Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I welcome the new shadow Leader to his post. He made a good point about lack of time for debate. It is very frustrating for Back Benchers when we are waiting to speak and the time limit has to be reduced. That point has also

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1207

been made by SNP Members. Surely, in this new Parliament, we should look again at having a business of the House committee. It would not be the Government deciding timing; it would be an independent committee, and Members would at least be satisfied that their concerns were being looked at. May we have a motion on the Order Paper creating a business of the House committee and allowing a free vote by MPs to see whether the will of Parliament is for such a committee?

Chris Grayling: I know how strongly my hon. Friend feels about this issue. There will shortly be a debate on it, but I simply say to him that more than half the allocated time in this House is already beyond the control of Government—the Opposition days, the private Members’ Bill days, and Backbench Business Committee days. We already allocate more time than most other Parliaments to the will of Parliament, but the Government also have to timetable and get through their own business.


Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): Five years ago today, Pope Benedict XVI made an historic address to both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. It was the first state visit by a Pope to the United Kingdom, and of course it began with a joyful reception in Edinburgh and a mass in Glasgow. Many great occasions of state are commemorated with plaques on the floor of Westminster Hall. Can the Leader of the House advise on the process for deciding on the installation of such plaques and the appropriate route for making representations to those responsible?

Chris Grayling: That is an interesting idea and the hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. May I suggest he writes formally to the Commission and then it would be considered?

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Last week, the Grimsby institute of further and higher education did an excellent job in hosting the World Seafood Congress, a very prestigious event that was attracted to our area. Many jobs in the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area are dependent on the seafood industry. Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate to consider the challenges and opportunities the industry faces?

Chris Grayling: It all sounds a bit fishy to me! I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for being a first-rate representative of his area, and I know how important that industry is to him. It is good to see the local authorities and the local Members of Parliament working to support that industry. I know that my ministerial colleagues would also share the view that this is something we would want to champion and support.

Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP): I thank the Leader of the House for announcing that the Second Reading debate on the Immigration Bill will be held on the Tuesday after the conference recess. Given that the Bill is going to be published only in the next hour, does he really think he has given Members of this House enough time to analyse and consider the consequences of such important legislation?

Chris Grayling: The Scottish National party was complaining earlier that the recess was lying ahead and there was not enough focus on important work during

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1208

that time. SNP Members have three weeks to read the Bill, give it due consideration and bring forward the amendments that they want to table after the recess. I would therefore hope that they could use that time wisely and fruitfully.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): The Government’s road investment strategy was firmly welcomed by residents in east Northamptonshire. It committed not only to improve the Chowns Mill roundabout, but to dual the A45 between Stanwick and Thrapston. May we have a statement from a Transport Minister setting out the progress against that strategy at this point in time?

Chris Grayling: I know how important these investments are to the area my hon. Friend represents, and I will certainly ask the Transport Secretary to give him an update. I congratulate my hon. Friend on being so effective in representing Corby, but of course these improvements could have happened only as a result of this Government’s policy of getting our economy back on to the straight and narrow. Corby is seeing the benefits of that.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP): May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 455?

[That this House notes that 26 September 2015 marks the centenary of the death of Keir Hardie, the first independent representative of working people to be elected to this Parliament, a consistent champion of Scottish Home Rule and votes for women, and an unswerving opponent of British involvement in the First World War; further notes Hardie’s seminal contribution to democratic politics, as founder of the Scottish Labour Party (1888), the Independent Labour Party (1893) and the Labour Representation Committee (1900); notes his commitment to women’s suffrage, trades union rights, free schooling, state pensions, Indian self-rule and the end to racial segregation in South Africa, long before these social reforms were attained; notes Hardie’s principled opposition to British participation in the First World War and regrets that his rejection of jingoism and mass slaughter led to Parliament paying no public tributes to this great democrat, on his untimely death at the age of 59; and expresses the hope that Hardie's lifelong support for Scottish Home Rule, universal social justice and equal rights for women will yet bear fruit.]

May I remind the Leader of the House of Keir Hardie’s commitments, detailed above, which of course included a commitment to Scottish home rule?

Chris Bryant: And teetotalism.

Chris Stephens: Indeed. The Parliament at the time did not pay a public tribute to Keir Hardie, so will this Government right that wrong and pay a generous tribute to a great democrat?

Chris Grayling: One thing that makes this House strong is that over the decades and the centuries people have come here who have been passionate democrats with profound and determined ideas, to whom, although individually we may disagree with them, we would pay tribute for the contribution they have made to this country. I echo the hon. Gentleman’s view: Keir Hardie

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1209

was one of the great figures of our political history. He was the pathfinder of the Labour movement, and even though I disagree with many of the policies that his successors have sought to bring before this House, I would say, none the less, that he made an important contribution, as did many others in our past. We should always champion them.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): Many of my constituents will welcome the recent changes to the definition of “a Traveller” within the planning system, which will remove the requirements on local authorities to provide caravan pitches for those already settled in bricks and mortar housing. As such, may we have a debate on this new guidance, to reinforce the need for greater fairness in our planning system for both the settled and the Traveller communities?

Chris Grayling: That is a really important point. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) made that same point a little while back, which led to me receiving a number of messages and letters from people in Traveller communities saying that this was not right. I take a simple view on this. If a Traveller hopes to have beneficial arrangements in the planning laws but does not intend to travel, most people in this country would say that that is simply not right. We cannot have people who intend to live in a fixed abode having their own particular arrangements within our planning laws. Our laws should apply equally to every single person in this country regardless of how they live their lives. My view is straightforward. If a person is not travelling, they cannot claim to be a Traveller within our planning system and have special arrangements. I hope that this new Government policy will deal with this issue, which I know frustrates many constituents.

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1210

Steven Paterson (Stirling) (SNP): I have been contacted by my constituent Maureen from Fallin who has asked me why this Government have so manifestly failed to live up to the vow that they and other parties made one year ago this week. Can we have a debate to discuss the failure of the Government to deliver on the vow?

Chris Grayling: If I was a Scottish National MP and I had come to Westminster with a determination to achieve independence for Scotland, I would seek to foment division between England and Scotland. I absolutely understand where that party is coming from, but it does not mean that this Government have gone back on their promises in the vow. We are delivering the Smith commission findings in the Scotland Bill as we promised.

Callum McCaig (Aberdeen South) (SNP): The number of refused applications made by employers for a sponsor licence to employ non-EU workers has more than doubled since 2010. One of my constituents has had their licence removed for fatuous reasons. Can we have a statement from the Home Secretary as to whether hidden targets regimes are in operation, which is damaging businesses across the country?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is right and proper that we should seek to tackle abuses in the immigration system. Such abuses clearly exist and the Home Office is right to take action. At the same time, he is also right that it has to do so with great caution to ensure that it gets it right. There will be an opportunity at Home Office questions, straight after the recess, for him to raise such issues directly with the Home Secretary. I am absolutely behind her in what she is seeking to do, which is to manage our immigration system properly, but of course we must get the detail of it right.

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1211

Points of Order

11.42 am

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise the breach of the consultation process by the Home Office, which means that Members, the public and the police are denied vital information on the future funding of the police service. The existing formula is widely recognised to be unfair and out of date. The Government have opened a process of consultation on a new formula to inform the comprehensive spending review. They did so on the last day before Parliament rose for the summer recess. This week, just before Parliament rises for the autumn recess, they have made it clear beyond any doubt that they will refuse to publish vital information, including studies that have been carried out in the Home Office on the likely impact of such a policy and the equality impact study that is required by law, despite the fact that the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice conceded before the Home Affairs Committee earlier this week that such studies had been carried out.

I have written to the Home Office, as have the police service and the police and crime commissioners. Freedom of information requests have been lodged, but there remains a stony silence from the Home Office. It has been left therefore to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the police to model the likely impact, pointing to catastrophic consequences in excess of 50%, which will make it very difficult for the great metropolitan forces to function.

I ask for your guidance, Mr Speaker. The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens. If there is information within the Home Office that the public might be put at risk, the full facts should be disclosed to this House, the public and the police. I seek your guidance on how the Home Office can be made to discharge its duties in disclosing that vital information, enabling meaningful consultation and extending the period of consultation, otherwise it will mean that this House is being treated with contempt.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and his courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise it. That said, I fear that my reply will be disappointing, although it has the advantage of being accurate. The timing of a consultation and the information that the Government provide to inform that consultation or in response to freedom of information requests are ultimately a matter for Ministers and not a matter on which the Chair can rule. That said, the hon. Gentleman has made his concern forcefully known and it is on the record. I feel sure that Ministers and the Patronage Secretary will have heard what he has to say. In answer to his inquiry on what more can be done, he is dexterous in the use of parliamentary devices and he knows that there are means by which matters can be brought to the attention of the House, particularly if he thinks that they are urgent or topical, if his continued pursuit of information is unavailing. I hope that that is helpful, and we will leave it there for now.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, we had the refreshing change of a Prime Minister’s Question Time that involved an exchange of opinions carried out in a respectful and

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1212

quiet manner between two politicians. It was a wonderful antidote to the infantile bedlam we suffered for many years, which has done so much damage to the reputation of Members and this House. You have a responsibility in your role for the conduct of Prime Minister’s questions, so may we have an assurance that you will, as you did yesterday, allow generous time to that part of Prime Minister’s Question Time so that we do not go back to the chaos and damaging exchanges of the past?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said and happen rather strongly to agree with him. For what it is worth, if colleagues are interested, I know from my pretty extensive visits around the country that it is clear that there is a divide at the Beltway, particularly between those who observe our proceedings and would be more than happy for there to be a fistfight as it would lead to a headline but are not remotely interested in the detail of scrutiny, and those who make up the mass of the public, who are interested in robust but respectful exchange of opinion between elected public servants. I am with the hon. Gentleman and I think the bulk of the public are, too, and those who took part in Prime Minister’s questions in that way yesterday. It is important that Back-Bench participation should be maximised, so we have to try to ensure that there is plenty of time for Back Benchers to put their questions and get their answers. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is encouraged by what he witnessed yesterday and by what he has heard from me today.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Without in any way disagreeing with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) or yourself, in view of some of the controversy over PMQs, and making no comment whatsoever about what happened yesterday, may I say—perhaps you will fully agree—that PMQs is a unique feature of our parliamentary democracy? Many countries would for the Leader of the Opposition and Back Benchers to be able to question the Government at least once a week. I, like my hon. Friend, am certainly not happy with the Prime Minister’s response over the years, but we should be very careful not to denigrate this feature of parliamentary life. We should be pleased that it exists, and that should be put on the record.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and I personally see no contradiction between what he has said and some of the criticisms of the way in which PMQs have been conducted in recent years. He knows that we live in a world in which it is often expected, particularly by our friends in the media, that there is a simple yes/no, like/dislike, agree/disagree, black/white attitude to life. In fact, it is perfectly possible enthusiastically to support the idea of a Prime Minister’s question session for precisely the reason that the hon. Gentleman gives, namely that there are many countries around the world in which the Prime Minister is not required to come to the House each week to respond to questions—I have met people in those countries, politicians and members of civil society, who say that they wish it had to happen as it does here—while believing that the debate should be conducted robustly but in a courteous fashion. I do not think that there is a contradiction between those two things. When I am asked whether I

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1213

am in favour of PMQs, I say that I am in favour of it but that I would like it to be better. I cannot see that there is anything wrong with that.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. What we do not want is PMQs becoming Front-Bench PMQs. Given that only a number of questions are drawn for the Order Paper each week, and given that not all of them are asked, would not a simple solution be to make sure that they are all asked before PMQs can finish? Hopefully that would deter Front Benchers, including the Prime Minister, from going on for too long.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman encourages me, and I am grateful to him for his encouragement, but he knows that, in so far as there is any latitude, I tend to use it to try to ensure that we get further down the Order Paper. Therefore, as he will have noticed—he is a very observant fellow—we do not always finish at 12.30 precisely; sometimes we stray a bit beyond that. I think we once went as late as 12.38. The hon. Gentleman is exhorting me to go even longer. He might be exhorting me to get into trouble. I am sure that he would not do that deliberately. I agree with the thrust of what he says. We ought to be trying to get down the Order Paper. The exchanges between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are very important, but they are by no means the only part of Prime Minister’s questions. The opportunity for Back-Bench Members to put their questions to the Prime Minister is precious, so I will do everything I can, increasing my efforts if necessary, to ensure that that happens.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is on a completely different matter, and although I gently suggest that your middle name is Latitude, there is one area on which you might allow less latitude. Last Friday the House debated the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill, but the debate did not start until 9.48 am because we had a Division that, to my mind, was completely unnecessary. About 10 Members shouted “Aye” when the Question was put on whether the House should sit in private. In practice, only one Member, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), voted Aye and two Members acted as Tellers. However, several of the Members who shouted “Aye” then voted no. As you know, because the acclamation is part of the voting process and how we proceed, it is a requirement in this

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1214

House that one’s vote must follow one’s voice, if one chooses then to vote. I am not making bones about the practice of Members shouting and then not voting, but I am making bones about the fact that some Members shouted “Aye” when they had every intention of voting no. Will you make it clear to hon. Members that there is no need to waste time in that way?

