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All those cases might indeed be legitimate and above board, and I am not trying to suggest that any wrongdoing took place, but the perception is that something was not quite right. We should remember that this is the Government who were going to remove sleaze from politics, who were going to be whiter than white, who were going to clean up politics. They have had five years to do so, and the key question that must now be asked is this: what do such companies think they are getting in return for the money that they give to the Labour party? We have not received a satisfactory answer or explanation. Perhaps they are simply big investors in this socialistor third wayLabour party, but I suggest that it goes beyond that.
I agree with the warning from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) about the Labour party's business links. He is the one brave soul in the Labour ranks who has questioned the judgment of the Downing street aides who allowed the Prime Minister to sign the letter to his Romanian counterpart. The hon. Gentleman said:
Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon): As a representative of the steel constituency of Aberavon, I take this opportunity to thank on my constituents' behalf the Secretary of State for Wales, whose constituency of Torfaen is also a great steel constituency. He and the Labour First Minister of the Assembly have made great efforts to support the Welsh steel industry in the past year, which has arguably been the most difficult in our history since the war.
I also welcome the Government's commitment to referring the United States to the World Trade Organisation if it introduces steel tariffs. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should welcome that, and we should also welcome the support of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for the introduction of safeguards to ensure that steel currently sent to the US by non-EU countries is not dumped in the EU. Further to that, the House should demand that Corus in the USCorus Tuscaloosaunequivocally oppose US tariffs.
While my constituency has not borne the job losses experienced elsewhere in Wales, we have had our own terrible tribulations, with the tragedy on 8 November 2001, when the explosion at the No. 5 blast furnace in Port Talbot resulted in the deaths of three steelworkers. Thankfully, all the injured men have now been discharged from Morriston hospital, thanks to the dedication and skills of staff in the burns unit.
This debate affords those of us from steel communities the opportunity to review the very considerable efforts that have been made in the last year by the Labour Government and the Labour-led National Assembly in partnership with many bodies, including my own union, the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation.
The pretext for this debate, on the face of it, is one company and one political donation, but we believe that the real issues facing the industry, steelworkers and our communities are being addressed by the Labour Government in real, tangible and constructive ways. As secretary of the newly formed all-party parliamentary group on steel, I am well aware of the efforts made not only by our Labour Government here in Westminster, the
In my own constituency, we have the welcome news from Corus of the £75 million investment in rebuilding the No. 5 blast furnace. We also have the announcement by the Welsh Assembly of the establishment of an advanced technology centre at Port Talbot, which will bring together Government agencies and the very best applied research in our Welsh universities to drive forward innovation in the industry. We have the continuing very good progress of the new Baglan energy park, again through public and private social partnerships, notably with General Electric, the Welsh Development Agency and Neath Port Talbot county borough councila Labour authority that has been outstanding in its efforts to diversify the local economy. Next Monday, we launch our own Afan community credit union, with strong support from the ISTC and the Welsh Assemblyyet another example of how we are getting on with the job of rebuilding and serving our steel communities.
Across Wales, great efforts have been made by the main steel union, ISTC, and all the other unions in the industry, Steel Partnership Training, UK Steel Enterprises and Steel Action. All those bodies have placed great emphasis on the acquisition of new skills and new learning opportunities. I am proud to say that one such initiative, the newly formed Port Talbot union academy, links into the new local community learning network in my constituency, established through objective 1 funding, which our Government achieved.
Too many Opposition politicians tend to undervalue the efforts and achievements of the past year. Who on the Opposition Benches applauds my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith), who has consistently championed the steelworkers of Ebbw Vale? In the wake of the redundancy announcement last year, through his efforts and the efforts of Lord Brookman of Ebbw Vale, as well as those of the local Labour Assembly Member, Peter Law, and the Labour authority, we have the reopening of the passenger train service to Ebbw Vale and the new UK steel enterprise innovation centre. The new centre will be launched at Victoria, near Ebbw Vale, at a cost of £3 million, to assist local start-up enterprises.
It is clear that steel and manufacturing are still major players in the Welsh economy. Manufacturing accounts for more than 18 per cent. of employment in Wales. Corus has made it clear to our Government that Wales is now a place where world-class steel production can take place and says that it is committed to achieving that.
Much has been done in the past year that deserves praise. The Prime Minister and other Ministers supported the attempted ISTC workers' buy-out at Llanwern. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister have all been unequivocal in their condemnation of possible US tariffs on British steel exports. The possible announcement tomorrow of such tariffs will add to the existing difficulties faced by large companies such as Corus. They have already identified issues relating to tax, transport and energy costs, which they consider to be challenges for them, and the imposition of a US tariff would only add to those problems.
It would be appropriate for this debate to focus on those challenging issues rather than the irrelevance of trying to link political donations to the Government's policies. As internationalists, and as supporters of European enlargement and the modernisation of the global steel industry, we should be proud of what our Government are doing in Westminster and Cardiff.
I trust that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will convey to both the Prime Minister and Mr. Mittal our expectations that every effort should continue to be made to prevent such tariffs from being introduced. That should be done in the spirit of extending and strengthening our Government's commitment to developing corporate social responsibility.
I arranged for the all-party steel group to write to Mr. Mittal last week urging him to support the aims of our group, in particular our desire to ensure a fair deal for the UK steel industry and to aid the regeneration of steel and former steel communities.
I find it encouragingindeed, propheticthat the rugby sides enjoying success this year are from the great south Wales steel towns of Aberavon, Newport, Pontypool and Ebbw Vale. Unlike Opposition Members, we can speak legitimately for steel communities and former steel communities in Wales and throughout the United Kingdom. We are proud of what our party in government is doing to address the serious challenges facing our industry. That is why Labour Members took the initiative to establish the new all-party parliamentary group on steel, and I urge all Members, of whatever party, to assist us in our objectives of ensuring a fair deal for the UK steel industry.
This year, steelworkers in Port Talbot celebrate a centenary of steel making. The industry continues to be a very significant contributor to the economy of the region. It is my belief that Labour's policies assist, even in these most difficult times, in sustaining our steel communities and in assisting those who wish to develop new initiatives to achieve a more diverse local economy.
I shall end with the words of David Ferris, the chair of the unions at Port Talbot steelworks. We would all do well to listen to and show some respect for the steel unions. I only wish some partiesdaffodil Tories allhad done so after the explosion in Port Talbot. David Ferris said this to me yesterday: