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Ms Hewitt: Safeguard action under the WTO rules is designed to deal with a flood of imports that would cause serious injury. I entirely share the hon. Gentleman's concern, however, about the impact on our manufacturing industry of destabilisation in the steel market. Our steel industry includes some of the most productive steel companies in the world and companies at the leading edge of creating high value-added and innovative steel products of enormous importance to manufacturing industry.
The irony of what the Americans have done is that, by effectively banning from their market the high value- added products in which Britain and other European countries excel, they will damage their own steel industry, the restructuring of which will be delayed, and parts of
Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East): Will my right hon. Friend tell President Bush that his draconian measure is a foolish and stupid idea that should be buried immediately? There is a great deal of anger in the House and in our constituencies. I represent a steel constituency that has lost several thousand jobs in the past year. I associate myself strongly with the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who said that our people seek strong action and want their jobs to be defended. Now that Turkey and South Korea may dump their steel over-capacity not on America but on this country, what action will my right hon. Friend take?
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is a staunch defender of his constituents who work in the steel industry. He is absolutely right to draw attention to the threat to their jobs posed by the diversion of imports from countries such as Turkey and Korea, which will be directly affected by the tariffs that the American Administration propose to impose. That is precisely why, with Commissioner Lamy and colleagues in our fellow European member states, we seek to take safeguard action to protect my hon. Friend's constituents and other steelworkers against a flood of imports from countries locked out of the American market.
Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): Will the Secretary of State tell us exactly when she and the Prime Minister first became aware that Mr. Mittal was funding the protectionist lobby to the tune of $600,000? In light of the success of that lobby, will she and her colleagues take the only honourable course of action available to them and return the £125,000 that they took from Mr. Mittal?
Ms Hewitt: I notice that the hon. Gentleman has not asked me to do anything at all to help steelworkers in this country. That is a mark of the nature of his interest in the subject. It is a trivial question and it insults the steelworkers about whom I am concerned.
Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): Has my right hon. Friend been able to make an assessment of the effect of the outrageous 30 per cent. tariff that will be placed on exports of some products, many of which are manufactured in south Yorkshire, and of the likely effect on manufacturers in the US who currently rely on those products, which come from our area?
Ms Hewitt: We are in the process of making precisely that assessment, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand that, given the number of different companies involved at this end, the number of different purchasers involved in the manufacturing sector in the United States, and the number of different products involvedwe and others have been seeking exemption for over 1,000 products during these discussionsit is not possible to arrive at an instant assessment.
As I said in my statement, some 4 per cent. of total British steel output will be affected by these tariffs if they go ahead on the basis of last night's statement, but obviously that will affect some companies, which specialise in those products, much more than it will others. We are looking to do that assessment very quickly. We are of course already working with the steel producers, the steel trade association and the steel trade union, to ensure that we have an accurate assessment of the damage that could be done not only to our producers, but to American manufacturing industry. On that basis, we will decide on the appropriate safeguard action that should be taken.
Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): After the end of the American love affairafter Kyoto, the Enron debacle and now thisI am not sure that we should be so surprised that this has happened. However, given the global economy, global systems and global communications, is 60 days now an appropriate time scale in which to consult the WTO? Might we work in future to make the consultation period much shorter than 60 days? Would it be possible to invite Pascal Lamy and the president of the WTO to this place before the recessnot to the Chamber because we cannot, but to the House of Commonsso that we may express our concerns forcefully to those two people?
Ms Hewitt: Of course I will look at that possibility, but let me assure my hon. Friend that, having just spoken to Commissioner Lamy, I am in no doubtand I hope that hon. Members will be in no doubtabout the anger that is felt by him and the Government about the American action and this defiance of World Trade Organisation rules. On my hon. Friend's other point, we will continue to try to strengthen the World Trade Organisation as an institution and to ensure that it has effective dispute resolution mechanisms that can be used by member states who have a complaint rather more speedily than they can at the moment.
David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): I begin by declaring an interest as a member of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation trade union. On that point, may I urge my right hon. Friend to consult fully and keep informed the leaders of all those who represent and work in the British steel industry? May I ask her to reject out of hand those calls for action that will be tantamount to a transatlantic trade war, which is certainly not in the interests of the British steel industry, or of the British economy and British jobs? Finally, while I appreciate that it is best to try to seek a cross-European approach on the matter, my right hon. Friend will be aware that such agreements can take an awfully long time to reach. May I ask her to ensure that the process is expedited and, if necessary, to retain the right to take action, as urged by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey), that would be primarily focused on protecting British jobs and the British economy?
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the important role of the ISTC and of course we are in touch with the union and with others representing steelworkers. I am very glad to say that today the ISTC has welcomed our Government's commitment to support the referral of America to the World Trade Organisation.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and welcome the actions that are proposed to be taken with the WTO. In addition, I particularly welcome her comments about pressing for an exemption for producers of specialised steel exports during those negotiations with the WTO and others. May I bring to her attention the plight of a company in my constituency, Firth Clevelanda small, specialist producer of high value, high quality cold strip steel? It has maintained a constantI emphasise the word "constant"export market in the United States, and has not flooded it. I understand that there is no domestic alternative for its products in the United States. May I ask her to ensure that interests such as those of that company, are adequately represented when we press for exemptions?
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend has already drawn my attention to that company in his constituency, and we are already ensuring that we understand fully its position. The point that he makes about the high-value-added products that are being exported at a steady rateno sudden surge of imports thereto the United States precisely underlines the point that I made earlier that the American action risks damaging its own manufacturing sector, precisely when that sector is beginning to emerge from the recession in America. Although it may seem ironic, we may well be acting in the interests of American manufacturing industry, as well as his and other steel producers, when we seekI hope, successfullythe exemption for which he presses.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During last evening's debate in the House on whether this Parliament or the Scottish Parliament is responsible for approving new power stations in Scotland, especially nuclear power stations, Opposition parties tried eight times to elicit an answer from the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of State, Scotland Office.
Simultaneous to that debate, the Minister for Industry and Energy was answering that question outside the House. Further confusion arises because most hon. Members understood the Ministers in that debate to say that Westminster would take the final decision, while the Minister for Industry and Energy was saying that it would be taken in Scotland. What protection is there for hon. Members who are involved in a debate in the House when Ministers of the Crown make contrary statements elsewhere? Does not that involve an element of discourtesy? How do we proceed now? Does a form of arbitration between Ministers exist? Do we toss a coin? Better still, could a statement be made to clarify the position once and for all?