Mr Speaker: Yes, I will. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make bones about the matter, on the assumption, of course, that what he is conveying to the House is truthful, which I am sure he absolutely intends it to be—he always does his research, so I am sure that he has a reason for making a bone about this point. We should not waste time. The public expect us to get on with the substance of debate. If the hon. Gentleman remains dissatisfied over a period, he could consider having a word with the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker).

Chris Bryant: I have done that.

Mr Speaker: Well, he might need to do so again. I think that it would be useful to have a view from the Committee on the use of the device that causes a delay in the start of debates on a Friday.

I think that I am right in saying that the appetite for points of order has now been exhausted.

Bill Presented

Immigration Bill

Presentationand First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mrs Secretary May, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Sajid Javid, Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, Mr Secretary Clark, Secretary Nicky Morgan, Mr Secretary McLoughlin, Matthew Hancock and James Brokenshire, presented a Bill to make provision about the law on immigration and asylum; to make provision about access to services, facilities, licences and work by reference to immigration status; to make provision about the Director of Labour Market Enforcement; to make provision about language requirements for public sector workers; to make provision about fees for passports and civil registration; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 12 October, and to be printed (Bill 74) with explanatory notes (Bill 74-EN).

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1215

Serjeant at Arms

11.54 am

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I beg to move,

That this House expresses its appreciation to Lawrence Ward for his distinguished service to this House, including three years as Serjeant at Arms, and extends to him its best wishes for the future.

I would like to place on the record my sincerest thanks to Lawrence on behalf of myself, the Liberal Democrats, and the House as a whole. He has served this place with great distinction for the past three years as Serjeant at Arms, and the Commons is a great deal better for it. Lawrence began working in the House in 1997 and has served this place in a number of different roles. His skill, dedication and professionalism have always marked him out, and provide a model for all those who are to succeed him.

The year 2015 marks the 600th anniversary of the role of Serjeant at Arms. At this time when parliamentary politics is being vigorously challenged and is under ever greater scrutiny, it is essential that the House remains open and more relevant to the people we serve. The modern-day role of the Serjeant at Arms and his duty to balance the safety of Members and staff with public access is vital in achieving this. In the summer, the parliamentary educational centre, a project that the Serjeant at Arms presided over, opened. It is a fine legacy and one that will serve this place and the public well. It will provide a valuable tool in connecting our democratic work with the public at large.

I wish Lawrence all the very best in his new role outside Parliament.

11.56 am

The Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Grayling): This is a happy exchange. It is a great pleasure to speak to this motion expressing the House’s gratitude to Lawrence Ward for his service to the House of Commons, particularly as Serjeant at Arms since 2012. As the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) said, it is an ancient position, 600 years old. Lawrence is thought to be the 40th Serjeant at Arms. He has had a long and distinguished service in this place. He spent a brief spell as Deputy Serjeant at Arms in 2011 before being appointed Serjeant at Arms in 2012.

It is worth remembering that besides the many hours that Lawrence has spent in the Serjeant’s chair in this Chamber, he has also been very prominent in the role of overseeing the arrangements for the reception of many distinguished visitors to this place, often greeting them personally on arrival. In this context he has met presidents, princes and prelates—even, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said earlier, the Pope—as well as the Dalai Llama and numerous foreign statesmen and women. On one momentous occasion, he personally oversaw the arrangements in the Terrace pavilion for a performance by Fat Boy Slim. I am sure that many hon. Members are grateful to Lawrence and his team for facilitating access to meetings and events.

Lawrence is leaving the service of this House tomorrow to pursue a career in the private sector. I am sure that everyone would wish to express their very great thanks

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1216

to him for the work he has done and all the contributions he has made here, and to wish him all the best for his future career.

As you know, Mr Speaker, a recruitment exercise to appoint a new Serjeant at Arms will commence shortly. In the meantime, Robert Twigger, until recently secretary to the House of Commons Commission, will be the acting Serjeant at Arms.

Lawrence has my thanks and my good wishes.

11.57 am

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It is a delight to be thirding, if there is such a thing—I know there is not—this motion.

The Serjeant at Arms role is rather a curiosity in the way we do our business. It is something that we have exported around the world to many other parliamentary democracies based on the British system. One of the previous Serjeants at Arms was a regicide, and one of the jobs of his successor was to gather up all the bodies from the previous regicide, chop them up into pieces, and display them in Westminster Hall. Lawrence never had to gather up bodies, though perhaps he knows where the bodies are.

I was once at a dinner party in Islington—this is obviously now mandatory for all Labour MPs—where somebody asked Malcolm Jack, the former Clerk of the House, exactly what the Serjeant at Arms’ job was. I remember very clearly that he said, “Well, he is the chap who dresses up in black silk stockings and patent leather pumps to chase MPs out of the toilets in the Division Lobby with his silver sword.” There are elements of our parliamentary system that do perhaps need a little reform, I gently suggest. Perhaps we should not limit our search to people who like wearing black silk stockings and patent leather pumps.

I am not sure what training is required for the job, but it is interesting that the last two Serjeants at Arms have come not from the traditional cadre, which has always been military or naval, but from very different forms of service and not necessarily through the almost hereditary process of the past.

There are several jobs in politics that have to be done with good grace, such as Leader of the House and a Conservative Secretary of State for Wales. Another is Serjeant at Arms, and Lawrence has done it abundantly well.

I want to make one apology to him, though. I cannot tell all of this story, I am afraid, because you would rule me out of order, Mr Speaker. On 27 March 2010, thanks to your good offices, it was possible for me and Jared Cranney to get married in the Members’ Dining Room. We are not allowed in the Chapel yet, but who knows? Maybe one day. Lawrence was then the Deputy Serjeant at Arms and he made himself and his team fully available to all of my guests. It was the first time it had ever happened in the building and he was absolutely charming. Unfortunately our guests were not allowed to pass through Westminster Hall itself, and I cannot tell you why, but I shouted, ranted and raved at him at the time, for which I apologise. With that, I wish him all the best in his new job.

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1217

12.1 pm

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): As a co-signatory of the motion, I want to be succinct in adding to the points that have already been made. I am afraid—or perhaps fortunately—I do not have a colourful story such as the last one.

As a member of the House of Commons Commission, I certainly respect—as I think you do, too, Mr Speaker—the advice Lawrence has given us. It is unseen and not reported, but it has been extensive and extremely useful. Most of us see him only in his role of sitting in the chair with the sword and stockings. I am a bit disturbed at the preoccupation of some speakers—one in particular—with stockings. What we do not recognise is how much Lawrence has been involved in the protection of the House while at the same time enabling the public to come in and see us in action. That has been successful. It is also interesting that, having had some interesting and unusual requests from me for slight changes and a bending of the rules, he was extremely polite to me, even if at the end of the day he gave an emphatic and definite no.

12.2 pm

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): It is a pleasure to follow the other tributes to Lawrence. SNP Members thank him for the services he has fulfilled as Serjeant at Arms. He has discharged his responsibilities in a courteous, good natured and thoroughly professional way, to the extent that he has become good friends with many Members across the House. My colleagues in particular want to express their gratitude for the way in which he has accommodated them as new Members.

Others have referred to the 600-year tradition of the role of Serjeant at Arms. Lawrence was there when Fatboy Slim famously appeared on the Terrace. He was also there for a performance by MP4 when we played to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the role of Serjeant at Arms. Serjeants at Arms from all over the Commonwealth were present that evening to celebrate, and who was at the front? I would not say he was rocking his funky stuff, but it was Lawrence and he certainly appreciated that lovely evening.

We wish Lawrence all the best for the future. I know he will be a regular visitor to the House of Commons as the years go by. I never learned whether he could actually use the sword he wielded by his side, but perhaps he could take up sword lessons and come back to show us how it should be wielded and how the stockings should be put on. We wish him all the best.

12.3 pm

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): We miss Lawrence and he has not even gone yet, which just shows how popular he has been in the role of Serjeant at Arms. He had a number of duties and I worked closely with him when I was a Deputy Speaker. Like you, Mr Speaker, I got to see him on a daily basis. As has been said, his role is much more than just sitting in that chair with a sword. From time to time, I had to call on him to go into one of the Lobbies and find out why a vote was delayed. He is much more than the armed wing of your office, Mr Speaker: he is a human being who has been seen widely around all parts of the House and who always has time to chat with people to see how they are doing.

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1218

I had a close relationship with Lawrence in ensuring the speedy entrance into our building of ambassadors and high commissioners whenever they came to Parliament. During my personal trauma, he was somebody whom I looked to, and he gave me some wonderful advice. He told me that his door was always open, and he extended the hand of friendship. I will miss him dearly. I hope that he will not be a stranger—his retirement gives us all hope that there is life after this place—and that he will come back to visit us often.

12.5 pm

Mr Speaker: In 2012, the director general of resources, Andrew Walker, chaired a selection panel to find a successor to the retiring Serjeant at Arms, Jill Pay, and the panel produced a shortlist of two candidates. I was proud to choose Lawrence Ward from that shortlist of two as the Serjeant at Arms. I have to tell the House I had absolute confidence that Lawrence would prove an exceptional holder of the office, and I feel entirely vindicated in that view. I have never had reason to regret the choice.

Colleagues have spoken warmly and with a quite fitting generosity of spirit about the contribution that Lawrence has made. For my part, having worked with him very closely, especially during the past three and a half years, two things strike me more than anything else: Lawrence Ward has quite outstanding organisational skills and, as I think colleagues can testify, he has wonderful interpersonal skills. He is totally unstuffy, and he can get on with everybody. Whenever there was a challenge, a problem or an issue, his mindset was “How are we going to sort this?” His mindset was not on all the negatives and what could not be done, but on what could be done to ensure that the wishes of Members in particular were fulfilled.

I am hugely grateful to Lawrence. If I may, I want to mention two other things. First, in the management of the Doorkeepers team—this is not always acknowledged, and I am not sure that it has been stated in the House—Lawrence has brought about much greater diversity, in terms both of gender and of ethnicity, than has previously been achieved. What he has accomplished, without making a huge song and dance about it, but just delivering it, is perhaps a great example or model that could usefully be followed elsewhere in the House.

