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
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
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
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
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
HUMPHRYS: Adam Price, thanks very