HC Deb 19 January 2000 vol 342 cc841-2
Q2. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

If he will make a statement on his policy in respect of the equalisation of the total sums of public money to be spent on each side of the argument in future referendum campaigns.

The Prime Minister

The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill received its Second Reading last week and will put into effect the Neill committee recommendations. It provides that up to £600,000 of public money should be made available by the Electoral Commission to designated umbrella organisations on each side of any referendum campaign.

Dr. Lewis

Given that the Bill allows equal sums of public money to be made available, why is the Prime Minister also putting into the Bill rules that mean that parties that favour the euro will be able to spend much more of the money that they raise than parties that are opposed to British entry into the euro? Could that be because at least 64 per cent. of the British people are opposed to the Prime Minister's policy of abolishing the pound, and he knows that he can only hope to get it through by rigging the rules in that way?

The Prime Minister

That is nonsense. The two main parties will qualify for the same limit. In any event it could not be said that the no campaign was not well funded; indeed I should have thought that the opposite could be said. The rules are very fair for the no and yes campaigns because the sum of public money given to each side will be precisely the same, and the limit is the same for the main political parties. There is parity of treatment on both sides.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

On the equalisation of moneys for the referendum, is the Prime Minister aware that Yorkshire property developer Mr. Paul Sykes told the Yorkshire Post last year that he is prepared to spend his £235 million fortune campaigning against Europe and the euro? He is already spending £20 million putting up very flattering pictures of me with my name on in my constituency, which my constituents think I have paid for myself, so I thank him for that.

Is the Prime Minister further aware that the Tories' new isolationist, anti-European business friends are already raising millions of pounds, in addition to the fact that newspapers owned by foreign proprietors campaign day and night against Europe? Will he ensure that when a referendum happens, there is equal play for those of us who believe that Britain's future lies in Europe and that we should not join the Tory crusade to isolate Britain from Europe?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right, which is why, as I said to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), the no campaign is incredibly well funded, and it would be rather odd for anyone to claim that it would be discriminated against in funding.

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