Secondly, I have an example of his “can do” attitude. Colleagues will know that I am a fanatical enthusiast for tennis. I wanted, in concert with the Lawn Tennis Association, to find an opportunity to showcase tennis within the Palace of Westminster and, in particular, to bring in children from state schools to have the chance to learn about the game with a bit of tuition. If memory serves, on the first occasion the tuition was given by Greg Rusedski, and subsequently—this year—by Judy Murray, among others. I asked Lawrence, “Where in the Palace of Westminster could I pick a venue that would not require me to have to go through a long process of securing agreement from all sorts of other people?” Lawrence said, “The answer is New Palace Yard, Mr Speaker. There is nothing to stop you having a tennis event there. It is within your bailiwick.” I decided to go ahead, and we have had that event every year. Lawrence has always overseen its organisation, which has been done outstandingly. He has also overseen, for

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1219

the benefit of all of us, the clockwork organisation of the new year’s eve party on the terrace, which many colleagues find it pleasurable to attend.

In short, you ask Lawrence to deliver—and he delivers. As the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) rightly observed, he took a key role, along with a good many other people, in translating the House of Commons Commission’s ambition to establish a parliamentary education centre into reality. He has done a wonderful job and provided great service to this House. I really do thank colleagues for what they have said and the way in which they have said it by way of tribute to him, which I know Lawrence and his family will hold dear. We wish him well in the important and challenging new role in the private sector to which he now moves.

Question put and agreed to.

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1220

Backbench Business

UK Steel Industry

12.9 pm

Anna Turley (Redcar) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

That this House recognises the unprecedented gravity of the challenges currently facing the UK steel industry; and calls on the Government to hold a top-level summit with the key players from the steel industry to seek meaningful and urgent solutions to the crisis.

Forgive me, Mr Speaker, but I am new to this place. Should I continue?

Mr Speaker: The House is expectant. If the hon. Lady, beyond the formal moving, wishes to make a speech, I know that the House will be agog with attention. The Minister is there to hear her, and others. Please, proceed with your speech.

Anna Turley: Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing Back Benchers time for this crucial debate. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting me the opportunity to raise this issue on the Floor of the House. This is an issue of huge significance not only to my constituents, but to the economic security of the United Kingdom and its global position in manufacturing. I thank the Minister for attending the debate. I look forward to building on the constructive conversations that we have had recently on this issue.

I am grateful to the many hon. Members who supported me in securing this debate, including the hon. Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) and for Corby (Tom Pursglove), my hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) and for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), and many others who I look forward to hearing from today. We are bringing the voice of our constituents around the country into this Chamber and I hope that the Government will hear their pleas.

I am grateful to my union, Community, which represents its members and the industry as a whole with great dedication and commitment, as do our colleagues from the GMB and Unite. I pay particular tribute to the Community union’s general secretary, Roy Rickhuss, and the senior trade union representative at the Redcar steelworks, Paul Warren, who are here with us today.

Most of all, I am grateful to the generations of workers who have kept steelmaking alive on Teesside for over a century—those who dug the iron ore and forged the steel that built Canary Wharf, the Sydney harbour bridge, Wembley stadium and the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Centre—and to those proud men and women of Teesside who stand ready to fight again for its future.

UK steel is at breaking point. This is a crisis for one of the most important foundation industries in the British economy. It employs 30,000 people across the country in highly skilled jobs, often in industrial heartlands with high unemployment. The UK steel industry supports the automotive, construction and aerospace sectors, as well as a raft of supply chains, and it is vital that there is a future for steelmaking at the heart of industry in this country.

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1221

The industry is in crisis because the price of steel has collapsed from £318 per tonne to £191 per tonne. Chinese imports are flooding the market. Between 2011 and 2015, the proportion of Chinese steel entering the market has quadrupled. The strength of the pound is increasing prices by 10% and crippling exports. I accept that there is little the Government can do about those global drivers, but that should never diminish their responsibility to do what they can.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): My hon. Friend is right about the crisis facing the industry. Does she agree that energy prices are part of the problem and have been for a long time? They are certainly affecting plants such as Shotton in my seat.

Anna Turley: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there has been an ongoing discussion about that issue for a long time. The Government have taken some steps, which I will mention in a moment, but there is much more that they can do and they have promised things that we are still waiting to see delivered.

I am glad to hear that the Minister is going to China next week to discuss the dumping of steel, which is affecting producers around the world. There are, however, several UK-specific issues that are having a detrimental effect on steel production in the UK and that it is within the Government’s power to resolve. Action by the Government today could give the British steel sector the chance to stay alive in this fiercely competitive global market.

Research that I have undertaken in partnership with UK Steel has shown that the steel industry in the UK is disadvantaged to the tune of £431 million a year compared with our global competitors as a result of the exchange rate, energy policy costs, air pollution targets and business rates. I am sure that the Minister would agree that we want the UK to be the place to do business and that we do not want to penalise our own manufacturers.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): What my hon. Friend says about the exchange rate is right. Of course, the exchange rate has appreciated by about 20% in recent months. Will she say whether that has made the situation worse?

Anna Turley: It certainly has made the situation worse. I believe it has added approximately 10% to the prices of the UK steel sector.

I come before the House to call on the Government to act on the factors that I have outlined. I will set out five key actions that the Government could agree to today to demonstrate their commitment to the British steel industry. First, they must fully implement the energy-intensive industries compensation package well ahead of the committed date of April 2016. Energy-intensive industries in the UK are exposed to far higher costs than those elsewhere and face a total cost of £430 million this year.

The package of compensation and exemption measures that were promised over the course of the last Parliament would place the UK industry on a level playing field with its EU counterparts. If the package were in place today, it would have reduced costs from £30 per megawatt-hour to £7 per megawatt-hour. Instead, with compensation

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1222

available for only a small proportion of the policy costs, energy-intensive companies continue to be exposed to upwards of 70% of them. It is imperative that the spending review announcement allays those worries and confirms the budget for the package. Energy prices for UK steel producers can be more than 50% higher than for our main European competitors.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): I speak as an old lag of the steel industry, having worked in it for 30 years before they pensioned me off into a light job on these green Benches. I applaud the plea that my hon. Friend is making. The steel industry has a wonderful record of serving the country efficiently over many years. Let us all join in the plea, which I am sure all Members will do today, for the Government to take an exceptional measure to deal with what is a temporary problem in the industry, but one that could lead, if neglected, to permanent damage.

Anna Turley: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a difficult time and there are actions that the Government could take to build resilience. There is a future for the UK steel industry. I am sure that everybody—this is certainly true of those on the Opposition Benches—agrees with that. We hope to hear from the Government that their commitment is the same.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend note that the failure to implement immediately, with real urgency, the whole package that will provide a level playing field could mean not only that we offshore more jobs, but that we offshore an industry that has been highly successful in the decarbonisation agenda in this country to places that emit more carbon? Let us keep them here; let us do it now.

Anna Turley: I commend my hon. Friend for his passion and commitment. He is absolutely right. There are things coming on stream on Teesside, such as the carbon capture and storage facility, that will struggle if we do not have the steelworks in Redcar. We stand by our climate change commitments, and the steel sector is doing its best to make a difference.

Secondly, the Government must bring business rates for capital-intensive firms in line with those for their competitors in France and Germany. UK companies currently pay between five and 10 times more than their EU competitors. UK manufacturers collectively account for 17% of UK business rates payments. That is estimated to be £4.7 billion in 2015, which would be an increase of £0.3 billion on 2014.

UK Steel wants plant and machinery to be removed from the valuation process. Plant and machinery can make up a significant proportion of a steel site’s rateable value. Under the current system, manufacturers that invest in new plant and machinery to make innovative products, improve efficiencies or meet regulatory standards are punished by the business rates regime. UK business rates therefore act as a disincentive to upgrading facilities, increasing productivity or improving environmental performance.

Thirdly, I ask the Government to consider the derogation requests from the sector on a realistic timetable to meet its increased commitments under the industrial emissions directive. Under current proposals, it is estimated that

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1223

the cost of meeting the revised permits for the sector will be up to £500 million by 2019. I am sure Members will agree that that is a heavy burden.

Fourthly, the dumping of steel by China is leading to the suppression of global prices. The proportion of Chinese steel entering the UK market has quadrupled since 2011. The Minister showed her support for the steel sector by voting in favour of extending anti-dumping measures for a further five years on imports of wire rod from China into the EU. That is welcomed enormously by UK producers of wire rod.

The UK steel sector is keen for that approach to be extended to other anti-dumping proposals that come out of the European Commission, when it is shown that they can support the UK steel sector against the rapid rise in global imports. That includes the forthcoming decision by the European Commission on rebar—reinforcing bar for the construction sector—which is expected towards the end of the year. In that instance, Chinese imports into the UK market have gone from 0% of the UK market only three or four years ago to 40% of it today.

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the attitudes of countries such as Spain, which take a much more rigorous and robust attitude to the import of Chinese rebar, make it more likely that if the Chinese cannot access those markets, the UK will be the next port of call? That exacerbates the problem in the UK steel industry.

Anna Turley: My hon. Friend is right, and we are always diligent in undertaking our European obligations. All we ask for today is a level playing field with our European competitors.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. She makes the point that we are fulfilling our EU obligations but that other countries are not. Rather than trying to make those countries comply, would it be easier for us not to comply, and to protect our own national interest until the whole EU puts its house in order?

Anna Turley: I am afraid I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Teesside and the north-east is wholly dependent on a huge range of support from UK business, and that is a huge part of our exports. It would be wholly detrimental for us not to be part of the European Union.

There would be a significant opportunity for the UK steel sector if the Government were to support and insist on local steel being used in major public projects and strategic operations. Locally sourced steel can have major benefits not only for the local and the wider UK economy, but as a more sustainable material than imports. Those are the national challenges for the UK steel industry and the steps that we would like the Government to take. The steel summit sought in the motion would help to set out a strategic approach for the UK industry.

Let me say something about the situation in my constituency, which brings me here today with such urgency and determination. Steelmaking in Redcar makes up 7% of the north-east’s exports, and it employs 2,000 people directly on Teesside, with another 1,000 contractors and 50 apprentices currently on site. Approximately

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1224

6,000 people are employed in the supply chains, working in the ports, carrying the coal, providing the gas, producing the parts, driving the trucks, washing the overalls, and feeding the workforce. We have already experienced the devastation of losing our plant and we cannot go through that again.

In desperation, I ask the Minister to consider the request for financial assistance from SSI UK, so that wages can continue to be paid and we can get to the 50,000 tonnes of cargo that, as we speak, is sitting on the dock a mile down the road from the blast furnace. We need such assistance so that the gas can keep pumping, the coal can load the furnace, workers can pay their mortgages and feed their families, and the proud tradition of steelmaking in Redcar can remain the beating heart of my constituency.

As I said in my maiden speech, there already is a northern powerhouse, and I am disappointed that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, (James Wharton), who is Minister for the northern powerhouse and a Teesside MP, is not here today. There is already a northern powerhouse—it is called Teesside. If the Government do not act today we will know that their words are hollow. In 2011 the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised

“a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers”—[Official Report, 22 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 966.]

Does the Minister believe in a future for UK steel? Will she act now to enable the sector to weather this storm? Can she tell the House whether the Chancellor’s “march of the makers” includes the proud makers of steel on Teesside?

12.23 pm

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) who made a passionate speech. She will clearly be a doughty champion for her constituents, and I agree with a lot of what she had to say, although not with her comments about our membership of the European Union. In defence of the Minister for the northern powerhouse, we know how busy Ministers are, and I thought it was an unnecessary shot—[Interruption.] If Labour Members are going to make a cheap shot, they should at least be prepared for somebody to counter it in a quiet—[Interruption.] I thought we were meant to be being more respectful. Labour Members should take lessons from their leader about not shouting back and forth. Conservative Members are all very delighted about the Labour leader.

