Letter: Government abandons British Steel

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The Independent Online
Sir: Tim Sainsbury, the Minister for Industry, astounded the Commons when he accepted he had not stood up for British interests when it came to the levying of fines on British Steel by the European Commission (report, 17 February).

Having privatised steel and brought to an end the ideological argument as to whether it should be in the public or private sector, having witnessed the loss of 100,000 jobs and the shedding of twice the capacity of the rest of Europe's steel makers, having ended the subsidy, the Government has sat back while subsidies and overcapacity have continued in Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

The Government says that it wishes to be at the heart of Europe, yet it makes no effort with the European Commission when it comes to protecting the British steel industry. Foreign governments, meanwhile, ensure that a further pounds 5bn of subsidies will continue for their steel industries, which continue to produce their excess capacity.

The British government likes to talk tough in the House of Commons to sway its own Euro-doubters, but in the Commission, as in the Council of Europe, the Government is curiously slow in coming forward and seems to feel that, having abandoned the industry to the private sector, it can now abandon it to the dictates of the European Commission, which has fined the more successful steel companies, in the knowledge that they will pay should they lose on appeal.

The Government says that it wants full and fair application of the European Commission's competition rules but knows that in state-owned industries it will be the taxpayer who will have to pay any fines, while in our own country it will be the shareholder and workforce who have struggled so long and accepted so much sacrifice, to make their industry the most efficient.

Yours faithfully,

STUART BELL

MP for Middlesbrough (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

17 February

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