HC Deb 20 March 1975 vol 888 cc1878-934

Question again proposed.

4.25 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

I beg to move, as an amendment to the proposed motion, in line 1, leave out 1975 ' and insert instead thereof: 'following upon the first General Election held after October 1974'. I commence where the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) finished. I, too, am against the motion in toto but even if I were in agreement with the blandishment of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, which I am not, this is a matter which should have the full-hearted consent of the people before Parliament passes judgment. It might be something which we could put on the referendum, but certainly it should be put to the electorate before we come to a decision.

That is why I tabled my amendment which I am glad you have agreed to call, Speaker. I accept that, through inadvertence, you said wrongly earlier that you would not call it, although you had previously agreed to do so. My objective is to assist right hon. and hon. Members, particularly those who are not here, through no fault of their own. This motion was due to be debated next Monday. However, hon. Members make appointments and arrange business a long way in advance, and, therefore, I am not castigating Members who are not present, because they did not know that this matter would be debated today.

However, the Government, the Opposition and the Liberals knew that Thursday usually is the day when, all things being equal, business can be fixed by arrangement in such a way that it can be slipped through. That is regrettable on a matter such as that which we are debating. Money—and I am not concerned whether it is a pound, £150,000, £5,000 or £5—will he taken out of the pockets of my old-age pensioners and the old-age pensioners represented by the Conservative and Liberal Parties.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles) rose—

Mr. Lewis

No. The debate is already too restricted.

People who are poorly paid but perhaps paying tax and people who have spent their working lives in the trade union and Labour movement fighting and struggling against the Tory Party and fighting against the Liberal Party will now have to contribute through their taxes without having the opportunity of passing an opinion on supporting the Tory and Liberal Parties. Likewise, I agree that good, solid Tories who, throughout their working lives, have fought against the Labour and trade union movement, rightly or wrongly—I might think wrongly—and who now find it hard to manage because of inflation, the cost of living, and so on, will have to pay through their taxes in order to support the Labour Party.

Mr. William Clark (Croydon, South)


Mr. Lewis

I do not wish to give way. Time is limited. The hon. Gentleman must attack the two Front Benches because they have limited the debate.

It is morally wrong to take money out of the pockets of people who can ill afford it in order to contribute to concerns which they have spent their working lives opposing.

Mr. William Clark rose

Mr. Lewis

Very well, if the hon. Gentleman insists.

Mr. William Clark

Does the hon. Gentleman, with the same logic, agree that it is wrong to use taxpayers' money to pay political advisers to Ministers who are political appointees?

Mr. Lewis

Yes. I have raised that matter in the House. I have opposed it, and the official Opposition have opposed it. I wish that the Opposition would oppose this motion. Why do they not? They know that they are on to a good thing. Do not let us kid ourselves: this is only the start, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House suggested. He said that Opposition parties did better in Germany, France and Canada. A Minister will say—it may not be my right hon. Friend; it may be a Tory Minister—that the cost of living, prices, fares, postage, and telephone charges have increased and, therefore, the sums suggested in the motion should be increased. I see the Liberal Whip nodding.

Mr. David Steel indicated dissent.

Mr. Lewis

I am sorry; I withdraw that. The hon. Gentleman will probably nod in agreement with my next remark.

I heard the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) say that the Leader of the Liberal Party should receive a salary. That will be the next suggestion. It will then be suggested that, as with the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister when they vacate office, he should get a pension—although a pension four or five times greater than any working-class person would get. After the right hon. Gentleman gets his salary, that will be the next step, and let us not kid ourselves. This is the normal sequence of events; it has happened.

I am against this because at this very moment, at 4.30 this afternoon, I cannot get £1 extra for children in my constituency who cannot go to school because there are not enough schools and not enough teachers. We have large numbers of immigrant children, and, because they have to learn Hindu or Urdu to be able to teach those children, teachers refuse to come into my constituency and go instead to better areas. Then, there is a shortage of housing and a shortage of this, that and the other.

When I go to the Treasury it says it cannot allow us any money because it has no money. When I go to the Ministry of Education and Science it says it cannot give me any money, and so children in my constituency have to be pushed out, and they find they are on a two- or three-day week. According to the law they must go to school for five days a week but they can go for only two or three days. All that is needed is money but we cannot get it from the Treasury. The Treasury says it has not got the money, but it can find it for this.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Does my hon. Friend realise that the situation which he is describing in our borough is one not only of failing to get facilities that we require to meet our needs but of the closure of existing facilities, particularly the Poplar Hospital, which was doing a good job?

Mr. Lewis

My hon. Friend raises what was to have been my next point. I was going to pay tribute to him and say that he above all people has led a campaign in which I have been a quiescent Member. I joined in yesterday because he put up a great fight over the closing of the Poplar Hospital. Hon. Members talk about the Westminster Hospital but they do not know what is happening in the East End of London where there are large numbers of people suffering from incurable diseases and susceptible to illness. Yet, far from getting the new hospital, both Governments have stopped it over the years. The question of the new Newham hospital has been going on for about 15 years. It has been stopped because it is said there is not enough money. Now they have the audacity to close the Poplar Hospital and to raise difficulties about finding nurses and doctors and paying salaries but they can find the money for this.

