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Ian Lucas (Wrexham): The letter written by the Prime Minister was requested by an independent civil servant, the British ambassador to Romania. Is not that the key fact in all this? Is the hon. Gentleman suggestingit is important to be clear about thisthat that gentleman was in some way acting at the behest of the Labour party? Will he make that clear?
Adam Price: We are familiar with this Government's strategy of heaping blame on officials when events turn against them and when information comes out that contradicts Government statements. The way in which Her Majesty's ambassador in Bucharest has been treated as the fall guy is appalling. If the hon. Gentleman is seriously suggesting that a member of the diplomatic service would take it on himself to have dozens of meetings with a business man without checking for ministerial approval, his understanding of the operations of the British state is different from mine.
Mark Tami: Has the hon. Gentleman seen the comments of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, the main union in the steel industry, praising the British Government for their fight against any American protectionist measures? Would it not be better if we concentrated on those issues, the real issues facing the steel industry, instead of this nonsense?
Adam Price: I will come on to the United States, as Mr. Mittal has clearly had a role to play there. I am not an apologist for the management of Corus, which has treated its workers appallingly, not least in the latest pay freeze.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Now that I get a sense of the general thrust of the hon. Gentleman's comments, will he, for my clarification, answer the following question? Has Plaid Cymru, at any stage in its history or, let us say, in the last 10 years, promoted a political point or campaign on behalf of an individual or organisation who has given a donation to Plaid Cymru?
Adam Price: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his robust opposition to the Government, once again. For a new Member, he is a fine example of an Opposition Member who scrutinises the Executive without fail at every available opportunity.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) mentioned the United States. Of course, we know that Mr. Mittal has spent $600,000 in the USA lobbying for tariffs on steel imports. Mr. Mittal's closure in Ireland has already cost British steel companies millions of pounds in its knock-on effect on credit availability. Crucially, Mr. Mittal's Sidex plant, funded by the British taxpayer, is a prime example of the problems of the steel industry: an eastern European steel maker is selling steel in western European markets, subsidised in this case by the British taxpayer.
The balance of trade in steel has collapsed in the past five years, under this Government. A surplus of 2.8 million tonnes in 1997 turned into a deficit of 1.2 million tonnes last year. That is part of the wider meltdown of manufacturing under this Government. For the first time, the amount of steel contained in manufactured goods imported into the UK is now greater than the amount that we are producing. It is no longer enough for the Government to shrug their shoulders, point to global overcapacity in the steel industry or blame the Corus management, as if Governments are now powerless to intervene to save jobs or support indigenous industry. The Government, as the Secretary of State admitted during Thursday's Welsh debate, could have opposed the merger of British Steel and Hoogovens and referred the matter to the competition directorate, as my party demanded in June 1999. The Government refused to consider that and told us that the jobs at Llanwern were safe. I recall the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation saying something similar. The Government could have intervened in the currency markets to bring about a more competitive exchange rate.
The Government's policy of a high pound has led to a loss of more than £3 billion in export earnings over the past five years for the British steel industry. They could have found a Longbridge-type solution to the problems of Corus in south Wales, even supporting compulsory purchase as a last resort. Perhaps the problem is that Torfaen is not a marginal constituency whereas Birmingham, Edgbaston isat least, Torfaen is not marginal yet.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman has yet addressed the question asked of him by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). Has Plaid Cymru ever taken up the interest of someone who has made it a financial contribution? If he will not answer, we must assume that the answer is yes.
Adam Price: I am disappointed in the hon. Gentleman. As he is vice-chairman of the steel group, I should have hoped that he would use his valuable opportunity to address the concerns of the steel industry.
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): My hon. Friend is making a comprehensive case for why the Prime Minister should have spent more than 30 seconds reading the Mittal letter. Does he feel that the Prime Minister should spend more time on such matters than he takes to choose his shirt in the morning? Will he address the point made
Lembit Öpik: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) to make accusations about individuals who are not in a position to justify themselves in a debate that has nothing to do with the police investigations into Mike German?
Mr. Speaker: The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) made an attack on a political party on a matter that has occurred outside the House. So far, he is in order, but I think that his intervention has ceased.
Rather than making half-hearted and empty gestures late in the day, in order to deflect criticism of his Government's double standards and inaction over the past eight months, the Prime Minister should have announced an emergency package of contingency measures to safeguard the future of the steel industry. We have known for eight months that tariffs were coming. Where have the Government been? Where has the Prime Minister been?
The effect of the tariffs could be devastating, not just because of the loss of a market that was worth up to £500 million two years ago, but because a surge of cheap imports frozen out of the American market will flood western Europe, particularly the United Kingdom. That is where the Government should be concentrating their efforts. It will not be enough to do as the Secretary of State has said and refer the matter to the World Trade Organisationit could take years to receive an answer from that, and by then the British steel industry could be devastated. We need action now. We need a targeted package of measures and we need the Government to lobby the European Union in the strongest possible terms to introduce EU-wide tariffs against dumping by low-cost producers.
In addition, the European coal and steel treaty is currently being renegotiated, and we need to reconsider whether the steel industry should receive targeted Government support in the form of investment aid under the new terms of that treaty.
There were many factors that should have led to extreme caution being exercised and a thorough evaluation taking place before any help was given to Mr. Mittal, whether in the form of the Prime Minister's imprimatur or the loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. There was no evidence of caution or evaluation; indeed, there was an almost reckless commitment of effort and resources. The full endorsement of the British state was given to Mr. Mittal. After the Ecclestone affair, it is surely vital for the Government to avoid even the faintest suspicion that British Government policy could be influenced by donations.