HC Deb 08 March 1927 vol 203 cc1050-2

I beg to move: That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make illegal any arrangement or agreement concluded with the object of recommending the conferring of any title or honour upon any person in return for a donation to a political party fund. This Bill is not intended to interfere with the award of honours and distinctions for literature or any field of activity; it only seeks to prevent a party filling its coffers from the sale of honours. It is fitting and proper that a Labour Member should introduce this particular Measure. Our party, so far, has clean hands, while the other two parties are certainly deeply implicated in this very despicable traffic. The Labour party has not started the practice, it does not wish to start it, therefore, it is free to suggest to the other parties, which may have a somewhat disreputable past, that the practice should come to an end. Recent events have drawn attention to this particular practice. There has been prolonged dissention about a fund which is called the Lloyd George Fund. I think it is quite clear that the origin of that fund is very largely the sale of honours during the period of the Coalition Government. The practice was in existence before, but then it was a retail business. When the Coalition took over they made it a wholesale business. The facts were notorious at the time, and it became a public jest that, when a new title was conferred on a person, that he had acquired the Coalition guinea stamp. I would not pursue that subject if there were any sign of repentance, but there was a definite statement in a Liberal paper two or three weeks ago by a Liberal to the effect that it was a proper and legitimate method of raising party funds, which had the sanction behind it of long usage. In these circumstances I am entitled to refer to that. This practice has unfortunate consequences for parties and individuals. The unclean gold, if I may so describe it, which has come to the Lloyd George Fund as a result of the share of the money derived from the sale of honours during the period of the Coalition, has already caused deep convulsions in the Liberal party itself, and according to people like Viscount Grey and Lord Oxford and Asquith, the potentialities for mischief of that fund in the hands of a single individual are not by any means exhausted yet. Lord Rosebery has been asking questions about it. He asks: What is it? It surely cannot be the sale of the Royal Honours? If that was so, there would be nothing in the worst times of Charles II or Sir Robert Walpole to equal it. The only reply to that is a very eloquent and expressive silence. The Lloyd George Coalition had nothing to learn from Walpole in that respect. It is said that, as a result of the Royal Commission, which reported in 1923, the evil has been much diminished. That Commission made certain suggestions in regard to a Committee of three which is to consider any list of honours to be submitted to His Majesty, and it is true to say that, as a result, the evil is much less than it was. But it undoubtedly still exists. The Commission made a further recommendation which has never been carried into effect. It recommended that a short Act should be passed imposing penalties on people who engage in the traffic of selling honours. That has not been passed, and I suggest it is time that the House took further steps to prevent the sale and the consequent degradation of honours. There is a Clause in the Bill which I am presenting this afternoon which requires political parties to publish periodical statements of their subscriptions. I am sure there will be no objection to that. There is nothing immoral or wrong in donating a sum of money to a political party, and it is in the best interests of political parties and public purity that there should be a public record of all these contributions. There are existing laws against corruption in politics, but this selling of honours is corruption on a grand scale, and, as we have realised, it is on such a scale that it is possible for a single individual to hold a whole party to ransom. As the law stands at present it is an offence for a political party to buy a vote for half-a-crown, but the law, as it stands, permits the same political party to sell a Peerage for £40,000. That is an anomaly which the House should bring to and end. In introducing this Measure I do not wish to enter into the question whether honours are good or had. I have my own views on that. It may be that an honour which is conferred on an individual for some distinguished service to the community and the nation is a very right and proper thing, but I say that an honour which has been bought by hard cash, and a party which has been bought by hard cash, is something which only merits thorough contempt, and I hope the House will endorse that view.


Will the Prime Minister give facilities for the passage of the Bill?

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Thurtle, Mr. Bromley, Mr. Buchanan, Mr. Lansbury, Mr. Maxton, Mr. Stephen, and Mr. Wellock.


"to make illegal any arrangement or agreement concluded with the object of recommending the conferring of any title or honour upon any person in return for a donation to a political party fund," presented accordingly, and read the First time; to he read a Second time upon Friday, and to be printed. [Bill 73.]