BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 24.02.02

Interview: ADAM PRICE, Plaid Cymru

says that the Government still has questions to answer about Tony Blair supporting the Indian businessman Lakshmi Mittal's bid to buy the Romanian steel industry.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: It was a fortnight ago that a new political scandal came to light. And, even though the government says it's not a scandal at all - just a load of garbage - it refuses to go away. The basic facts are not contested. Mr Blair signed a letter that helped a foreign businessman win the contract to privatise the steel industry in Romania. The businessman, Lakshmi Mittal, had donated a hundred and twenty five thousand pounds to the Labour Party. Labour says there's no connection between those two facts. Almost every day though since then there has been some new twist or turn to the story. The man who revealed the link between the party and Mr Mittal two weeks ago is a backbench MP for Plaid Cymru, Adam Price. And he's with me. Good morning to you. ADAM PRICE MP: Morning. HUMPHRYS: Are you satisfied now that the whole thing has been cleared up because the government tells us pretty well every day it's all a load of nonsense. PRICE: Well no, I think it's very very flippant of the government to dismiss this. I mean there's a palpable sense of anger in South Wales in steel communities in particular of course. Here was a British Prime Minister, intervening at the highest level, to support a company which is actually based in the Caribbean and is actively of course working against British interest in trying to freeze British exports out of the American, out of the American market. Mr Mittal's plants in Kazakhstan and Romania which have been partly of course funded by the British taxpayer are producing the same, the same kind of output of course that used to be produced in Llanwern and far from batting for Britain as the Foreign Secretary said, I think the Prime Minister has actually been betraying the interests of the British steel industry. HUMPHRYS: But what he was doing, and Prime Ministers do this all the time, on the advice of the Foreign Office obviously, what he was doing was something that the Ambassador in that country had wanted him to do. He'd had talks himself with the Prime Minister, it was in the interest of Romania, therefore it was in the interest of Europe, therefore it was in the interest of Britain, that's the sort of logic. PRICE: Well I find it very difficult to believe actually that Her Majesty's representative in Bucharest was acting on his own initiative, in that the several meetings that he had with Mr Mittal ... HUMPHRYS: ...well on whose then? PRICE: Well clearly this was a policy decision. I mean Sir Richard Packer has said, former permanent... HUMPHRYS: ..former permanent secretary... PRICE: ...former permanent secretary, of course, has said this morning that the initiative must have come from Number Ten. That an ambassador would not work on his own initiative in this basis. I think there's an unanswered question here isn't there. Why....what was the legitimate British interest here in supporting a non-British businessman, a non-British company, who actually is a competitor, a competitor to British steel industry at a very very difficult time. HUMPHRYS: Well the answer to that has been given, it was given on this programme last week by a government minister, which is that we want to modernise those countries that are going to be become members of the European Union, it's in our interest to do so, to help them to privatise and this is what we were doing and it worked - apparently. PRICE: Well I mean the government has shifted their ground of course. The original defence of course was that the letter was merely a congratulatory letter and in fact this was a British company. That has been comprehensively demolished. Now the government is saying, well this was actually good for Romania. Now if the British Prime Minister is saying that it is a policy of the British government to sacrifice steel jobs in South Wales and other parts of the UK in order to save steel jobs in Romania then he should come out and say it. But what I would say is that we should not have a trade- off, where there should be no question of a trade off between economic development and jobs in one of the poorest parts of Europe and economic development in one of the poorest parts of the UK. HUMPHRYS: But to go back to the principle point here, there is not a shred of proof is there, not a shred of proof that the donation was linked to that decision to sign that letter? PRICE: Well I have no evidence of that, none of us have any evidence of that. If there's an innocent explanation, if this is just a set of coincidences, then why is the Prime Minister refusing to give an interview on this matter? And why doesn't the government reveal all the documents surrounding this case? If there is nothing to hide, why have they been trying to conceal this case and why are... HUMPHRYS: ...commercial confidentiality? PRICE: Well, I, does that cover all good government pronouncements now? I mean I think that the government clearly have a case to answer here, and this has come at a time when public confidence in politics is at a low ebb. The only thing, the only thing that will rebuild confidence in the political process, particularly in the steel communities among redundant steel workers is that if we have an independent inquiry now into all the circumstances surrounding this case. HUMPHRYS: And yet you seem not to be persuading the electorate of your concern. You had a by-election not very far from your own constituency in South Wales and the government won it very comfortably indeed and it was a steel-making area where jobs had gone. PRICE: Well I think there's a sense, there's a sense at large that politicians are all the same and I think that it's incredibly depressing isn't it, to see these results and I think that there is a sense in which this whole affair, on the back of all the other scandals that have been in recent years, is corroding confidence in the political process. And the only thing which will clear that and rebuild confidence in politics and the parliamentary process is if we have an independent investigation. HUMPHRYS: Yes or No, do you believe that Tony Blair knew about the donation when he signed the letter and was influenced by it? PRICE: Well without being in full possession of all the facts, it would be very unwise of any of us to speculate. We need to have those facts and we need to rebuild public confidence in politics. HUMPHRYS: Adam Price, thanks very much indeed.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.