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Prime Minister

Volume 300: debated on Wednesday 12 November 1997

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The Prime Minister was asked


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"
"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.

Dartington (Visit)

Q6. [14142]

If he will make an official visit to Dartington in the Totnes constituency.

I have no immediate plans to visit the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but I intend to visit all regions of the country.

Since Dartington and the Totnes area of south Devon is a mecca for alternative therapies, and given the increase in the number of people now benefiting from complementary medicines—many Members of Parliament have experienced those benefits and some need the experience even more—will the Prime Minister endorse the view of the King's Fund, supported by Prince Charles? Leading physicians and those involved in complementary medicines are seeking a solution whereby their approach to medicine can go into mainstream medicine.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend the Minister for Public Health will meet the Prince of Wales next week to discuss the recommendations of the integrated health care document. We are, of course, considering the issue carefully. In addition, Department of Health officials will arrange meetings with its main authors. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, doctors and clinicians in the national health service are free to arrange for their patients to receive complementary medicine if there is a clinical need for it. It is a growing area, which is now supported by as many within the national health service as outside it.


Q7. [14143]

I welcome the Chancellor's announcement of an extra £300 million for health services this winter and my right hon. Friend's comments today. When will we know how much of that money will be available for the Worcestershire area? In the light of local concerns about health authority reviews, can my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that extra money made available by this Government will be targeted directly on patient care and not used to prop up the inefficiencies of the previous Government's internal market?

My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that her local health authority in Worcestershire is receiving an extra £1.5 million, which will go directly into improving patient care this winter. That is part of £300 million more than the Conservative Government were willing to give the national health service.

That is not all we are doing for the national health service. As a result of getting rid of the discredited Conservative internal market, a further £100 million has already been saved for the health service. That is extra money going not into bureaucrats, but into patient care

Given the importance that the Neill committee has attached to the Government being seen to behave properly, not merely behaving properly, will the Prime Minister undertake to publish the minutes of the meeting that he had with Mr. Ecclestone on 16 October?

What we have done was set out clearly in reply to an earlier question. There was never any favour, sought or given. The decision is the right decision, taken for the right reasons. If the hon. Gentleman is asking about the Neill committee, he might ask why his own party, despite the promise of its leader four months ago, has still not published any information about its own donations.

Q8. [14144]

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, when the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life was established—as long ago as 1995—he, on behalf of the Labour party, pressed immediately for the issue of party funding to be referred to that committee, but the Conservative Government refused to make that referral because they were terrified about what it would reveal? Taking up the points raised on both sides of the House, does he accept that there is an anomaly between the restriction on party spending at constituency level and the lack of restriction at national level? As a matter of principle, is it not the case that, the cheaper our politics becomes, the cleaner it will become?

I agree entirely with the sentiments that my hon. Friend has just expressed. We did ask for the Nolan committee, as it then was, to be able to look at party funding. I raised the matter several times when I was Leader of the Opposition; I was refused every time. The Conservatives have still not disclosed the names of the people who funded the last election campaign for them. When will they disclose that information, as they promised some months ago?

Does the Prime Minister agree that the perception of wrong-doing can be as damaging to public confidence as the wrong-doing itself? Have we slain one dragon only to have another take its place, with a red rose in its mouth?

That is precisely why we sought the advice of Sir Patrick Neill. He gave that advice. We followed it to the letter. When Sir Patrick Neill reports, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in making sure that we can get the proper restrictions on party donations for all political parties, including, for the first time, the Conservative party.

Q9. [14145]

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a relatively obscure Australian called Rolf Harris caused gridlock in my constituency at the weekend because the hugely popular Merry Hill shopping centre has massive traffic problems, which the previous Government did nothing about? Will he ensure that the Government's new integrated transport policy improves rail access and relieves local congestion so that we can have the balanced transport system that the people of the west midlands want?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. That is precisely why we will publish a paper on the subject shortly. I know that it will provide great assistance to his constituents and to others throughout the country.

Q10. [14146]

I return the Prime Minister to his meeting on 16 October. Why did he not refer the result of that meeting to the Nolan committee as soon he could?

I shall reply directly: it is for the exact reason that I gave earlier. No decisions were made on 16 October. At that point in time, a number of different options were under discussion. For example, one of those options was that the national principle of subsidiarity should apply, so there would be a broad directive and then national legislation. Another option was that there should be a derogation for a long period, with a review break for all sport. It was only at the beginning of last week that the specific exemption for formula one was decided upon. The moment that happened, we took action.

Q11. [14147]

Might I change the subject and ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that I recently visited Southern Derbyshire health authority to discuss preparations for the winter crisis in health and the appalling state of the health service in my area? Will he tell the House how much Southern Derbyshire health authority has been allocated from the £300 million that has been set aside? [Laughter.]

Conservative Members may laugh, but getting more money into the health service is precisely what this country wants—and we are delivering it. One of the reasons the people turned the Tories out at the election is the damage they did to the national health service. At long last the people again have a Government who believe in the national health service.