|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
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 waysa 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 Parliamentobviously with family-friendly hourswhen 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.
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.
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 UnderSecretary 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 wasperhaps 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 issuethe 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 matterhe 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 thatat 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 BritishI 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 industryGraham 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
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 productionit is formerly state-ownedis 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 decisionwhich he must make by Wednesday under the section 201 inquiryand 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.
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