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5.29 pm

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): I am glad that the hon. and new Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) is back in his place. As a fellow socialist parliamentarian and a fellow west Walian, may I add my words of warm congratulation on an excellent maiden speech? The hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) is not here, but he will know that the best intellectuals in the Labour movement have always come from west Wales. I am glad to see that that civilising missionary spirit is carried forth, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will endeavour to raise the consciousness of the Ogmore constituency Labour party for many years to come.

This is my maidenesque appearance in a Welsh day debate, which is an interesting if rather peculiar institution in some ways—a bit like this entire Parliament. The first Welsh affairs debate took place in 1944, and such debates became an annual event two years later, under a Labour Government. That was something of a sop at the time, although I do not wish to be in any way ungrateful for the opportunity that the debate gives us to discuss Wales affairs. Obviously, we are very grateful for every opportunity to raise issues of importance to Wales. The idea of having a Welsh day is slightly redolent of tokenism. Of course, every day needs to be a Welsh day, and we look forward to a time when we have a Welsh Parliament—obviously with family-friendly hours—when every day will indeed be a Welsh day.

One of Parliament's interesting conventions is that we are not allowed to see outside the Chamber, but it is fair to say that perhaps the media interest at United Kingdom level in this Welsh affairs debate may be rather less than we might have hoped.

Mr. Llwyd: It is limited.

Adam Price: Possibly, yes. In a sense, Welsh politics and affairs have been pushed to the periphery of interest by successive Governments. Hon. Members on both sides of the House would try to resist that kind of metropolitan centralism. [Interruption.] I shall gladly give way to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) if he has something of relevance or interest to say. I am only 60 seconds into my speech, and I shall try to get on to the matters of interest.

Of course, it is true to say that, during the past month, a Welsh story, broken by the Welsh media and by my party, has come to dominate the headlines throughout the

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United Kingdom. I certainly cannot remember the last time that a story made in Wales has come to dominate the news agenda in that way.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham): Does the hon. Gentleman think that the story dominated the headlines in Ogmore?

Adam Price: The hon. Gentleman is incisive as ever.

The story was originally published by the Western Mail four weeks ago today, and it has rightly been at the forefront of political debate in Wales. On that day, the Under–Secretary of State for Wales was involved in an interesting spat on the BBC. It was as poetic as ever, and I remember the phrase "maggots on the corpse". I am not sure what the corpse was—perhaps it was that of the Welsh Labour party, but I thought that that had a little bit of life left in it. I remember the prophetic words, "Adam, if you have any evidence of impropriety, then publish it." Four days later, we found the famous letter on the Romanian website, and I am sure that that will go down in history.

Clearly, there are two stories at the heart of that affair. The first is the set of circumstances surrounding the Government's support for the Sidex deal, and I shall concentrate on that. As the Secretary of State for Wales said, there will be an opportunity for further discussion, especially on the second issue—the cover-up. I do not want to try your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I have counted nine fundamentally untrue statements or misleading statements that have been made by the Prime Minister and his official spokesperson as a result of those allegations. Clearly, my party is focused on the significance of that for the Welsh steel industry.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman must choose his words carefully. I am not quite sure what he said a moment ago, but he should not accuse any Member of deliberately misleading the House. If he did, he should withdraw that remark.

Adam Price: I withdraw it if you advise me to do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Prime Minister's official spokesperson has made a slightly evasive and confused series of statements, but I shall not detain the House further. I am sure that there will be ample opportunity to discuss the matter on Tuesday night. The Secretary of State for Wales should not have to answer on the matter—he is an honest man whose commitment to support the steel industry is of long standing, and he was not consulted on the Sidex deal. In fact, as we know from the Minister for Europe, the only Minister who saw the letter was the Prime Minister. Surely, therefore, the Prime Minister should respond on behalf of the Government on Tuesday night. We look forward to that—at least, we live in hope. The message is, "Don't lose your idealism."

The Sidex deal was never in the national interest of Wales, the UK, or, indeed, the British—I have no problem with the word "British", as the Welsh and Cornish are the original Britons, are they not? The deal was never in the interests of the Welsh steel industry—Graham McKenzie commented to Scotland on Sunday that not only the plant in Romania but the plant in Kazakhstan owned by Mr. Mittal produce flat-rolled steel, which, of course, was produced in Llanwern and Ravenscraig. Therefore, Mittal's plants are competitors. Eastern European steel

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imports doubled in 1999–2000, and low-cost competition from eastern European steel producers is one of the core problems facing the UK steel industry. It was therefore never in our interests to support the deal.

The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) pointed out that a deal was going to happen anyway. In a sense, that is true, and many things are happening in the world that will be detrimental to the prospects for Welsh companies in a range of sectors. However, should our Government actively support such developments? Technically, one could argue that the Usinor deal would have been less damaging to our steel industry because, as we have heard, the company employs more people in the UK than Mittal. At least its profits are retained in the European Union, which has indirect benefits, and the main focus of Usinor's steel production—it is formerly state-owned—is in western Europe. It would not therefore be in Usinor's interests to flood western European markets with low-cost steel imports, which is what Mr. Mittal intends to do with his plants in Kazakhstan and Romania.

We should never have supported Mr. Mittal's acquisition of Sidex: quite apart from the Labour party's insensitivity in accepting a donation from a prominent competitor, jobs in the Welsh steel industry will be endangered. Subsequently, we learned about Mr. Mittal's lobbying efforts in the United States. We await President Bush's decision—which he must make by Wednesday under the section 201 inquiry—and we may know it by the time of the debate on Tuesday.

Why was it not possible to seek an undertaking from Mr. Mittal that he would desist from his lobbying efforts in the United States as part of the price of UK support in Romania? As I understand it, no such undertaking was given or sought. It is incumbent on the Government, because of their support for Mr. Mittal both in the letter that clinched the deal and the loan, to use the full power of the British state to introduce a package of measures to support our beleaguered steel industry if President Bush imposes tariffs.

Although the package of measures for steel communities is welcome, in terms of additional central Government money it is less than Mr. Mittal received from the British taxpayer to fund his acquisitions in Romania and Kazakhstan, for which he got £6 million and £14 million respectively. That is depressing.

Kevin Brennan: The hon. Gentleman is depressing.

Adam Price: It is depressing for all of us. I would support many aspects of the Labour tradition in Wales. I have always said that I feel like a prodigal son of the Labour party, which I am sure will disown me. I distinguish between the best traditions of the Labour movement in Wales and the way in which the leadership of new Labour have dealt with that issue. I know that privately many Labour Members have sympathy for that sentiment.

The affair has corroded public confidence in politics and we are left with a sobering insight into new Labour and its priorities. Does the Prime Minister care more about his billionaire friends, as the draft letter referred to Mr. Mittal, than the families in the steel communities that

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have loyally supported the Labour party for more than 100 years? Coming from a mining constituency, I know enough of the failings of old Labour in Wales. I certainly would not whitewash the Labour party's past, but at least there was a moral compass. It did not have an unblemished record, but it was possible to shine up the failings of the Labour party locally against its principles. The problem is that no one is clear about new Labour's principles and it is condemned by its actions. Its inability to realise or to admit what it has done wrong—it committed a grievous injustice to steel communities in south Wales—defines the ideological vacuum at the heart of the new Labour project.

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