport Department—to ensure that we protect this strategic sovereign capability?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is crucial that we work across Government to look at procurement and the strategic interests of this country in having a strong steel industry, as he describes, and in order to work out how best to progress with this key sector.
Investing in transport infrastructure such as the full HS2 route and a rolling programme of rail electrification is an excellent way to boost economic recovery and put the UK on the path to net zero, but the Government will be wasting a huge opportunity to safeguard and grow jobs in our steel industry if they do not use public procurement to support it. Will the Secretary of State commit to setting targets for UK steel content in contracts for major public works, and if not, why not?
The hon. Lady will know, as I have said at the Dispatch Box today, that we have a taskforce in BEIS chaired by my noble Friend Lord Grimstone. This is absolutely something that we are looking into, given the huge need we have and the huge demand for steel products in our infrastructure plans.
For all the many reasons set out by Members today, retention of a domestic steel industry is vital for our economy and our security. Will the Secretary of State set out what he is doing to ensure that we have the right regulatory climate for steel to thrive? Will he commit that, if other countries dump steel on world markets that has been inappropriately subsidised, he will take action via our trade policy to introduce anti-dumping measures to protect and support our steel industry?
My right hon. Friend will know that the steel industry in particular is subject to fairly stringent World Trade Organisation rules. She will also know, given the publication of our industrial decarbonisation strategy, that we are rigorously focused on trying to source clean, green steel in order to drive a green industrial revolution and to create the infrastructure projects without which we cannot have any real economic growth.
Last year, the Government spent £4.8 billion on subsidies for wind power, yet almost no wind farms use UK steel. Those orders would be a boon to the struggling steel industry, but the Department does not even include renewable energy products in its annual list of orders that went to domestic suppliers. In January, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), said that the Government would consider reporting the share of UK steel used in offshore wind projects
“if it is in the public interest.”
Will the Secretary of State accept that it clearly would be in the public interest to name and shame the developers that do not use UK steel, and will he commit to making that change?
The hon. Lady will appreciate that, as part of the offshore wind sector deal, we have explicitly said that 60% of the supply chain should be UK-sourced, and clearly steel is a big part of that supply chain. She will also appreciate that, as Energy Minister, I made it a priority to ensure that in the fourth auction round at the end of this year, these targets will be met. Steel is part of that, and we are absolutely committed to having more UK content in the supply chain for offshore wind.
Being in the European Union prevented us from prioritising British steel, despite steel and its component parts being strategic resources. Now that we have left, will the Secretary of State prioritise British steel, at least in Government procurement? Will he ensure that steel and its component parts are, where possible, protected and bought from UK producers to prevent us being strategically vulnerable in the future?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend—another Conservative who won a so-called red wall seat. He has done a fantastic job in representing his constituency, particularly on this critical issue. From my answers, he will know that we are committed to making sure that UK steel has a big part to play in the construction and infrastructure plans that we ambitiously set out.
Tata Steel has reportedly said that it is in active discussions with the British Government about creating a “decarbonised footprint” for the future, especially in Port Talbot. While I welcome that, will the Secretary of State confirm that at the heart of those strategies, the British Government will prioritise maintaining volume of production and jobs in the Welsh steel industry?
The hon. Gentleman will know, but I say in the interests of transparency, that one of my first meetings when I was appointed Secretary of State was with the head of Tata Steel. He will also know that having visited Hinkley Point as Energy Minister I am fully aware of the impact and the contribution that the Tata plant makes to infrastructure. I am sure he will be pleased to hear that this is a top priority of mine. I have made the point many times this morning that our infrastructure plans are absolutely intertwined with a strong domestic steel industry.
I am very sorry I was late for the start, Mr Speaker, but I was having a rather shouted conversation with the Chief of the General Staff about the massive cut of 12% in our Army, and particularly the loss of my battalion—
Order. I do not think this has anything to do with the question; I think I would stick to the business question. You do not want to lose your place—come on, Captain Bob.
I knew I was going into the Valley of Death. The question, Sir, is this: what percentage of our national steel production, which is a sovereign capability, is affected by the Greensill Capital financial crisis? I am very sorry—I knew I was going to get into trouble.
No, I think it will be with the Chief Whip later.
I am very pleased to see my right hon. Friend in his place. The key point is that Liberty Steel produces via electric arc furnaces, so it is clean steel. A lot of the steel that we produce relies on older methods. That is why, for me, in terms of our decarbonisation strategy, the future of Liberty Steel is of great importance.
For national security reasons, to tackle the climate crisis, and to build our rail infrastructure, electric vehicles and the like with well-paid unionised jobs, domestic steel production must be a strategic national priority. However, time and again the Government have let down Britain’s steel industry. On their watch, we have seen British Steel collapse, minimal action taken to tackle the huge handicap of high energy prices for our steelmakers, and an over-reliance on imported steel for Government projects. Prior to Brexit, the excuse for the lack of Government intervention was EU state aid rules. What is the excuse now?
There is no “excuse now”. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman lost me rather when he said that the Government have done nothing. We have heard from all around the House the devastating impact of the last Labour Government on the steel industry. I even took a question from an extremely able Conservative Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young), whose seat was represented by a Liberal Democrat, because of the debacle around the closure of SSSI.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s decision to re-establish the Steel Council. Does he agree that this is a perfect opportunity for the Government to work in partnership with the industry so that we can create a long-term, sustainable plan to ensure the sector’s transition to a low-carbon future?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has mentioned the Steel Council. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that the Steel Council last met in February 2020. It was a first priority of mine, on becoming Secretary of State, to have another meeting, so we had a meeting on 5 March that went extremely well and is a solid basis for our ongoing dialogue with the sector not only among employers but among union representatives. It is an excellent body and I look forward to working very closely with it in the months and years ahead.
