HC Deb 15 March 1961 vol 636 cc1422-33

4.25 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the compulsory publication of accounts by all political parties. I propose to disappoint the House this afternoon. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends will be as disappointed as the right hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Sir T. Low), because I do not propose to make a party political speech. I do not intend to suggest or insinuate that the party opposite is in receipt of certain funds from certain sources. I want to direct the attention of the House to what I regard as the special need, more than ever before, of a Bill of this kind and I direct it against no one particular political party.

I hold the view that the democracy which we enjoy today is the best in the world. I believe that it ought to be stated far more than it is stated that the democracy we have is something which is not easily achieved, but something which has cost the nation a great deal down the years. Not so many years ago we used to have a system of corrupt practices in this House whereby seats were specially bought and there were rotten boroughs. Not too many years ago there was a system when even peerages could be given for various sums of money. Our forefathers lived through that day and age and fought it down so that now we live under a system which generally is considered to be about the best in the world. It is because I want to preserve it, and want as much as anyone in this House to keep something which, I believe, is worth while, that I am introducing this Bill.

I am very worried about present trends as I see our system evolving at the moment. We have to remember that whatever we do today we are making a position which our children will enjoy or suffer tomorrow. I believe that present trends in our democracy are very dangerous. In perhaps five or ten years' time we shall find a situation in which virtually there is only one-party system in this country. I hold the view strongly that the way in which trends are going we shall find the entire Press supporting only one political point of view—

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

It is not supporting us.

Mr. Mellish

I am making a speech and not trying to be arrogant or offensive.

I say that the time is coming when the entire Press of the country will support one political party. There is a large amount of interference to be found with television, a medium we all respect and understand. I believe that if we value democracy we shall have to concern ourselves about this matter. I hope that hon. Members opposite will not think that such trends would favour them. I put it to them seriously that if we ever reach a stage in which there is only a one-party system it would be a threat to democracy and would not be the sort of thing which the Leader of the House would enjoy. I think that he is a democrat and a good one. I do not think that anyone enjoys Parliamentary life more than he does.

In asking for leave to introduce my Bill I am not intending to have a lot of fun and games with the party opposite. The right hon. Member for Blackpool, North can tear up a lot of the notes that he has prepared about political party funds. These trends are coming very fast. We now have a vast propaganda machine which precedes elections of all kinds, General Elections and local elections. Vast sums of money are spent, and I believe that to be bad for Britain as a whole. If we agree, as I think we do, that our democracy is the best in the world, we have to prove it and to prove it to the people outside. My proposed Bill, in effect, says that every political party in the country, the Communist Party, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, should produce adequate accounts showing the sources of their income and their expenditure. I do not think that is anything more than democracy expects.

In 1949, there was a debate on this matter. I have read it and I should like to put on record that one of the interesting features of the debate was that the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham, then Mr. Quintin Hogg, the Member for Oxford, said that he thought the only way to deal with the matter was by legislation. I entirely agree with that, and that is why I am seeking to introduce my Bill. At the end of the day, we must, as political parties in democracy, be prepared to tell our people where our money comes from and how we spend it.

It may be argued that this is an infringement of the rights of individuals who may contribute to political parties. I understand that point of view, but, if our democracy is what we say it is, I can see no reason why anyone—man, woman or organisation—should be ashamed of the party he supports. People should be only too pleased, in a democracy, to acknowledge that they are Conservatives, Liberals or Socialists. There is no reason why they should not. The argument adduced on earlier occasions that it would be wrong to introduce such a Bill as this because people might somehow be victimised does not hold water today. I regard my Bill as necessary today as ever before.

I put this to the Government and to my right hon. and hon. Friends. If my fears prove well founded, if within, say, ten years, the trend is that one political party only is able to survive, no Member of Parliament could be happy about the future, because it is not at all certain that that party would be a party such as the one occupying the Government benches today. Our democracy, for which so many have suffered and fought, could go by default. I ask that there shall be done something which every democratic Briton has a right to expect of all acknowledged political parties, that is to say, that they publish accounts showing full details of the sources of their income. That is the very least that people can expect.

I say frankly to the right hon. Member for Blackpool, North that if we do have to take this matter to a Division, the people of Britain will form a judgment on the fact that this Parliament refuses to do something which I believe to be absolutely right in British democracy.

4.32 p.m.

Sir Toby Low (Blackpool, North)

I oppose the Motion. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) on the spirit in which he moved it. I hope to reply to him in the same spirit, although I must ask the House and the hon. Member to excuse me if I take two or three minutes more than he did. His speech was of admirable length, if I may say so.

This is an extremely important matter. There is no doubt whatever that to many people the idea of compulsory publication of political parties accounts is very attractive and has been for some time. there have been many debates in the House on this and allied subjects. We had one last July. In 1949, we had the debate to which the hon. Gentleman referred. There have been several during the course of the century, and I think that the first one took place in 1908, several years before either the hon. Member or I were born.

