HC Deb 03 July 2003 vol 408 cc522-3
5. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

If she will make a statement on the prospects for the steel industry. [123224]

The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Jacqui Smith)

Recent restructuring in the steel industry, together with some signs of recovery in the steel market and exchange rate improvements, provide this important sector with the opportunity to build for a sustainable future. UK macro-economic stability, low inflation and interest rates at their lowest for 50 years also provide a sound foundation.

Kevin Brennan

I welcome my hon. Friend to her new post. She was outstanding in the Department of Health and I am sure that she will be in her new role.

It was a disaster last year when, despite the best efforts of the Department and the National Assembly for Wales, Allied Steel and Wire in Cardiff closed down, largely on account of the short-sightedness of the banks. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the news that the Spanish steel company, Celsa, is reopening the steel plant in Cardiff, re-creating many of the jobs that existed before, and has pledged to produce even more steel than was produced before ASW closed?

Jacqui Smith

Yes, I share my hon. Friend's concern and disappointment about the regrettable demise of ASW, and I join him in welcoming the Celsa Group's plans to resume steel making at Cardiff. That is good news for many of the communities in the area, whose interests my hon. Friend has ably championed. I hope and believe that many former ASW—and, indeed, Corus—workers and former contractors will be reemployed by Celsa, thereby making use of the considerable skills and productivity of UK steelworkers. They are part of the strength of that industry.

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East)

I welcome my hon. Friend to the Front Bench. I thank the Secretary of State for her recent visit to Teesside steelworks, which was greatly appreciated by many of my constituents and across Teesside; she was the first Secretary of State ever to visit Redcar steelworks. Has the Minister seen the Trade and Industry Committee report on the future of the steel industry? It made many recommendations, one of which was for the Government to set up a national steel forum. I urge her to give strong support to that recommendation, because such a forum could help to ensure that we continue to have a successful steel industry in the future.

Jacqui Smith

I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. I know that the visit by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was welcomed on Teesside, and that she was impressed with relations locally. She was also impressed by the commitment shown by my hon. Friend himself, and by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) to ensuring the future of steel in their communities.

I have had the opportunity to look at the Select Committee on Trade and Industry report, and I welcome many of its recommendations. We will look carefully at the specific recommendation about the steel forum. We have already taken action by giving Government support in respect of lean manufacturing and some of the metal technologies, for example. The intention with the steel forum is to bring together stakeholders such as businesses, employees and trade unions, who will play such an important part by working together to ensure that the steel industry has a future. We will respond to the Select Committee report, and I assure my hon. Friend that I will give his representations very serious consideration.