WELSH AFFAIRS – MITTAL SCANDAL – 28 February 2002

Dr Julian Lewis: Of course we agree that, as heavy industries decline, they must be replaced by more modern ones, but surely it only accelerates the process of the decline of heavy industries such as steel in South Wales when the Government give encouragement and active assistance to someone like Mr. Mittal to help competitors in places such as Romania.

[The Secretary of State for Wales (Paul Murphy): We will have the opportunity to debate these matters in greater detail next week. I look forward to that debate, in which I will take part. I will comment briefly on the hon. Gentleman's points – he knows Wales reasonably well – but I want first to finish the point that I was making…

The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr Lewis) knows that I had to spend a great deal of time speaking to the chief executive and chairman and other people at Corus to try to find out what it would take for them to retain those 3,000 jobs in Wales, and 6,000 in the rest of the United Kingdom. Time after time, I asked Brian Moffat and the others whether the Government could do anything to change their minds about their intentions for the steel industry. The answer was no. I rather suspect that they had made their minds up at the time of the merger…

On the point about Mittal, it is wrong to say that Corus would have changed its mind or done anything different because of the Prime Minister's letter to the Romanian Prime Minister. It would not have made a ha'porth of difference. Why is it always said, whenever the Government, or any other European Government, help an economy that needs help, be it in Asia, Africa or Eastern Europe, that we are harming our own economy?

Some of my colleagues have sent trade delegations to Romania that have included Welsh companies. When we help to bring up to modern economic standards countries such as those that want to join the European Union, which is what we do as a developed country, of course we run the risk of creating a competitor, but we also ensure that trade with that country improves, allowing Wales to export to an economy that is much sounder than it was. That is the reason behind the Prime Minister's letter and that is why we wanted to ensure that the industry and economy in Romania were up to scratch.] 

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[Shadow Secretary of State for Wales (Nigel Evans): On 28 March 2001, the Prime Minister said:

"We also stand ready to help in any way that we can with those … people ... I hope the company will listen to them; we certainly will." – [Official Report, 28 March 2001; Vol. 365, c. 961.] 

We now find that he was listening to someone else. Less than two months later, £125,000 was donated by an Indian steel magnate, Mr. Lakshmi Mittal, to the Labour Party. His wife had previously supported the Labour Party with a more modest £5,000 donation to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), but I am sure that the donation did not go unnoticed at Millbank. The £125,000 donation was received with thanks…]

Dr Lewis: I am sure that my hon. Friend [Nigel Evans] agrees that, unlike the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Wales is indeed a pretty straight kind of guy. Does he find it rather strange therefore that the Secretary of State told the House early this afternoon that this was all about helping a poor country such as Romania? If that is the case, why did not the arch spin-doctor at No. 10 say so? Why did he instead try to pretend that Mr. Mittal's company was British?

[Nigel Evans: No doubt we will hear more about that issue on Tuesday, but the fact is that, as I hope to show, Mr. Mittal's company is anything but British.]