Apart from the things we disagree on, the hon. Lady made an excellent speech. I agreed with a lot of what she said—indeed, I will repeat some of it. That is no bad thing, because if something is worth saying once, it is worth saying many times, especially since the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise is present. I welcome her to the role. In previous discussions she has already given us confidence through her interest in this issue, and I know that she feels strongly about this sector of our economy and is keen to assist. I hope that that will follow through with actions, as it already has done in some respects.

This is an important issue for me and for my neighbour and friend, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), with whom I share the Scunthorpe steelworks.

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1225

The constituency boundary goes through the middle of those steelworks, although he has all the exciting, sexy plant stuff and I have a lot of the land—

[

Interruption.

]

I am not saying that he is exciting and sexy. It is a massive issue for our area, and a big employer across my constituency and Scunthorpe, and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers).

Scunthorpe is a steel town, which we are proud of, and North Lincolnshire is a steel county. It is a massive part of the local economy, and 4,000 people are employed directly at the steelworks in Scunny, and another 4,000 to 8,000 in the supply chain across the area. This is a really big deal for us. It is the centre of our local economy and we must do everything to support it.

I apologise for speaking ahead of the hon. Member for Scunthorpe, because he will probably repeat some of the same facts, but it is important to put it on record that Scunthorpe produces 3.2 million tonnes of steel per year as semi-finished slabs, blooms and billets, as well as finished products such as plate, sections, rail and wire rod. We are grateful that the important Network Rail contract was confirmed a year or two ago. It has a fantastic workforce who are proud to work in the steel industry, particularly on the Scunthorpe site.

A lot of my constituents who work in the steel industry have contacted me in recent weeks and months because they are concerned and worried about what the future holds. As the hon. Member for Redcar said in her fine speech, the crisis in the United Kingdom steel industry is causing a lot of concern. In our area that was added to by some of the comments made by the Klesch group, which was considering purchasing part of the business. Unfortunately, when they pulled out they said a few choice words about industrial policy and the Government. I do not think that was helpful or necessarily all that informed, but it has helped to spread more concern in our area.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): It is great to hear a Conservative Member speak so passionately about the steel industry, and it was a large part of my life when I was a newspaper reporter. Does the hon. Gentleman support bringing forward the compensation scheme now rather than waiting until April next year?

Andrew Percy: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes and I were two Conservative Members who voted against the imposition of the carbon floor price because of the impact that it would have not just on steel but on petrochemicals, which are massively important to North Lincolnshire and east Yorkshire. We would like the compensation scheme to be brought forward, as I planned to say later in my speech.

As the hon. Member for Redcar said, the nature of the steel industry is changing, and she gave a figure for how much steel we now import, compared with in the past. The figures that I was provided with state that 90% of steel consumed in the UK in the ’70s was from domestic production, but that share is now 20%. That unfortunate decline has taken place under successive Governments over the past few decades. The UK steel industry has had to become more export focused, which

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1226

is part of the problem and a challenge for Scunthorpe. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe, my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes and I, together with our council leader who will shortly enter the other place, met a couple of weeks ago. We were told once again that although UK demand appeared to be picking up and doing well, the concern for Scunthorpe is the weakness in the European market, as well as other issues that I shall mention. That focus on export is a major weakness at present.

As the hon. Member for Redcar said, the sector continues to suffer from an economic crisis. The service sector-led economic recovery has left steel-consuming sectors such as construction as much as 10% below their 2007 levels. The recovery so far has been less steel-intensive than we might have hoped. In the UK, demand is 75% of pre-recession levels. Further challenges, which the hon. Lady outlined, come from Chinese dumping and currency issues. Those factors, as she accepted, are outside the control of this or any Government in Europe. The current strength of the pound is another issue to which the hon. Lady referred.

Tata has made three asks of the Government, which the hon. Lady mentioned. It is almost as if we co-ordinated our contributions. One of Tata’s requests, as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) said in an intervention, relates to the energy-intensive industries compensation scheme. I do not need to go into detail, having said what I have said already, but if that compensation mechanism were brought forward, that would be most welcome. Energy prices, as we know, are 50% higher in the UK than for the UK steel industry’s main competitor in Germany. Companies in continental Europe are not facing the same cost pressures, nor are they awaiting a decision on state aid rules. So there are steps that can be taken by the Government to improve the situation, and I know that the Minister has heard these.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I agree entirely with all the points my hon. Friend is making. Does he recall that when we met Tata Steel, along with the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), one of its other requests was for modest support for some work that needs to be done to determine the firm’s future? Does my hon. Friend join me in hoping that the Minister will view that request sympathetically when she replies?

Andrew Percy: Indeed. We have communicated that request directly to the Minister. I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention.

Business rates were mentioned by the hon. Member for Redcar. Removing plant and machinery from business rates valuation would have a massive impact, because business rates are five to 10 times higher in the United Kingdom than in Europe. That has a significant impact on Scunthorpe especially, making up 49% of the annual rates at that site or £12 million per annum. North Lincolnshire council has looked at what it can do on business rates, particularly in respect of cash flow. Expecting a small local authority such as that to take a hit on business rates, and putting it in a position where, if it provides relief, it may not be able to provide services, is not fair to North Lincolnshire council. This is an issue on which the Government need to respond.

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1227

We had a positive meeting with Tata recently, at which the council said it would see whether payments could be made every two or three months instead of monthly, which would help with cash flow at the site. I know North Lincolnshire council is looking closely at that. When lawyers get involved, these things always become more complicated and there are state aid issues, but the council has assured me that it will do everything it can to help on the cash-flow issue. However, that does not deal with the issues arising from the business rates regime in the UK, compared with elsewhere in Europe.

Mr Bone: I apologise to the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley). I think she slightly misheard what I said. On my hon. Friend’s point about state aid for the steel industry, should we not do what we think is right and worry about the EU consequences afterwards? We seem to put the priorities the other way around.

Andrew Percy: I would rather not worry about the EU at all, which is something on which my hon. Friend and I agree, although I am not sure the Minister or other Members agree. My hon. Friend is right. I was going to say something about that later. We tend to interpret rules and EU legislation very precisely; the insinuation is that other countries in Europe may be more flexible about that, so we should adopt the European approach—I do not say that very often—instead of our officialdom. I think that is the point that he was making to the hon. Lady—let us do what other countries do and worry about the consequences later.

Scunthorpe has enacted a number of waste reduction strategies in recent years, resulting in well over 90% of all residue material produced across the site being subject to internal recirculation or external recovery or recycling. That is in line with the requirements for green energy and sustainability, but the incentive is still not there for companies. Last year Tata stated that it was paying around £30 million more in green taxes than its competitors in France and Germany—a point which other Members have made and will continue to make.

Capturing more value in supply chains is something that Tata is asking of the Government. Promoting local content appears to be happening in other European countries. We have talked about this a great deal in relation to other sectors of the economy and I know that Ministers in the previous Parliament were sympathetic. We all seem to be in agreement that we need to promote more local content, but getting that local content seems to be complicated. We must do more in that respect, as other EU countries do.

I shall not say much more as I will just be repeating the comments of the hon. Lady. Many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate and I have probably spoken longer than I should have done—[Interruption.] I think the Minister is encouraging me to carry on, which has not always been the case in other discussions that I have had with her.

Many Members are present today for this important debate. A country that loses its steel industry is greatly disadvantaged. The steel industry is a fantastic part of our economy, providing high-skilled jobs. Any loss of that to our local economy would be devastating. These are relatively well-paid jobs in a region that has not done as well in the past couple of decades, sadly, and has become worse off compared to the rest of the

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1228

United Kingdom under Governments of both colours. Many people are inspired to work in the industry, particularly by the apprenticeship programme, and we must do everything we can to protect it, not just for North Lincolnshire or Scunthorpe, but for the for UK. It is of strategic as well as economic importance. I concur with the hon. Lady and will no doubt concur with much of what is asked by other right hon. and hon. Members this afternoon. I urge the Minister, who is engaging positively with us on the matter, to make sure that the Government get behind not only Scunthorpe, but the steel industry across the United Kingdom.

12.38 pm

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): The debate opened with strong, passionate and eloquent speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) and the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), characterising what is good about the UK steel industry. Their speeches were measured and consistent, showing the overall picture of the future British economy.

We have been here before. We had an Opposition day debate in January on the future of the UK steel industry, in which I stated that we need to focus on the long-term competitiveness of the UK economy and that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar said, manufacturing should be central to our vision for a modern, dynamic and innovative economy. I also said that steel matters as literally the foundation of a 21st century innovative economy, providing high skills and well paid jobs to parts of the country that often suffer in the larger economic picture, and offering a vital role in the supply chain of key sectors such as automotives, aerospace, construction and transport. It is such a significant foundation industry that other parts of our valued economy will build on. The Government need to recognise its importance and work in partnership with it to secure its long-term prosperity.

I am worried, however, that since the debate in January the scale of the crisis facing the industry has become ever more grave and urgent. My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar and the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole outlined the urgent national issues facing the industry, but I want to reiterate some of them. My hon. Friend mentioned the urgent situation facing the SSI plant in Redcar. In the months since we debated the issue in January, we have faced the prospect of the first national steel strike in 30 years. Last month, Tata announced the mothballing of a steel plant in south Wales, risking 250 jobs. The fall in the oil price has put on hold projects in the oil and gas extraction industry, meaning that Tata plants making world-class pipes—such as the pipe mill in my own constituency—and other steel plants face diminishing order books.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole mentioned Gary Klesch, who has abandoned his plans to buy Tata’s Long Products Division, including the great plant in Scunthorpe. He said to the Financial Times last month that workers in the UK steel industry were

“being led to the slaughterhouse”

by the Government’s failure to tackle high energy costs and Chinese imports. He asked:

“What is the industrial policy when it comes to the massive dumping of Chinese steel?”

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1229

As the hon. Gentleman says, we should doubt some of Mr Klesch’s motives in pursuing industrial assets, and those comments are emotive and provocative, but his comments on industrial policy do smack of some truth and we need to investigate that still further.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): The real problem with Mr Klesch’s comments, when he withdrew his interest in Tata Long Products, is the impact they have had on confidence in steel. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a big job for the Government to do to act to restore that confidence?

Mr Wright: Absolutely. I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He is a passionate defender of the steel industry, not just in his constituency but across the country. He is absolutely right. Industry has a part to play in that, we in Parliament have a part to play in that and the Government also have a role. Government policy is ostensibly about priorities: where to divert attention and resources relative to other things that need to be done.

Other countries recognise the role that steel plays in a modern economy. At one extreme, this can mean renationalising the steel industry, as Italy has done, to safeguard capability for the future. Other Governments try to level the playing field for their domestic industries by addressing costs, taxes, procurement policies and imports to give their domestic steel firms at least a fighting chance. I am concerned that the British Government seem to do the opposite. This is not a personal criticism of the Minister on the Front Bench, who has taken more genuine interest in the steel industry in four months than her predecessor did in four years. She is a strong champion and we welcome her to her post. However, she recognises that the steel industry is facing a perfect storm. UK-based steel firms find it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to export their products because of overcapacity in the global market, the high valuation of sterling, and uncompetitive costs based on unilateral energy bills and disproportionate business rates. As my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar said, energy prices for UK-based steel producers are 50% higher than for our European neighbours. How can we compete on that basis?

The Government advocate a wholly open domestic market, which leaves the industry vulnerable to dumping and fails to recognise smart local procurement, undermining UK-produced steel. The steel industry has one arm tied behind its back on exports, which, because of overcapacity in the global market, is increasingly difficult, and the other arm tied behind its back on imports. It is little wonder that the industry is punch-drunk and on the verge of a knockout.