I strongly object to this proposal. It has been said, with some degree of truth on the part of the Tory Party and the Liberal Party, that the Labour Party is in part financed by the trade unions and trade unionists' contributions. That is true. They go on to say that because the trade unions pay the piper they call the tune, and I accept that to some extent that is true. Equally, I retaliate by saying that the Tory Party is in the main financed by big business, and in the main big business calls the tune. Behind the Liberal Party there is Rowntrees, the chocolate people.

Mr. Steel indicated dissent.

Mr. Lewis

If the hon. Gentleman does not agree, then we will agree to disagree. Speaking in a general, not a particular way, he who pays the piper calls the tune. We in this House know that one of the stumbling blocks to any progress, with any Government and from any Minister, is the argument that is always trotted out to people that the Treasury will not agree, or that the Treasury will agree if it makes its way. Are we not to have a situation where the Treasury comes in? Is there not a danger that the Treasury will call the tune?

Mr. Spearing

The establishment.

Mr. Lewis

We shall have a situation where if one is a good blue-eyed boy and behaves oneself the Treasury will be willing to come forward to help, assist and increase, but if one is not, then it will not. So again there is a danger that we shall find, as my hon. Friend rightly says, that the establishment will be having direct, or certainly indirect, control over what the parties do and do not do, and how they progress, or do not progress, certainly from a financial aspect.

Let us look at this motion, which is so widely and loosely worded. In paragraph 6 there are the words: in relation to the party parliamentary business ". You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, like me, have been here for some 30 years.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Too long.

Mr. Lewis

That is an old saying, and the hon. Gentleman puts on fat every time he says it. He says it every week, and we see the result.

A party's parliamentary business can be stretched to cover any sin one wishes it to cover. An hon. Gentleman spoke of the Common Market. What happens if Mr. X wants to go to a meeting somewhere? Who is going to challenge whether or not that is to do with parliamentary business? The Leader of the Opposition—I had better not say the present Leader of the Opposition, because I want to attack not the person but the principle—is supplied with a car, chauffeur and petrol at Government expense. I am not going to challenge either or any of them, but no one will tell me that on every single occasion that that car and chauffeur went out with Mr. X or Mr. Y to A or B it was on purely parliamentary business for I know that that is not true. It cannot happen, because there are occasions when, quite legitimately, one cannot organise things in that way.

I am only saying that this provision not only can, but will, be stretched and we shall find a situation where it is said that we have now to stretch the expenses because what is allowed does not cover such things. Who knows? The next step may be not only a parliamentary salary for the Leader of the Liberal Party but a car and chauffeur for him. I hope that in throwing out these ideas I shall not put ideas into hon. Members' heads.

Then, what about the Leader of the Scottish Nationals? What about my hon. Friend the Leader of the Welsh Nationals? Why should he not have a salary and a free pension when he decides to pack up? We can go on stretching this. We shall have a situation where anyone may come along—and I am not concerned about the fact that I am known not to be an establishment man, sucking up to the Leader of my party—

Mr. Spearing

Heaven forbid.

Mr. Lewis

Yes, Heaven forbid. I have been here for 30 years, and if I had wanted to, I could have done that. I do not like crawling but some people want to get on the band wagon. In the Army, before the word "crawling" there was another adjective. I do not like that. I do not want this extended to give an opportunity that could lead to the revolting suggestion that the taxpayers should be called upon to pay money, through their taxes, to parties to which they are violently opposed. After all, that would be dishonest, and I certainly will not vote for this.

Some of my hon. Friends here represent mining constituencies. What of the miner who was injured in the pit 40 or 50 years ago, shabbily treated by the former private owners and probably not so well treated even by the present National Coal Board, a man with a miserly, mean pension of a few pounds a week for which he has fought and struggled all his life. Now he is to find himself or his relatives, perhaps his son or daughter, called upon to pay money to finance the Tory Party which he has opposed all his life. It is immoral. It is unjust.

If the Government can argue on this, then let us give the people a chance to decide. Let us say we will postpone this until the first General Election held after last October. That is not bad. That is not unfair. If my right hon. Friend and the Opposition think it is fair, and if they believe in democracy and getting the full-hearted consent of the people, why not let us ask the people?

Mr. William Clark

Have another referendum.

Mr. Lewis

I am not against that but I should prefer a General Election. because that is decided on political issues and each individual candidate could say "I oppose taxpayers' money being used to finance any political party." if I say that and I am defeated the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) will be right in saying that 30 years is too long. I shall have to give up my seat after having been here for 35 years. Let hon. Members take that step and put this matter to the people. If we get the will of the people, I shall be willing to abide by their decision.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his Government, in the Queen's Speech in March—and I stress March—of last year, said it was their intention to give financial aid to opposition parties in the House? They fought a General Election in October after the publication of that Queen's Speech. Does the hon. Gentleman agree, therefore, that the Government have a mandate for the policy which they announced in March of last year prior to the October election?

Mr. Lewis

No, I do not think they have. The Government often put into Queen's Speeches things that are not in their manifesto, things that have never been suggested in a manifesto. The Queen's Speech is an omnibus document. Things which are not in the Queen's Speech are often added afterwards as time goes on. What was in the Queen's Speech in March has no relevance to this debate. Each Session of Parliament stands on its own. What matters is that the manifesto on which the Government fought the election contains no reference to this money being provided by the taxpayer.