During that period there have been many Governments in office. The party complexion of the House has varied between the three main parties. But the decision on this matter has always been the same: no compulsory publication of party accounts. The same decision has been taken in practically every democratic country outside Britain, with the exception of the United States of America, where it is now recognised that the law is ineffective; it leads in some ways not so much to abuses as to subterfuges, and it can be got round almost completely.

I know very well that compulsory publication is attractive to those who consider these matters in the spirit adopted by the hon. Member, for the simple reason that they think that it is in the public interest that people generally should know what are loosely called the forces behind the parties. There are other people who, from a slightly more selfish point of view, want publication merely so that they may know what the other political parties are doing. Let us forget about the latter for the moment and deal with the more high-minded arguments.

There are real difficulties. First, what is a political party? I think I am right in saying that no political party in this country is a legal entity. The Conservative Party certainly is not. Yet, if legislation imposes the duty of publication. it must impose that duty upon some one person. How can one identify that one person without regulating, incorporating and registering? Once we introduce this feature into our democratic life, where do we end?

I admit that I have one very strong prejudice indeed in these matters. I do not want the State to interfere with political parties in this country unless there is a definite mischief to be prevented. There is no definite mischief alleged in this case. The definite mischiefs with which we have had to deal in the past few centuries have been mischiefs of corruption and bribery at elections, and they are covered—I think the hon. Member will agree that they are well covered—by the Representation of the People Act as it stands at present.

If hon. Members think that this point about registration and incorporation is just a lawyer's argument, I will put it to them the other way. Once one registers political parties or insists that they be incorporated, what happens to groups of persons wishing to conduct political activities of one kind or another who are not so registered? What does the law do about them? Immediately, there is an attack upon individual political freedom as well as an attack upon the complete freedom we have now to combine for political purposes. I ask hon. Members opposite to reflect further upon what happens within political parties which have to be registered or incorporated. What happens to the expenditure of money inside registered political parties by those persons who are attacking the leadership of the registered political party? Who accounts for the money they spend?

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Whose money is it?

Sir T. Low

Perhaps hon. Members opposite, with their experience in politics, will try to work out what would happen in their case today.

To take the matter further, I ask this question: once one insists upon the incorporation and legislation of all political parties, what happens to a movement like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament?

Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)

What about the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke)?

Sir T. Low

I do not wish to confine this to one side or the other. I am trying to speak in the same spirit as that adopted by the hon. Member for Bermondsey. This is a serious subject on which people can hold serious views one way or the other, and I hope that I shall be allowed to continue with my rather intricate argument.

What is the position of a movement like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which avowedly has political aims? Who wants to stop campaigns like that being free to organise themselves as they like, apart from any of the established political parties?

Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)

The C.N.D. publishes its accounts.

Sir T. Low

I do not believe that that is what hon. Members would want, nor can I believe that the hon. Member for Bermondsey, on working the matter out, in the spirit in which he put the matter to us and wishing to maintain our British democracy, could find it possible to define adequately the revenue and expenditure for which political parties ought to account.

I see that the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) has just moved to sit beside the hon. Member for Bedmondsey. In the debate we had last July, the right hon. Member made a strong case against what he called the incursion of outside bodies into the party political arena. Would it really be possible to find a system for the compulsory publication of party accounts which, on the one hand, gave a real and fair account of the balance of forces among the parties and, on the other, omitted any reference to that kind of expenditure?

Of course it would not, and, because it would not, and because of the other points which I have made about the definition of a political party, I am driven to the conclusion that if we want meaningful party accounts we have to accept an encroachment upon political liberty in this country which none of us is willing to accept.

Hon. Members


Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

How much money has the Tory Party got?

Sir T. Low

The intervention of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has imported into the debate exactly the spirit which his hon. Friend, I think wisely, tried to keep out of the debate.

Mr. Shinwell


Sir T. Low

I do not think that the hon. Member for Bermondsey, who is chairman of the London Labour Party, moved this Motion to find out how much the Conservative Party spent. He is as concerned in safeguarding our political democracy as we all are. I know that hon. Members opposite are under the curious illusion that the Labour Party publishes its accounts.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

We publish some of them, do we not?

Sir T. Low

It is because it publishes only some that I want to introduce the next point into my speech.

Mr. Silverman rose

Sir T. Low

I will not give way at the moment.

Mr. Silverman rose

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. Sir Toby Low.

Sir T. Low

Why does the Labour Party publish at all? Not because it is in the public interest. It publishes because its rules have demanded it from 1900. That is the sole reason. Its accounts include sums varying between £220,000 and £280,000 a year, but those sums do not show, first, constituency revenue and expenditure—

Mr. Silverman rose

Sir T. Low

—which Mr. Ian Mikardo told us, in 1955, amounted to £1 million.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

Tell us about the Conservative Party.

