HC Deb 16 April 1973 vol 855 cc12-3
8. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will introduce legislation to make it an offence in the United Kingdom for United Kingdom companies operating abroad, either directly or through sub-sidaries, to make political contributions in this country if they are paying wages in other countries below subsistence levels or below internationally agreed recommendations.

Sir G. Howe

No, Sir. British companies operating abroad clearly ought to consider on their merits the need to pay their employees adequate wages and their own longer-term interest in earning a reputation as good employers.

Mr. Jenkins

Is not the Minister aware that many companies, such as Tate and Lyle, and Slater Walker, have been putting into the funds of the Conservative Party money they have been making as a result of paying Africans starvation wages? Will he reconsider his answer? Is he entirely satisfied with having his election expenses paid from such a source?

Sir G. Howe

The questions cannot be linked in the way in which the hon. Gentleman seeks to link them. The Government have made their position perfectly clear. We wish to encourage British companies with subsidiaries or associates in South Africa to look urgently at the pay and conditions of their employees and to make any necessary improvements.

Sir G. Nabarro

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall giving me a very unsatisfactory reply a few days ago on the matter of political subscriptions to the Tory Party? Has not he thought again whether the law is truly being complied with? Will he tell the House how much money the Tory Party had from operating companies in Africa or elsewhere, and compare that with the amount of money the trade union movement gave the Labour Party?

Sir G. Howe

My hon. Friend raises a number of different questions. It is well known that the trade union movement makes substantial contributions to the Labour Party. The statutory position on disclosure by companies in this country is laid down in Section 19 of the Companies Act, which makes specific provision for identifying the source of payments if they exceed £50. So far as I know, publication is taking place as required by the statute. If my hon. Friend has any evidence to suggest that it is not, I shall be glad to examine it.

Mr. Benn

As the Government now have the power, under the Counter-Inflation Act and other measures, to get the companies to declare information to them, will they use those powers to get the companies to reveal what wages they are paying in other countries?

Sir G. Howe

The powers of the Counter-Inflation Act extend to ascertaining information on pay and conditions and prices in this country. They certainly do not extend to obtaining information about what is being paid in the Republic of South Africa. But I have made it very clear that the Government will continue to encourage—as they have done by documents already published— companies with subsidiaries or associates in South Africa to consider the pay and conditions they are providing there. There can be no doubt about the Government's position.