HC Deb 07 July 1960 vol 626 cc690-2
34. Mr. Grimond

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will initiate an inquiry into expenditure on political advertising between elections.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I have no such inquiry in mind.

Mr. Grimond

Is the Home Secretary aware that his answer is not surprising, but is it not quite anomalous to control expenditure tightly during a political campaign and leave the rest entirely free for people to spend what they like? Secondly, does not he think that it is now time for two reforms to be considered—first, that political parties should publish their balance sheets secondly, that public companies should inform their shareholders when they give donations to political parties or similar bodies?

Mr. Butler

It is well known that Section 63 of the Representation of the People Act, passed in 1949 under a Government composed of right hon. and hon. Members opposite, restricted statements of expenditure primarily to candidates. I was very impressed by an article in the News Chronicle of 9th June which, in effect, asked what would happen to campaigns like those against nationalisation or against nuclear disarmament—taking cases from different angles—if we were to follow the advice of the hon. Member. It went on to ask: …is the citizen to be denied the right to spend money on propagating his views because they might affect the party struggle? And how is trade union support for labour to be supervised?

Miss Bacon

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what his difficulties are in setting up such an inquiry? Is he aware that the Leader of the Liberal Party is asking for this, and is he further aware that I, as chairman of the Labour Party's Publicity Committee, would be able to offer help to such an inquiry? Does he know that I could give a little information now, namely, that in the two years preceding the last General Election the head office of the Labour Party spent about £20,000 in poster advertising and nothing in newspaper advertising, compared with £500,000 spent by the Tory Party, and £1¼ million by their friends and associates?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady and the House at this point must be reminded that questions giving information are out of order.

Mr. Shinwell

Is not the right hon. Gentleman interested in finding out what the Tory Party spent on this advertising? Is it not one means of ascertaining the facts—or is it that the Tory Party could not make any progress or achieve any success without extensive advertising of this kind, in contrast to the Labour Party?

Mr. Butler

I cannot accept the figures that have been bandied about the House. Secondly, the difference between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party is that we have something to advertise and they have not. Thirdly, I see no likelihood of this law being easily enforceable if it were brought in, even if it were desirable. Therefore, I am not in favour of an inquiry.