JOHN HUMPHRYS: Lord MacDonald, we all know
the basic details by now, LNM is a foreign company that has a tiny, tiny
proportion of its staff working in this country. How is it in the national
interest for the Prime Minister to help it to buy the state owned steel
company, or industry, in another foreign country - how is that in the national
LORD MACDONALD: Because we believe that the modernisation
of the economy of Romania and indeed of Eastern Europe is fundamental to
the future of Europe. Our Ambassador in Bucharest was encouraging that
process. That's why he wanted to deal at Prime Ministerial level with Adrian
Nastase, the Romanian Prime Minister. The loan that's been referred to
there is a loan from a bank backed by sixty countries...
HUMPHRYS: ..we helped them to get
MACDONALD: ..but a couple of dozen of countries
in the board of that bank, that shows the wide spread international support
for this modernisation process. Now if it's a bank loan but is going to
back a comapny that does have British links, it does have an ownership
by Mr Mittal, who is on the voters roll in the United Kingdom. But the
most important thing is that we are in there helping the country modernise,
to help shape the direction in Romania because that in the end, will be
good, not just for Romania but for the European Union and indeed for the
HUMPHRYS: It helps the United Kingdom,
though not a jot in terms of profits or jobs.
MACDONALD: Well, it helps the future of
Europe and you ask there about why businesses for instance should back
the Labour Party. I think they should back the Labour Party for the same
reason that the trade unions do, that we have delivered an economy that
is good for business and for workers in those businesses and that economy
we believe, in future, will be under-pinned even more by the accession
of these European states that are going to fund the European Union. (sic).
HUMPHRYS: Not an easy argument
if you are talking to a group of steel workers, who feel that their interests
- and I'm talking here about British steel workers with jobs in Britain,
who feel that their interests have been damaged. Mittal has been damaging
the interests of British steel companies and now we learn, this morning,
again another revelation, that he has spent four hundred and twenty thousand
pounds lobbying in the United States to keep out foreign steel which would
of course include our foreign steel, our steel. So, what we are doing is
helping a foreign businessman to damage the interests of this country's
MACDONALD: This country's steel industry
is mainly Corus and Ian Goldsmith of Corus said earlier this week that
the deal in Romania would only have a very marginal effect on their markets.
Now if you've got a global company like this, trying to position itself
in different markets then of course there may be contradictory elements
to it. But what we are concerned about is backing a broad range of international
opinion that says modernise Eastern Europe, modernise Romania, encourage
that process and let Britain have an influence on it, because in future
we want to see more British investment in Romania and that will be good
for the British workers and the British economy.
HUMPHRYS: You mention Corus, let
me mention another steel company to you, Allied Steel, that's based in
South Wales, its Chief Executive Graham Mackenzie says that what Tony Blair
is doing, and I'm quoting "is backing a business that is already supplying
to the United Kingdom and will import more as a result of this deal" he
says "we are under enormous pressure, he has lost.." - or his people have
lost "three hundred and fifty jobs in and around the Cardiff area because
of dumping steel from Eastern Europe". Now, this is a British steel company
that has been damaged by this company and will be damaged more by this
company and the union, the GMB union says exactly the same "Romania is
a major competitor".
MACDONALD: Well I believe that obviously
the steel companies have been damaged by the shifts in the global economy
in respect to steel but this government...
HUMPHRYS: ...why this specific
company...this company that has already damaged our...
MACDONALD: ...there was another statement
this week from the Steel Workers Union which said people are playing politics
with this issue.
HUMPHRYS: Well, do you want me
to read you what the GMB Union have said, which is exactly not: "this is
another blow to the beleaguered workers at Corus. The company says this
decision has come as a direct result of cheap competition from abroad.
The time has come for ministers to stop doing this kind of thing". Well,
MACDONALD: Well, to be attacked by the
GMB comes as no surprise...
HUMPHRYS: But they represent British
workers, unlike this other company that employs foreign workers who we
MACDONALD: What we have done for the economy
has been the greatest possible help to British workers...
HUMPHRYS: I'm not talking about
what you have done for the economy, I'm talking about this very specific
incident where the Prime Minister remarkably, remarkably, you've given
us no other instances where he's done this, signs a letter to help a foreign
company buy an industry in another foreign country - an extraordinary thing
MACDONALD: Not at all, what we are talking
about is trying to create an economy in Europe, where Britain can play
an increasingly active and we hope prosperous part in that.
HUMPHRYS: How many times has the
Prime Minister done this sort of thing in the past now?
MACDONALD: Well Robin Cook said earlier
this week that it had been done many times...
HUMPHRYS: I'm not asking Robin
Cook, I'm asking you - how many times has he done it?
MACDONALD: Well, I'm not Foreign Secretary,
when Robin Cook was Foreign Secretary, he'd done it many times. The Prime
HUMPHRYS: ....Well, has he given
any details. I mean I'd be very interested in how many times he'd done
it. How many times?