I welcome this debate and I agree with the motion’s call for a key summit, but frankly we need more urgent decisive outputs. As Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community union, has said:

“The UK steel industry is at a crossroads. Either it gets the support it needs from government to give it the chance of a competitive future or it continues to be subjected to warm words from ministers in the face of increasing decline.”

I could not agree with him more. On the subject of trade unions, this House debated the Trade Union Bill on Monday. In the Second Reading debate, I said that

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1230

the Bill’s provisions run the risk of a more adversarial relationship between management and unions. The UK steel industry is characterised by fantastic, positive and productive industrial relations, which we lose at our peril. The UK steel industry will decline if the Bill is passed.

Anna Turley: I would like to draw attention to the role played by the Community union and the workforce, when the Redcar steelworks was mothballed in 2010, in securing the plant, finding a buyer in SSI and ensuring its future. That was absolutely fantastic and is a perfect example of a great union working with all parties to secure the future of the industry.

Mr Wright: What my hon. Friend says is really important. Steel plays a central role in a modern economy and it is really important that we put the empirical case. In places such as Teesside and south Wales we have seen that steel is in the blood of the workers who produce the steel. There is a pride that is difficult to match elsewhere. We need to make sure it continues.

On that basis, we have a simple but fundamental question to ask. We need to decide whether, as a country, we need a steel industry. We need to evaluate whether it is vital to our future prosperity, or whether, frankly, we can let it wither on the vine and just import what we need. I hope we decide that a competitive steel industry is essential to a modern British industrial base. If we do decide that, we need decisive action from the Government now—I stress now—to help to defend its long-term future.

I have a series of asks for the Minister. I know she is keen to help the steel industry as much as she can. Will she accelerate bringing forward the energy intensive industries package to ensure energy costs are made more competitive? Will she work across Government to remove plant and machinery from the business rates valuation for manufacturers, which acts as a massive deterrent against investment in manufacturing improvements, as well as being a big fixed cost disadvantage relative to European steel plants? Will she do more to support the industry in anti-dumping cases? She has already, in her short time in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, done an enormous amount. I think we are, as an industry, very grateful, but will she do more and outline to the House what she intends to do? Could she capture more value in the UK supply chain by promoting local content procurement targets, which lends capacity and capability to UK-based steel firms?

My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar knows my frustration. Overlooking our constituencies is the Teesside offshore wind farm, which presents a fantastic opportunity for steel to be part of a supply chain for an exciting offshore renewable industry that can literally power our future. The wind turbines and columns need an awful lot of steel. About 10% of the steel used in that significant local project was procured abroad—not from Hartlepool or Redcar steel mills. That is a disgrace. As a country, we need to be doing more about that; not protectionism, but making sure we safeguard the efficiencies of the local supply chain so we can have a viable future.

Anna Turley: Just yesterday I met Forewind, the company building the Dogger Bank wind farm a bit further out from our constituencies. That will come on stream in the next couple of years. It said to me that

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1231

there will be a lot of steel involved. We have everything here on Teesside: we have the infrastructure, the skills and the steel. I hope to God that in the coming years we will have a blast furnace making the steel to build those wind turbines.

Mr Wright: I could not agree more. These are strong 21st century jobs in our supply chain that need to be nurtured by the Government, working in partnership with the industry. We need to safeguard that long-term prosperity.

Going back to my ministerial asks, will the Minister ensure that in sectoral strategies such as aerospace, automotive and construction—areas in which British industry is strong—she emphasises the importance of integrating material supply, which offers better synergy between the prime manufacturers and their suppliers in steel, which in turn can promote process and product innovation and efficiency, which in turn makes UK steel more competitive?

When we talk about the steel industry, there is a tendency to talk about the past. We should not shy away from our strong and proud history of, frankly, inventing the global steel industry—it is something to be proud of—but this debate should not be a history lesson. This is about looking to the future. A 21st-century, modern British economy has to have manufacturing and steel at its heart. That is what we are shouting for and demanding. I hope the whole House can unite in asking how we in Britain are going to stand up for steel.

12.50 pm

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, which I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for securing. It is also a great pleasure to follow the various remarks made this afternoon, first from the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), who made a strong case for her constituency and gave us a positive, constructive and helpful overview of the problems facing the industry. As I often do, I ended up agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) about the EU dimension. The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) made some interesting comments, and I hope that the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, which he chairs, will play a leading role in bringing forward these arguments, informing the debate and playing a constructive part in it. He redeemed himself later in his remarks, having earlier left me slightly disappointed by the tone of his remarks about the work of Ministers. I pay tribute to the Minister—

Mr Iain Wright: She’s good.

Tom Pursglove: I am glad that that is on the record, because the Minister has done an awful lot, particularly on anti-dumping. As Members know, Ministers take these concerns seriously and have been providing what support they can.

Corby has a proud history of steel production that began in Roman times, when the area was worked for iron ore. During the industrial revolution, the ironstone industry thrived in the area, with the discovery of extensive ironstone beds, and by 1934, the steel firm Stewart & Lloyds had moved into Corby to build a large ironstone and steel works, which took the population

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1232

of Corby from just 1,500 in 1931 to 12,000 in 1939, well and truly putting the town on the map. Many people moved into the area to work in the steel industry, most notably from Scotland, and Corby is regularly known locally as “Little Scotland” owing to the large number of skilled Scottish workers who moved there for the steelworks. This has had a direct impact on the make-up of the area, and today we still have a proud Scottish community in the town and its surroundings. As Corby’s voice in Westminster, I am here to speak in favour of this motion and to urge Ministers to hold a summit on this key industry, which is a large employer not only in Corby but across the country. I know that all Members advocate on behalf of their local workforce, but the Corby workforce are incredibly hard-working, dedicated and committed. I hear such comments week in, week out in my constituency, and I am incredibly proud of that.

Today’s motion has unified Members from both sides of the House who are working constructively together, through the all-party group on steel and metal related industries, to get a better deal for the UK steel industry. I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills for agreeing to meet the APPG in the coming weeks and the Minister for standing up against Chinese dumping. She has taken action in the European sphere, and I trust that she will continue to fight for steel in upcoming anti-dumping cases at EU level. I appreciate their willingness to listen, and I hope that by working together we can find solutions to the problems facing the industry. I also welcome the answer given by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to my question this morning. She advocated on behalf of buying British products, which is something I am sure we all agree with strongly. I hope that that will come across in future discussions with Ministers and that they will continue to advocate that position publicly.

Mr Speaker, did you know that the steel tubing used in sprinkler systems and managed motorway gantries is made in Corby? Furthermore, as I alluded to in my maiden speech, one can also see Corby steel products at the London Eye, the Wembley arch and the Olympic stadium. These are just some of the products manufactured in Corby, and we should all feel proud that it is British products we can see at these iconic locations in our country. I strongly believe we should shout from the rooftops for British business and support UK supply chains.

I know the industry faces challenges in that regard. Foreign competitors are winning UK contracts over British businesses because of the combination of the current exchange rates and cheap imports, which can provide a more competitive end price. However, the value of steel to the UK is not just in the end product but in the value throughout production. By buying British, we can support our own industries and those working in these sectors, boost our own economy and in turn benefit from this growth. If foreign companies win contracts, this does nothing to further those aims. Furthermore, all the evidence suggests that the quality and standard of British steel is far superior to that imported from elsewhere. That is why I am such a strong supporter of the charter for sustainable British steel, an initiative I would like to see adopted across Government, local authorities and broader public sector procurement.

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1233

On the wider context, the benefits of buying British massively outweigh the benefits of importing from foreign countries. First, the transportation costs are lower, and, as we heard in Question Time earlier, it is also better for the environment. Secondly, it creates skilled jobs and the ability to offer young people apprenticeships and graduate jobs. Tata Steel, in my constituency, has led on this, nationally employing 500 apprentices and graduates this year alone, and in Corby it has taken on six new apprentices, investing an estimated £10,000 per year in each. As the local MP, I appreciate Tata’s commitment to local young people. From speaking to local apprentices, I know how important these opportunities are in terms of learning a trade, having a job and, perhaps most importantly, getting the opportunity to forge a career.

Fundamentally, the procurement process must be looked at, and I believe that the Government, local authorities and the wider public sector can do more to promote procurement strategies to support domestic manufacturers. This would obviously require a shift in culture in some areas, but a steel summit would begin that dialogue. Speaking of sustainability, it is vital that the steel industry and the Government identify a constructive way forward on energy costs and green taxation—an onerous burden that Members on both sides of the House have alluded to in departmental questions this very week. The huge costs associated with energy supply for energy-intensive manufacturing immediately puts British business in a difficult position and at a competitive disadvantage over foreign rivals. Indeed, data on EU industrial electricity prices for extra large users between July 2008 and December 2013 show that Britain was the most expensive even before tax. I am aware from my conversations in Corby and east Northamptonshire and from visits to local firms that this does not just affect the steel industry but plagues other sectors, such as the plastics industry.

The current system, whereby energy-intensive industries pay huge energy bills up front and then receive compensation afterwards, is unhelpful. I would be intrigued to know how much the bureaucracy is costing both individual businesses and the Government to administer. By opening a dialogue, as the motion states, we can seek meaningful and urgent solutions to this problem. I am increasingly coming round to the point of view that it would be better to exempt energy-intensive industry from these burdensome levies and charges, but in the shorter term I agree with implementing the compensation package in full and in a very timely manner.

The UK prides itself on innovation in business, as MPs see week in, week out in their constituencies. British businesses are at the cutting edge of international innovation. I struggle to understand, therefore, why industries such as steel are penalised through the business rates system, which disincentivises investment and pushes up costs. How can it be right that these businesses pay rates not only on the size of the site but whenever they invest in new machinery and equipment? An example of this was the Tata Steel site in the constituency of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). Tata Steel invested £185 million for a new blast furnace for its Port Talbot site, which then led to an increase in business rates of £400,000 a year, despite the fact the site did not change in size or scope. Penalising investment

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1234

like this is detrimental to British industry, and I believe that the Government, who have made clear their commitment to business-led growth, should be working with industries to stop this tax on innovation.

During my remarks, I have outlined just a few of the complex and wide-ranging issues affecting the steel industry. I very much look forward to visiting the Tata site in Corby in the coming weeks, but it is apparent in the short term that we need high-level discussion between all those involved in this important strategic industry. That is why I wholeheartedly support today’s motion.

Going forward, I hope that the cross-party spirit that has characterised the debate—today, but also in the months since I became a Member—endures. I hope that Ministers will continue to engage, listen and work with colleagues of all parties who are concerned about the future of this vital British industry. While I appreciate that at this point some issues are out of the hands of the UK Government, as they have shown, they can do things to hold back the tide and give steel companies an opportunity to adapt and move forward. It is vital for the survival of the industry that we come together to make progress before it is simply too late.

1 pm

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Speaking as chairman of the all-party steel group, I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) on securing this vital and timely debate.

I would like to say thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker, but frankly, in view of the impending problems that are putting the steel industry on a cliff edge, I am sick of having to be called to participate in questions or debate about the industry. I am also angry about today’s comments from the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), who is responsible for the northern powerhouse. He referred to Labour Members as “showboating” on this issue.

I did not want to start in that way, because I have a lot of respect for the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise. While she has been a Minister, she has accelerated the process and the changes that are vital for the steel industry. However, I find the comments from that Under-Secretary to be truly reprehensible, and I am having to control my anger towards an MP who is supposed to represent my community and the people from my area. I will say this, however. The Minister opposite—I have just commended her—represents a great step in the right direction. Members across the Chamber can rally around her; she can be our champion against other Ministers in the chambers of power to fight for, rally and stand up for the case for steel.

