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Protecting Steel in the UK | Commons debates

The Labour party would support an industrial strategy, which would have myriad plans that would look exactly at some of these issues. Our national wealth fund would fund some of the really important future industries that we need, crowd-in private sector investment at a much greater scale and, hopefully, lead to the manufacturing industry growing and not the managed decline we have seen under this Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) said that the plan is exporting jobs and importing carbon, and he is exactly right. My dad was from Llanelli, once the tinplate capital of the world. My grandad worked at the tinplate factory that was then called Richard Thomas and Baldwins, and his brother worked at the Salter saucepan works. They would have stood in Stradey Park singing “Sosban Fach,” I am sure bursting with pride.

Britain’s steel industry has seen us through momentous periods in Britain’s national story—the white heat of the industrial revolution; the planes, ships and tanks that saw us through the second world war; and the buildings dotting our skyline across this modern Britain—but if we get nostalgic for the past, we do not look to the future. The world is changing, it is less safe and less secure, and steel is changing. New technologies are transforming how we make and use steel, and it will be as crucial to our future as it has been to our past.

We cannot make solar power without steel. We cannot make electric vehicles without steel. We cannot make wind turbines without steel. We will not reach the Paris climate agreement targets without steel. Steel is used for 3D printing and robotic automation, and everything from the tools that our doctors use to save our lives to the rocket ships that reach into space needs steel. Our pens are made of steel, and Big Ben ticks because of steel. Anyone who does not know that it is magic should read Ed Conway’s book “Material World”. Steel makes the machines, the tools and the factories that make everything possible. It will forge our future, not just our past. The debate is not about nostalgia: it is about looking head. Labour Members know that steel can have a bright future in Britain.

The Government’s last-minute chaotic deal is a masterclass in how not to run the transition. What they offered was never a serious plan for the long-term of our steel industry; it was yet another sticking plaster from a Government lurching from crisis to crisis, unable or unwilling to take a long-term view.

There are other ways forward. Labour has a cast-iron commitment to support our steel industry. We have earmarked up to £3 billion for investment in green steel alongside industry, working with steel communities to ensure that the transition comes with jobs. There are other ways forward that can help us, not least hydrogen. While the Conservatives scramble around for last-minute deals, Labour will make long-term investments. That is the central difference in our approach.

We must think about manufacturing differently. I have lost track of the number of times businesses have said to me, “We would invest in renewables, but the Government make it too hard.” Our manufacturers say, “We want to decarbonise, but we are living hand to mouth because our energy bills are so much higher than in other countries, and Government won’t help us.” This steel debacle speaks to a much wider issue. We do not just need a steel industry: we need glass, ceramics, cement, compost, critical minerals, batteries, composites and cheap energy. We need supply chains that work, an upgraded national grid, planning reform and a job plan to create jobs across every part of this country—a transition from the old to a much cheaper renewable future. In short, we need an industrial strategy. We need a Government who believe in working in partnership with industry, not just telling them to “F off”, and we need a plan that looks to the future of our own country and does not just rely on cheap imports from China.

We are asking the Government to think again, to look at the multi-union plan again and to think about how to defend primary steel capacity in our country. We know that steelworkers are watching this debate, and they must feel wretched. I ask Government Members in all sincerity: are they concerned about our defence capabilities if we lose the capacity to make primary steel? Do they really think the Government’s plan is money well spent? Should decarbonisation really be about cutting jobs? Is manufacturing really a Victorian pursuit best left to the Chinese, as a former Tory Prime Minister is reported as saying?

Or, as the great country that we are, can we harness the skills and talents of our people and create a vibrant manufacturing sector here in the UK? Tonight, can we send a message to the steelworkers here that we want to protect the future of British steelmaking, and that we will not sit by and let managed decline be the hallmark of this great British industry? I commend the motion to the House.