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Jeremy Corbyn hits out over 'non-intervention' in steel industry

Published 21/10/2015

Jeremy Corbyn criticised the Government's failure to shore up the steel industry
Jeremy Corbyn criticised the Government's failure to shore up the steel industry

Jeremy Corbyn has accused the Government of having no industrial strategy as redundancies mount in the crisis-stricken steel sector.

But David Cameron insisted his administration was doing everything it could to help, including changing procurement rules which already meant more public sector projects used British steel.

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, the Labour leader challenged: "Do you appreciate the devastating effects of the Government's non-intervention in the steel industry is having on so many people?"

Quoting a maintenance fitter on the Tata steelworks in Scunthorpe, Mr Corbyn said: "What are you going to do to support the steel industry and its workers who are now facing redundancy?

"Is it not time to walk the walk rather than talk the talk about the industrial strategy?"

Mr Cameron insisted: "We do want to help our steel industry and I will set out exactly how we will help the steel industry.

"It is in a very difficult situation, world prices have collapsed by more than half, the surplus capacity in the world is more than 50 times the UK output.

"But our plan to is to take action in four vital areas - procurement, energy costs, unfair competition and dumping, and tax and Government support."

Mr Cameron told MPs the change to the procurement rules had meant the Crossrail project had "almost exclusively" British steel.

Mr Corbyn said: "Isn't the real problem the Government doesn't actually have an industrial strategy to protect the most important industries in this country?

"If they had, they wouldn't have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this House three times in the last eight days.

"Thousands of jobs have already gone in Redcar, Scunthorpe, Rotherham, Motherwell, Cambuslang, Wrexham, and across the West Midlands."

He challenged: "Isn't it time for concrete action today so there is Government intervention, there is support for our industry and we do have a viable steel industry for the long term, which this country desperately needs to have?"

Mr Cameron insisted he did want a strong and viable industry, and added: "On energy costs, we have already put £50 million into cutting energy costs and our plans will mean hundreds of millions extra to cut energy costs."

Following an intervention, Mr Cameron continued: "Last week in the House of Lords the Labour Party voted to add to energy bills by opposing the measures we are taking on wind power.

"So yes, we do have a strategy, we do have a plan, we should be working cross-party to deliver that plan."

Mr Corbyn accused the Prime Minister of failing to work in Europe to protect industry.

Mr Cameron replied: "We have been doing this for months, making sure we have proper action against dumping in the European Union, we have taken the cases to the European Commission, and we will continue to do so."

Mr Cameron challenged Labour to examine its own record as he argued that steel production had gone up and steel employment had stayed at the same level during his time as Prime Minister.

He told a rowdy Commons at the end of PMQs "so before we get a self-righteous lecture from the party opposite, look at your own record".

Mr Cameron said there is "every opportunity" to discuss Chinese steel dumping during talks with the Chinese president later today, adding: "But let me say again, I don't want to make promises I can't keep."

His comments came following a question from Labour's Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) who asked Mr Cameron if he made clear to the Chinese president the "urgent need" to stop Chinese steel dumping and urged the Prime Minister to meet again with north Lincolnshire MPs to see what more could be done to support steel making in Scunthorpe.

Mr Cameron replied: "I'm glad that he was at the summit on Friday, I met with him back in November. Always happy to meet again with him and neighbouring MPs. When this question time finishes I'm going straight to Number 10 for several hours of talks with the Chinese president and there's every opportunity to talk about this issue, I began those discussions last night where I think the Chinese do recognise that they've got huge over capacity in their own steel industry and that's an issue they have to address as well.

"But let me say again, I don't want to make promises I can't keep, we can't set the steel price here in this House, we can't set a steel price here in this House, and we can't go beyond the sorts of steps I've talked about on procurement, on energy, on industrial support.

"But let me just remind members opposite. They might like to remember something of their own record. Under Labour steel production halved. Under Labour employment in steel halved, since I've been Prime Minister steel production has gone up and steel employment has stayed at the same level, so before we get a self-righteous lecture from the party opposite, look at your own record."

Labour's Anna Turley (Redcar) claimed Mr Cameron had "failed" in saying he would do everything he could to keep steelmaking on Teesside.

The Prime Minister told the Commons that "we will do everything we can to help", but he said Opposition MPs need to "engage" with the facts.

Ms Turley asked: "On the 16th September the Prime Minister told this House that he would do everything he could to keep steelmaking on Teesside, he failed.

"And now we learn that £30 million of the support package that the Government promised for retraining and economic regeneration is not only going towards the statutory redundancies of those who lost their jobs, but I also have an email here from the Northern Powerhouse minister to a constituent in Stockton South that says it's also going to be used to pay for the final salaries of those who lost their jobs in the last month.

"I'd like to ask the Prime Minister how much more injustice does he think the people of Teesside can endure?"

Mr Cameron replied: "We will do everything we can to help including the financial package that she's set out, making sure that we help people with retraining and with new opportunities, making sure that we help bring new industries to the area.

"But let me tell her what we can't do. We can't in this House set the world price of steel, we can't overcome the fact that the SSI plant had lost £600 million in this Parliament, those are the facts and those are the facts that members opposite, frankly, have got to engage with."

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