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Miss McIntosh: The Secretary of State will be aware that a number of Conservative Members take a close interest in devolution issues in Scotland and I hope that he will join me in congratulating the outgoing Advocate-General on her appointment to the bench. In so far as there is now a vacancy, who will be answering for the Advocate-General, and when might that vacancy be filled? Obviously, devolution is of close interest to the Opposition, and we would like to know that the matters that we raise will receive close attention from the Secretary of State's Department.
Mr. Darling: I am glad to hear that devolution is of great interest to the Conservative partythat is one of the many ways in which it tells us that it has changed. As far as the appointment of the Advocate-General to the bench is concerned, I agree with everything that the hon. Lady said, and I am sure that she will miss herwe will remember fondly their exchanges over many years. The appointment of the new Advocate-General is of course a matter for the Prime Minister.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Can the new Advocate-General rule on which Minister is responsible for responding to the ridiculous proposal from Labour and Liberal councillors on the Forth Estuary Transport Authority to increase the tolls to a massive £4? The Secretary of State for Scotland says that he is against it, but the First Minister merely wants to delay it until after the by-election. Who will respond with regard to the £4 imposition proposed by the Labour and Liberal parties? Will the new Advocate-General also
It seems to be true that the nationalists and Liberals are fighting each other for second place in the by-election. Given that it is now clear that the
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existing Forth bridge will not last as long as people thought, that it would be ridiculous if Fife were left without a bridge, and that most reasonable people think that there ought to be a bridge between Fife and the central belt, it is interesting that the Greens are the only party that says that it is against it, and the Scottish National party wants to go into coalition with the Greens. Therefore, if one votes SNP or Green, one is voting for there not to be a replacement bridge.
Mr. Turner: I thank the Secretary of State for that unrevealing answer, because I asked him when he last discussed the matter with the Secretary of State for Transport. Can he tell me what is the subsidy per passenger mile to ferries in Scotland? Has he been informed by the Secretary of State for Transport what is the subsidy per passenger mile to ferries in England?
Mr. Darling: In relation to the Isle of Wight, all services are provided on a commercial basis. The reason for that is that about 9 million passengers are carried on ferries between the mainland and the Isle of Wight, whereas in the Scottish islands, even on routes such as Stornaway to Ullapool, the figure is about 189,000. A figure of 9 million passengers means that commercially justified services are possible, whereas most of the Scottish islands need an element of subsidy. I assume that even the new Conservative party is not arguing that ferry services are not important to the Hebrides and other islands. Such services need to be maintained and subsidised.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Have the Secretary of State or the Government investigated the economic benefits of the possible increase in tax revenues as a result of further lowering ferry fares to the Hebrides?
Mr. Darling: Were there to be such a consideration, it would have to be given by the Scottish Executive, which, of course, is responsible for the subsidy regime and for maintaining ferries to the Hebrides.
Michael Connarty: Is the Minister aware that, when I have met heavy energy users in my constituency such as BP, which has sold the Grangemouth refinery to Ineos, and KemFine, which will have heat and power plants, they tell me that they are counted as being in breach of the 1997 emission regulations for SO 2 every 15 minutes, whereas under the European directive, their competitors are in breach only once every hour? That means that they are four times more penalisedthey cannot use fuel oil, which is a cheaper replacement for gasthan their competitors. In the forthcoming revision in the new directive, will the Government consider levelling the playing field and allowing heavy users in Britain with heat and power plants to use fuel oil in the same way as users can in the EU?
David Cairns: I am aware of the issue, not least because it is one that my hon. Friend has raised assiduously in the House on many occasions. He will be interested to know that the Minister for Energy is meeting industry bodies tomorrow to discuss a range of issues on the subject, including fuel switching, and I am sure that he will bear those representations in mind. It is true that we have more stringent environmental standards than many of our competitors. We also have tougher targets for carbon emissions, but we have to balance that with the need to protect jobs and industry. That is the point that my hon. Friend makes. While some parties pay lip service to the environment and some to the economy, we have to make sure that we manage both.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Will the Minister give us an update on the oil and gas pipeline being built between Norway and Scotland? Will it be built on time and to budget? As it is my 34th birthday today, can he give me a straight answer?
We welcome the increasingly close co-operation with Norway in developing efficient cross-boundary infrastructure for both oil and gas. It is an important source of energy for this country. We have to work closely on that and I am sure that we will.
The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman):
Over the past two years, out of public funds, the Conservative party received around £4.5 million, the Liberal Democrats received around £2 million and the Labour party received around £500,000.
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Barbara Keeley: Many people do not trust the idea of multi-millionaires giving donations to political parties for their campaigns, yet in election campaigns, all the parties try to match campaign spending by the other parties. Obviously, that needs to be controlled. What chance does the Minister think there may be for some all-party proposals to tackle that funding issue?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I know that there is concern around the House that voters should be sure that what makes a difference is their vote on the ballot paper, not political parties, whatever side of the House they sit on, being pushed into the arms of millionaires or big companies. We have brought forward proposals at least to make the position more open and transparent with donations having to be declared, but paradoxically the more the public know about donations, the more concern grows. We need to consider and discuss that matter.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Last Wednesday, The Independent reported that Labour is considering a big extension of state funding for political parties to combat allegations of sleaze. Surely, rather than inflicting more misery on the hard-pressed taxpayer, the answer is to cut out any suggestions of cash for favours such as would arise from the proposal for the Prime Minister's chief of staff also to be involved in Labour party fund raising. Should not a clear line be drawn to prevent party political appointees from being involved in fund raising and having Executive powers over career civil servants?
Ms Harman: I ask the hon. Gentleman to try to approach this matter in the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) and I have. This is not just a problem for one political party or just for this country, either. All democracies have to think about how political parties, which play such an important role in democracy, can obtain adequate funds and campaign effectively. This is something that the Conservative Front-Bench team under its new leader is thinking about. It has been debated by the Liberal Democrats. We will be thinking and talking about it on a cross-party basis but there are no immediate proposals that I can tell the House about.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): These are huge sums of public money and they are designed to enable Opposition parties to prepare policies to put to the people at general elections. When an Opposition party says that the policies that it developed were complete rubbish and that it now wants to reverse them, should there not be some sort of public refund?
Ms Harman: I can see the point that my hon. Friend is trying to make, but to get back to the main point, we must have the right funding for parties and we must have openness. We must ensure that individual voters know that it is their vote that counts, not donations from big business.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)
(Con): Is it not of even more concern that the Government are already spending more than £500 million every year in Whitehall on spin? Is the Minister really saying that
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Labour deserves more taxpayers' cash, which is what The Independent was suggesting, when the Government have trebled the cost to taxpayers of special advisers? Now there are double the numbers and they are costing £5 million a year. Advertising costs have also trebledup to £200 million a yearand public relations costs have gone up to a massive £333 million a year. Can she justify troubling the taxpayer for even more money when the Government are already spending all that money on spinning their policies?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman has not said whether he agrees with the public funds already being spent on the Conservative party to enable it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) said, to develop policies in opposition. I hope that we can have a sensible discussion, rather than political point scoring. The hon. Gentleman has mixed up the issue of activity on behalf of the Government in public information campaigns and suchlike, which are subject to the scrutiny of this House but do not come under my Department, and the important issue of the infrastructure of political parties.
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