Business Minister Anna Soubry accused Liberal Democrat Sir Vince Cable, Business Secretary in the Coalition Government, of not doing enough to support the sector.
But Lib Dem leader Tim Farron described the allegations as “rubbish” and claimed Sir Vince had played a leading role in defending the Redcar steelworks which subsequently closed last year.
The former coalition partners traded blows as Tata Steel workers waited to hear the outcome of a board meeting at the Indian parent company in Mumbai.
Trade union officials were in India to hold talks with Tata representatives amid concerns about the company’s UK plans.
The future of the Port Talbot works, in South Wales, was of particular concern while workers were also looking for clarity over the company’s commitment to the Rotherham and Stocksbridge operations.
Workers at the company’s Scunthorpe plant were also awaiting news of the proposed deal to sell the operation to Greybull Capital.
The deal was supposed to be completed by the end of March but last week Tata Steel insisted there was no deadline and the company was “working towards clinching a deal.”
The Government has repeatedly been accused of failing to do enough to support the UK steel industry after series of job losses and the high profile closure of the Redcar works.
Ms Soubry said today that the Government was prepared to consider “all options” to preserve steelmaking at Port Talbot.
Asked about the action taken by Sir Vince in office, she added: “I think Vince could have done more, yes. Sorry, but that is my view. We were in a coalition then.”
She continued: “When I was appointed the Prime Minister specifically said to me, ‘we know we have some very real problems in our steel industry and I want you to devote a large amount of your time to solving those problems as much as you can’.”
Sir Vince hit back, insisting Ms Soubry was “passing the buck”.
“In Government I worked to secure financial compensation to help support the industry and visited the Port Talbot steelworks on a number of occasions, where just a few years ago Tata Steel installed a new blast furnace”, he said.
“Since the Conservatives have been in government alone they have taken their eye off the industrial strategy we set out in Coalition. This risks undermining business confidence and investment.
“The Government must now seek to restore that confidence and work with Tata Steel to resolve this.”
Steelworkers and companies repeated their calls for more action to tackle cheap Chinese steel imports and high energy costs which have been blamed for thousands of job cuts.
Harish Patel, national officer for the Unite union, said: ““We would urge the UK government to take a more interventionist approach in securing the future of Port Talbot and steelmaking across the UK. The Scottish government did so last week and secured the future of two steel plants in Lanarkshire.
“The UK government must learn for the Scottish government and avoid another Redcar, where leaving it too long saw a national asset closed. Ministers need to rule nothing out in supporting a key foundation industry, including temporary nationalisation should the need arise.”