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Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): The Secretary of State was not consulted about the matter under discussion, but he has looked into the mind of the Prime Minister and declared him to be innocent of any undue influence. Will the right hon. Gentleman look into the mind of Mr. Mittal for a few seconds? Given what we know about Mr. Mittal's global interest, why did he give £125,000 to the Labour party? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that was a matter of principle?
Mr. Murphy: I am not in the business of looking into people's minds. All I know is that the acquisition of Sidex had to be applauded by our Government and by other Governments in Europe. That is why the European loan was made. The EBRD press release about the acquisition of Sidex makes it clear that the European Union, the World Bank and the EBRD all agree the acquisition did the development of the Romanian economy nothing but good.
Of course, the principle that strong economies and trade are good for all of us is exactly why the European Union has an objective 1 programme. In my view, it is good that there are no nationalists in government in France or Germany: if there were, the chances of money coming to Wales would be zilch.
Pete Wishart (North Tayside): The question has been asked already, but did the Prime Minister know about the donation by Mr. Mittal of £125,000 to the Labour party? Did any Secretary of State, special adviser or civil servant know about it?
I wish to return to the question of whether the factors to which I have referred in some way affected the Welsh steel industry. About 18 months ago, we heard that there were to be dramatic changes to the Welshand Britishsteel industry, and to Corus. It fell to me, as Secretary of State for Wales, to have meeting after meeting with senior officials from Corus, including with its chairman and chief executive, Sir Brian Moffat. The meetings were held in my office, and were attended by other Ministers and people from the National Assembly.
Time after time, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked Corus what the Government could do to help the company out of its troubles. Time after time, the answer was, "Nothing. Absolutely nothing."
Mr. Blunt: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State, but I fear that, just now, he may inadvertently have misled the House. He said from the Dispatch Box that the Prime Minister has said, in terms, that he did not know that Mr. Mittal was a donor to the Labour party. I am not sure that the Prime Minister has said that. If the Prime Minister has not said, in terms, that he did not know about the donation, will you confirm that the Secretary of State will return to the House as soon as possible to put the record straight?
Mr. Murphy: The Conservatives are more interested in that than they are in the Welsh steel industry. As I have said, time after time, we had meetings with Corus, and, time after time, it said that the Government could not help. The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr talked about compulsory purchaseI assume that he means nationalisationbut it did not want that, and neither did we. All the time, we asked whether there was anything that we could do. Corus has denied that the Mittal situation had any effect. None of it had the slightest effect on Corus's decision to cut 3,000 jobs in Wales and 6,000 jobs in the United Kingdom as a whole.
There was nothing that the European Union could do because of strict regulations on state aid, all of which were examined. There is no question of Corus's decision being affected by anything other than the fact that it wanted to do what it eventually didshed those jobs. It blamed certain things such as the euro, and hon. Members might get involved in that argument. It also blamed over-capacity but, whatever the reasons, it did not blame Mittal.
Mr. Evans: It is important to clarify this point because I do not believe that the Prime Minister has ever denied that he knew that the £125,000 donation had been made. Has the Prime Minister ever stated that he did not know that that donation had been made before he signed the letter?
Some of my hon. Friends have referred to the Iron and Steel Trades Confederationsome Conservative Members referred to it disparagingly. However, it is the biggest steel trade union. Its general secretary stated:
Mr. Murphy: Of course. We might all be tempted to go down that line. The events of a previous Parliament make the subject of today's debate pale into insignificance. However, the jobs to which I referred are significant.
The Government remain implacably opposed to tariffs. The Prime Minister has made his views clear in a letter to and a conversation with President Bush. Of course, we understand that the US steel industry needs restructuring, but we believe that tariffs are against the interests of the European Union and Europe.
I represent a valleys constituency and, as has been mentioned, a steel seat. There are still steel jobs in my constituency, although, of course, many of them have been lost in the past few months. I did not read about the problems of the steel industry in a newspaper or see them on television. I have lived in steel communities in the Gwent valleys all my life. Last week, I visited Ebbw Valea great steel townwhere I worked for 17 years. The town has taken a real knock thanks to the closure of the steelworks, not because of Mittal but because of Corus's decision. However, the people have not given up. They are not quitters, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith)who was here this afternoonwill agree, there is as much dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit in Ebbw Vale as there is in many towns in England and Wales.
What the people of Ebbw Vale want from Government are not handouts or even expressions of sympathy, but the solid support needed to help them pick themselves up and get moving again. The Government and the Assembly are providing just that. We have a £32 million recovery package to assist the Gwent communities hit by the Corus decisions, and we are putting money into new training and retraining packages, with £1 million going into the Wales union learning fund.
In Ebbw Vale, the Assembly is putting in the money needed to reopen passenger train services and to establish the Ebbw Vale learning campus and create a centre of excellence. We are also providing assistance for the other communities that have been hit. For example, £4 million is going to the community in Bryngwyn.
Today, Plaid Cymru Members have ignored all that. They have not said a word about the regeneration of our steel communities. They are not interested in hearing good news stories about Wales. They ask for more money from
That will not wash, and it did not wash in Ogmore. Nobody is fooled. When all the dust has settled on this farrago of nonsense, one thing will be remembered: Plaid Cymru's rhetoric about internationalism has no weight, no sincerity and no credibility.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): I congratulate the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) on choosing this subject for the debate. There is no doubt that it is a matter of great importance not just to the steelworkers in Wales, but to steelworkers across the country and to everyone who cares about the probity and integrity of government.
The motion tabled by Plaid Cymru encapsulates the concerns of Conservative Members too, and I shall invite my colleagues to support it in the Lobbies. It is noticeable that the motion does not refer to Wales or to the Welsh industry. It refers to the problems afflicting the whole steel industry in the United Kingdom. It is therefore extraordinary that the Government have chosen not to put up a Minister to reply to the debate from the Department that is responsible for that industry. Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the fact that the Government have something to hide than the failure of a Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry to come to the Dispatch Box today.