Cameron challenged by Welsh student over steel industry

Peter Gillibrand
Image caption 'I'm the president of the Welsh society and I'm sure you're aware where this is going....' - Peter Gillibrand to David Cameron

It has been a constant refrain since Tata Steel announced plans to sell off its UK operations: if the banks can be bailed out, why can't the steel industry?

It's a question Peter Gillibrand put directly to the prime minister today. Peter is president of the Welsh society at Exeter University, which David Cameron was visiting on Thursday.

After thanking Mr Cameron for visiting, and a brief, jokey exchange about rugby, he asked: "Why didn't you bail out the steelworkers like you did with the bankers?"

The prime minister told him: "The bail-out question is an interesting one. If buyers need support, and there's commercial support that we can give, we're happy to look at that.

"There is a reason, in defence of the last Labour government, for supporting the banks when they got into difficulty, which is the difference between a bank and another business is if a bank goes bust and collapses it can actually take down a whole economy with it because of the special position banks have in terms of lending money to so many other businesses."

Mr Cameron claimed his government had changed banking regulation so that if a bank got into trouble in future it would be bailed out, not by the British public, but by its bondholders and shareholders (although the British public are major shareholders in some banks).

Mr Gillibrand, who is studying politics, philosophy and economics, was unimpressed: "Economics is hard. I do it as a degree. But when you have communities and South Wales thriving off the industry it seems ridiculous that we can't spend the little money it is to save British Steel.

"Or at least try harder to find a replacement for Tata Steel. We need to keep our industry strong."

'Resolution'

The prime minister also told him: "I want to support the steel industry, I want us to go on making steel in Scunthorpe and in Port Talbot in south Wales.

"We have seen a big reduction in the steel industry over many years and that's not surprising in a developed economy. But what we have left we should see as a strategic industry we should try and support."

He added: "I think we can get a resolution for Port Talbot but it is going to take a lot of work in the coming weeks and months."

There are other, less optimistic, views on Port Talbot's future. One Cardiff Business School professor has suggested closing the plant might be better than a slow death.