If an hon. Member objects to a proposal, his objection is registered when the measure conies before the House. If the Government had introduced a Bill to deal with this proposal I should have opposed it day in and day out in Committee. My only chance of opposing the matter today was to put down an amendment, and this I did at the first available opportunity. If a Bill were introduced on this subject I should put down hundreds of amendments. It is not my fault or the fault of the hon. Member for Rochdale that the Government have chosen this way of doing what I call a little sleight of hand.

I cannot do better than quote the words of the former right hon. Member for Woodford who said about a certain Bill Let the Government take it away and slit its dirty throat. We do not want it here.

4.44 p.m.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I begin by apologising to the Leader of the House for missing his opening words on what I regard as an important occasion.

I returned late after a visit to the European Commission in Brussels.

I hope that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West will withdraw the implication that the timing of the debate was altered as a result of collusion between the parties who would benefit and so that this proposal could be slipped through the House on a Thursday afternoon. That is not the case. The first that I knew of the change of business was when the Leader of the House announced it at the Dispatch Box. There was no consultation beforehand. In any case, such consultation as there was between the two main parties in the House was concerned with retiming the debate on the Clay Cross measure and had nothing to do with this motion.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I withdraw what I said if I have in any way cast aspersions on the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). When he reads my remarks he will see that I said that it was the usual custom of the Opposition and the Government, when they want to slip something through, to re-arrange business, and that this is what happened on this occasion. If I did not say that, I withdraw what I did say and give way to the hon. Gentleman because the matter is fresher in his memory than it is in mine.

Mr. Steel

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to make my speech in the middle of his interventions. I accept his withdrawal.

We are all moved by the concern of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West about other matters of welfare in his constituency, but I think we must keep a sense of proportion about what is being proposed. Not many new hospitals or schools could be built with the sum of money that is being discussed here.

The House should recognise that no new principle is involved in what the Leader of the House is proposing. The only new principle, if there is one at all, is that the House is being asked formally to approve what is being proposed. It is being asked to approve an extension of something that has been done. The House is being asked to extend financial support for the more effective working of Parliament. That is what this is all about. I do not want to stray from the motion, but we have to remember that this is one of a package of proposals which the Government brought forward.

If hon. Members have read the answers to Written Questions on 4th March they will know that in answer to a Question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) it was said that the value of financial help to the official Opposition in both Houses of Parliament is £65,000, although £31,000 is payable in salaries to Opposition leaders and Whips in both Houses. This has never come before the House. This has been developed over the years by successive Governments. I make no criticism of it, because it is right and proper, but the fact is that the House has never been asked to approve these payments. The principle of public spending to support the fabric of opposition in Parliament is nothing new, and it is not being introduced by this motion.

Mr. Spearing

What the hon. Gentleman says is generally well known, although the figures he quoted are interesting. Does he agree that there is a difference of principle between salaries and the provision of assistance in kind—heating, accommodation, and so on—to office holders and the kind of cash allowance that is envisaged in the motion?

Mr. Steel

I shall come in a moment to the methods of assistance. I do not know when it began, but it is not widely known that civil servants have worked in the Opposition Whips' Office under successive Governments. This no doubt accounts for part of the £65,000 to which I referred. That form of assistance, which has never been available until now to parties other than the official Opposition, is being extended.

In view of some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West I should like to make it clear to the House that the Parliamentary Liberal Party has no intention either now or in the foreseeable future—though it is impossible for any party to bind its successors—to pay salaries to leaders or Whips. I hope, therefore, that we can put that argument on one side.

I believe that the House has cause to be grateful to the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust. It is a non-charitable trust, and three years ago it made available to Members of all parties financial assistance in the form of staffing and research, something which the House hitherto has done very badly. We are all grateful for the services that we receive from the Library, but we do not in this country have the system of professional assistance to political parties that is widespread elsewhere.

I do not wish to put words or thoughts into the mouth or mind of the Lord President of the Council, but the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust may have done us all a service over the last three years. This experiment could be of genuine help to all political parties, and the Government themselves have used their experience of this scheme to extend the practice of their predecessors of bringing political advisers into the Civil Service and on to the payroll. I think I am right in saying that some of the personnel came into the Government direct from the Rowntree Trust scheme.

This is a development in modern democracy about which we should not quibble. The Government of the day have always had the weight of the professional Civil Service behind them. The secondary parties, whether they be in Government or Opposition, should have their democratic ideas evolved into the Government machine as well as those of the Civil Service. Indeed, it could be argued that one of the problems of our country is that over the years the Civil Service has developed far greater power than the politicians.

This is an attempt not to create a counter-Civil Service—that is far too grandiose an idea—but a limited proposal to ensure that the views of the different political parties, as reflected in the support that they have in the country, are implemented effectively in the House.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Why is it that a party worth its salt cannot raise money through its own sources to pay for these things? What is there about taxpayers' money that makes it so much better?

Mr. Steel

I draw a clear distinction between the financing of political parties in the country and the financing of political parties in the House. We have to finance the Liberal Party by subscriptions from individuals. We do not have the mass support of the trade union movement or big business. Until now we have had to finance the limited staffing that we have in Parliament by appeals to our supporters in the country. That has been in direct competition with the appeals made by the Liberal Party in the country. That is a tension that exists at all times in all political parties.

I do not believe that this proposal will in any way relieve us of the obligation to continue to attract financial support from people outside, but it is a bad principle that political parties should operate in the House—as distinct from campaigns in the country—by being dependent on them. We should not be beholden to any paymasters outside the House. It is a healthy sign that we shall be free of too much obligation to any particular paymasters.