People from different communities, trade unions such as Unite and GMB are present in the Galleries, including Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of Community, and Paul Warren, the multi-union chair at SSI Redcar. Those people are looking to us for solutions. They need us to help deliver those solutions for them.

As I said, I am sick of having to talk about this issue. I have gone through—not just today, but earlier—the detailed arguments over and over again. I have raised them at Prime Minister’s questions over and over again. Only last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) raised the issue of the necessity for a steel

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1235

summit. My colleague in the all-party group and its vice-chair, the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), has raised it again today and in questions to the Department of Energy and Climate Change and fastidiously in all questions. What we want to see now is action.

We can base our argument today on an example from our local community in Teesside. The site at Redcar—the very site mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar earlier—has been an industrial miracle on Teesside, with the resurrection of the largest blast furnace in Britain, the second largest in Europe. In my opinion, that should have been a rallying-call for any Government—the fact that something of such great significance could be brought back again through the co-operative work of the men and women on site, the management and the then current owners and then the wanted owners. There was a plan; there was a desire; there was a will to fight and save the heart of a community.

I know that the workforce and the trade union movement want that now. We MPs want that now. But do the Government want it? That is the question. Do they really want it? It is now about political will—the next stage. We have talked about Europe and about ignoring or interpreting the European convention. Fine, but if there is political will, it will be possible to get there. That is the stage we are at now. We cannot afford to keep going over the arguments, which we all know are the right ones. What we need now is action.

On 15 April 2012, what I would describe as a small miracle took place. An 11-year-old boy fired up Britain’s largest blast furnace, after it had been mothballed for two years. Within a matter of days, steel slabs began rolling off the production line. Steelmaking had, against all the odds, returned to Teesside. People’s livelihoods had been restored and an opportunity to carry on the tradition of steelmaking had been created for future generations. That boy was Wills Waterfield, son of Geoff Waterfield, a member of the Community trade union and chair of the multi-union committee, who had been instrumental in the Save our Steel campaign, following the announcement by Tata Steel to mothball the site in 2009 after the loss of a large contract. He, alongside Stevie Redmond, Paul Warren, Roy Rickhuss, Michael Leigh and many others, made that happen.

Since SSI bought the site and relit the furnace in 2012, I think it is fair to say that the journey to where we are now has been a bumpy one. Indeed, we find ourselves almost on a cliff edge. That is why today’s debate is so crucial. However, I praise SSI for the initial commitment and determination it showed to bring steelmaking back to Teesside. That grit must endure over what will be an extremely difficult few weeks for the company. During that time, SSI must realise that the workers at the site are not so naive that they do not understand the difficulty in which the company finds itself. It is essential for SSI to respect that and to maintain a clear and honest dialogue with the workers and trade unions on the site. I believe there is a role for the Government to play in ensuring that talks take place and that they continue. It is a profound role.

The Minister is meeting me, my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar and the unions representing the workforce later today. I think we need to explore not just what we have already talked about, but anything that is potentially helpful to the situation. I know the Minister will take that back to her superiors in the

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1236

Government. We all continue and I continue to champion our vital industry, which I have done for my home area since first elected in 2010—I was re-elected a few months ago.

We are highlighting the issues facing the steelworks in Redcar and Skinningrove in my constituency, which is part of the long products division at Tata, and in the UK as a whole. The issues range from high energy prices to the impact of dumping in the EU by China and many others—and we know all these arguments very well. With each debate, each parliamentary question, each question at Prime Minister’s questions, I am greeted with warm words from whoever is at the Dispatch Box, but it is now clear that words are not enough. They need to be turned into action. That was needed then, and is even more needed now.

I would like the Minister to remind her Prime Minister of the necessity for the meeting that he promised me yesterday in Prime Minister’s questions. I think the matter demands his attention. When we raised these issues with him before—at Prime Minister’s questions and in other debates—he was quite keen for his Government to take the praise for SSI’s purchasing and resurrection of the Teesside Cast Products works in Redcar. Now, however, I do not know. I have to be honest: I do not see the same level of commitment or will as there was before. The Prime Minister was all too keen to take the praise for work that—I am being honest here—other people did, but is not keen to do the work now when he can do something.

I see the prospect of 2,000 hard-working people losing their livelihoods at Redcar. If that does not spur the Government into action immediately, I can only despair. I say 2,000 people, but we are really talking about 6,000 to 10,000 jobs in the downstream supply chain in companies around the area and the port. This is the heart of our local economy; it is a huge chunk of Teesside gross domestic product. More than that, it is our culture and tradition. It is the very identity of who we are, where we come from and the pride we take in ourselves and in our parents and grandparents before us. If we cannot now see the necessity of defending that industry, and that heritage and that history, I do not know why, but I do know this Minister. I have faith in her, and I want her to prove that my faith is justified.

1.10 pm

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) is an incredibly hard act to follow. The messages that he sent were spot on, he spoke from the heart, and he was right to say that this issue demands the Prime Minister’s attention.

All credit is due to my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) for securing the debate, for her excellent, impassioned speech, and for the clear messages that she sent to the Government. Credit is also due to the Backbench Business Committee for appreciating the huge urgency of the situation in steel manufacturing and giving us time for today’s debate. I echo the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) about the central role that steel plays in our modern economy, and I wholeheartedly support the motion’s call for an urgent steel summit, because this is a critical year for the steel industry.

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1237

My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland rightly spoke about the situation in Redcar. I obviously want to focus on the impact on Tata’s Llanwern steelworks, which is in my constituency—as is Orb steelworks, which has also been hit by some of these challenges. The current press coverage has focused on the huge challenges that the changes in the steel market are posing for SSI, but Llanwern is already having to react to the same massive headwinds. On 26 August, Tata announced its intention to lose about 250 jobs there, and to mothball the hot strip mill. By the end of October, we shall see that happen. It is the third time the mill has been mothballed since 2009, but this mothballing includes, for instance, the cold mill and one of the pickle lines, and the tonnage of the remaining pickle line is being reduced.

As the Minister will appreciate, the news of the latest mothballing is devastating for workers and their families, and for the confidence of the city, which, like other Members’ constituencies, has a proud tradition of steelmaking. Tata has confirmed its intention to redeploy permanent employees, but 176 contractors and agency staff may lose their jobs, and 81 Tata employees may have to move to another area for work. Anyone who talks to steelworkers cannot fail to sense their uncertainty about the future. Moreover, as others have pointed out, for every steel job, a further two to three jobs in the wider community rely on the metals sector.

Following the announcement, I met representatives of the unions and Tata’s management, and was given an in-depth presentation by Tata’s UK director of strip products. I agree with other Members that no one who sees the figures and observes the situation can fail to be convinced of the need for Government action now, and of just how hard times are. The industry is at an historic crossroads, and what the Government do now will determine whether UK steel has a sustainable future.

All the key arguments that have been made repeatedly by other Members—I suspect that we shall all be singing from the same hymn sheet today—apply equally to Llanwern. European steel demand is still 25% below 2008 levels. The market is being flooded by cheap Chinese imports, because of China’s overcapacity and rising protectionism in other countries. Energy prices for UK steel producers are more than 50% higher than those paid by our main European competitors, which are not experiencing the same cost pressures and are not awaiting decisions on state aid. The package for energy-intensive industries that the Chancellor announced in March is still being held up. UK business rates are up to five times higher than those of our European competitors, and the Government's business rates review is holding up change. Other Members have made good points about the disincentives to investment. Tata UK’s latest accounts show that losses have doubled since last year.

As Community has said, we need the Government to be quick and bold. Steelworkers want to know why they are still allowing cheap Chinese steel to flood the market at a time of rising protectionism elsewhere in the world. Llanwern has been hit by the strong action taken by the United States in defence of its steel market. Its workers are asking why other countries can make quick and decisive decisions and we cannot do the same here.

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1238

I welcomed the recent visit by the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister to Port Talbot, and I know that they will have heard these messages. As others have said, the Minister has been very constructive, and I know that she will be in no doubt about the challenges faced by the industry and the people who depend on it for their livelihood. Following that meeting, however, steelworkers at Llanwern want to know what practical steps the Minister has promised to take, and to remember them and include them in the support that she offers. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar that a good start would be an urgent summit, but we also need urgent action, and we need to discuss options for assistance.

It is imperative for any summit to be held quickly, with full and positive backing. There must be Government support, and the unions, the industry and Members whose constituencies are affected must work together for a common cause. During my years as Member of Parliament for Newport East, I have been acutely aware of the many challenges facing steelworkers in Llanwern. They have had to adapt constantly, accepting changes in their terms and conditions and rising to the challenge of hitting the targets that companies have set them in difficult times. Support for the industry is crucial for people who, in constituencies such as mine, have worked so hard during those difficult times to be constructive and help the company along.

I know that it is easy to talk theoretically about China, state aid rules, and “all possible help being given”, but the reality is that 176 contractors in my constituency are being laid off, and more of my constituents face the upheaval of being redeployed to other Tata sites. That is not theory or speculation; it is real, and it is happening now. Any action that the Government can take—such as accelerating the reform of business rates for manufacturers, putting pressure on the European Commission to grant state aid approval for energy cost mitigations and introducing them immediately, and ensuring that UK-made steel is integrated proactively with industry and infrastructure projects—could make a real difference, although we all appreciate that the global challenges are massive.

Some of the best steel in the world is made at Llanwern. Let us recognise that, champion Llanwern, and not stand aside and watch jobs, investment and innovation go elsewhere.

1.17 pm

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to take part in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) on securing the debate from the Backbench Business Committee, and for leading it. I also congratulate the chair and vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on steel and metal related industries, my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) and the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove). It is a privilege to follow such passionate speakers.

This matter clearly affects the entire country, but if Members from areas such as Scotland, south Wales and Scunthorpe will forgive me, I shall focus on Teesside. Let me begin by saying something that relates to what was said earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1239

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland about the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton)—the “Minister for the northern powerhouse”.

I was a little reluctant to be too critical of the Minister, having heard what was said by the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) about Ministers being busy. They are busy, and we should not forget that. People may also be ill: there are all manner of reasons why they sometimes cannot be here. However, when I hear of a tweet from the Minister saying that his Teesside colleagues are here in the Chamber “showboating”, I think that it is an absolute disgrace. It is about time that that Minister grew up and started to pay attention to some of the serious issues that affect his constituents and mine, and those of my hon. Friends from Teesside.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I am reluctant to do this, but I think it important for Members to know what has been said in the course of the debate. The Minister who has been mentioned was responding to an ITV journalist, and what he said was this:

“On my way up to Teesside actually doing things rather than showboating.”

That is in stark contrast to the approach of the Minister who is present today, and with the approach of other Conservative Members who are present today and who, to their credit, are standing up for the industry. I think my hon. Friend will agree that it is not appropriate language to use about a parliamentary debate.

Andy McDonald: I agree entirely. Let us move on and deal with the substantive issue rather than dwelling on that matter.

Andrew Percy: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman wants to move on, and I am sorry about the involvement of those on the Front Bench in this matter, but just for the record, and in fairness to the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), he has said that he is on a visit to Teesside and, in even more fairness to him, the Member who criticised him for not being present is not here any more either.

Andy McDonald: Let us not dwell on this. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) was here and he has made his contribution. He has done us the courtesy of doing that and he has shown his commitment, so let us have none of that. Let us move on.

Teesside steel is the reason many of us are here. There would be no town of Middlesbrough without steel. I am not going to give people a history lesson but, although Teesside might have the largest blast furnace in the UK, a few years ago we had 100 blast furnaces down on the banks of the Tees. It was like Dante’s “Inferno”. The only reason we are here is steel.

