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Mr. Simon Hughes: The arguments that the Minister deploys about the costs of that scheme are perfectly valid, but how does he address the more telling political question? Unless we encourage people who will give smaller amounts of money, we will allow the drift of political funding to go in favour of a few well-off people who will contribute--that is, funding by the few, not the many.

Mr. O'Brien: I do not wish to teach the hon. Gentleman how to run a political party, but the Labour party has done precisely that. It has changed the whole way in which it is funded by talking to its members and supporters and bringing in, in small donations, very large sums of money. We have changed the basis of much of the Labour party's funding.

The hon. Gentleman should look at the operation that the Labour party has undertaken and the way in which we go out and talk to our members--indeed, the Conservative party says that it has been doing something similar for a long time. In that way, he may find out how to do this. The main thing though, is for the hon. Gentleman's party to have the members first.

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I should like to deal with a couple of other questions raised and will write to hon. Members on the points that I do not have the opportunity to deal with here. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire spoke about the exclusion of trade unions from the ambit of the Labour party. The trade unions are regarded by the public more as donors to the Labour party. If the unions are treated as an integral part of the Labour party, their affiliation fees will be an internal party transaction, not subject to disclosure. Clause 22(8) ensures that such affiliation fees are treated as donations and are subject to the disclosure requirements. The Labour party prefers such matters to be open. I hope that that deals with the point.

I was asked about whether charitable stalls and company stalls at party conferences require shareholder consent. I am happy to discuss further--both through the usual channels and directly with hon. Members from the various parties--how the matter of conferences should be dealt with. A genuine problem exists that requires further consideration. Some of the issues are complex, especially those involving stands at conferences, and we shall be happy to discuss them further.

Another question had to do with when policy development grants will be available. We expect them to be available after 1 April 2001, but it remains to be seen whether that will be before or after the next general election.

I should like to tackle a number of other matters, but fear that time will defeat me. However, I can tell the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) that I am still considering the matter that he posed in connection with the internet. I have some sympathy with his point, although I cannot guarantee that we will be able to deal with it during consideration of this Bill. However, I am prepared to discuss the matter further with the hon. Gentleman.

My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Rotherham made a powerful speech, one important element of which was that the role of a party's national treasurer will become very sensitive and be subject to very strict rules. All political parties must grasp the importance of this change, and take it on board. To paraphrase a former Prime Minister, I can tell the House that the time for penny-farthing political parties has gone: we now need some professionalism in the organisation of the finances of all parties, both small and large.

The public will demand that, because they want openness. The Bill will deliver the necessary level of openness, but the political parties will be required to ensure that there is an element of professionalism in their financial organisation.

The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) raised a number of important points. As other contributors noted, the hon. Gentleman's presence in the House is a clear sign of the need for a Bill such as this. I listened with interest to what he said and I welcome his general support for the Bill. With regard to the cap of £19.7 million on election expenditure, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government considered the level of that cap with great care. However, we must be realistic and accept that parties have to be able to communicate with the electorate on a national basis.

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We want to ensure that the level of funding is realistic. If we went down to the level of £2 million suggested by the hon. Gentleman, the incentive for getting around the requirement might become considerable. We must be realistic about the nature of our political process, and establish rules that we can enforce.

However, I agree with the hon. Member for Tatton that, in recent years, the question of sleaze has brought discredit on our political system. Too many people in the country think that politicians are a bunch of self-interested crooks. As my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) said, each scandal discredits more than just the individual or political party involved. In the eyes of many of our constituents, such scandals reflect badly on all political parties and all politicians. That is one of the reasons why young people are often alienated from the political process. It is why some refuse to vote, and it is also why even those who do vote have a cynicism about the political process rather than a proper scepticism about politicians.

As the Neill report showed, many hon. Members on both sides of the House became involved in politics out of a sense of idealism and a determination to improve things. For the average voter, it is difficult to associate idealism and trust with foreign donations, secrecy in party funding and the behaviour of some politicians.

As the hon. Member for Tatton suggested, it is time to reassert the better values of decent politics and to give honest politicians the ability to present politics as an honourable vocation. We must give political parties a chance to show that they care more about principles than donations. The Bill gives us that chance, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).


Queen's recommendation having been signified--

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a),

(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of--
(a) expenditure incurred by the Electoral Commission by virtue of the Act;
(b) expenses incurred by the Secretary of State in consequence of the Act; and
(c) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums which under any other Act are payable out of money so provided;
(2) the payment out of the Consolidated Fund of--
(a) salaries, allowances and other benefits payable to or in respect of holders (or former holders) of the office of Electoral Commissioner; and
(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums which under any other Act are payable out of that Fund;
(3) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.-- [Mr. Mike Hall.]