How do we propose to make use of the cash if the House approves this measure? The Liberal Party will use it for staffing. We intend to help our party's political machine. I think I am right in saying that during the last election we had almost half as many votes as the official Opposition. That is reflected in the volume of mail and deputations that we receive but not in the representation of Liberals on Committees in the House. I was not a member of the Committee that considered the Finance Bill but I took an interest in some of its deliberations. The Conservative Party was represented by a considerable number of Members but the Liberal Party had only one representative. That was the proper ration, I agree. The Liberal representative was expected to keep abreast of all the technical matters which were shared amongst the many Conservative Members. Without some sort of back-up it is difficult to do that sort of job effectively.

I have two questions to ask the Leader of the House. First, this proposal makes no provision for inflation or any change in circumstances.

Mr. Arthur Lewis


Mr. Steel

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West—I do not want to malign him—is one of those concerned about the level of parliamentary salaries. They, too, take no account of inflation and they remain at a flat level until years later.

Mr. Arthur Lewis


Mr. Steel

No, I am not giving way. Similarly, if we employ individuals on a fixed sum we would be irresponsible employers if we were not to ensure that there was some provision at some time in the future for some element of review by the House. I return to my first question—namely, what machinery will there he for reviewing the provision in future?

Secondly, I believe that there is a case, if we are to use most of the money for research staffing in the House, to suggest that the persons concerned should be taken directly on to the public payroll without cash going through the hands of the political parties. Provision should be up to the value of the amount stated rather than straight cash transactions. Perhaps the Leader of the House will be willing to consider that point.

Finally, I return to the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith). This is not a new proposal. The Government spelt it out—not in a precise formula but in principle—in the Queen's Speech after the February General Election. It was well known and discussion took place amongst the parties during the previous Parliament. It was well known during the last election that it would be the Labour Government's intention, if returned to office, to introduce a scheme of this kind. There can be no argument in favour of the amendment.

4.57 p.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim South)

First, I take up one of the points made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh. Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). The Ulster Unionists also had the good fortune to have a representative on the Finance Bill Committee. Despite our research resources being very limited, I think we gave a reasonably good account of ourselves, thanks to the work done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). I think that that point would be conceded not only by their Committee colleagues but by the whole House.

Our party always endeavours to play a constructive and responsible part in the proceedings of the House and in the functioning of Parliament generally. We shall participate in whatever arrangements are made as a result of our deliberations today. We have strong views on what is being proposed. We have grave reservations on the proposal, which will involve the use of public funds in forms of support which should be the responsibility of those who return representatives and parties to the House. Those who support parties in the country should feel that they have a duty and even an obligation to provide whatever aid may be considered necessary to enable the party of their choice to discharge its function in the House.

The Ulster Unionists are working under a particular disadvantage. First, we are further from our support base than any other party in the House. Secondly, we have the problem that there is a certain dichotomy of thought within the electorate of Northern Ireland. They have always found it difficult to decide where their priorities lie. Those parties who have representatives in the Parliaments, assemblies or conventions, whatever they may be, in Stormont and representatives in this House find that there is a tendency for their supporters to divide their loyalty and support between Westminster and Stormont.

It is important to remember, although we get in the habit of thinking that there is no Assembly or Government at Stormont, that the members of the Assembly are still functioning, are still being paid their salaries and are still carrying out their duties as representatives of the people. This tends to cause a certain division of thought within the electorate in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, taking into account this peculiar handicap under which we suffer, we are prepared to compete with our colleagues who represent the electorate in the Assembly for whatever voluntary resources may be available for support of parliamentary activities generally.

We recognise that the motion is not to be confused with the present consideration of still further assistance to private Members, but, separate though that matter may be, it cannot be left out of account entirely since it does not seem essential that there should be a clear division between, for example, research geared to support individual Members or subject spokesmen in all the opposition parties and research for parties as units. Even as they stand, those research allowances are comparatively generous and in the current review it seems likely that a recommendation will be made that they should be increased.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Gerald Fowler)

Would the hon. Gentleman accept that the Government are being very liberal in this matter and have no intention of using compulsion, and that if his party has no desire to accept the money offered, it will not be compelled to do so?

Mr. Cyril Smith

Let us hear him say so.

Mr. Molyneaux

We already have the courage of our convictions—

Mr. Cyril Smith

And the cheques that go with it.

Mr. Molyneaux

Surely it would be possible for individual Members to pool part of their research allowances, to establish whatever mechanism they may feel necessary and desirable, to enable them to operate effectively in Parliament.

Finally, I am tempted to ask what is to be the attitude to Government backbenchers. Is it not fair to say that, when a party comes to power, its foremost subject spokesmen become Ministers and are removed from contact with backbenchers and that the subject committees are then rather isolated and left to their own devices? If those committee Members who supported the Government of the day were to club together to form groups with research resources pooled by individual Members, would there not be a tendency to regard those groups as centres of revolt against their own Government? For all I know, experiments in that line may be under way already. But I am sure that such moves would not meet with the approval of the Government of the day. In the long run, I doubt whether the instability which would thus be caused would be in the national interest.

5.3 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North-West)

I rise to declare my firm opposition to the motion. I can only regret that this important subject is being debated in such a thin House. This is not just a matter of a burden on the taxpayer, although I share some of the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis); the most serious aspect of this debate is not the burden inflicted on those who have to contribute towards these payments but the effect on those who receive them.