The SSI furnace is fighting for survival, and its loss would spell disaster right across the Teesside constituencies for the 2,000 people directly employed there, the 1,000 contractors and the 6,000 workers in the supply chain. If the plant were to go into administration, it would

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1240

have an impact on 9,000 families, which would be devastating. For example, PD Ports at Teesport has a contract with SSI and it has seen well in excess of 7 million tonnes of steel pass through its port in just three years.

We have had debate after debate about the need for high-quality apprenticeships for our young people. Our Teesside industrialists and educationists have responded brilliantly to the challenge to ensure that we have the requisite skills coming through, but if there are no jobs for our youngsters, that will critically undermine all their endeavours. The Teesside steel industry might no longer employ the 40,000 people it employed in its heyday, but if it were to fall over, it would send a seismic shock right through the region.

The UK steel industry has faced a perfect storm in recent years with challenges coming from imports, energy costs, exchange rate pressures and a weak market. Many of the problems faced by the UK steel industry are indeed global, as the Government have been quick to point out, but it is important to note that the steel industries of some of our European counterparts are not facing the same cost pressures and are able to access state aid more readily because of alternative policy choices made by their Governments. We are here today to demand that the Government make different policy decisions so that our steelworks are not consigned to the history books and will continue to play a vital role in UK industry for years to come.

The steel industry cannot wait for state aid clearance for assistance with energy costs. The Government must feed through 100% of the energy intensive industry compensation package now. Other countries have secured clearance retrospectively and so should we. The Government often state that it is their plan to rebalance our economy so that prosperity can be shared across the regions, moving away from an over-reliance on the service sector and towards manufacturing and industry. Indeed, many Governments have said the same thing, but they have rarely delivered. If the UK steel industry is the litmus test of this Government’s rhetoric, the signs do not bode too well.

I read an article this week in the Financial Times about the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, in which it was revealed that he had a poster of Margaret Thatcher on his wall. It was not the poster that worried me, however. I was worried by his aligning himself with her attitude towards British industry. He has said that he does not like to use the term “industrial strategy”, as it would suggest that he cared about some industries more than others. As Alastair Campbell said of Tony Blair, “We don’t do God”, we now have a Business Secretary saying, “We don’t do industrial strategy”. The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) is shaking her head—

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry): No I am not.

Andy McDonald: She can google the article that was in the FT a couple of days ago. Those are the words that the Secretary of State used. I put it to her that people want an industrial strategy, and that the Government should have one. I recommend it. I found that to be a baffling admission by the Secretary of State. We do, at

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1241

certain times, prioritise particular industries, because they might need additional support in the short term so that we can enjoy their social and economic benefits in the long term. UK steel ought to be one such industry.

SSI is one of four major players in a hugely ambitious carbon capture and storage project which would not only deliver a massive dividend in terms of energy costs and lower carbon emissions but sustain those very industries and attract major investors into the region to join the CCS network, with all the advantages that the project entails. It is imperative that Government recognise the crucial importance of the project and give SSI and its partners every assistance and support. With a fair wind, Teesside could be on the brink of becoming the carbon capture capital of Europe, and sustaining the Redcar plant is vital to making that a reality. I plead with the Government not to take their eye of that particular ball. In addition, there are vast reserves of coal sitting off the north-east coast. The exploitation of those 400 years’ worth of energy coupled with CCS would not only guarantee the survival of our core industries and attract massive investment but make Teesside a world leader in clean energy.

The impact of steel closure on Teesside would be devastating, but I am not convinced that this Government give a tupenny fig for Teessiders. I do not think they are listening. The Minister shakes her head, but on Tuesday we debated the impact of the cuts to tax credits. This is the same community that would be affected. In the Secretary of State’s constituency, 37% of families depend on tax credits. The figure in my constituency is 81%. The cumulative impact of any closure would be devastating to an entire community. That is what is at stake, and I hope that the Minister will take my comments seriously. I will not dwell on them. I wanted to say more about that issue, but I know that other Members want to speak.

In my constituency, which depends heavily on the availability of good jobs in the steel industry, there is a backdrop of great need. I implore the Minister and the Prime Minister to convene a steel summit of the major players and decision makers to put together a rescue package for the steel industry as a matter of supreme urgency. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) suggested, I would also encourage all participants to leave no option off the table.

I know the visceral rejection that would greet any suggestion of major state intervention, and I know the abuse that is often hurled at anyone proposing such a response, but we cannot rule out renationalisation. If it is a choice between this industry falling over and taking it back under state control, I think I know what the steelworkers around this country would want the Government to do. I also think I know what many industrialists, who are committed to a strong manufacturing base in the UK, would expect the Government to do. We have only to look to Italy. On Christmas eve in 2014, the Italian Government announced that they were temporarily nationalising the Ilva steel plant to safeguard thousands of jobs and make the necessary investment before putting it up for sale. That was an enormous public commitment, and it is one that should not be unthinkable in the UK. The history books will look favourably on Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown for

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1242

having taken urgent and decisive action in 2008 to save the critical banking industry. This is this Government’s RBS moment. The country is watching and it does not expect to find its Government wanting.

1.28 pm

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): I would like to put on record the fact that it I am delighted to be able to participate in the debate today, having been one of the lead Members to make representations to the Backbench Business Committee, along with the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley). I would like to thank all those who supported the application, and all those who are attending and contributing today. I, too, am glad to see that we have a Minister here today who is listening to us on this issue.

I know all too well the challenges facing the steel industry. Tata Steel’s Clydebridge plant lies in my constituency, and its sister plant, Dalzell, is in the neighbouring constituency of Motherwell and Wishaw. Those two plants are part of the Tata Steel long products business.

As many Members will be aware, the history of the steelworkers industry in Scotland, in particular in north and south Lanarkshire, is extensive. The Clydebridge steelworks was first opened in 1887, and throughout the years it has had the status of being one of the giants of industrial Scotland. The steel plates it made were used in many of the most famous ships ever built, such as the Lusitania, Mauretania, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and the QE2.

From 1786 to 1978, the Clyde ironworks lay adjacent to Clydebridge and supplemented the work of the steelworks. In the Clyde ironworks, the hot-blast process was invented in 1828 by James Beaumont Neilson. This one invention led to a rapid increase in iron manufacture, and the growth of industries made Scotland a world leader in manufacturing.

Established under the Iron and Steel Act 1967, nationalisation tried to rationalise steel production and made the biggest changes to the British steel industry ever seen. Some 90% of UK steelmaking came together under the one single business, the British Steel Corporation.

Clyde ironworks was to be enlarged, and this led to the establishment of the Ravenscraig steelworks in 1954. It was based in Motherwell and had the title of being the steel capital of Scotland, and the skyline was dominated by the gas holders and cooling towers of the plant. Ravenscraig became the heart of the nationalised industry’s Scottish operations and produced its own iron in blast furnaces fuelled by Scottish coal. Iron ore was imported via a purpose-built pier terminal at Hunterston, and lime flux came from its own works in Westmorland. Ravenscraig became western Europe’s largest producer of hot-strip steel and produced slab steel for the Dalzell works, which is still there today.

On the watch of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government, British Steel was privatised in 1988, a move that has left a legacy of decimation. With the privatisation came high manufacturing costs, the free market, overseas competition and a downturn in shipbuilding. This led to the closure of Ravenscraig in 1992, ending the large-scale steel making industry in Scotland. That was widely regarded as one of the biggest social and economic

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1243

disasters to have ever occurred throughout the UK, and the steel industry has never been able to recover from this hammer blow.

The closure resulted in the loss of 770 jobs and another 10,000 jobs directly and indirectly linked. Ravenscraig at one point was regarded as the largest brownfield site in Europe. Fortunately, however, the Dalzell and Clydebridge plants have remained in operation under the ownership of Tata Steel Europe.

The UK steel sector currently employs about 20,000 people directly, which is just a tenth of the number who worked in it during the 1970s. Tata currently employs around 17,000 of them, down from 25,000 in 2008.

When Tata Steel suffers, the UK steel industry suffers. Tata Steel posted a pre-tax loss of £768 million in the year to the end of March, double that of the previous year. Its revenues fell, down 7.3% to £4.2 billion, and production was down to 8.2 million tonnes, due to “operational issues” at plants. Tata Steel’s liquid steel has this year declined by 2.5%.

Tata’s European branch took a heavy hit when its Indian branch lost £314 million from restructuring and impairments. Tata Steel has been slashing costs since 2007, and 1,000 staff and agency jobs have been lost since last year alone. It has been stated that these losses have been the result of high taxes and energy costs, the strong pound and cheap Chinese imports, along with other external factors.

The Chinese Government have devalued their domestic currency several times throughout the year and this move has improved the competitiveness of Chinese exports. About half of the 1.6 billion tonnes of steel made worldwide each year comes from China, which is now exporting around 100 million tonnes a year as its economy slows.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for securing this debate, along with other Members, and she is making a powerful case for her constituents. It is important, however, that we look at the role Governments play in procurement. She talks about Chinese exports and Chinese steel, but did not the Scottish Government choose Chinese steel to build the new Forth road bridge? Has she made any representations to her own colleagues in Holyrood about that crucial issue, because this is an issue for all of us in Governments across these islands?

Margaret Ferrier: The hon. Gentleman is incorrect. There was a bid process, and that was the result. [Interruption.] Yes, the Chinese won that process.

Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP): May I clear up this point? Yes, the Chinese won that steel contract, but Tata Steel did not bid; that is a fact.

Margaret Ferrier: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.

Furthermore, the UK has trading barriers with the USA. Six steel producers in the US filed petitions for the imposition of anti-dumping measures on hot-rolled and cold-rolled coil imports from countries including the UK and the Netherlands.

Exports are an increasingly important part of the UK steel industry’s strategy, given the current weak European demand. Manufacturing in Scotland has shifted focus in recent years with heavy industries such as

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1244

shipbuilding and iron and steel declining in importance and in their contribution to the economy. It is generally argued that this has been in response to increasing globalisation and competition from low-cost producers across the world, as well as the privatisation of the manufacturing industries.

Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Scottish Government have, with the powers they have, offered a whole host and range of practical advice and support to steel companies through Business Gateway, Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Development International?

Margaret Ferrier: I agree; they are doing what they can.

Currently there are 330 people employed between Clydebridge and the Dalzell operation in Motherwell, which is far less than the numbers at the height of the Ravenscraig site. In May of this year Tata announced that it would have to reassess its long products mills to strengthen the competitiveness of its UK operations as a whole. The hot-strip mill in Port Talbot has benefited from this, as quality and capacity upgrades have been carried out. The mill at Newport will also come out of production owing to financial constraints.

The Tata Group, which runs these sites, was recently subject to a takeover bid by an American industrial consortium, the Klesch Group. However, after due diligence no offer was made. Both Tata and Klesch have said that the business has been struggling owing to significant pressure globally. The union official for Community has conceded that the plate market is really slow and that the union has known that there will be losses to come at the Scottish site, and notes that the situation remains very concerning. They had hoped the market would pick up; however, this has evidently not been the case.

It has been the unions who have been fighting the case for these workers and trying to ensure that there are no redundancies. However, the UK Government must do more. The unions have already met the Scottish Government and are to meet them again regarding any assistance that they can offer. We need to ensure that the plants in Scotland remain open and remain sustainable, adding jobs to our communities.

All job losses are devastating news for the steel industries. Many communities rely on them for employment. Every job lost, and every single redundancy, tells its own personal story. We must do whatever we can to protect those jobs.

