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Steel Industry

Volume 609: debated on Tuesday 3 May 2016

Global overproduction and reduced demand have caused steel prices to collapse, eroding the profitability of steel producers across the world. We have acted decisively to help UK steel companies by delivering lower electricity prices, tackling unfair trade, updating procurement guidance and introducing flexibility in emissions regulations.

One of the main issues in the current steel crisis is time. The Greybull deal took nigh on 12 months, and that time was allocated to ensure that a better buyer, as opposed to the original potential purchaser, came forward. What has the Secretary of State done and what conversations has he had with Tata to ensure that it will be a responsible vendor and allow enough time to encourage not just buyers, but the best buyers, to come forward? Where does he see strip and tube in the future? Does he still see Tata remaining in situ in some form in both those sectors?

The hon. Gentleman is right about the importance of time for securing a viable long-term future for the Tata strip business. I have had a number of discussions, as have my officials, with Tata. It has been very straightforward in being reasonable about time—of course, it does not have an unlimited amount of time, but it has shown through the long products business that it understands that things take time.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his approach—particularly to Tata and Neath Port Talbot in south Wales, but also to Celsa Steel in Cardiff. Some £76 million has already been given in compensation to high-energy users and the Government are projected to spend, I hope, £100 million this year. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that and clarify what future support we can give to high-energy steelmakers?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue of Celsa Steel, which has made a substantial investment in the UK, employing hundreds of people, and we want to see that continue. The price of electricity is very important to Celsa and other steel producers. We have already extended the compensation available and we have announced that we will move towards exemption, which I think will help Celsa and many others.

I thank the Secretary of State for attending the Thursday sitting of the Select Committee, which is conducting an inquiry on steel. He may recall that I asked him about the maintaining of confidence. There is growing concern that firms are not supplying to Tata facilities because they fear that the steel business may go into administration and they will not be paid, and credit insurance is being withdrawn. Businesses that supplied SSI do not want to get their fingers burnt twice, and customers, especially those with long-term horizons, are looking to Tata’s competitors for alternative provision. What further firm steps will the Government take on the matter of credit insurance to ensure that word goes out, loudly and with clarity, that this is a viable operation and firms can supply to and buy from Tata with confidence?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his Committee’s work on this matter, which is helpful to the debate and enables us to look more closely at the position. As for the question of suppliers to Tata, and, indeed, large customers, I have already written to, or asked officials to write to, all the suppliers and customers of Tata Steel strip products. We have contacted the largest suppliers and the largest customers, as has Tata, which has given its reassurance on this point as well. However, I think that the main reassurance I can give relates to the approach of the Government, who are doing all that they can to secure a long-term, viable future for the business.

I would argue that Tata Steel in Corby is a vital component of the midlands engine. Bearing in mind all the commercial sensitivities, will the Secretary of State update us on exactly what point has been reached in the discussions that are taking place with the aim of securing its future?

My hon. Friend’s approach is commendable, as is the work that he is doing in Corby to secure Tata Steel’s future. As I hope he understands, there is a limited amount that we can say about what is a very commercially sensitive process, but let me reassure him that we are doing everything we can.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is of strategic importance to the economies of Wales and the wider United Kingdom to keep the blast furnaces in Port Talbot operational following any future takeover? Will he consider introducing a steelmaking-specific enterprise incentive scheme, as advocated in the management buyout option, to provide the fiscal incentive that is required to safeguard steelmaking in Wales?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman in that I, too, want to see a future for steelmaking in Wales, and we are doing everything that we can to help with that. He mentioned the management buyout proposal. We are taking a very careful look at that, and would, of course, be willing to work with those involved.

What action is my right hon. Friend taking to help UK steel suppliers to win Government contracts, and to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises in the supply chain benefit from those opportunities?

That is a good question. As my hon. Friend will know, we have already changed procurement rules so that they can take economic and social factors into account. We are also making the pipeline of deals much more visible, and targeting that at SMEs in particular.

Carwyn Jones, the Labour First Minister in Wales, who is at Port Talbot again today, had a package of support in place immediately after Tata’s announcement of its intention to sell. Now that the UK Government have belatedly woken up and followed that lead, how confident is the Secretary of State that Tata’s true intention is to be responsible? It took over a year to sort out long products, and Tata wants this to be done and dusted—including due diligence—by the end of June. Does the Secretary of State think that that is a realistic prospect?

We are working with the Labour First Minister and his Government. Both Governments understand just how important this is, and I think it is also important for us to continue to work together. As for the question of timing, I believe, as I said earlier, that Tata is sincere in its commitment to a reasonable time frame and a reasonable process. I have no reason to think that that will not be the case. Tata continues to show flexibility, and I hope that things stay that way.