Sir T. Low

The accounts do not include two-thirds of the trade unions' political funds—two-thirds which amount to £500,000. They do not include the fund which the Co-operative Party uses for political purposes. Nor do they include any money value, because I do not see how they could, for the immense advantage which hon. Members opposite enjoy by reason of the fact that many trade union branches and many shop stewards' meetings form nuclei of political organisations. They include none of those things. Yet all of those things are reasonable activities. I would not wish to stop any of them, nor would I wish to have any shown in the accounts—nor would any hon. Member.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order. I am aware that the Standing Order does not mention any specific limit of time, but it talks about a short speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) introduced the Motion in a six-minute speech. The right hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Sir T. Low) has spoken for nearly fifteen minutes. At what point is the Standing Order invoked, Mr. Deputy-Speaker?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

That is a matter of judgment.

Sir T. Low

I am conscious of the importance of being brief. I have been trying to be brief. If the hon. Member will allow me, I will draw to a conclusion very quickly.

I come back to the point at which I began. This demand for the compulsory publication of accounts is attractive to many people but, as I have tried to show, I believe that if it were done it would bring with it consequences of great importance and great damage to our political system.

Mr. Monslow

Why is the right hon. Member hiding the facts?

Sir T. Low

I have tried to find out why so many hon. Members opposite persist in pegging away at this point, when they must know, if they have worked it out, what the consequences would be. We have no meaningful accounts from any political party in this country. It is because we in the Conservative Party know that to publish meaningful accounts would bring all these dangers to our political freedom, and because we do not intend to mislead the people by behaving in a hypocritical manner today—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh" —that I ask my hon. Friends to reject the Motion.

We are just as keen as are hon. Members opposite on preserving our Parliamentary and democratic freedom. It is because of that, and because of the other considerations which I have put to the House, that I ask my hon. Friends and the House to reject the Motion.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 138, Noes 223.