The UK Government’s flippant “leave it to the market” attitude will destroy this industry. Action needs to be taken, and it needs to be taken now. That accords with the comment of the aforementioned Klesch, who walked away from buying Tata, that its 6,000 workers were

“being led to the slaughterhouse”

by the Government’s failure to address high energy costs or stem a growing tide of cheap Chinese imports. He insisted that the lack of Government subsidies and their lack of industrial policy are hampering the UK’s industry.

This was echoed by Sue Lewis of Community, who has said that the UK Government should have done far more to support the steel industry to meet rising energy prices, while the Welsh First Minister said the UK

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1245

Government should do more to help. The UK Government have given £35 million to steel firms to offset their costs, but that simply is not enough. Mr Klesch said that the UK Government needed to address these issues urgently, in tandem with other European countries, if they wanted to retain a steel industry. He said:

“Whoever gets the cheapest input costs wins the roses. You have Middle Eastern countries giving free gas to aluminium smelters and the Chinese government supporting their steel industry. We don’t have a level playing field.”

I agree with that assessment and believe we should be doing more.

It is unfortunate that, as the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise has said:

“Neither the Office for National Statistics nor other governmental statistical sources make such forecasts for steel. The Government forecasts can influence markets and therefore must be able to be robust.”

However, there is an unwillingness to share information and the Government should be able to calculate robust figures. If they do that, we need to be able to work towards this target or even to try to outdo any expectations. Today, I will submit a series of written questions to the relevant Departments to ensure that Ministers will converse with Tata in Scotland and with the local communities.

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) stated yesterday that he wanted to see the Prime Minister do more in Redcar. I welcome that, but I also want the Government to do more throughout the UK. The time for action is now, and I will happily work across the Chamber to deliver a galvanised response to the steel industry’s pleas for help.

1.41 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Let me join everybody in paying tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) and others in securing this timely and important debate. While we are on tributes, it is important that I pay tribute to everybody who is working in the steel industry across the UK, particularly those in my constituency. A number of things have happened this summer: job losses in south Yorkshire; job losses in south Wales; the withdrawal of Klesch from the interest in Tata; and the struggle for survival at SSI in Teesside. All that bears witness to a fact: we have, as UK Steel, a sober, understated organisation, says in the preface to its letter to the Minister, a “Steel Sector Crisis”. Sadly, that is where we are today. We are facing questions about how we ensure the future of this vital, strategic, foundation industry for the UK. My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), who chairs the Select Committee, rightly said that this should be about the future—we can build on the past but this is about the future, because that is what matters. No modern economy looking to the future can go forward with confidence about this industry unless it has that at its heart.

That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), in an impassioned and incredibly moving contribution to this debate, was right to say that we know all the arguments, because they have been rehearsed time and again in this stadium—[Laughter.] It is not exactly a stadium, but we have built many stadiums

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1246

with steel and I am sure there will be much steel in here. We have rehearsed those arguments time and again in this Chamber and in this Palace of Westminster. We know the arguments. We know what this is about. We know that it is about energy prices, business taxes, capital investment, procurement policy, Chinese imports and the strength of the pound. We know what the context is, and we can go round and round in all that detail, but what signally matters at the moment is the political will to do something. This is about politicians—us, across this House—people outside this House and, most importantly, Governments, be they the Scottish Government or the UK Government. It is about the decisions they make on procurement, be it procuring steel for the Forth road bridge, sourcing new auxiliary ships for the Royal Air Force through Korea rather than through the UK or deciding whether we buy our new police cars from Peugeot or from the UK. There are procurement decisions where the Government can step up to the mark; this is about looking forward, and we need to make sure that we have the political will.

That is why I asked the Prime Minister at last week’s Prime Minister’s questions to have a steel summit. A steel summit is about saying to everybody that steel is crucial for the UK and it matters, now and in the future. That is why the Prime Minister and this Government need to step up to the plate, and put together a steel summit and respond to the feeling both inside and outside this House that that is important. The Prime Minister gave us warm words. To be fair to him, I believe he does care about the steel industry and he does always give us warm words. For the first time since I was elected in 2010, we have in this Minister a Minister for the steel industry who cares about the steel industry. She has shown honest endeavour and I believe she will continue to do so. But warm words and honest endeavour in themselves will not take us where we need to be. We need clear actions, movements and directions in the future to make the future bright and bold.

My constituency has 4,000 jobs in the local steel industry, with people directly employed, and 25,000 jobs dependent on steel—that picture is magnified across the country. Steel is a crucial industry, for now and for the future. I call on the Minister, who is very good, to move from being very good to being exceptional, to make a difference and to respond to the desire for a steel summit by letting us have one. That will allow us to send the message to investors looking to make a difference to our steel industry and work alongside us in partnership that this Government will stand up for steel and will make sure that steel is there for the future, so that we have a bright future and we can be as proud of our steel industry in 50 years’ time looking back as we are now looking back at the past 100 years of our steel industry. This Minister is going to step up to the mark and deliver for this nation on the steel industry.


1.47 pm

Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this important debate. I also want to thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to find time to hold it today. I pay tribute to all those who have spoken in this debate. In particular, I pay tribute to the passion, commitment and knowledge of the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), and thank her for leading in

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1247

securing the debate. I feel I have something to add, but I will also be reiterating much of what has already been said. I make no apology for that, because everything that has been said is important and cannot be reiterated too often.

My constituency has been associated with steel since John Colville created the Dalzell works in the early part of the 1870s—I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) for saying it, but we were there first. The famous Ravenscraig integrated steel plant was located in the centre of my constituency, and its closure is still felt today. I do not want to dwell on the past in this debate, so instead I shall deal with present reality and look to the future.

Dalzell plate mill is part of the long products division of Tata Steel Europe. Tata split this part of its UK operations to form a stand-alone division, which includes the neighbouring Clydebridge heat treatment facility in my hon. Friend’s constituency and the Scunthorpe plate mill, which is situated in the constituency of the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and, as I have also now learned, that of the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy). Tata Steel is still trying to secure the third-party contribution after the proposed deal with the Klesch Group fell apart. That makes those plants particularly vulnerable in the current economic climate affecting the UK steel industry.

Long products’ key markets include the automotive and construction industries; energy and power; rail; aerospace; and defence and security. UK Steel, Tata Steel and the Community union all agree on the basic problems that face the industry: energy costs are too high; the pressure put on supply chains from unfair practices needs to be addressed; and the dumping of Chinese steel needs to be looked at again. I welcome the Government’s backing, but more must be done. If other countries, such as Italy and Poland, can provide help for their steel industry within EU rules, it should be possible for the UK Government to do so, too.

It is vital that there is a level playing field for business rates with our European competitors. The business rates system has penalised UK steel producers for making improvements, and that surely flies in the face of common sense. Increasing the value to the UK from supply chains will create jobs. A recent CBI report highlighted that more than half a million jobs could be created across the UK if supply chains are rebuilt. The Prime Minister congratulated Nissan yesterday on its contribution to the UK economy, but where does it get its steel?

Anna Turley: Let me draw on a comment that was made by the hon. Lady and by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop). It is great that we are championing success in industry and engineering, particularly in the north-east, but we must also be there in times of crisis.

Marion Fellows: I could not agree more. I wish to see expansion in the sector to allow Scottish steel to be used in Scottish infrastructure projects in the future. The energy-intensive industries compensation package payments need to be fully implemented now; there should be no wait until April 2016.

The Government could also consider derogation requests from the sector. We need a realistic timetable to meet increased commitment under the industrial emissions

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1248

directive. Great work has already been done in this regard, and again companies have been penalised. I wish to commend Community the steel union for its work with Tata Steel to minimise compulsory redundancies at Dalzell and to look for redeployment and voluntary redundancies. That is an example of the close work that it has done with Tata Steel to ensure that the steel industry still exists in my constituency, albeit in a far, far diminished way. It is clear to me and other members of the all-party group for the steel and metal-related industry that this is a vital element in the struggle to save the steel industry in the United Kingdom as well. Various hon. Members have already referred to the good work done by the unions in this regard.

The Scottish Government are fully committed to ensuring that, within their devolved powers, the steel industry remains a vital part of the Scottish economy and they will engage with it and the UK Government as a part of that commitment. John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, said:

“The Scottish Government recognises the importance of steel manufacturing to Scottish industry, particularly in the construction and growing renewable energy markets. We provide a wide range of practical advice and support to companies”.

There have been talks between Fergus Ewing the Scottish Energy Minister and Tata in Motherwell and discussions also with Community. I understand that Tata, Community, Scottish Enterprise and Government officials will be sitting down shortly to discuss a plan for the future to ensure due diligence in safeguarding the Scottish plants.

The UK Government have also expressed concern at the challenges facing the steel industry in the UK, but it is now time for action. The motion for this debate says that

“this House recognises the unprecedented gravity of the challenges currently facing the UK steel industry; and calls on the Government to hold a top-level summit with the key players from the steel industry to seek meaningful and urgent solutions to the crisis.”

I urge the Government to hold that meeting as a matter of urgency and to act quickly thereafter to address the industry’s concerns, thus safeguarding a vital industry and well paid jobs in both Motherwell and Wishaw, Rutherglen and throughout the UK. We in Motherwell and Wishaw know the heartache of steel closure and would not wish that fate on others elsewhere in the UK.

1.54 pm

Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab): I am extremely grateful that this debate has been arranged on an urgent basis, as urgent action is indeed necessary. Many of my constituents in Neath are reliant on their jobs at Tata Steel in Port Talbot, in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). Indeed, my father worked at the Steel Company of Wales, which eventually became Tata Steel.

Good quality jobs are desperately needed in our communities, and we want to grow those jobs, not see a slow and inevitable decline of the UK steel industry. That is why it is important that the UK Government take action here and now to stop this decline, and, in doing so, help safeguard these jobs.

Many Members have detailed the current challenges that need to be addressed. I support and echo their calls for a summit bringing together industry, trade unions

17 Sep 2015 : Column 1249

and other stakeholders and the Government to chart a way forward. Several steps have been outlined, which could readily be put in place to help the UK steel industry remain sustainable and competitive. They include: full implementation of the energy-intensive industries compensation package before April 2016; bringing business rates for the sector in line with those of its competitors in France and Germany; consideration of derogation requests on a realistic timetable from the sector regarding its increased commitments under the industrial emissions directive; continued support for anti-dumping measures at an EU level, such as for the forthcoming decision on reinforcing bars for the construction sector, which has seen Chinese imports to the UK market increase in only a few years from zero to the present level of 40%; and continued support for local content in major public projects that will provide assistance to the UK sector and make full use of the UK supply chain to promote sustainability. Added to those is the need to support best-in-class research and development through more foundation industry projects and better cross-sector collaboration, and to ensure that the UK workforce is highly skilled by identifying and tackling looming skills gaps in high value sectors such as advanced manufacturing.

As a proud trade unionist, I call on the Minister, who believes in the steel industry, to urge the Government to address these issues meaningfully and as a matter of extreme urgency.

1.57 pm

Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP): I, too, wish to extend my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate to take place. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) for her consensual tone in initiating this debate, which is very much appreciated by those on the SNP Benches.

As someone who represents the largest steel fabricator in the whole of the northern UK—I am talking about J&D Pierce, which is located in Kilbirnie in Ayrshire where I live—I am delighted to speak in this debate today. I am disappointed that the consensus with which the hon. Member for Redcar began the debate was rudely interrupted by others on the Labour Benches who were shouting out things such as “irony” when my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) was speaking. The Scottish Government have done all they can with their very limited powers—quite clearly, Government Members and Labour Members wanted those powers to be limited in Scotland—to support the steel industry. I did not want to make these party political points in this debate, because we are all concerned about the future of the steel industry across the UK, but if we are going to go down the road of irony, let us take that road to its natural destination. There is irony in the fact that the hands of the Scottish Government are tied in what they can do to support the steel industry in Scotland.