|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Byers: Our first task must be to try to get Corus to reconsider this morning's announcement, but my hon. Friend makes an important point: the more than 400 jobs that are projected to be lost at Scunthorpe are on top of the nearly 700 losses that Corus declared last year. Of course, if Corus proceeds with the proposals announced today, we will put in place a package of measures to ensure economic regeneration and job creation in the affected areas. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall carefully examine how we can do that in Scunthorpe and north Lincolnshire.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): There is no doubt that today's announcement is disastrous for the communities in Teesside, Yorkshire and Wales that will be so badly affected; it is a real body blow. While I acknowledge that Corus has hitherto behaved very badly, does the Secretary of State realise that since Labour took office, 16,000 jobs have been lost in manufacturing in Wales? Is it not a fact that keeping inflation down has become something of a sacred cow? Should we not be looking at fiscal rather than monetary policies to control inflation? Does he agree that the Monetary Policy Committee should consider employment as well as inflation? Will he please tell the House what kind of help was on offer to Corus?
Mr. Byers: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Welsh Assembly proposed a detailed package of measures, and support would have come from the United Kingdom Government as well. It was carefully tailored to ensure that we did not come into conflict with any European Union state aid provisions. In the end, it was clear that Corus did not want to engage in those discussions. The company said that discussions would make no difference to today's announcement. I regret that, because if we had had a genuine dialogue, we could have gone through with Corus the details of the support that would have been available. We may not have avoided all the consequences of today's announcement, but we would have been able to alleviate some of the pain now being suffered in many communities.
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, the policy prescriptions that he proposes may receive plaudits today, but they will reap real problems in the medium and long term, with tens of thousands of job losses in Wales and throughout the United Kingdom.
Mr. Speaker: Order. I wish to help every hon. Member in this very serious matter, but I need the co-operation of the House. Questions must be brief if I am to call every hon. Member who wishes to speak.
Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): May I tell my right hon. Friend that anyone who knows the history of Ebbw Vale and the surrounding communities, some of which I represent, will know that steel making is vital to our communities? A total closure, such as that proposed, would therefore be desperate and devastating. Even at the eleventh hour, will my right hon. Friend make an appeal to Sir Brian Moffat and Corus because they owe a responsibility not only to their shareholders and bankers, but to the people who have made the industry such a great success?
Mr. Byers: Many communities will suffer if today's announcement is implemented, but Ebbw Vale in particular will be devastated by the announcement of the whole plant's closure. That community and town has developed very much on steel, the fundamental core of its economic activity. If Corus proceeds with the closure of Ebbw Vale, the Government and the Welsh Assembly will work alongside the community and the individuals affected to help them through a painful and difficult time. Better than that, however, we urge Corus to think again, to reconsider its proposals and to find a way in which Ebbw Vale can retain steel-making capacity. As my hon. Friend suggests, I urge Corus to reconsider the decision that it has taken today.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Did the Government not know that this disaster was impending? Last October, in evidence to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, the Secretary of State's Department analysed the problems faced by the steel industry and came up with an extremely complacent response. If the Government had got down to solving the problem then, developing the package of support that the Secretary of State tells us that they have offered--late in the day--to Corus, might not the disaster have been averted? Was not one contributory factor the high cost of energy in this country in comparison with that of our European competitors?
Mr. Byers: The reality is that when Corus had two joint chief executives, I discussed with them the possibility of support and assistance for the industry. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that those joint chief executives were dismissed in early December, which led
Mr. MacShane: When Nissan and Boeing are investing in the UK, when there are 1.1 million new jobs here and 4.7 million new jobs in the euro zone and when Europe and Britain are growing, it is crazy to take so much steel capacity out of our economy. Sir Brian Moffat will ask a sacrifice of many men and women. May I suggest that he adds his own name to that list of sacrifice by resigning? A new leadership at Corus--because we must look forward--should work with the Government, the unions and even some Opposition Members, who understand the needs of manufacturing, to build a policy that gets us fully into Europe. The pound-euro imbalance has been the main cause of those running losses. We need a policy whereby we use more steel in the UK. The Tory anti-manufacturing policies that Corus so brilliantly represents are at the root of the problem.
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend makes an important point when he draws the attention of the House to the significant announcements made in recent weeks that core manufacturers have decided to invest in the United Kingdom. He was right to point out that Boeing made an announcement yesterday; there were also announcements from Nissan seven days ago and from Toyota at the beginning of January. If Corus takes the opportunity to reflect on today's announcement and on those decisions, it will recognise that manufacturing in the United Kingdom has a strong base. We have sectors of great growth--for example, in aerospace--for which steel will be required in the future. Corus will still employ 22,000 people after today's decision, showing that there is a long-term, viable future for the steel industry in the UK. The Government want to work with Corus to identify a common agenda, so that the company can meet its responsibilities and we can give hope to the individuals and communities affected.
Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw): I would like to be able to say that the last remnants of the Scottish steel industry at the Dalyell and Clydebridge plants have avoided the cuts because of the lobbying carried out by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) and myself, but it would not be true. Frankly, the management of Corus have shown me that they do not give a damn for local politicians or, indeed, for the work force. As someone who has spent most of his life in a steelworks, I point out that tomorrow morning, 6,000 men will wake up with real fear for the first time in their lives--fear that the skills that they have honed working in blast furnaces, coke ovens, strip mills, boss plants and continuous casting plants will no longer be of any use to them. Will the Secretary of State ensure that, if those men lose their jobs, retraining will be given as quickly as possible?
Will the Secretary of State also ensure that he does not look across the Floor for lessons from Tory Members? The Tory party tried to smash steel trade unions into the ground in the 1980s; they sold off British Steel--
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point based on his experience of the steel industry. If Corus does not withdraw these proposals, we will want to work with the individuals affected to ensure that their skills can be used to good effect in new jobs that give them good prospects for the future.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough): One of the few worthwhile things that the shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said was that a ripple effect would follow today's announcement by Corus. More jobs might be lost if it continues with its present line.
May I underline the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor)? BBC Radio Cleveland announced the closure of the coil plate mill on Teesside, and we have made representations for a month about that plant without receiving any significant response.
Will my right hon. Friend impress on Corus the importance of the pension rights of the people who will be transferred? I understand that those rights will be frozen until people reach the age of 65, and that fact is causing additional anxiety. My final plea is to call on the House to be unanimous in calling on Corus to think, think and think again.