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Mr. Byers: I think that there were some questions in that statement, to which I shall try to reply.

The right hon. Gentleman speaks of transport costs. When he has time to read the detail of Corus's announcement, he will see that transport costs were not a major issue. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) asked the questions. He should let the Minister reply.

Mr. Byers: The right hon. Gentleman will see that, as part of the restructuring announced today, Corus will take products from Teesside down to Llanwern, so transport costs are clearly not a great issue.

The right hon. Gentleman did not mention the costs of the climate change levy to the steel industry: £8 million a year. If he had referred to the losses being incurred by Corus, he would have realised that £8 million is insignificant in that context. I do not know what contact the right hon. Gentleman has had with the chief executive of Corus, but if he had met him to talk about the company's plans and proposals--we have known since 5 December that the review was under way--he would know that the climate change levy was not a consideration. It was raised specifically with the chief executive, and it was not an issue.

The right hon. Gentleman speaks of jobs being lost. He fails to refer to the fact that, on average, every year for 18 years under the Conservative Government 150,000 manufacturing jobs were lost. That is his record.

The right hon. Gentleman does not refer to the impact of Tory policies on the steel industry. All that he needs to look at is the record of his Government. Between 1979 and 1997, 121,000 steel jobs were lost under the Conservative Government.

The right hon. Gentleman's solution is to deny workers minimum standards. When he speaks about the burden of regulation and red tape, he means the national minimum wage, which would go under the Conservatives; he means the right to paid holidays, which would go under the Conservatives; he means that the opportunities that we have provided for trade union recognition would be denied; and he means that health and safety would be put to one side.

That is the Tory prescription for manufacturing industry and for industry generally. We will not embrace that approach. All that the Tories offered was boom and bust. We offer economic stability and a far better way forward.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): There was no malaise at Llanwern, which has the highest productivity, high investment and high tech--a brilliant success for Britain.

Today, we have witnessed the butchery of the steel industry. There have been many crises in the steel industry in the past 50 years. They have all been solved by common sense, agreements and deals done between

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Government and the industry. Today, we have seen the industrial heart ripped out of the Ebbw valley. Six months ago Corus said that it intended to invest £150 million in the furnace at Llanwern. Today, that prospect was given the death sentence. That will mean that the rest of the plant is less viable.

Is it not true that by rumour, by denial of dialogue and by refusing to consider any alternative deal, Corus has callously and cynically manipulated the position, indifferent to the suffering of local people, entirely for the internal benefit of one single company? The assets and skills of Llanwern are being stripped out to benefit the company, and the contracts will be enjoyed by its Dutch arm.

Is it not right for us to censure Corus today--

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): The hon. Gentleman should censure his own Government.

Mr. Flynn: Those who claim that this is a party political matter will rightly be treated with contempt by those who have seen their futures destroyed by Corus. It should be seen as a company with an undeveloped social conscience, but a highly developed instinct for greed.

Mr. Byers: Labour Members understand the anger articulated by my hon. Friend on behalf of his constituents. There is a personal element in what he says: he worked at Llanwern for a number of years.

There is no doubt that the process and procedures adopted by Corus run counter to most of the ways in which British business should be operating at the beginning of the 21st century. It has not involved the work force: it has made no attempt to explain the policies or the difficulties. The review has been in progress for nearly two months, but there has been no attempt to adopt a partnership approach.

Our message to Corus is clear. We understand the difficulties that it faces, but we believe that it can overcome those difficulties if it works in partnership with the Government, trade unions and the National Assembly for Wales. The steel industry operates very much on an economic-cycle basis. It is experiencing difficulties now, but good times will come. What worries the Government is that capacity and jobs are being lost, and that when we have opportunities in future we shall not have a strong steel industry that can take advantage of those opportunities.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): Most right-thinking people will probably agree that Corus has displayed a disgraceful neglect of its work force--the most productive steelworkers in Europe. Those running the company have behaved like a bunch of 19th century ironmasters. The loss of 6,000 jobs in south Wales, Yorkshire and north-east England is a tragedy for those workers and their families.

Is the Secretary of State aware that today Corus is recruiting steelworkers for its plant in Holland, but sacking workers in the United Kingdom? Does he believe that the crux of the matter is the euro and, indeed, exchange rates, which have caused every ton of steel produced in the United Kingdom to make a loss? When will the Government address that problem?

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Does the Secretary of State agree that our employment laws are inadequate to protect British workers, compared with those on the continent? When will the Government produce legislation to give British workers the same protection as their counterparts in Europe?

Why did the Department of Trade and Industry allow British Steel to amalgamate with Corus without considering some of the problems that have, in fact, resulted? There is no doubt that many communities will be devastated--not least Ebbw Vale, on the boundary of my constituency, which has been dealt what amounts to a knock-out punch.

The number of job losses in Llanwern is enormous. What we need now is a crash programme of investment. Will the Secretary of State plead with the Treasury for extra money for the Welsh block grant, to ensure the establishment of the new industries that will be so badly needed?

Mr. Byers: The hon. Gentleman raises the important question of what would happen if Corus proceeded with the plans that it announced today. I hope that the House will be united in sending Corus the clear message that we want it to reconsider, but, as I said in my statement, if it fails to do so we shall need to work alongside the individuals and communities affected by the decision.

We need to ensure that regeneration measures and job creation programmes are supported, and we shall certainly do that. We will not walk away from the difficulties being experienced by those individuals and communities.

The hon. Gentleman raises United Kingdom employment law. Of course the European works council provisions apply to Corus as a company that operates in two European Union countries. There are signs that the European works council provisions are perhaps not working as effectively as they should, and the Government will certainly want to consider that.

The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that, only last week, in the light of events that occurred elsewhere, I announced that we would consult the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry on our domestic information and consultation arrangements. We have already had first meetings with both organisations, and I hope that we can make progress with those discussions as quickly as possible.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil): Labour Members are shocked by the fury that my right hon. Friend is expressing and the way in which Corus has sidelined the Government and rejected out of hand the offers of assistance and support that have been proffered. Will he tell the House of the discussions that he has had with Corus and the attitude that the company has adopted towards him? I think that it would be instructive for the House to appreciate the manner in which the company behaves.

Will my right hon. Friend, in considering what we do next, try to impress on Corus that if it is not prepared to save the jobs, it should try to save the plant so that others can take on the responsibility of steel making. Then, if and when we join the euro and our circumstances change dramatically, we will be able to take advantage of new market conditions and new industrial opportunities which many of us see as the future for our country?

Mr. Byers: There have been numerous meetings with the company and with the chief executive since the review

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started at the beginning of December. However, the chief executive indicated very early in those discussions that a package of measures to assist the company would not be enough to remedy its underlying problems as he saw them.

My hon. Friend will also be aware that, at the end of last week, there was an approach by those representing the work force at Llanwern about the possibility of taking over the plant and operating it themselves. As I understand it, Corus has dismissed that possibility because it does not want someone to be competing against it in the market. That was the company's reason, and I hope that it will reconsider that approach. If the work force genuinely feel that they can take over the plant and make it run profitably--we have seen at Tower colliery, in south Wales, that it can be done--I hope that Corus will give the idea proper and detailed consideration.

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