Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am afraid not.
The conduct of the Government has achieved the opposite effect: a persistent scandal and the loss of public trust. I note that the chair of the Labour party has said that
"those who do contribute overwhelmingly do so because of their desire to promote the values of the party they support".
It is interesting to note the choice of language there: "overwhelmingly", for example. The right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) clearly does not deny that some businesses try to buy access and action. In Mr. Mittal's case, it would surely be stretching credibility to suggest that he woke up one day and decided that he was a socialist.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn):
Now that the hon. Gentleman has moved away from the subject of the steel industry and is talking about donations, I will give him the opportunity to answer this question. Has his party received a donation from an individualyes or no?
I shall let the hon. Gentleman into a secret. I gave the party about £900 myself last week.
Mr. Mittal operates in countries with some of the worst[Interruption.]
Several hon. Members
I shall give way to the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick).
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Prime Minister went out of his way to support a foreign company in deliberately undermining the Welsh steel industry for a measly £125,000? [Interruption.]
I think I am getting somewhere here. Well done! Congratulations to the hon. Gentleman.
In 1998, Mr. Mittal was involved in a political corruption scandal in Indonesiareported by the Financial Timessurrounding the privatisation of the former state-owned Krakatau Steel in west Java, under the Suharto Government. The former president of the board of directors of Krakatau Steel resigned in protest at what
5 Mar 2002 : Column 163
he called the mysterious way in which the sale was handled. As with the Romanian deal, the allegations centred on the under-valuation of the company and the secrecy surrounding the deal.
Ispat bought a 55 per cent. stake in the company for $400 million, even though the directors of the company had negotiated the sale of a 25 per cent. stake to another company for $500 million. The directors were not consulted on the sale and, as in Romania, no one was ever allowed to see the contract, which according to a Financial Times report, was "pocketed" by the privatisation Minister, Tanri Abeng. The deal later unravelled when Abeng was indicted for corruption in two other privatisations. The clear implication was that Ispat had bribed Mr. Abeng into accepting their lower-value bid for Krakatau.
In November, while Mr. Mittal was busy lobbying for tariffs against imports to the United Statesagainst the interests of the British steel industryhe applied for his Mexican subsidiary to be exempted. To say that this man was two-faced would be a gross understatement, but one of his faces would certainly be the unacceptable face of globalisation, involving business without passports, without borders and without principles, and with little commitment either to the country where he was born or to the country where he lives.
Mr. Mittal is a lobbyist for tariffs, and a lobbyist against the British in Bucharest. He is an Indian in Algeria, where he bought the state-owned steel complex with diplomatic support from New Delhi, two weeks after the Sidex signing in London. He is a Republican donor in Washington, and a socialist firebrand in Hampstead, or so we are led to believe. Throughout all this, he is a man who knows the value of money.
As the London correspondent of The Times of India has said of Mr. Mittal's donation:
"He gave it to get exactly what he wanted, and they"
the Labour Party
"took it for the same reason."
It is clear from the way Mr. Mittal operates on a global scale that his donation was clearly designed to win favour with the UK Government at a critical time during the Sidex negotiations. The evidence for that may be circumstantial, but it is powerfully persuasive.
Mr. Mittal got what he wanted. I am prepared to accept that there may be an entirely innocent explanation for the Government's acquiescence in his demands. The problem is that we have yet to hear a convincing explanation. If a Minister backs a firm for a string of reasons and it happens to be a Labour donor, who can ever prove what was uppermost in the Minister's mind? The problem with this case is that the string of reasons has evaporated into thin air. We cannot know for certain whether anyone in this affair has committed a conscious act of corruption as a direct result of improper influence. This probably did notprobably did notinvolve anything so overt as a crude pay-off, but something much more insidious: a culture in which business supporters of a projectto use new Labour phraseologyare not subject to the basic checks that would otherwise set the alarm bells ringing.
We can be certain of one thingthis affair will continue to poison the Government's relations with the steel industry, will corrode public confidence in the
5 Mar 2002 : Column 164
political process and will undermine the Government's standing and the Prime Minister's personal integrity at home and abroad as long as the questions go unanswered.
The British people, not least the redundant steel workers from the Secretary of State's constituency, are owed an explanation and an apology from their Government. In refusing to answer questions, in refusing an inquiry, in making a series of false and inaccurate statements, in putting up a Minister today who has no responsibility for what was done nor for what can be done, the Government have shown their contempt for democracy, for the steel industry and for the people of the UK.
The Government are running out of time and excuses. [Interruption.] With all due respect, the 3,000 redundant steel workers are not laughing tonight. Unless the Government answer the charges against them and the steel industry's calls for support, they will be held in contempt by the British peoplein this case, a contempt, I regret to say, that will be richly deserved.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy):
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"recognises the fundamental strengths of the British steel industry, which is amongst the most efficient in the world; believes that, despite the regrettable decision of Corus to cut UK steel capacity, the industry has a long term future in Britain, as recently demonstrated by the decision of Corus to invest in the Port Talbot works; further recognises that the success of economic restructuring in Central and Eastern Europe, together with the enlargement of the European Union, is essential for the future of the British steel industry and other British manufacturing as it will extend markets and reduce hidden subsidies; congratulates the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for its work on restructuring the Romanian and other Eastern European companies, including through supporting the successful sale of the SIDEX steel corporation; and further welcomes measures put in place by the Government and the National Assembly for Wales to train and retrain former steel workers and regenerate communities affected by Corus job losses.".
It is good to see right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches for a debate on Welsh matters; I wish we could see them a little more often. Plaid Cymru has the chance once a year to bring a Ministerme, or anyone else; all Ministers represent the Governmentto the Dispatch Box to answer for Government policy, especially as it applies to Wales. Plaid Cymru wants to separate Wales from the rest of the United Kingdom, so presumably its interest lies in how these matters affect Wales.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy):
We will come to that in a minute. The hon. Gentleman should not be so flippant, because the essence of this debate is Romania.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney):
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I shall give way in a few moments.
We could be debating the health service, days after the opening of the first new hospital in Cardiff in three decades. We could be debating education and how we can
5 Mar 2002 : Column 165
build on our record exam results. [Interruption.]
That does not prevent the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) from talking about health or education matters in Welsh questions. We could be debating pensioner povertya real and genuine problem in Walesand how we can build on the success of the minimum income guarantee. We could even be debating transport and how we can speed the recovery of our railways in Wales from the disastrous privatisation forced on them by the Tories. But we are debating none of those matters today. Instead, whether the Opposition like it or not, we are debating the Romanian steel industry and its impact in terms of the development of Europe.
Plaid Cymru often claimsindeed, it has done so for many yearsthat it is a truly internationalist party. It says that it wants to see Wales in Europe and that Britainit has discovered Britain in the last couple of weekshas nothing to do with that scenario. It wants to create what is termed "a Europe of the regions", stretching from the Urals in the east to County Cork in the west. Now we know the truth: its internationalism stops at the River Wye. It wants the economies of eastern Europe to remain stuck in the Soviet era, rather than having a reasonable chance of competing, like other European countries.