In the first debate of the new parliament I paid tribute to past and present workers at Newport’s Orb steelworks ahead of the site being mothballed, and called on the new government to act to #SaveOurSteel.
My contribution to the debate is copied in full below:
This has been a long and interesting debate, and I wish to make a short and—I hope—to-the-point contribution, and ask the new Government to spell out what they will do to support our manufacturing industry, particularly our steel industry which I believe needs urgent and proactive support in extremely difficult times. As others have said, there is no mention of Wales in the Queen’s Speech. There was no mention of steel either, yet the need for steel to be mentioned is pressing and urgent.
Tomorrow, Tata’s Orb steelworks in Newport will close its doors at 12 o’clock, having operated since 1898. This is a sad day in our city. Many generations of families in Newport have worked at Orb, and it has a special place in Newport’s history. I pay tribute to those steelworkers who are moving on tomorrow, and who are so passionate about their industry. They have made many sacrifices and adapted in recent years to help the business, and they make world-class steel. I pay tribute to them for the fight they put up, and are putting up, to find a future for their plant. I also pay tribute to the Community and Unite unions, and their trade union representatives Paul—tomorrow he will have completed 12,849 days at Orb—Brett, Lee, Rhys, John, Gareth and Dai, for doing the hardest job in those circumstances.
Earlier the Prime Minister mentioned electric vehicles and he spoke yet again about making the UK a home for them—I believe that was in the Queen’s Speech. That shows the travesty of the situation at Orb. Orb is significant because it is the only electrical steel plant in the UK, and with investment it could, and should, play a key part in the future of electrification. With investment it could produce steel for electric vehicles, for which demand is set to grow and grow. The irony is that although the Government support Jaguar Land Rover to develop electric vehicles, they have not stepped in with Tata to help that vital component of an end-to-end supply chain.
Ministers in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will start work after the Queen’s Speech. What I ask of them—I ask Ministers on the Front Bench to pass this on—is for the plant to be mothballed, and for them to please work with the Welsh Government and Tata to try to find a buyer in the new year. Will they proactively support us in Newport so that we can restart the plant, help keep electrical steel making in this country, and not have to import steel, which we will have to do if we lose that capacity? Tata’s Llanwern steelworks is also in my constituency, and news during the election campaign that Tata is to cut 1,000 roles in the UK has caused uncertainty and great worry. We need the chance urgently for Ministers to report back on their discussions with Tata, and on how they, alongside the Welsh Government, are going to help. Tata’s handling of this situation has been badly done. As Community union has said, it needs to be clear about its strategy for the future.
The situation at Orb, and Tata more generally, amplifies the challenges facing the wider steel industry. We need vision from the Government to tackle them. The steel industry should be at the forefront of the Government’s thinking in Brexit negotiations and in the construction of future trade deals. Some 40% of all UK steel produce is exported and it is vulnerable to the deterioration of our existing trading relationships with other EU countries and the rest of the world. We also need urgent action on energy prices, which are higher than in other EU countries. This year, the UK steel industry has paid 62% more than its German counterpart. Representatives from the steel sector have also been crying out for action on procurement. BEIS data shows that at least 42% of steel procured by the UK Government is sourced from outside the UK, so there is significant room for improvement. The Government must get that right. These are all things that Ministers can work on with the all-party group on steel. I hope the Government will do that urgently in the new year.
As other hon. Members have mentioned, we lost two fantastic steel MPs from the all-party group on steel. Sadly, they lost their seats in the general election. Both were great champions of their steel communities and absolutely passionate about the industry. Those colleagues were Nic Dakin and Anna Turley. I know their contributions from the Labour Benches will be greatly missed. While I am at it, may I also pay tribute to Madeleine Moon, who lost her seat? She made an immense contribution in this Chamber on defence issues, latterly as President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I know that her knowledge and expertise will be greatly missed.
Finally, I would like to thank the voters of Newport East for electing me for the fifth time. I will do my very best to stand up for them in the long years ahead, including and not forgetting the 1950s women hit by pension changes. We need fast and significant investment in Gwent police, which has been cut by 40% since 2010 by the previous Government. Operation Uplift will not even take us back to 2010 numbers.
Universal credit needs to be paused and fixed. Low pay and insecure work need to be tackled, as do cross-border transport issues. Last but definitely not least, we need urgent action on climate change and on the lasting impact of austerity on our communities. I will continue to hold Ministers to account on those and other issues on behalf of my constituents and continue to stand up for Newport East. Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to take part in this debate.