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6.8 pm

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): I congratulate the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) on his speech and it is no accident that my speech is written on a brown envelope. It is nice to follow the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis), who demonstrated clearly how the Government give with one hand and take with the other.

I wish to question the role of the Secretary of State for Wales in this debate. I was led to believe that his role was to act as a liaison between the National Assembly and the Government, and to perform his duties by ensuring that the funding for the Assembly was as successful as possible. It is a great shame that he has come before us today to defend the actions of the Prime Minister.

It is the role of the Prime Minister that is called into question by the letter that he signed in support of Mr. Mittal and his purchase of the Romanian steel mill. The question about the Government's support for that has not been answered. Many hon. Members have already asked how many other companies have been assisted in the same way as Mr. Mittal. How many other small businesses have been helped by a letter from the Prime Minister? I have written to the Prime Minister many times and I have even invited him to come to Hereford to see our hospital for himself. However, he has not written back to me. We need to know how many other companies have been helped. [Interruption.] I am not sure that I could afford £125,000. If I could manage 50 grand, who knows, perhaps I could be running the BBC.

One of the temptations for a governing party is the potential corruption that any funding from a company could bring. The Government knew about that when they took office in 1997. Their crime is that they did not learn from what history taught them. Whether or not Mr. Mittal is as British as I am is a question that needs to be answered. How were the donations given, and did the Prime Minister know about that before he signed the letter?

The human side of this affair is the effect it has on people's jobs. Anyone who has been made redundant will know the misery and despair that goes with it, and usually it is through no fault of their own. I have been made redundant once in my career, and it is a terrible thing. Before Labour Members jeer, they should wait until after the next election when they will realise what it feels like. I should have hoped that they would show sympathy for people who may have lost their jobs through the Government's actions, and I am disappointed that I have been heckled. We should have great sympathy for workers who have lost their jobs

Llew Smith: There is a slight difference between someone being made redundant in Blaenau Gwent, which is one of the poorest communities in the United Kingdom

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where people have difficulty paying their mortgage or rent, and someone like you who may be have been made redundant in the past—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman must remember to use the correct parliamentary language in the House.

Mr. Wiggin: Redundancy does not matter; what matters is the misery that goes with it. It does not matter who it applies to: what matters is what is going on.

Llew Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wiggin: I shall give way again, because the hon. Gentleman did not finish his remarks.

Llew Smith: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that there is no difference between a person who is made redundant and has nothing in the bank and a person who is made redundant who has £1 million in the bank?

Mr. Wiggin: If the hon. Gentleman is implying that I have £1 million in the bank, I have not: I wish I did. No Romanian has bunged me anything recently. [Interruption.] My envelope is from the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

I hope that we get a more truthful answer when the Minister winds up the debate. I also hope that he will describe the criteria he is using to judge the Welshness of the companies that are accompanying him to the Czech Republic. Perhaps he will take the opportunity, highlighted by the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith), to apologise to all those who have been put out of work by the Government's actions. Will he tell us how many other companies have been helped? The Liberal Democrats tell everyone that they oppose the Government, so why were they so quick to leap to their defence in that shameful fashion?

The lessons from this scandal, which has rocked the Government, are that Governments must be brave enough to resist such temptation and that none of us must ever underestimate the misery and sadness that goes with redundancy. Every effort must be made to prevent that, especially in Wales.

6.14 pm

Mr. Martin Caton (Gower): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), who is always amusing, even though he talks nonsense. It is an even greater pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis). I pay tribute to the work that he has done following the terrible tragedy in the steelworks in his constituency. He has visited families and given support, but most of his efforts have been unsung, and he deserves credit for them.

It has been something of a groundhog day for those of us who attended the Welsh day debate last Thursday. It is more in sadness than in anger that I contribute to the debate. Opposition Members have chosen to link two important issues, each of which should be the subject of debate in the House at this time and in the weeks and months ahead.

The first issue is the danger to our democracy and to the perception of democratic politics of political parties relying on large donations from individuals, business or

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industry. The second is the recent history of the steel industry in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom and, just as important, the future for steel and other manufacturing industry in our country. Plaid Cymru has tied those tremendously significant matters together with a connective tissue that artificially tries to make the central focus an unsubstantiated allegation of Government impropriety.

At its nonsensical extreme, articulated by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) in last week's Welsh day debate, the link becomes causal. That must be the implication of his call for the Government to ask

The same line was taken by the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price), who asked:

What about this afternoon's debate? In a reply to an intervention asking whether the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr was really suggesting that the Prime Minister wrote his letter to the Romanian Government deliberately to undermine the British steel industry, his hon. Friends and Conservative Members shouted yes, and he said, "I think I'm getting somewhere". That is the level of the accusation.

Not only is an unjustified and unjustifiable link being made between a donation to the Labour party and a letter from the Prime Minister to the Romanian Government, but the impact of the letter on that Government's actions has been exaggerated out of all proportion. We are supposed to extrapolate from that that if the Prime Minister had shown a similar commitment to Welsh and Teesside steelworkers, perhaps by writing a timely letter, thousands of jobs could have been saved. That is pure cloud cuckoo land, and everyone, including Opposition Members, knows it.

A debate is rightly beginning about future funding of political parties. As has already been said, the Labour Government have introduced a transparency that was not there before, and they have capped total expenditure on general elections. Those are both valuable steps forward. Like many right hon. and hon. Members across the House, I believe that we should go a lot further.

With large political donations there is always the danger that donors will want something in return. Many of the people whom we represent believe that there is or may be a payback time with such donations.

Pete Wishart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Caton: I am afraid that I do not have time to give way.

At a time when fewer and fewer people are taking part in the democratic process, that must be a cause for concern.

Adam Price: So we are right.

Mr. Caton: It is justifiable to raise the issue of party political donations, and Opposition Members could

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usefully have focused on it. Their accusation about the actions of the Prime Minister is unsubstantiated. They have had hour after hour to substantiate it, but they have completely failed to do so. I should like to talk about the more important issues that they failed to raise.

The hands of all political parties must not just be clean: they must be seen to be clean. It is right to consider issues such as state funding of parties, radically reducing the total spend available to each party at elections, and extending the provisions in kind available to each political party, as we do with television time for party political broadcasts. I am sure that there are many related ideas on which we could and should focus. The debate could have centred around those ideas, as part of our discussion on how we re-engage with the sections of the Welsh and British public who have become deeply cynical about politics. What is, perhaps, even more important is that we could have used this debate to concentrate on the future of the United Kingdom's steel industry, in the light of recent history and in the context of manufacturing generally. We could have raised a range of issues—[Interruption.]

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