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Steel Industry

Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 25 May 2021

The Government are committed to a UK steel industry. I mentioned this repeatedly in my session with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee this morning.

Sanjeev Gupta promised that none of our steel plants would close on his watch, but after the Serious Fraud Office descended on his empire, the workforce became afraid for their future. The Liberty Steel plant in Tredegar puts food on the table and pays the mortgages of my constituents, and across the country 5,000 families rely on the company. We now need the Government to ensure that these plants remain open, and, crucially, to provide the finance to bridge any transition period should a new buyer or stake purchase be necessary—and, of course, to work with the trade unions to test the commitment of any new buyers. If promises are broken, will the Secretary of State step in with the finance to support our steel communities?

The hon. Gentleman will remember that Mr Gupta asked me and the Department for £170 million. Many Labour Members—dare I say it?—were hollering and screaming and saying we should nationalise. In fact, I would say that my actions and those of officials have been vindicated. There were serious concerns about corporate governance with this company, and Labour Members would do well to understand how to manage public finances with care. Having said all that, I am monitoring the situation closely and I remain strategically committed to the steel industry and this sector.

On behalf of workers at Liberty Steel in Newport, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith): the Government must do all they can to protect these strategic businesses that are very important to our communities. Because of that, and because of global overcapacity in steel, it is also critical and very urgent that Ministers work with Cabinet colleagues to prevent the Trade Remedies Investigations Directorate from slashing our steel safeguards in half, so please will the Government act on that?

With regard to TRID, the hon. Lady will know that the consultation on that closes tomorrow. I would urge all interested parties to feed into that consultation so that we can reach a good decision. She knows that I am on record as having committed to a strategic presence of steel in the UK . I think that is vital and as Secretary of State I will always promote it within Government.

The crisis at Liberty Steel is yet further evidence of the need to break the cycle of crisis management that has defined the approach of successive Governments to this critical sector. The Secretary of State knows full well that there is a global race under way to green the steel industry and that our country is currently at the back of the pack, with no concrete plans for trialling hydrogen-based primary production and only vague plans for a single carbon capture-based project. With its long-term survival at stake, can he explain why the Government believe that the UK steel industry can afford to wait a further two years for the limited clean steel fund to even begin distributing investment?

I completely reject the basis of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. The idea that we are at the back of the pack in decarbonisation is complete nonsense. We are the first country in the G7 to have come up with an industrial decarbonisation strategy. He and his Labour colleagues were saying, “Secretary of State, why don’t you nationalise Liberty? Why don’t you give Mr Gupta £170 million?”, and we made absolutely the right call. We showed judgment and restraint. Going forward, he will appreciate that I was the Secretary of State who resuscitated the Steel Council. We have had constructive conversations across unions and employers to work out a decarbonised future for the industry.