After all, we live today in an age of patronage which would make Walpole blush. We live in an age in which, with increasing State intervention, more and more patronage is at the disposal of the executive. Purses of gold are tossed around in a way which would have seemed shameful to a medieval monarch. There are clamours for subsidies for a variety of public institutions whose glory in our democracy is that they are free and unsubsidised. There have been demands for subsidies for the Press. Some people do not realise that the tendency if there were such subsidies would be towards a kept Press. I do not want to see a kept Press and I do not want to see kept parties, however ingenious the formulae which my right hon. Friend has provided.

Without dwelling unduly on the point of view expressed by the Liberal Chief Whip, if we are establishing a precedent today for the financial support of parties as groupings, we shall be moving on to a slippery slope at the end of which patronage by individuals will be supplanted by the patronage of parties. That is something which, had he thought out the implications, my right hon. Friend would not, as a good democrat, have supported.

Mr. David Steel

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept my point that we have already established the precedent and principle: it is just that the House has never approved it, that it has grown over the years.

Mr. Edelman

If the hon. Gentleman is talking about the specific support given to the servants of the parties, he is talking about something quite different from this massive support which is now being offered colectively to the parties.

I am old enough to remember the time when the Labour Party, to which I have belonged all my life, was the party of the workers' pennies. It was none the worst for that: it was all the better for that, because it sprang from the voluntary enthusiasm of those who created a party which expressed a collective philosophy. I want to see an increase not a diminution, of that spirit. One of the evils of our time is the way in which spontaneous initiative and voluntary activity, not only in politics but in every other area of life, has been replaced by the paid machine. What we are seeing today is another step in the direction of machine politics in which we are being asked to provide a subsidy for political parties.

One of the dangers of the motion is not just that it will enlarge the area of patronage but that it will create a system of delegated patronage. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) spoke about the political advisers which Ministers have been allowed to accumulate. I have always thought that there are dangers in the arbitrary exercise of patronage by Ministers in appointing personal advisers on salaries assimilated to those of the Civil Service. These payments are made in total defiance of the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms of the last century.

In the 1850s, well over 100 years ago, there was a reform of the Civil Service designed to do away with corruption and patronage. A system was introduced under which the Civil Service Commission emerged as an independent body able to control the exercise of nepotism and patronage. Now, in our own times, subtly and insidiously, patronage has been creeping back. In all areas of our political society, we have seen the return of the placemen and the payroll vote. The Government's payroll vote has become a kind of journalistic joke, but I take it seriously.

If we are talking about democracy, we must ensure that the representatives of the nation are independent people uninfluenced by any cash nexus or financial consideration. When Governments have at their disposal a patronage of 120 places, some of them involving quite high financial consideration, and those who fill them are expected—except perhaps in the exceptional case of the Common Market—to vote in accordance with the decision of the executive, there is an inroad into democracy which we should take into account.

In recent years, there has been an astonishing increase in the amount of patronage available to the executive. In recent weeks I have tabled a number of Questions to try to ascertain the area and the level of finance involved in these appointments which have been made outside the control of the Civil Service Commission. In my Questions I have asked various Ministers how many offices of profit are within their gift outside the normal rules of appointment through the Civil Service Commission. If the House will bear with me, I shall cite three or four cases which may be instructive and illuminating.

For example, the Secretary of State for Social Services has 3,100 appointments at her disposal, worth about£1¾ million. The Home Secretary disposes of the appointments of nine chairmen and 96 members of various boards, including the BBC, the IBA, the Community Relations Commission, the Horserace Totalisator Board and so on, costing about £205,000. The Secretary of State for Industry has in his gift 59 jobs worth about £367,000.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

I should like to observe that if the hon. Gentleman finds this so shocking, he will find in the coming months plenty of opportunities for cutting down at least on the expansion of patronage in the hands of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

Mr. Edelman

The right hon. Gentleman, with his typically entertaining flippancy, has sought to divert the argument from the central point, on which I hope I carry most of the House. I was about to say that with the coming of the National Enterprise Board my right hon. Friend is likely to have many more jobs at his disposal. I have no objection to the jobs in and for themselves. But what I would urge—parenthetically, as I have been interrupted on this point—is that these appointments should be open to public competition under the proper control of the Civil Service Commission or an appropriate ad hoc board in order to ensure that the appointments are not made through nepotism, favouritism or patronage. Another illustration is the Prime Minister himself, who advises the Queen on 61 appointments costing about £630,000.

If one were to run through all these appointments within the gift of Ministers or the patronage available to Secretaries of State, one would be conscious of the great revolution which has taken place within our administration. Our administration is nothing like the administration it was when the Gladstonian reforms were introduced. I believe that Mr. Gladstone, surveying the present scene from where he is, would be turning in his grave when reflecting on the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms which were designed once and for all to put an end to nepotism and favouritism within the Civil Service. He would certainly be distressed.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

In his arguments that all such appointments should be made by public competition through the Civil Service Commission, would my hon. Friend care to relate his remarks to the oft-expressed dissatisfaction — oft-expressed on these benches—with the workings of the Civil Service Commission in the sense that the Civil Service, it is sometimes asserted—I know not whether this be true—is still dominated by those who went to the same schools and the same universities? It seems to me that my hon. Friend could not possibly have it both ways.