Division No. 108. AYES. '4.47 p.m.
Albu, Austen Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Lawson, George
Awbery, Stan Forman, J. C. Lee, Frederick (Newton)
Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.) Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Lipton, Marcus
Beaney, Alan Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Loughlin, Charles
Blackburn, F. Gourlay, Harry MacColl, James
Blyton, William Grey, Charles McKay, John (Wallsend)
Boardman, H. Grimond, J. McLeavy, Frank
Bowden, Herbert W. (Lefts, S.W.) Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvli (Come Valley) MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)
Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan) Hamilton, William (West Fife) MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Bowles, Frank Hannan, William Mallalieu, E. L. (Bragg)
Boyden, James Hart, Mrs. Judith Manuel, A. C.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hayman, F. H. Mapp, Charles
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Healey, Denis Marsh, Richard
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Herbison, Miss Margaret Mason, Roy
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hilton, A. V. Mayhew, Chirstopher
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Holman, Percy Mayhew, Christopher M
Callaghan, James Holt, Arthur Mendelson, J J.
Chetwynd, George Houghton, Douglas Malian, Bruce
Cliffe, Michael Howell, Charles A. Mitchison, G. R.
Collick, Percy Hoy, James H. Monslow, Walter
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Moyle, Arthur
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
Darling, George Hunter, A. E. Oliver, G. H.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Hynd, H. (Accrington) Owen, Will
Deer, George Hynd, John (Attercliffe) Paget, R. T.
de Freitas, Geoffrey Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Parkin, B. T. (Paddington, N.)
Dempsey, James Danner, Sir Barnett Pavitt, Laurence
Driberg, Tom Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Peart, Frederick
Ede, Rt. Hon. C. Jones, Dan (Burnley) Pentland, Norman
Edelman, Maurice Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Poppleweli, Ernest
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Kelley, Richard Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Edwards, Walter (Stepney) Kenyon, Clifford Proctor, W. T.
Evans, Albert Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Randall, Harry
Reid, William Sorensen, R. W. Wainwright, Edwin
Reynolds, G. W. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Warbey, William
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Spriggs, Leslie Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Steele, Thomas Wilkins, W. A.
Ross, William Stewart, Michael (Fulham) Willey, Frederick
Royle, Charles (Salford, West) Stones, William Williams, LI. (Abertillery)
Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E. Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. it. (Vauxhall) Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
Short, Edward Stross,Dr.Banrett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.) Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Silverman, Julius (Aston) Swingler, Stephen Woof, Robert
Silverman, Sydney (Nelson) Sylvester, George
Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield) Taylor, John (West Lothian) Mr. Mellish and
Small, William Thornton, Ernest Mr. Charles Panned,
Smith, Ellis (Stoke, 8.) Timmons, John
Agnew, Sir Peter Goodhart, Philip McMaster, Stanley R.
Aitken, W. T. Goodhew, Victor Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Allason, James Cower, Raymond Madden, Martin
Barlow, Sir John Grant, Rt. Hon. William Maginnis, John E.
Barter, John Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. Maitland, Sir John
Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate) Gresham Cooke, R. Marmingham-Butler, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Bell, Ronald Grimston, Sir Robert Markham, Major Sir Frank
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Marten, Nell
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Finn) Hall, John (Wycombe) Mathew, Robert (Honiton)
Berkeley, Humphry Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough) Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)
Bidgood, John C. Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Mawby, Ray
Bishop, F. P. Harvle Anderson, Miss Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Black, Sir Cyril Hastings, Stephen Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.
Bossom, Clive Hay, John Mills, Stratton
Bourne-Anon, A. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Montgomery, Fergus
Box, Donald Heath, Rt. Hon. Edward More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Boyle, Sir Edward Henderson, John (Cathcart) Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col.SirWalter Henderson-Stewart, Sir James Nicholson, Sir Godfrey
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Hendry, Forbes Noble, Michael
Browne, Percy (Torrington) Hicks Beach, Maj. W. Nugent, Sir Richard
Bryan, Paul Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk) Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Bullard, Denys Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Osborne, Cyril (Louth)
Bonus, Wing Commander Erie Hirst, Geoffrey Page, John (Harrow, West)
Butcher, Sir Herbert Hobson, John Page, Graham (Crosby)
Butler, Rt.Hn.R.A.(Saffron Walden) Holland, Philip Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)
Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.) Hollingworth, John Partridge, E.
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Hope, Rt. Hon. Lord John Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)
Carr, Compton (Barons Court) Hopkins, Alan Peel, John
Carr, Robert (Mitcham) Howard, John (Southampton, Test) Paton, John
Cary, Sir Robert Hughes Hallett, Vloe-Admiral John Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Channon, H. P. G. Hughes-Young, Michael Pitman, I. J.
Chataway, Christopher Hulbert, Sir Norman Pitt, Miss Edith
Chichester-Clark, R. Hutchison, Michael Clark Pott, Percivall
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Iremonger, T. L. Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch
Cleaver, Leonard Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Prior, J. M. L.
Cole, Norman Jackson, John prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho
Cooper, A. E. James, David proudfoot, Wilfred
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Quennell, Miss J. M.
Corfield, F. V. Jennings, J. C. Rawlinson, Peter
Coulson, J. M. Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Craddock, Sir Beresford Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Rees-Davies,W. R.
Cunningham, Knox Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Renton, David
Curran, Charles Kerby, Capt. Henry Ridley, Hon. Nicholas
Currie, G. B. H. Kerr, Sir Hamilton Robertson, Sir David
Dalkeith, Earl of Kershaw, Anthony Roots, William
Dance, James Kirk, Peter Russell, Ronald
d'Avlgdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Kitson, Timothy Scott-Hopkins, James
de Ferrantl, Basil Lancaster, Col. C. G. Sharples, Richard
Dlgby, Simon Wingfield Leavey, J. A. Shaw, M.
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M. Leburn, Gilmour Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir Jocelyn
du Cann, Edward Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Skeet, T. H. H.
Duthie, Sir William Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Spearman, Sir Alexander
Eden, John Lindsay, Martin Speir, Rupert
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Linstead, Sir Hugh Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Elliott,R.W.(Nwcstle-upon-Tyne,N.) Litchfield, Capt. John Stodart, J. A.
Emery, Peter Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Stoddart-Soott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Longbottom, Charles storey, sir Samuel
Farey-Jones, F. W. Longden, Gilbert Summers, Sir Spender (Aylesbury)
Farr, John Loveys, Walter H. Talbot, John E.
Fell, Anthony Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)
Finlay, Graeme Lucas, Sir Jocelyn Teeling, William
Fisher, Nigel Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Fraser, lan (Plymouth, Sutton) MacArthur, lan Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Galbraith, Hon. T. C. D. McLaren, Martin Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)
Gammans, Lady McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Gardner, Edward Maclean,SirFitzroy(Bute&N.Ayrs.) Turner, Colin
Gibson-Watt, David McLean, Neil (Inverness) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Clover, Sir Douglas MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Vaughan-Morgan, Sir John
Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis Whitelaw, William Woodnutt, Mark
Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.) Williams, Dudley (Exeter) Woollam, John
Wall, Patrick Williams, Paul, (Sunderland, S.) Worsley, Marcus
Ward, Dame Irene Wills, Sir Gerald (Brdgwater)
Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Watts, James Wise, A. R. Sir Henry Studholme and
Webster, David Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick Sir James Duncan.
Wells, John (Maidstone) Woodhouse, C. M.