Video: The Government needs an industrial strategy to save our steel

Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills): Yet again, we have had a very good debate on the steel industry, featuring plenty of contributions from Back Benchers. I think that I counted 21 Back-Bench speeches during our short debate. We heard from Mr Bone, my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock, Richard Fuller, my hon. Friend Mr Wright, Tom Pursglove, my hon. Friend Angela Smith, David T. C. Davies, my hon. Friend Tom Blenkinsop, Byron Davies, my hon. Friends the Members for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and for Newport East (Jessica Morden), Marion Fellows, my hon. Friends the Members for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) and for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), Margaret Ferrier, my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), for Redcar (Anna Turley), and for Blackburn (Kate Hollern), and Greg Mulholland.

I join others in paying tribute to the Community trade union and the leadership of Roy Rickhuss and others. I also pay tribute to Carwyn Jones, the Welsh First Minister, who has been mentioned today, and to my hon. Friend Nia Griffith, the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, for all her efforts.

Our role as Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition is to hold the Government’s feet to the fire on this issue. Our industry has to have a future, and we must make sure that it has one. We are having to do this because immediately after the general election, the new Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills signalled, clearly and overtly, that he would not continue the consensus that had been emerging and growing over the last decade on the need for a UK industrial strategy. [Interruption.] I wonder whether the new Secretary of State for Wales wants to learn that his job is to sit there and shut up and listen during this debate. [Interruption.]

Eleanor Laing (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means): Order. Let us stay calm. Kevin Brennan may wish—I would strongly suggest—to rephrase what he has just said.

Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills): I think that the new Secretary of State needs to sit there in silence and listen to what is being said about a very important issue that affects Wales in particular, which is his responsibility.

The UK needs an active, modern industrial strategy that understands the importance of foundation industries such as the steel industry to the rebalancing of our economy. I understand why the Business Secretary, given his City background and professed laissez-faire philosophy about politics, does not want to use the term “industrial strategy”. He is wrong about that, however. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, I am being asked what my background is. I worked at the Llanwern steelworks for six months and my father worked there for more than 20 years, so I do not need questions about my background from a Secretary of State for Wales who cannot sit there and shut up and listen to the debate as he should do on behalf of his constituents in Wales.

I understand why the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills does not want to use the term “industrial strategy”, but I am afraid he is wrong not to do so. Unless the Government are prepared to support British industry strategically, the Chancellor’s so-called march of the makers will simply become a death march of the makers in this country. We will not stand by and let that happen. We believe that there is a future for the steel industry in the United Kingdom, and I put it to the Secretary of State that that future should not just be about steel recycling; we need to hear that he is committed to steelmaking, and not just to the recycling of steel, important though that is.

We have been asking the Secretary of State for months to make clear the Government’s view on the minimum strategic steelmaking capacity that they believe must be maintained in the UK’s national interest. They have not been prepared to give that information, which inevitably leads to a suspicion that they do not have a view on the minimum steelmaking capacity necessary for the UK’s long-term economic interest. That doubt at the heart of the Government is like an impurity in steel being poured at a steel plant. If we do not get rid of that impurity, it could lead to a disaster, and it will be a disaster if the doubt at the heart of the Government’s policy is not got rid of.

We need to make sure that the blast furnaces at Port Talbot remain. We also need to ensure that the ability to make new steel—not just to melt down old steel and reuse it—remains in the armoury of UK plc. That is why it is important that we have an industrial strategy, and not just an industrial approach. We need clarity on steelmaking, not just vague warm words. In short, we need strategic leadership, not the laissez-faire laxity now undermining UK plc.