Mr. Edelman

I do not share that view. I believe that it is a very dangerous slope once one starts on the appointment of the individuals simply because they happen to share one's political view. It may be appropriate today; it may well be inappropriate tomorrow. I am astonished that my hon. Friend should lend himself to such a dangerous and, I believe, undesirable doctrine.

Mr. Fowler indicated dissent.

Mr. Edelman

I turn to the distinction which has been made throughout the debate about the financial aid given to individuals and parties and the suggestion that somehow or other, if money is given to the parliamentary parties, however small those parties, that in some way will improve their performance. I have said previously that I think that parties are concerned with the organisation of opinion, with the production of philosophies and with criticism of administration. They are concerned with providing alternative policies and programmes to those of the party in power. I do not believe that any party that is worth its salt, however small or large, can claim that merely to have more financial resources given by the executive through Parliament to help it in its work will necessarily improve the quality of that party.

Every hon. Member who has been a Member of the House for any length of time knows that we have at our disposal in the Library of the House a research staff who are second to none. I cannot believe that somehow or other the Tory Party will improve its performance by getting a grant of £150,000 from the public purse.

Equally, I am astonished at the Liberal Party. I say in passing that I regret that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), having shot his bolt in The Times of this morning, is not present in the Chamber now. I very much regret that the Liberal Party, the party of independence and laissez-faire, should lend itself to such a doctrine and, in turn, hold out a begging bowl to the executive asking for a penny in order to help it with its work. That shows a sad decline in the doctrine and philosophy of the Liberal Party.

There are many dangers which I shall not specify because I do not want to detain the House for much longer. However, I will say this: one of the corrupting influences in our time has been the mechanisation of politics. The machine has tried to take over from men. The public relations man has moved in to replace the statesman. Instead of the great quality expressed by the heroic figures of our parliamentary past and, indeed, of the present, we have the artifacts of the public relations men.

Will this fund be used to improve the image of the small parties or the Tory Party? How much of it will find its way, by circuitous routes, into the hands of the public relations men? To what extent—this is the most important point—will the auditor, be he the Clerk of the House or someone else, put his hand into the books of the political parties and say "This is eligible, and that is not eligible "? To what extent, in short, will he seek to restrict or enlarge activities, or to muzzle the independence of any given party? The question of the auditor is of paramount importance. It is like authorising a policeman in a statutory form to have absolute right of access to a political meeting.

Therefore, I deplore what is being proposed. It certainly will not have my support. It is bad and, indeed, a sinister precedent for a parliamentary system. We should not tolerate it.

5.18 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Henderson (Aberdeenshire, East)

It is time that someone uttered a few words of appreciation to the Government for their proposal. I draw the attention of those who have argued against it so eloquently, in some cases almost to the point of rabble rousing, to the point made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and. Peebles (Mr. Steel)—that this is the extension of a principle which already exists. If hon. Members are arguing that no assistance in any form whatsoever should be given to any Opposition party, logically they should table a motion to withdraw the support which the main Opposition party—whichever it happens to be at the time—receives from public funds. That would be a logical and consistent view. However, in the year that I have been a Member of the House I have not seen such a motion on the Order Paper.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Put it down and I shall support it.

Mr. Henderson

The right hon. Gentleman returned to the House only in October. Perhaps he may be tabling such a motion. In the year that I have been a Member I have not see the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis), the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Edelman) or any other hon. Members put down motions on this subject for debate.

It is a little hypocritical to start attacking the other Opposition parties on a matter which will enable them to play a more constructive rôle in the workings of this place unless those hon. Members who oppose this proposal are prepared to take the view that all support should be withdrawn from everyone.

I gathered from the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West that he wants to stop Ministers making any appointments. I wonder whether such a proposal has been put on the Order Paper before? However, here it is today as a new and quite irrelevant thought intruded into the debate. Perhaps the factor which has impressed our party most in the last year has been the problem of operating effectively in criticising the executive and the way in which the executive operates, and in dealing with the vast bulk of detail which must be processed if we are to play a constructive and effective part.

This was considered by the Royal Commission on the Constitution in the substantial memorandum of dissent which dealt with this problem. It said in paragraph 315 on page 122, it is also evident that our major parties lack the capacity when in opposition to subject government policies to adequate and sufficiently detailed political scrutiny; nor have they the capacity to work out coherent and fully practical alternative programmes which will stand the test of the rigours of public office. It then goes on, It is, in our view, vital to the health of the body politic that political parties should have the resources to enable them to carry out the research effort now required in the modern state if they are to offer the electorate the alternative, practical and fully worked out policies which are the essence of democratic choice. All of us who have sat on Committees and have tackled Ministers have seen what happens. The Minister's PPS runs to the serried ranks of public servants sitting in the Box. The answers come floating back to the Minister who is able, in a few minutes, to dispose of our objections and then pass on to another point. We are totally without the resources to compete on those terms.

With the mass of legislation going through Parliament, if we want informed and critical questioning of the actions and proposals of the executive there must be a redress in the balance between the executive and the party which sustains it and the other parties which are required to play a part in the House. I would have thought that the proposal now before us was somewhat modest in enabling that aim to be fulfilled. The hon Member for Tiverton talked of every party getting £150,000. My party will qualify for £9,700, and I can assure the House that that money will be spent on salaries for research people who will inform us and enable us to play our part more effectively both in the House and in Committee.

