Draft Companies (EU Political Expenditure) Exemption Order 2001

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Mr. Brian Cotter (Weston-super-Mare): The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) referred to the blinds. I very much look forward to testing them when there is some sunshine outside. They certainly look very nice and I hope that they are repeated along the Corridor.

The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman will not mind me saying that I am grateful to him for putting me right. When he said that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton had referred to the blind, I thought that he was making a political point.

Mr. Cotter: Thank you for the clarification, Dr. Clark.

I was interested in what the hon. Gentleman was saying about the matter having been overlooked in the Act and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

It is usual to declare an interest in the subject under discussion, but as a Liberal Democrat I can probably declare a non-interest in this as, unfortunately, not too many national papers speak up and endorse us, although I wait with bated breath for the next general election in the hope that they will all come on board. Having declared a non-interest on that basis, I am happy that the statutory instrument reinforces press freedom, of which the Liberal Democrats thoroughly approve.

As has been pointed out before, statutory instruments are extremely difficult to understand. The problem has existed since about 1645, and we have had a series of regulations and by-your-leaves. Once again, let me make a plea for plain speaking in these measures.

Having said that, I support the statutory instrument and look forward to any additional comments from the Minister.

4.47 pm

Dr. Howells: First, I apologise to you, Dr. Clark, for referring to you as Mr. Clark. It must have been because I thought that you were a brain surgeon, so I hope that you were not offended.

I appreciate the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton setting the historical record straight— as far as any Opposition Member can set anything straight—about the genesis of this statutory instrument. I cannot possibly comment on the relative performances of the DTI and any other Government Department, but it was nice to be reminded of it.

I understand full well the point that was made by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Cotter). Before I came here today, I was rung by an old friend who is a mathematician. He said that if we covered an area the size of Somerset with ponds of algae it could absorb all the carbon dioxide produced by every industrial process in the world. I believe that Weston-super-Mare is in that area. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's call for plain speaking. He would certainly have to do some plain speaking if he had to tell the world that he was not prepared to sacrifice Somerset to the cause of carbon dioxide absorption.

The draft order reflects two equally important principles in our public and political life—the importance of transparency and proper accountability in relation to the funding of political parties in election and referendum campaigns and the freedom of the press. The Government believe that the order will help to ensure that both principles are properly applied in this country and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Companies (EU Political Expenditure) Exemption Order 2001.

Committee rose at ten minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Clark, Dr. Michael (Chairman)
Cotter, Mr.
Dalyell, Mr.
Dowd, Mr.
Fyfe, Mrs.
Gibb, Mr.
Howells, Dr.
Jones, Dr. Lynne
Kidney, Mr.
Miller, Mr.
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Sarwar, Mr.
Twigg, Mr. Derek

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Prepared 30 January 2001