The speech made by Nia Griffith, the Labour MP for Llanelli, in the House of Commons on 7 November 2023.
Even if we were not expecting a great deal, the King’s Speech is even more disappointing than we could have imagined. It is weak, empty and full of platitudes. To make matters worse, it builds on a very poor track record.
The Government say that they want to create growth in the economy, but there is nothing in the King’s Speech to explain how. Their track record is abysmal. They have completely failed over 13 years to get any proper growth in the economy. Wages have stagnated while inflation has skyrocketed, leaving people struggling in a massive cost of living crisis.
Creating growth in the economy really matters. It is about people having good jobs and wages that keep pace with inflation, and it is about our having the money to invest in improving our sorely overstretched public services. Labour would prioritise growth and invest in the green jobs of the future. That is why we need a change of Government, a Labour Government, and we need that change urgently.
We saw just last week how big international companies are now making their investment decisions for the future. Although other countries are wooing companies for their investment in the green jobs of the future, this Conservative Government are letting down workers who worked hard, often in difficult circumstances, during covid and adapted rapidly to change.
Take steel, which is a vital foundation industry. For years, this Conservative Government have been half-hearted in their support for the steel industry. They have failed to tackle the high energy prices that make our steel uncompetitive, and they have failed to invest in the future. Worse, there are 20-plus projects across Europe looking at how to decarbonise the blast furnace process, but there is not one project in the UK.
The Conservative Government, in their so-called big announcement back in September, promised only £0.5 billion to invest in an electric arc furnace in Port Talbot, whereas Labour has recognised and committed £3 billion to decarbonise the steel industry. That is the sort of investment needed to get the necessary technologies to green the blast furnace process. Yes, we need electric arc furnaces to recycle more of the 800 million tonnes of steel that are currently exported for recycling, but we also need to develop the necessary technology to transform the blast furnace process for extracting iron from iron ore.
Just yesterday, we heard the dreadful news that the Chinese-owned British Steel is closing down blast furnace steel production in Scunthorpe, replacing it with two electric arc furnaces. This comes hot on the heels of the devastating news in south-west Wales this past week that Tata Steel is planning to close down the blast furnaces at Port Talbot by the spring of next year, long before the electric arc furnace will be operational. This means a massive loss of income for thousands of workers and their families, and for the associated contractors, transport companies and businesses in the community. This affects not just Port Talbot but the whole of south-west Wales.
Workers are fearful for the future of the Trostre tinplate works in my constituency. Trostre needs steel of a quality that can currently be produced only by the blast furnace process. We have assurances that, when the blast furnaces in Port Talbot close, Tata will import steel from abroad to feed Trostre. But it makes no sense to lose all those jobs here in the UK and then to import steel made in blast furnaces abroad, quite likely with much lower environmental standards than our own. That does nothing to cut emissions.
Furthermore, if we lose the means to produce virgin steel in this country, we will be at the mercy of other countries for the price we have to pay. If there is a world shortage, we may even not be able to get the steel we need for our vital industries. The fear at Trostre is about the medium and long-term future. If we no longer have steel produced just down the railway track in Port Talbot, and if we have to import it from abroad, how economically viable will we be in comparison with competitor factories in the same company elsewhere?
Tata’s timescale to close down the blast furnaces in Port Talbot by March next year has come as a massive shock for Port Talbot and for us in Trostre. The prospect of Port Talbot colleagues losing jobs and Trostre becoming dependent on imported steel is very worrying. We now need proper consultation between Tata and the unions, but I also urge the Government to do everything possible to ensure that we keep steel production in this country.
We are at a turning point in our industrial history but, with this Government, we are in very real danger of being left behind. It is as if they are turning back to the horse and cart when everybody else is moving on to the steam train. I am sure many Members will remember the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony in which, alongside the celebration of our NHS, we saw a portrayal of the industrial revolution, for which the UK is globally renowned. Just as we took the lead on that industrial revolution, we should be leading the way now on the green industrial revolution. But with this Government we are not—we are being left behind.
I have met representatives of international companies that have factories in the Llanelli constituency, and they are desperate to see cheaper energy and a proper industrial strategy from this Government. Car manufacturers and others are making crucial decisions about where to invest in new production lines and to build new factories. They recognise the loyalty of the workforce in Llanelli and other parts of the UK, who have adapted to many changes over the years, and they would be keen to invest. However, when companies have factories spread across the globe, and they see the USA offering incentives through its Inflation Reduction Act and the EU with similar programmes, and they compare the cheaper energy prices in competitor countries and the proper industrial strategies in other countries, but see nothing coming from the UK Government, will it be any surprise if they choose to invest elsewhere? We will be left just with the current production lines limping along until their products are no longer required, while the shiny new factories will go elsewhere.
There is no time to waste. The rest of the world is forging ahead with the green industrial revolution and they are not going to wait for the UK Government when other countries are providing real incentives, as well as cheaper energy. It is all very well mentioning growth in the King’s Speech, but we absolutely need to see some flesh on the bones.
This Conservative Government’s reference to energy in the King’s Speech beggars belief. While the rest of the world is going forward, making huge investment in green energies and technologies, we see the UK Government going backwards, promoting the issuing of more oil and gas licences, which, by the Government’s own admission, will not bring down energy bills for consumers. We have huge potential in the UK to produce cheap energy through renewables, slashing prices for households, businesses and industry, while also cutting our emissions to zero—this is a win-win situation. We have huge potential for wind energy, both onshore and offshore, and some of the highest tidal ranges in the world, with capacity around the UK to produce electricity 24/7, not to mention the potential for wave technologies, hydro and solar. By fast-tracking the development of renewables, we can both slash domestic energy bills and fuel a new green industrial revolution, with a massive roll-out of energy.
That is precisely what we in the Labour party intend to do. We have a plan to supercharge investment in renewables, including with the creation of GB Energy. However, we are seeing an abject failure by this Conservative Government to develop renewables. What do we see on renewable energy in the King’s Speech? The Government are going to “seek to attract” investment in renewables. That went well in the Celtic sea offshore energy auction, didn’t it? Not a single bid was made because the Government failed to respond to the companies’ pointing out that inflation was driving up costs. The Republic of Ireland recognised the problem and got a successful auction; we got not one single bid, but it got a successful auction. The Government have to do better than just trying to attract investment.
Of course, that comes on top of years of banning the development of onshore wind in England and a failure to lift that ban properly; stalling on solar; shilly-shallying and then cancelling the electrification of the south Wales mainline to Swansea; and long waits for connections to the grid. In contrast, Labour has a plan to supercharge investment in renewables. Time is of the essence, and I urge the Government to do much more to develop renewables, to develop an industrial strategy and to invest. That would give companies real incentives and the certainty that they need to invest in green jobs in the UK. Sadly, this Government’s record is abysmal, which is why we desperately need a change and the hope that a Labour Government could bring by investing in the jobs of the future, fast-tracking the development of renewables, improving our NHS, increasing opportunities for our young people and making our streets safer. That is why I urge the Prime Minister to think again about his King’s Speech and to put more in it to provide the investment that we need. If he cannot do that, we need change and we need an election as soon as possible.