I hope that the rather negative attitude which is being adopted towards this proposal will not lead to the subject being dropped, and that the House will approve the motion today.

5.23 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)

I rise to speak against the motion. I have listened with great interest to those hon. Members who have made their own contribution in their own particular way. As a member of the Labour Party who has played a leading rôle at local level for many years, I am ashamed to read such a motion on the Order Paper. I believe that there is a proper and intelligent alternative to using public funds to finance political parties. I believe that the problem of the political parties starts in the wards and constituencies. If the party is badly organised, if it does not have administrators, only too often will people go with the begging bowl prepared to take anybody's money to finance elections. I do not like that kind of behaviour.

If we are to obtain the sympathy and help of the people in the proper way, we have to prove to them that we are efficient administrators first and foremost, that we are able to organise and encourage the people in the wards and constituencies to play a proper part. There is a most important principle here. We were told recently by the Chairman of the Railways Board that he is proposing to withdraw the Heysham to Belfast ferry service because it is losing money during the period of the Northern Ireland emergency. Only yesterday his deputy chairman told me that but for the emergency the service would not be withdrawn. It is being withdrawn because traffic has fallen off and it does not pay its way.

Now we hear that the Merchant Fleet officers are threatening to strike at Easter, which means that workers who may want to sail between British and Continental ports will be faced with dislocation. Yet we have the effrontery to talk about using public funds to finance political parties.

I should like to know who will get those funds when they are claimed. Would the headquarters of the political parties take the money and use it, or would it filter through to the constituency and ward parties? I have no doubt that far more money than is mentioned in the motion could be used to increase the wages and salaries of those who work for the political parties at headquarters and regional level. I would prefer the Government to reduce rather than extend patronage and add to the already long list of victims of patronage. I calculate, although I stand to be corrected, that if the Labour Party claims the full amount shown in the motion the St. Helens constituency Labour Party would be entitled to claim £650.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

I am a great admirer of Lancashire batting, but I think that my hon. Friend is batting on the wrong wicket. This motion is about aid to opposition parties in Parliament. It bears no relation to assistance to parties nationally.

Mr. Spriggs

The principle is the same. The Government are proposing to hand out public funds to political parties—we will say opposition parties if that will keep my hon. Friend happy. While we are prepared to stand back and allow unemployment to rise, while we refuse to finance the Railways Board or to give directions to such bodies that they must not close down essential services, I am not prepared to go into the Lobby to support this motion.

5.29 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Lawson (Blaby)

I, too, share the view expressed earlier that it is very sad that on an issue of such considerable importance, such constitutional importance, to this country, there is such a poorly attended House of Commons this afternoon. I feel that I must oppose this proposal even though I know that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will favour it and even though I sit on the Opposition benches. It is wholly wrong and I should like to try to explain why.

Of course there is a relatively small amount of money involved, but that is no excuse. That was the excuse for the housemaid's baby—that it was only a little one. We are also told a rather curious doctrine. We are told first of all that the pass has already been sold, that there is already a precedent in the case of the payment for the Leader of the Opposition and certain other Opposition dignitaries. But we are also told at the same time "Of course, this is no precedent for the future, no precedent for any extension of aid to parties outside Parliament."

I cannot be alone in feeling that there is a certain discrepancy between the two parts of this argument. I believe that the payment of the Leader of the Opposition, which has been going since 1937, is different, because the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition has a special place in our constitution. The person holding that post represents in a sense the Opposition as a whole, irrespective of the parties comprising the Opposition, whether they be one or many.

It is arguable, possibly, that a precedent was set in the past 10 years when this was extended to certain other dignitaries. If so, it is up to us today to say that it is a bad precedent and that we want it extended no further. To go on and say that what will be done for Opposition parties in Parliament will not be held to be a precedent for the extension of help to parties outside Parliament, possibly on a larger scale, is nonsense, first, because the whole thing was wrapped up in the same speech by the Leader of the House on 19th December. The whole thing is part and parcel of the same thing.

But it is nonsense for another reason. As the late Gertrude Stein would have said, a pound is a pound is a pound. If one gives a party a pound to help it with its parliamentary duties, it releases a pound that it has already to enable it to spend on something else in the country at large. It is impossible to distinguish between funds for one purpose and funds for another. There can be no earmarking, because funds can be legitimately confined to parliamentary purposes, but they release other money for other purposes. So we should not delude ourselves as to what we are asked to approve this afternoon. It is the whole principle of taxpayers' money, public money, for political parties in general as parties.

The only yardstick, therefore, must be the yardstick that was used as a justification by the Leader of the House in his statement on 19th December, when he said that the various moves which he was suggesting would greatly strengthen democracy in this country." —[Official Report, 19th December 1974: Vol. 883, c. 1824.] We must ask ourselves "Would this proposal greatly strengthen parliamentary democracy in this country? "I accept that the political parties, particularly perhaps the Opposition parties, are hard up. This is a bad thing. They need money to go about their jobs effectively. But I do not assume from that they should be treated like lame ducks, like British Leyland, to be bailed out with public money as a result.

We must ask why they are hard up. I suggest that it is for two reasons. The first is that people have lost faith in the political parties to a certain extent and are not willing to subscribe as much voluntarily as they might otherwise do. They are also hard up because of inflation and other economic problems. It is difficult for people to find the money to subscribe to political parties, but are we to say to the electorate of this country "Because you no longer have faith in us, because you are hard up, therefore we are going to take the money from you "? That is what this is all about. I cannot see how this would strengthen parliamentary democracy in this country.

