Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Alan Howarth indicated dissent.

Mr. Llwyd: The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but there we are.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Llwyd: I am sorry, but no. The hon. Gentleman has not taken part in the debate.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith) offered his usual bluster. Of course we sympathise with the people who have lost jobs. We do not lay all the blame on the Government, but we do consider that the Government acted too slowly. The hon. Gentleman referred to the unfortunate failure of the ISTC buy-out. There is no argument about the fact that everyone was disappointed about that.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent as usual referred to Nye Bevan. The subliminal message is that the hon. Gentleman might be as good one day. I rather doubt that.

The hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) looked at the wider issue of political donations, and the mire of political sleaze in Scotland. It is bad down here, and pretty bad up there. We can see that every day, and it is very worrying. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that we should examine business links, which do no person or party any favours. We urgently need full, thorough and public investigations into that matter, and into the general subject of the debate. We must ensure that similar things do not happen in the future.

The hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) referred to the explosion at the Port Talbot plant. All hon. Members sympathise with the families of the bereaved, and with those who were badly injured. The investment of £75 million by Corus is most welcome, but it was an insurance payout. That means that the company did not dig into its reserves, but I hope—and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does too—that there will be more investment.

The hon. Member for Aberavon has been in the House a relatively short time, but he has sadly become rather tribal. I counted the number of times that he found fault with everyone, although he made it clear that he thinks that the Labour Government are doing perfectly well. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman has been sucked into the system, which is a shame. I used to think that he was an independent thinker. The hon. Gentleman did not deal with the Mittal affair. He is a clever man, but he had no answers to the questions that have been posed. In the circumstances, it was sensible of him to avoid the matter so assiduously.

The hon. Member for Aberavon referred to the Prime Minister being opposed to tariffs. When did he start being opposed to tariffs? This week. When is the announcement to be made? Tomorrow. That is not very good stewardship of the economy or the country; it is very poor. It has been known since July of last year that the section 201 application was likely to be processed. This week, of all times, the Prime Minister's website says that he has warned—"warned", my God—President Bush.

5 Mar 2002 : Column 205

The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), reading from a brown paper envelope—no smear intended—referred to the agony of redundancy, with which we all sympathise. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) made some good points about accepting large donations from industry. He, too, probably believes that it is time to consider the matter dispassionately, not today but in another forum. I sympathise about what happened at Bryngwyn, and I was also on the Welsh Affairs Committee at the time. As he said, when big business makes a payment, it is looking for something. However, he did not ask what Mr. Mittal was looking for. I would ask that question.

I made the point about the French company being more British than the one that was backed. I also want to refer to Ispat's attempt to purchase the Irish plant. That was disgraceful, and, oddly, in 1995, the Department of Trade and Industry objected to it on the basis that it would be against the interests of British industry. Now, however, it apparently has full support.

This is our first opportunity to have a full parliamentary debate on this subject. The Prime Minister should rightly be here to reply. He should not have given a hospital pass to the Secretary of State for Wales. The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions had to come here to explain himself. Why cannot the Prime Minister make time to do so? He makes time to go everywhere else in the world.

One or two questions remained unanswered about the United States tariffs. Mr. Mittal paid £400,000 to put up those tariffs against British steel interests. United Kingdom taxpayers' money was actively being used to undermine UK steel jobs at the same time as Corus was rapidly going down. At the same time, by a happy coincidence, £125,000 was donated to Labour. We remember the Ecclestone affair, the Hindujas, Mr. Mandelson and Mr. Vaz—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must refer correctly to Members of the House.

Mr. Llwyd: I refer to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) and the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). The others are not yet Members; no doubt they will be parachuted in when they have paid enough.

I shall quote from the final sentence of an early-day motion tabled by the Minister for Europe when he was in opposition. It states that the House

That sums up the present position.

6.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): Before the debate began, Plaid Cymru was complaining to the press and others that Wales Office Ministers were being put up to answer the debate today. They did not want my right hon. Friend or me to take part. Apparently, Welsh Ministers are not good enough for the so-called party of Wales.

5 Mar 2002 : Column 206

The debate has shown that at least Labour Members have a real interest in the future of the steel industry, since they, like me, represent steel workers. It has also shown that the issues that affect steel are common throughout the United Kingdom and the European Union, and that whingeing is no substitute for policies—a fact which, sadly, the nationalists have still not learned.

We have heard some very good and important contributions, such as that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth), who dealt extremely well with the history of the Government's support and efforts to persuade Corus not to make people redundant. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) warned us of the dangers of economic nationalism, and he was right to do so. He argued that the Sidex sale to Mittal would not hit British jobs saying that the argument that it would was flimsy, and I agree with him in that respect. He also pointed out the importance of the issue of political donations, and I remind him and the House that the Labour party legislated to make them transparent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith) asked where the nationalists were when we were trying to defend steelworkers and keep their jobs. We did not see them. We supported the steelworkers all along the line and we certainly supported the attempt by the ISTC union to buy the Llanwern steelworks. I was with my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent when we met Sir Brian Moffat of Corus and tried to persuade him to change his mind. He would have none of it. He was determined not to sell the Llanwern steelworks to the ISTC because, as my hon. Friend said, that would increase competition for him. My hon. Friend has a staunch record as a defender of his community, and we have seen that again this evening. The hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) also made a contribution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) welcomed the Government's stance on steel tariffs and the Americans. I have no doubt that the Government will reinforce their position at every opportunity. He also referred to attempts by the ISTC to buy Llanwern steelworks. He rightly derided as irrelevant the nationalists' attempt to link the donation from Mr. Mittal to the Prime Minister's letter to the Romanian Prime Minister. He spoke about our steel heritage but he also stressed the importance of a modern Wales. He spoke legitimately as a Member representing a steel area—a steel town that has produced steel for the last 100 years.

The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin)—the Tories have formed a new alliance—congratulated Plaid Cymru on securing this debate. He clearly demonstrated that there are close links between the two conservative parties in Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) paid tribute to the efforts made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon following the awful tragedy at Port Talbot steelworks. He also strongly attacked the nationalists and the Tories for their smears—their trademark throughout. It is a travesty of history to say that the job losses at Corus are the responsibility of this Government. We have done everything possible to prevent those job losses. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower spoke movingly of his efforts and those of his colleague in the Welsh Assembly to try to avoid the closure of the works at Bryngwyn.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said that Corus's difficulties had been known about for years, and asked what the Government were

5 Mar 2002 : Column 207

doing. All I can do is refer to his remarks at a meeting of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, when he said to Sir Brian Moffat:

That is what we were doing in the two years before Corus announced the job losses.

The remarks made by the hon. Members for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) and for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) were very similar. The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr said that the Prime Minister had asked the Romanians to sell the Sidex plant to Mr. Mittal. That is not true. He went on to say that this Government had given financial support to Mr. Mittal to buy a steelworks in Kazakhstan. That is not true. He went on to say that there had been a late bid by the French to acquire the Sidex steel plant, but that is not the case. He went on to accuse one of the Prime Minister's staff, Jonathan Powell, of amending a letter, but that is not the case either. For good measure, the hon. Gentleman then decided to impugn the integrity of our ambassador in Romania. That is the level that we have come to expect of the hon. Gentleman's contributions.

Next Section

IndexHome Page