I am sure the Secretary of State will recognise that Sheffield is the home of steel. Stainless steel was invented in Sheffield, steel made in Sheffield is famous not merely in the UK but throughout the world, and thousands of Sheffielders still work in the steel industry and in related industries as well. So will he give an absolute assurance that the term, “Steel made in Sheffield”, will not be consigned to the history books?
It certainly will not be consigned to the history books. We have an excellent firm in Sheffield, Forgemasters, among others. We all know the great history and traditions that Sheffield embodies and its vital role in the development, and the birth, really, of the steel industry worldwide.
On behalf of manufacturers in my constituency relying on specialist grades of steel, I thank my right hon. Friend for his Department’s work to support UK steel and ask him to keep working with the industry so that we can be leaders in green steel production as we transition to a low-carbon economy.
I commend my hon. Friend’s work in representing COP26 and doing a great job in engaging with businesses on COP26. I assure him that green steel is very much at the front of our minds. It is something that I am very focused on. We have mentioned the Steel Council, and I have also mentioned a number of times the industrial decarbonisation strategy. Green steel is absolutely the way forward, and I look forward to working with him to see how we can make progress in this vitally important area.
Can the Secretary of State explain why Greensill—an unregulated shadow bank with close links to the Conservative party—was given access to the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme, which is backed by 80% taxpayer guarantees? Following its collapse, which puts the future of Liberty Steel and thousands of jobs at risk, will the Minister practise the transparency he has just been talking about and tell the House how many millions of pounds of losses incurred will end up being dumped on the UK taxpayer?
The right hon. Lady will know that I cannot possibly comment on that, because it is part of an ongoing series of discussions. We do not really know the full extent of the impact of Greensill’s collapse on the British economy. We are looking into it very closely and looking at which companies have been affected, but until that further investigation we cannot possibly comment on the extent of the liability.
One of the lessons of the pandemic has been that we need a robust domestic industrial strategy and we cannot be dependent on imports—either of final products or through the supply chain—from China or anywhere else. Does my right hon. Friend agree that steel is an integral component of that industrial strategy—and, with time, decarbonised steel?
I reassure my hon. Friend that the fact that we published the industrial decarbonisation strategy only last week suggests to me, and is a signal to the world of, how seriously we take the strategic impact and necessity of steel, and the net zero commitment.
We know that David Cameron used his direct line to contact the Chancellor regarding Greensill’s difficulties. However, when did current UK Government Ministers first become aware of the firm’s difficulties? What actions were taken beyond acting on unsolicited advice from a former Prime Minister? And how will the Government categorically ensure the industry’s future and the thousands of jobs that go with it?
There were a lot of questions there. Briefly, on Greensill, we are continually looking at the potential impact. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that we are committed to a future for the steel industry here in the UK. As hon. and right hon. Members have suggested, the decarbonised nature of that sector—green steel—is absolutely the focus and at the front of our minds as we try to forge a path for the industry in the near future.
I thank the Secretary of State for meeting me to discuss the issues around Liberty Steel and for working with me to save jobs in that great company. He knows as well as I do that good British steel—and, hopefully, Sheffield steel—is an essential component of our ongoing green industrial revolution, from electric cars to wind turbines. Will he assure my constituents that there is a place and a need for the steel industry, and for many, many steel jobs here in South Yorkshire?
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend taking part in these critically important proceedings. I know how hard he has worked not only to win his seat and be an excellent, first-rate Member of Parliament, but also in his passion for green energy, renewable technologies and hydrogen; in fact, I am surprised that he did not mention hydrogen in his question. I am delighted to work with him to ensure that we have a future for the steel industry here in the UK.
Tackling emissions from steel is critical to the fight against climate change, and I have heard the Minister refer to green steel. The clean steel fund was announced in 2019, but steelmakers will not be allocated any funding from the £250 million scheme until 2023. Why will Ministers not bring forward this funding to boost the industry and its green future?
As the hon. Lady knows, we are always looking at ways in which we can promote green steel and industrial decarbonisation. I have alluded many times to the fact that we published the strategy last week, and the steel fund is clearly part of that strategy.
British-made steel, British electric car manufacture and British-backed clean growth: would my right hon. Friend agree that the prospects for all three are stronger and brighter now that we have left the European Union?
My hon. Friend will remember that I was a Minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, as I think it was called. I do not want to revisit those debates, but I will say that the future of our industrial strategy, in terms of our green commitments, in terms of the steel commitments and in terms of electric vehicles, is a very bright one indeed.
On behalf of all those working at the successful Liberty plant in Newport, may I reiterate how difficult this uncertainty is for the dedicated workforce who make world-class steel, and for their families? May I urge the Secretary of State to keep talking to and meeting virtually with groups of hon. Members, with Liberty plants and with the steel unions over the coming days? As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) said, the UK steel industry is the cornerstone of our national security and our economic prosperity, and it is absolutely crucial to our building back better.
The hon. Lady will know from our bilateral conversations that I am very committed, as Secretary of State, to the future of this sector. I am always happy to meet representatives, experts, workers, representatives in a trade union capacity and local management. I am always open to seeing people and trying to work out pragmatic, positive solutions. This is a really important issue and I am pleased to have engaged with the hon. Lady in the past, as I am sure I will in the future.
I am now suspending the House for a few minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.