HC Deb 29 October 1998 vol 318 cc457-8
10. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

If he will make a statement on the prospects for the steel industry. [55061]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Peter Mandelson)

The UK steel industry is facing pressures from international competition, but it is one of the success stories of the British economy. It is one of the most efficient and productive steel industries in the world. The industry continues to attack its cost base to ensure that it remains profitable and is better able to compete at home and overseas.

Helen Jackson

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He may be aware that the plant at Stocksbridge in my constituency is one of the most efficient producers of special engineering steel in the country and in Europe, and that it fulfils more than 50 per cent. of the needs of the home market for that type of steel, which provides the vital bits and pieces in car engines and aero-engines that we all depend on. However, by its nature, it requires stability and consistency in its supply chain and its energy costs. What will the Government do to help provide that consistency and stability, to ensure that Stocksbridge remains one of the prime manufacturing locations in the country?

Mr. Mandelson

My hon. Friend is right in the way in which she describes the success of that company and of that plant. I shall happily—as I would expect to do—learn a great deal more of its success when I visit Sheffield later today, when I shall probably meet representatives, if not of that company, at least of the steel industry in Sheffield. The UK steel industry has undergone substantial restructuring since the 1970s, but productivity has increased fourfold and it continues to invest more than £350 million a year in new plant and innovation. I believe that, with that commitment to productivity, to investment and to increasing the industry's competitiveness, we shall continue to see further success. It will certainly have the full support of my Department.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

The Minister mentioned visits. I wonder whether he will shortly visit a country that is one of the most attractive and growing markets for British steel because of the careful way in which it has balanced political and economic forces—Chile?

Mr. Mandelson

I have no plans to visit Chile, although, if I had been able to add a visit to it to my forthcoming visit to Brazil and Argentina in the time available, I should have been only too pleased to do so.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

In welcoming my right hon. Friend to his post, may I tell him of the dismay and desperation of steelworkers at the Shotton works in my constituency, who see yet more redundancies on the horizon? How might he help the industry and Shotton with regard to energy costs and to dumping from the far east of steel products? I know that he will not tell steelworkers in my constituency to sharpen up their act, because they are the most competitive, productive and co-operative—and have been the most successful—steelworkers that one could imagine. In 1980, they suffered 8,000 direct steel job losses in just two months. I know that he will do all that he can to help them.

Mr. Mandelson

I should never dream of simply asking any work force in any company to sharpen up its act. I should, however, always say to any company, all those who are employed in it and particularly all those who manage it and are responsible for its long-term strategic direction, to raise their game and performance and sharpen up their act. That injunction is well taken.

In the case of any redundancies in any industry or locality, the local Employment Service will work closely with the companies concerned and the resettlement consultants appointed. We take that responsibility seriously.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the EU Commission is responsible for taking any anti-dumping action and, in working with the EU Commission, we shall consider each complaint on its merits.