Regain control of our steel industry – 6 July 2016
We must look to regain control of our steel industry from the tentacles of EU bureaucracy, but we also need to legislate sensibly at home.
Spoken Contribution – 16:17:31
The steel industry in Wales is facing a crisis, which threatens jobs and livelihoods. So, I feel it is right and proper that we do deliberate on this issue in the Assembly. My UKIP colleague Caroline Jones has already pointed to the issue of tariffs and the way in which membership of the EU has constrained the UK’s ability to respond to Chinese steel dumping. This point is, as ever, contentious in this Chamber. I personally endorse the point Caroline made, but I won’t go over it again now as it’s been argued several times in this Chamber. Obviously, we will never come—
Spoken Contribution – 16:18:14
Go on. Go ahead, then.
Spoken Contribution – 16:18:20
Yes, I am coming to that.
Spoken Contribution – 16:18:27
Okay. That’s a good point, and I do address that later in my contribution.
Right. The only addition I would make to the tariffs argument is this, and it goes along with what David Rees just raised: David rightly raised the important point—actually, it’s the same point that Bethan raised as well—that the Conservative Government in Westminster has itself acted and voted against taking retaliatory tariffs against China. So, in this aspect—you’re quite right, they have done that—the point I would make is that leaving the EU gives a UK Government a theoretical right to raise tariffs. It is up to the UK Government itself to decide whether or not to use that right. Unfortunately, at the moment, it has decided not to. It’s far better to have that theoretical right to act than not to have it at all. At least the UK electorate has the right to vote out the UK Government if it disagrees with its industrial policy. It had no such right to vote out the EU bureaucrats who hitherto controlled our industrial policy. Please note, Bethan, I didn’t call them faceless.
Once we have left the EU and regain the measure of control over our industry, what can we then do as a nation to support Welsh steel? Is there, indeed, a viable future for Welsh steel? Well, in fact, if we look at the market situation currently, world demand for steel is likely to rise as advanced economies gradually recover from the slump of 2008 and as more emerging economies raise living standards. As they do so, more people want and can afford cars, domestic appliances and other products with a steel content. In the UK itself, the Government has pledged to buy more British steel as part of UK public sector contracts. Several of the large infrastructure and equipment programmes have a substantial steel content.
However, another problem we have to overcome is the relatively high cost of energy for UK industry, compared with many of its European rivals. Much of this is due to carbon emissions penalties that were introduced, not by the EU, but by a previous UK Government. In 2008, Gordon Brown and his Labour Cabinet took the momentous decision to rename the Department of Energy as the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Under the stewardship of Ed Miliband—that man of wonderful foresight—this department then brought in the Climate Change Act 2008 and with it the stiff emissions taxes that the UK steel industry now faces. Many independently minded political pundits predicted at the time that this would lead to industrial disaster, and we may now be staring that disaster fully in the face. While the UK steel industry stands on the precipice, German and Dutch steelworkers face nowhere near such a menacing future. That is because, in part, but in large part—
Spoken Contribution – 16:21:27
I’m just coming to the end, so, sorry. Their energy costs are relatively much lower than ours. So, we must look to regain control of our steel industry from the tentacles of EU bureaucracy, but we also need to legislate sensibly at home. Thank you.