MACDONALD: Well I don't know how many
HUMPHRYS: Well, I'm sorry, will
the best will in the world, you're here answering questions on the government's
behalf, as a....
MACDONALD: ...oh, come on....
HUMPHRYS: No, not come on at all.
MACDONALD: Don't be facile. How many times...
MACDONALD: ...how many times do ministers
get involved in trying to help companies...
HUMPHRYS: ...well I'm asking you
MACDONALD: ...dozens of times and...
HUMPHRYS: ...I'm asking you to
help me and the audience on this. The Prime Minister sits down and signs
a letter to the Prime Minister of another country supporting a foreign
company whose interests work against the interests of our own steel industry.
I am asking you and it's a perfectly sensible question, I'm sure the audience
of this programme would think anyway, I hope they would, how many times
has that happened before?
MACDONALD: You put it in a way that distorts
what I was saying which is...
HUMPHRYS: ...answer it the way
MACDONALD: ...what we have done, we have
done is we have created an economy which has put one point two million
HUMPHRYS: ...you're broadening
the issue and that isn't the question that I'm asking you as you well know...
MACDONALD: ...well broadening, well I'm
broadening the issue...
HUMPHRYS: ...I'm asking you about
this specific question...
MACDONALD; ...I'm broadening the issue
because you broadened the issue there with a very generalised smear attack
if I might say, by Iain Watson...
HUMPHRYS: ...well let's deal with
this, let's deal with this specific case. How many times has the Prime
Minister done what he did on behalf of this foreign company? How many times
has he done it?
MACDONALD: The Prime Minister's spokesman
earlier in the week said that the Prime Minister had on a number of occasions...
HUMPHRYS: ...how many?
MACDONALD: ...in a number of countries...
HUMPHRYS: ...once, twice, ten times?
MACDONALD: ...I do not know, well you would
have to back through years of correspondence to establish that.
HUMPHRYS: So are you suggesting
to me that he often intervenes on behalf of foreign companies. Is this
what you're telling me?
MACDONALD: No what I'm saying is he's intervened
in Romania, an important future market for us, an important country, a
very important country in the Balkans, which is in desperate need of modernisation.
We believe that's good for Eastern Europe, we believe it's good for the
MACDONALD: ...we believe it's good for
Britain. That's why...
HUMPHRYS: ...let's look at the
other reasons that other people offer, as evidence for why Mr. Blair got
involved in this particular case, may be right, may be wrong, but let's
put to you a couple of points. He says, Tony Blair says he did not meet
Mr Mittal. And yet, he went to a party at Lord Levy's house which was held
specifically for fundraisers. A lot of people there admittedly, about a
hundred people there. Only a few of them were Asians, point number two.
Point number two, I doubt whether there were many there who had handed
over one-hundred-and-twenty-five thousand pounds to the Labour Party. It
is surely inconceivable and I use the word advisedly, that Mr Blair did
not meet Mr Mittal on that occasion.
MACDONALD: What's quite clear is that our
Ambassador in Bucharest said that this was a priority as far as he saw...
HUMPHRYS: ...I'm not asking you
about the Ambassador of Bucharest...
MACDONALD: ...for the modernisation...
HUMPHRYS: ...I'm asking you why
Mr Blair said he didn't meet Mr Mittal when it is most unlikely, inconceivable
indeed many people would say, that he did meet him, that's what I'm asking
MACDONALD: Well Prime Ministers meet many
HUMPHRYS: ...so why didn't he say
I probably did meet him. I met him at that party. Why didn't he say that?
MACDONALD: Because we are concentrating
on the big issues John, and with respect...
HUMPHRYS: ...well I'm sorry that
is a straight-forward question that gets to the core of this, did Mr Blair...
MACDONALD: ...what you're doing, what you're
doing, what you're trying, what you're trying to get into is a pseudo-forensic
examination of tiny detail which tries to find guilt...
HUMPHRYS: ...I'm trying to get
to the truth...
MACDONALD: ...well let's get at the truth...
HUMPHRYS: ...did Mr Blair meet
Mr Mittal - straight forward question.
MACDONALD: ..in context...
HUMPHRYS: ...straight forward question,
did Mr Blair meet Mr Mittal?
MACDONALD: What we are talking about here
is trying to build a much more prosperous Britain and we're trying to do
that by making sure that we're fully involved in Europe...
HUMPHRYS: ...made that point and
I've allowed you to make that point several times. I'm now trying to get
into a little more detail. Let's look at what happened. The donation was
made in May, Tony Blair meets Mr Mittal presumably, at this party in June.
He signs the letter on his behalf in July. Yet we are told that he didn't
know he had made the donation when he signed that letter. Again I put it
to you that's inconceivable?
MACDONALD: No, you're putting it exactly
the wrong way round. What I'm saying is that many business people will
back the Labour Party because we provided a very strong economy...
HUMPHRYS: ...of course, I don't
dispute that for a moment...
MACDONALD: ...just as the trade unions
do. And what I'm also saying is the priorities for backing this company
evolved out of the situation in Romania, they came to us from the Ambassador,
that's confirmed by the Foreign Office, so in those circumstances Prime
Ministers yes, sign many letters of that kind...
