HC Deb 22 March 2001 vol 365 cc477-8
9. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)

What support his Department plans to give to former employees of Corus affected by its decision to restructure steel production in the UK. [153639]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Stephen Byers)

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the House yesterday, even at this late stage the Government would urge Corus to reconsider its proposal. Should it proceed, we will work with the National Assembly for Wales, local agencies and other Government Departments to ensure that the best and most appropriate help is provided for the individuals and communities affected.

Mr. Edwards

I thank my right hon. Friend for the efforts made by his Department and the National Assembly for Wales to support the Corus steelworkers if they are made redundant. However, does not he agree that the prime responsibility remains with Corus to restructure its plans and save the jobs at Llanwern, Ebbw Vale and Bryngwyn? Does he share the astonishment felt by members of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs when Sir Brian Moffat confessed, while giving evidence, that he did not know whether the Bryngwyn works was profitable or not but that he was closing it anyway?

Mr. Byer

Once we were able to reflect on the decision announced by Corus, it was clear that the company was adopting a short-term approach to the particular trading difficulties that it was experiencing. There is no getting away from the fact that it has been a difficult period for Corus. The House will understand that the company had to act to remedy the losses that it was incurring. The great concern for my hon. Friend, and many others, was that the company failed to adopt an approach guaranteeing a long-term future for steel.

I have no doubt that steel is an important industry for the United Kingdom, and will remain so. The Government still want to work constructively with Corus and the trade unions to find a better way forward. We could have a plan for steel that would overcome the difficulties that individuals and communities will face if Corus goes ahead with the programme that it has proposed.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

Will the introduction of the climate change levy next month result in a net cost to the steel industry?

Mr. Byers

What I can do is repeat the comments made by Sir Brian Moffat, the chairman and chief executive of Corus. His evidence to the Select Committee was very clear. He said that the introduction of the climate change levy made no difference whatever to the proposals being put forward by the company.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

There is nothing new about the conduct of the company. The company's barrister admitted in a recent employment appeal tribunal that the company gave false information to employees during the closure of the H.H. Robertson firm in my constituency. Given the role of his Department, and the possible involvement of the Serious Fraud Office, will my right hon. Friend look again at the conduct of British Steel—now Corus—during that closure?

Mr. Byers

I will agree to do that.

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