Yesterday the All Party Parliamentary Group on Steel led a backbench debate on the future of the steel industry. Here's my contribution on behalf of steel workers and steel companies in Newport East:
"Last week, the Community union, which does an absolutely fantastic job for its members, quite rightly praised steelworkers in a statement, saying:“We believe the workforce should be commended, in the strongest terms, for continuing to deliver for Tata throughout this exceptionally difficult period and indeed restoring previously loss making parts of the business to profitability”.
"I start with that quote because it is right that we always acknowledge what a difficult time this is personally for those who work in our steel industry. We must never underestimate the effect the continued uncertainty is having on steelworkers and their families. I know that from talking to those who work for Tata at Llanwern and at Newport Orb. A steelworker emailed me last week to say:
“We feel forgotten about and we have no news on the Government’s and Tata’s plan for the pension, no news on where we stand on the future on any proposed merger, no answer on the deficit etc. Things seem to have come to a standstill and there are no answers coming from Parliament or Tata”.
"That very much echoes what my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) said at the start of his speech. Aberavon and Port Talbot’s fortunes are very much linked. I absolutely concur with what my hon. Friend said about that feeling of uncertainty and how difficult it is for people. Many steelworkers feel that their lives are on hold. I hope the Minister understands that and takes it away from the debate.
"We have in this place relentless debates, questions and statements about steel. Just yesterday there were two fantastic questions at Prime Minister’s questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith). In response, the Prime Minister said: “This Government have stood up for British-made steel, and we have taken a number of measures”. She also said “...we recognise both the importance of steel and the importance of Tata in the United Kingdom.” On the lack of clarity about Brexit, she said: “I am very clear that what we want to achieve is the best possible deal."
"We appreciate those words, but we need more detail and more commitment from the Government, with stronger words and stronger action.
"Workers in my constituency want to know that the Minister is fully engaging with the short-term urgency of the problems facing the Welsh steel industry. There are bits of good news, but the underlying problems have not gone away, as many other Members have said. We are still waiting for assurances from the Government about Port Talbot, which will affect Llanwern, and for any news on the joint venture between Tata’s strip products division and ThyssenKrupp, which could affect Orb in my constituency. If there is such news, what assurance can the Government give that commitments will be made on jobs, investment and the continuation of primary steelmaking at Port Talbot and across south Wales?
"The Government lobbied against the EU imposing tariffs on the dumping of Chinese steel. The Prime Minister did not even put Chinese steel dumping on the agenda when she first met the Chinese Prime Minister. Electricity prices are still a huge issue in the UK, with a disparity of £1 million a week between the UK and Germany, which has an effect on competitiveness. As many Members have said, despite the procurement guidelines, French steel is still being imported for Trident renewal. I know we will all be watching as large infrastructure projects get the go-ahead. The Government cannot let up on ensuring that all major procurement projects—from rail to airports and tidal barrages, which will be important for places such as Newport if Swansea bay tidal lagoon goes ahead—use British steel.
"As every one of my hon. Friends has said, the Nissan announcement is brilliant news, but where is the Brexit plan for the steel industry? So far, the Secretary of State for International Trade has said that he has no plans to support the steel industry with trade defence instruments. When combined with the other uncertainties Brexit has caused, that is a major concern. Brexit has many other implications for the industry, so we want similar assurances to those given to Nissan.
"In brighter news, the Welsh Government are thankfully doing all they can with the powers and levers available. I very much welcome the active work of Ken Skates, the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, who through Business Wales is supporting the industry through Welsh public sector infrastructure and construction projects.
"I appreciate that it is not all gloom and—I will make this point before someone intervenes on me to make it—I also appreciate the point about primary steelmaking. Liberty Steel now employs about 1,500 people, including in the steelworks in my constituency and the two Scottish steel plate mills, one of which I know opened recently in the constituency of the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows). Liberty Steel also has the SIMEC Uskmouth power plant and it is involved in the tidal lagoon initiatives, which were mentioned earlier and which are very important, not only for Swansea but, further on down the line, for places such as Newport. Liberty Steel has a long-term, sustainable strategy of steelmaking in the UK and actively invests in steel, power and the downstream industries. As we heard earlier, that is all built around a green steel vision, whereby Liberty Steel is working towards producing steel made from recycled scrap metal and powered by renewable power. That is an important addition to the traditional steelmaking industry.
"Finally, I take this opportunity to invite the Minister to visit Newport East to see the site in my constituency and see at first hand the plans for Liberty."
You can watch the whole debate here: https://goo.gl/CRjsSy