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Engagements

Volume 300: debated on Wednesday 12 November 1997

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Q1. [14137]

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. I shall have further meetings with them later today.

Which Minister took the decision to exempt formula one from the tobacco sponsorship ban?

I shall set out our position for the hon. Gentleman with enthusiasm and relish. It was a collective decision, made in the normal way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If the hon. Gentleman listens, I can explain how.

There have been discussions over a period of time, ever since the European Union directive was raised about the impact on sport. On 5 June, my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Health told the European Council:
"The UK Government shares the broad objectives of the draft Directive. But there are unresolved legal questions about its scope, as well as practical issues, such as the impact on sports if it is agreed that the Directive should extend to sports sponsorship by tobacco companies."

Following that meeting, there were meetings and discussions about sport and the effect on sports sponsorship of a ban on tobacco sponsorship. The Minister for Public Health met representatives of formula one on 23 September. They met Chancellor Kohl on 28 September and had earlier met Prime Minister Prodi. I met them on 16 October. No decisions were taken then. A number of different options were under discussion, including legislating through subsidiarity or a period of derogation for all sport.

Finally, at the beginning of last week, there was the decision to seek a specific exemption for formula one and then to seek a worldwide voluntary agreement so as to avoid grand prix in other countries being shown here without restriction. Once that route was chosen, I recognised that there was obviously an appearance of conflict of interest. After discussion with the general secretary of the Labour party, we sought Sir Patrick Neill's advice. He gave it; we followed it to the letter. It was the right decision for the right reasons. Can anyone imagine the Tory party ever returning a donation?

Q2. [14138]

I am sure that many people in Scarborough and Whitby, and indeed in the rest of the nation, will support the Government's intention to introduce legislation on foreign donations to political parties. Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only should the terms of reference—[Interruption.]

Order. All hon. Members who are on their feet will be heard. Others do not have to listen, but hon. Members who are speaking will be heard.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Committee on Standards in Public Life should not only be given the widest terms of reference but be asked to deliver its deliberations at the earliest opportunity, not only from the point of view of the people in the country, but with the widest support of the House? [Laughter.]

Conservative Members may laugh, but they refused to have such an investigation when they were in power. We announced at the time of Sir Patrick Neill's appointment as successor to Lord Nolan that his remit would be extended to cover all aspects of party funding. 1 can confirm that we are asking Sir Patrick to consider the whole area of party funding: whether donors should be disclosed; whether the size of donations should be disclosed; whether there should be a limit on individual donations; whether there should be a limit on overall spending; and whether there should be different arrangements altogether, such as increased state funding. The investigation is long overdue; it is one that we urged in opposition, when the Conservative Government refused to have it. Sir Patrick Neill will be able to make his recommendations, and we will all then be playing on a level playing field.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the leading governing bodies of sport met this morning and decided to ask for a personal meeting with him about tobacco advertising? Is he happy to have such a meeting on the same basis as his meeting with formula one?

Of course I am, but they have not sought such a meeting before. If they seek such a meeting now, of course they can have it.

They are seeking such a meeting now, and I am happy to hear that the Prime Minister will see them. When he does, will he consider the letter sent to the Government last week by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, which says that:

"all the arguments made by Formula One for exemption can also be made by"
billiards and snooker? It continues:
"It is grossly unfair that the strength of a powerful lobby should"
prevail
"over the reasoned argument of less well funded sports. Surely this is not the way of New Labour."
Will the Prime Minister consider a temporary exemption for billiards and snooker, as he did for formula one?

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman understands. In the directive there is already a temporary derogation for sport. The question is whether it is long enough and right for formula one, which is in a special position. [Laughter.] Let me explain. There are some 15 grand prix countries, of which some, including the United Kingdom, have no legal tobacco sponsorship restrictions or very limited ones. All the eight others that have restrictions on sponsorship have either special exemptions for formula one alone or special arrangements for formula one.

Australia has the toughest anti-sponsorship laws in the world, but specifically exempts formula one. In Canada there are new regulations to prohibit sponsorship, but auto racing is to be exempt. There are specific exemptions in Portugal, Germany and France. In Italy there is a ban that covers formula one, but formula one takes place, there is sponsorship, and a nominal fine is levied on the company every year.

The right hon. Gentleman may disagree with the decision that we have taken, but when all those other countries have specific exemptions, I ask him to have a care for the effect on British industry if we follow the course that he is advocating.

It is no good the Prime Minister talking about the European directive, when the European Commission has said of his announcement:

"it's a disaster, a complete U turn. This could spell the end of the directive, obliging the Commission to withdraw the proposal."
It is no good his talking about the European directive. Is he aware of the deep anxieties in sports other than formula one such as angling and cricket, one of the representatives of which said this morning:
"It is particularly disappointing that a Labour Government of all governments should strangle the life out of working-class sports."
Is the Prime Minister now prepared to give the same consideration to those sports as to formula one?

The right hon. Gentleman blocked the directive on tobacco advertising. The Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member blocked the directive.

Is not the Prime Minister making up his policy as he goes along? Is it not the case that the Government are in turmoil and chaos over this? Is it not the case that this is another broken promise to go along with pensions, tax, tuition fees and cold weather payments? I am not accusing the Labour party of being paid to break its promises; it breaks them for free all the time. Is this not what happens when a party seeks office without a principle, value, or belief to its name?