Question agreed to.

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Care Workers

10 pm

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): I wish to present a petition on behalf of Mrs. Irene Stack and Mr. Simon Dolby and other members of my constituency.

The petition declares:

The petition was signed by 2,000 people in my constituency.

To lie upon the Table.

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Renewable Energy

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

10.1 pm

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): Renewable energy is where the knowledge-based economy meets the environment. It is where market-based solutions deliver reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and it provides opportunities to modernise and enhance our industrial and manufacturing competitiveness by developing new technologies and expertise.

The dome, which was the centrepiece of our successful millennium eve celebrations, is powered by renewable energy. Similarly, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in Washington and Gatwick airport's north terminal both use renewable energy. British Petroleum, Shell, PowerGen, National Power, Eastern Electricity, Yorkshire Water, Rolls-Royce, Pilkington and Harland and Wolff are just some of our national and international companies with interests in the renewable energy industry. It employs about 3,500 people in more than 700 companies in this country.

Achieving our target of 10 per cent. of electricity from renewables by 2010 would create between 10,000 to 45,000 new jobs, according to the Department of Trade and Industry, and up to double that number according to estimates from Friends of the Earth. Many of those new jobs would be in manufacturing and/or rural areas. According to estimates by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, achieving that 10 per cent. target would also provide 25 per cent. of the carbon savings needed to meet the 20 per cent. carbon dioxide emission reduction in our manifesto commitment.

In short, the renewables industry offers significant environmental, economic and social benefits, at a time when energy markets worldwide are in transition. For example, in the past 20 years, the coal and oil share of generating capacity in the United Kingdom has halved. Fossil fuels are certainly not yet running out--gas fuels 28 per cent. of the electricity market in this country and considerable coal reserves are left--but the global sourcing of such energy is changing, potentially increasing costs and certainly raising issues about security and diversity of supply. Few challenge the view that rising fossil fuel demand cannot be sustained indefinitely.

In addition, open competition in energy markets, together with new technologies, are making on-site, smaller scale generation efficient and viable. That is changing and challenging a traditional exclusive vision of electricity production as being just about large, remote power stations serving an extensive distribution grid. The other crucial dynamic is our international obligation for reductions in greenhouse gases emissions. That is particularly important as more than two thirds of the United Kingdom's carbon dioxide emissions come from non-transport energy production.

Our renewables industry is ideally poised to offer solutions and responses for those changing energy needs. Indeed, the Department of Trade and Industry's renewable consultation document identified renewables as offering an option for maintaining a degree of diversity in the electricity system in the longer term. It said that they were the most promising option for the development of a

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sustainable non-fossil fuel generation system and an increasingly cost-effective means of reducing CO 2 emissions. Couple that with the new employment and export opportunities that renewables offer and it is no surprise that the industry's potential has been highlighted by the DTI's own foresight programme.

As Lord Sainsbury of Turville made clear on 5 November last year, to achieve our immediate target of 10 per cent. of electricity from renewables by 2010,

The European Communities Committee in the other place made clear in a report published in June its view that the UK needed to increase the average annual rate of installing renewable electricity generation by a factor of at least seven. I recognise the excellent work in this area already initiated by those on our Front Bench--for example, the reversal of the decline in research funding planned by the Conservatives, the allocation of £43.5 million for investment in renewables over the next three years, the record 260 projects contracted for under the fifth NFFO--non-fossil fuel obligation--order placed in September 1998, and the climate change levy, with renewables exempt, which inevitably encourages business to consider carefully the source of its energy.

Our Government have not been idle. The outlook for the industry now, compared to the position just three years ago, is considerably more positive. Nevertheless, such was the lack of imagination bedevilling industrial policy under the Conservatives that our renewables industry, despite its considerable potential, has not had the long-term development support available to some of our competitor countries.

By comparison, on 12 August last year, Bill Clinton signed an executive order aimed at trebling American use of biomass energy, and setting up a permanent council to manage a programme that included a package of tax credits as well as significant levels of direct Government funding. The US Government already have a programme to achieve a million solar roofs. The German Government want to achieve 100,000 solar roofs, and the Japanese Government want 70,000 solar roofs--programmes of support designed to create strong domestic markets from which to achieve the economies of scale necessary to perform well in the rapidly growing global solar market.

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