HUMPHRYS: ...but do they sign many
letters of that kind...
MACDONALD: ...and I'm sure that....
HUMPHRYS: ...well you've not given
me any examples of when they had. But look, let's look at this other area,
when the Foreign Office drafted the letter, the original letter that went
to Number Ten Downing Street, it described Mr Mittal as a friend of Tony
Blair. Now (a) why did they say that? And (b) why was it cut out of the
letter when it went to Number Ten? This letter that Mr Blair apparently
only gave thirty-seconds to.
MACDONALD: John, this, I think this is
fake forensics here.
HUMPHRYS: ...in what sense is it
MACDONALD: Well because I don't know what
the first draft would be...
HUMPHRYS: Well that doesn't make
MACDONALD: ...the first draft might come
HUMPHRYS: ...I might suggest that
perhaps you ought to know.
MACDONALD: ...your style of trying to conduct
this is an inquisition...
HUMPHRYS: ...I am asking you very
straight-forward questions with the best will in the world.
MACDONALD: ...an official drafts a letter,
another official amends it, that happens all the time...
HUMPHRYS: ...I dare say, I dare
MACDONALD: ...I don't know the details
HUMPHRYS: ...but I am asking you
why in the original letter Mr Blair, Mr Mittal was described as a friend
of Tony Blair and then that was excluded. You see, if what we're looking
at here is allegations that Tony Blair knew about this and might have been,
and I'm not suggesting he was, but I'm trying to get at the basis of this,
at the root of this, might have been influenced by that donation, these
become, I am sure you would accept this, you've been in this business of
journalism yourself long enough, you would accept that those are perfectly
legitimate questions, and if you want it all cleared up (a) why can we
not have those answers? (b) why isn't, why aren't all the papers to do
with this in the public domain? Why not simply publish them and have done
with it and say, look, that's it, there's the picture, our hands are absolutely
clean on this, go away with that, take it away, and now let's have no more
of it? Fine.
MACDONALD: Well, John, as you say, I've
been in the media business for a long time, and one of the things I know
is that there are papers there which are Tory papers, and they've run agendas
against the Labour Party, always have, they've been doing it...
HUMPHRYS: Oh, this isn't that it's
all got up by the press one is it? Is that the defence?
MACDONALD: Well, take the loan story this
morning. I mean a loan is a loan, it's backed by twenty-odd countries.
I won't go over it again as to why I think it's a good thing, but that's
run in the front page of a Tory paper, that sets the agenda. Now sadly
radio and television......
HUMPHRYS: I've made scarcely any
reference to that. I'm asking you for other examples. I'm asking you
what happened with the signing of the letter, I'm asking you about the
inclusion of the word friend, I'm asking you about Tony Blair meeting
Mr Mittal, all of which are legitimate you must agree, are legitimate questions,
and you're sitting there either unable or unwilling to answer any of them.
MACDONALD. I've told you I'm unable to
answer some of the detailed forensics of it, and therefore I don't want
to be put in a position of looking as though I'm being evasive. What I'm
saying to you is, there is an agenda being run here which is to say, let's
undermine the Labour Party, let's undermine its big picture agenda.
HUMPHRYS .....that supported your
election the last time around. Seems unlikely to me, but look, if Duncan
Smith, Iain Duncan Smith wants an inquiry why not have one?
MACDONALD: Well, if you take the form of
their Select Committee, Donald Anderson their Chairman said it's not worth
inquiring into, because he can see the politics in all of this, and what
he is probably more concerned with is the kind of leadership demonstrated
by Tony Blair on Kosovo and Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Those are the
big picture issues abroad, the big picture issues in Britain are health
and education and transport and ......
HUMPHRYS: You mention one Labour
MP there, Donald Anderson. That about Piara Khabra, one of your Asian
MPs, Labour MP. What he says, or what he suggests very strongly this morning
is Tony Blair has been - put aside any culpability and dodgy dealings and
all the rest of it, but he says he has been extraordinarily na�ve in his
relations with businessmen, particularly Asian businessmen. Maybe that's
at the root of it is it, naivety?
MACDONALD: No. I think what we're doing
is trying to encourage the business community to have a productive relationship
with government. We want to make it clear that we are prepared to work
just as closely with business as we have in the past with the trade unions,
and we're working......
HUMPHRYS: Everybody who is watching
this programme I suspect would say pretty much what Mr Khabra said this
morning in the newspaper. When a businessman, a tough Indian businessman,
whether he happens to be Indian or not gives an awful lot of money to a
party they want something for it.
MACDONALD: Well, what business has got
for its donations from Labour is the strongest economy in Europe, and that
economy has produced over a million new jobs, the lowest unemployment for
a very long time, the lowest interest rates, the lowest mortgage rates.
Those are the big picture issues that clearly our opponents don't want
to fight on, they want to fight on this kind of minutia.
HUMPHRYS: Lord Macdonald, thank
you very much indeed.