I think that people remember what happened: a Tory party that undermined the national health service; a Tory party that wrecked Britain's schools; a Labour party putting more money into health and more money into schools; the welfare-to-work programme; a Tory party that said that it would never put VAT on fuel and then put it on; a Tory party that cannot even make up its mind whether it disagrees with the decision that we have taken or thinks that we have taken it for the wrong reasons.

We were told at lunchtime that the right hon. Gentleman had some killer points; that it was an open goal and he was going to put the ball in the net. He has walked up to the penalty spot and booted it over the bar.

Will my right hon. Friend recognise, on reflection. that there is a long history and deep experience of receiving money from industrial sources both national and international in the Tory party? Would it not, therefore, be appropriate that, in looking to a review of the way in which politics is funded, all parties represented in this Chamber should open their books for the past five years so that the public can see what they have been about?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Conservative party has never disclosed any of the donations that it has received, and it has not even paid back Asil Nadir's £360,000.

Leaving aside the Government's extraordinary change of policy on cigarette advertising, which I hope they will reconsider, may I return to the question of political funding? The Prime Minister's statement that the Neill inquiry into political funding will have the widest remit and will be required to produce its outcome as soon as possible is welcome—we cannot lose any time in restoring public confidence in how we fund our politics.

However, in that context, I remind the Prime Minister that, more than 100 years ago, in 1883, we decided to limit the amount that constituencies could spend on electoral campaigning. Surely the time has now arrived to end once and for all this damaging warfare—this arms race—between the parties and limit the amount of money that can be spent on national campaigning as well.

First, let me deal with the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the decision is extraordinary. I have set out how virtually every other country has exemptions for formula one if it has a grand prix, so it is not a very extraordinary decision. I would also draw his attention to the jobs that are at risk if we lose formula one from this country—the 8,000 people directly employed in formula one. The chairman of the Motorsport Industry Association said earlier today that, if formula one leaves the country, there will be problems for the whole of the British motor racing industry. So, whether people agree or disagree with the decision, there is at least a perfectly sensible basis for it, given what happens in other countries.

As for the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about party funding, I agree that there is a case for looking at all these things. I hope that Sir Patrick Neill can look at every issue connected with party funding. We will support him strongly in doing that. I would say only that for years I have fought elections with the Labour party being outspent by the Tory party £4 or £5 to £1, because they never disclose the source of their donations at all. What I want is a level playing field, and if that comes with restrictions on amounts and restrictions on the level of money that can be spent in elections, I am perfectly happy with that. What I will not do is go into election fighting when the Tories can raise as much money as they want and never have to disclose it—without the Labour party's being able to raise money, too.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the staff of Crawley hospital will be much happier this winter when they discover that they now have a £450,000 share of the £300 million for crisis admissions? Does not such news make people working in the caring professions believe that working for the national health service is more worth while?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Having gone around several hospitals, I know that although people still suffer as a result of many of the things done by the previous Government, they at last believe that they have a Government who believe in the national health service. We have the extra £300 million going in this year and an extra £1.2 billion next year, and we are doing our very best to ensure that health service funding is put on a stable footing for the long term. That will be enormously welcome to everyone who works in the health service.

Q3. [14139]

Instead of waiting for details of the Ecclestone donation to be forced out of him four weeks later, why did the Prime Minister not refer that donation to the public standards watchdog immediately after the meeting on 16 October?

Because the papers have been referred to Sir Patrick Neill—[HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] At the end of last week. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] They ask the question, but do not want the answer. The papers were referred to Sir Patrick Neill, who then reported back on Monday. The moment he reported back, we published his advice and followed it. I repeat: I do not believe that the party the hon. Gentleman represents would ever have behaved in that way.

Q4. [14140]

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the further education sector has been treated appallingly over the past 18 years, having been subjected by the previous Government to alternating periods of neglect, especially in terms of funding, and harassment? Is it not still the Cinderella service of our education system, when it should be regarded as its linchpin? Will he tell the House what the Government are going to do to correct that?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the dire financial situation that further education colleges were left in by the previous Government's policies. I am delighted, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment today announced a major new boost for further education. An extra £83 million in new funding will be made available next year, and colleges will also be able to bid for more than £100 million new deal money for education and training. That is new money, which would never have been put in by the previous Government.

Q5. [14141]

Has the Labour party received any benefits from Mr. Ecclestone's donation of £1 million before the election? Was that money used to reduce an overdraft on deposit? What has happened to the interest?

The money was spent as part of the general election campaign, as the hon. Gentleman would expect. The Labour party has published the names of donors this year and will publish them again next year. Neither of the other two main parties does that.

When my right hon. Friend sets up the committee to look into the question of money from outsiders and into the cap on national expenditure in general election campaigns, will he bear in mind that the cap for constituencies equates to about £6 million for a party contesting 650 seats? If we also had a national cap of about £6 million, there would not be many pollsters from the Tory party knocking about and there would not be many advertisements in the newspapers, but it would be a level playing field. That would enable us to escape from what has happened in the United States of America, where the problem can no longer be handled because that kind of sleaze has gone too far.

I do not know whether this will do more damage to me or to my hon. Friend, but I must admit that I agree with the broad outline of what he says. We have fought general elections—[Interruption.] It is all very well for Conservative Members to shout, but we have had to fight elections in which there was direct mail without limit—they sent out literally millions of letters—advertising hoardings and advertising in newspapers, and in which vast expense was incurred. We have never been told how a penny of it was raised. We want the same rules—a level playing field—for everybody.