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Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): I went to Europe under this arrangement three years ago during an argument over the future of the Campbell Soups factory in my constituency. I talked to an official, and when I came back to the United Kingdom I briefed the GMB union on what I had learned. The union brought a series of actions and the Campbell Soups company had to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation. That shows how effectively the scheme works. That was achieved because I managed to track down a Commission official who knew all about an obscure area of European law.

Mr. MacShane: I am grateful for that practical example of how the scheme can work. I believe that it

26 May 1999 : Column 425

will enhance the ability of hon. Members to discharge their duties, and it will bring the national Parliaments of the European Union a bit closer together. I do not believe that the taxpayers--our voters--will object to this amount of money being spent. I commend this motion to the House, and I hope that it is passed, as amended.

Amendment proposed: (k), in line 16, at end insert


Question, That the amendment be made, put and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put:--

The House divided: Ayes 108, Noes 5.

Division No. 200
[7.59 pm


AYES


Allan, Richard
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Barnes, Harry
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Beggs, Roy
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bennett, Andrew F
Bermingham, Gerald
Betts, Clive
Boswell, Tim
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Brake, Tom
Burnett, John
Burstow, Paul
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Caplin, Ivor
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chidgey, David
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Collins, Tim
Connarty, Michael
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cotter, Brian
Cousins, Jim
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Dowd, Jim
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Etherington, Bill
Fearn, Ronnie
Gapes, Mike
Garnier, Edward
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Gorrie, Donald
Harris, Dr Evan
Heald, Oliver
Healey, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Jamieson, David
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Key, Robert
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lansley, Andrew
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Love, Andrew
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McLoughlin, Patrick
McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Maxton, John
Merron, Gillian
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Moore, Michael
Moran, Ms Margaret
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Olner, Bill
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Pike, Peter L
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prior, David
Rendel, David
Rowlands, Ted
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Savidge, Malcolm
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steen, Anthony
Stunell, Andrew
Syms, Robert
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Tipping, Paddy
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tyler, Paul
Tyrie, Andrew
Vaz, Keith
Vis, Dr Rudi
Ward, Ms Claire
Webb, Steve
Whittingdale, John
Willis, Phil
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mr. David Hanson and
Mr. Keith Hill.


NOES


Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Randall, John
Sanders, Adrian
Swayne, Desmond
Viggers, Peter

Tellers for the Noes:


Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. David Maclean.

Question accordingly agreed to.

26 May 1999 : Column 426

Resolved,


26 May 1999 : Column 427

Opposition Parties (Financial Assistance)

8.9 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): I beg to move,



1.--(1) Financial assistance to assist an opposition party in carrying out its Parliamentary Business shall be available under this paragraph at any time on or after 1st April 1999 if at that time one of the following conditions is satisfied with respect to the party, that is to say
(a) there are at that time at least two Members of this House who are members of the party and who were elected at the previous General Election after contesting it as candidates for the party; or
(b) there is at that time one such Member who was so elected and the aggregate of the votes cast in favour of all the party's candidates at that Election was at least 150,000.

I do not propose to detain the House for long, but I think that one or two things should be put on record. The motion gives the lie to many wild and unsubstantiated allegations that the Government hold Parliament in contempt. It is we who introduced the scheme for the funding of Opposition parties, and it is we who are extending and modernising that scheme today.

It is some 24 years since my predecessor Edward Short introduced the scheme that now bears his name. He said then that it was


That proposal came when more demands were being made on our politicians and on our parties for greater professionalism than ever before. The concept of the gentleman amateur was being superseded in politics, as elsewhere in life.

In recent years, those demands have been ratcheted up another gear. More pressure is being put on Members of all parties and on the parties themselves, but it is put especially on the parties of Opposition more effectively to match the Government of the day.

In opposition, we argued for the move to provide proper funding for Opposition parties. For the record, I say, perhaps a little gently, to the Conservative party that many in the party resisted the move for some years. However, it has long seemed to Labour Members that the resources made available properly to carry out the role in the House were inadequate for their purpose. It is for that, among other, reasons that, in government, we set up the Neill committee to examine and to recommend on the matter.

The Government are grateful to Lord Neill and to his colleagues for their work and proposals, to which we have given the most careful consideration. One of their proposals in this area--the proposal for a policy development fund, to which all partes will have access--requires further legislation and will have to await such an opportunity, but I make it plain that the Government accept that proposal in principle, and will legislate on it when parliamentary time allows.

26 May 1999 : Column 428

Basic Opposition funding does not require such a delay. Hence, I lay our proposals before the House in the order that is before us. They do not mirror the Neill proposals in every respect, but they do follow his most important recommendation that overall funding should be increased


The motion increases the constituent parts of the existing formula--one which takes account both of votes cast and of seats won--by a factor of 2.7. It reflects the recommendation that there should be, in addition to the increase in basic Short money, a separately identified sum specifically for the office of the Leader of the Opposition, in recognition of the constitutional role played by, and thus the specific demands on, the holder of that post.

Lord Neill's committee recommended a fixed allocation of money for the official Opposition, irrespective of the outcome of an election in seats or votes, but without making a specific recommendation of an alternative formula, or method of calculation. After very careful consideration, the Government remained of the view that the existing formula, well-tried as it is, still provided the best basis for reaching such decisions.

The principal outcome of the Neill committee's work, in that respect, was the proposal substantially to increase funding for Opposition parties' parliamentary work.The Government have thoroughly honoured that recommendation. There is no doubt that the sums of money being provided for Opposition parties exceed, by a substantial amount, anything that has previously been seen. Indeed, I suspect that they exceed what anyone, including Conservative Members, might have expected. However, Labour Members believe that Parliament will be stronger as a result of the measure. I invite the House to accept the proposition.


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