I take this very seriously, because I think that parliamentary democracy in this country is at a very low ebb in public esteem, but I cannot see that this sort of behaviour would increase public esteem and public respect for parliamentary democracy.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are political parties in which the public have not lost faith—in which, in fact, the public's faith is increasing? My party, which is small, is budgeting this year for £75,000, which is a big sum to find. We shall find it. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in making a public appeal for generous contributions?

Mr. Lawson

The leader of the Plaid Cymru party has made my point. He believes that he can get the money he needs from voluntary subscriptions or voluntary contributions.

One of the great aspects of this country in which we can take most pride is the spirit of voluntarism—voluntary organisations at all levels, charities, action groups, lobbies and political parties, all these great voluntary organisations and voluntary groups. This is something which we should cherish. It is not simply the matter that that is the way in which one gets close to the people, because one relies on the people for one's subscriptions. I concede that one interest group might be too strong, but in my opinion the reason why the trade union movement is too strong in the case of the Labour Party is a matter of history, institutions and constitution, not of the cash nexus.

But there is something far worse than getting too close to an interest group, and that is getting too far from the people. Voluntary contributions, whether one is a charity or a political party, keep one close to the people one relies on for one's financial support. Fund-raising may be a tedious business, but the fund-raising activity itself gives vigour and life to the organisations that conduct it and to the parties which go about their business in the constituencies. To say that we just dispense with all that, and shall increasingly rely on the taxpayer, is to change the whole nature of politics in this country and weaken democracy rather than strengthen it.

Certainly, if any time would be the right time—and I do not think that it would be—to dip our hands into the public's pockets as parties, this is not the right time. But I do not believe that this should ever be done. I agree that it would strengthen the party machine at the expense of the private Member. Contrary to what has been said, it may well strengthen the executive at the expense of the legislature. But strengthen democracy, no. It can only weaken it. Never before can I recall a better occasion for the use of the old tag Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.

5.37 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I cannot go very far in taking up the points made by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), because his speech ranged a little wider than the motion.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) in expressing grave reservations about the motion, because, being more than an extension of something we already have, it involves a change of principle.

I must declare an interest, as a member of the Select Committee on Procedure. As there is a great divergence of view on the matter, it would have been proper, and in accordance with the practice of the House, at least to ask the Select Committee to consider it. We could have had evidence of what happens elsewhere, as well as evidence from members of the Opposition and the Government. We could have cleared the ground, even if we could not have produced a unanimous report. Part of the difficulty facing us results from the lack of such a procedure.

The strength of Parliament cannot be bought by money. A great deal of its strength lies in its innate procedures. The procedures which have led to the motion have not been in the best of tradition. I agree with the hon. Member for Blaby that the question is one of the strength of Parliament—against what? Is it against the people? Is it against the executive of the day, whatever that executive be, and whether in Whitehall or in Brussels?

The Front Benches of both the principal Government and Opposition parties, whichever is in power at the time, are either the executive or the potential executive. Therefore, we have an internecine war inside Parliament between those of us who are back benchers and those who are on the Front Benches as members of the executive or the potential executive.

The motion is likely to strengthen the executive more than the rest of Parliament. It is worthy of note that so far no back bencher, certainly on the Labour side, has supported the motion.

Mr. Spriggs

Might not this motion be interpreted as being meant to support a future Labour Party in opposition rather than the present Government?

Mr. Spearing

I accept what my hon. Friend says. I use "Opposition" and "Government" as applying to either party. I am not convinced that this method would help the Labour Party in opposition.

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

Does not my hon. Friend agree that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) is a little pessimistic?

Mr. Spearing

A wise politician guards against all eventualities, however unfortunate.

As to the strengthening of parliamentary democracy, a similar motion appeared on the Order Paper on the first day's sitting after Christmas and might have gone through but for the vigilance of some back benchers. That motion was put down without due notice. The procedure of notice and the procedure for permission to move amendments, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West has done, are at the heart of the strength of Parliament.

I draw attention to the car park issue, one of the most disgraceful episodes ever to have sullied this House. The then Leader of the House gave no notice of that motion when he announced the week's business. It was put on the Order Paper on 30th July 1971 and it was agreed to on the nod because no one knew that it would come up at eleven o'clock on a Friday. That is the sort of procedure that strikes at the root of the strength of the House, and I am not convinced that money can always put it right. Vigilance and hard work are equally important.

Mr. David Steel

As the hon. Gentleman has mentioned the car park, does he not accept that the moneys being proposed to support political parties are infinitely less than the moneys which were voted for the car park?

Mr. Spearing

The hon. Gentleman may be correct, but my point is one of principle. We are concerned with the principle today. The Front Bench say that they want to strengthen the power of Parliament, but it is the strength of Parliament vis-à-vis executive, which they represent. Parliament is partly executive and partly opposition to the executive on matters in which there is no political difference between the parties.

There is a striking distinction between this procedure and the appointment of the Select Committee to look into facilities for Members of Parliament. We all know what we want, but a Select Committee is looking into it. Out of money provided by Parliament none of us is able to employ a secretary unless she is willing to accept well below the market rate. Nothing has been done about that. Minority parties realise that on balance they will lose out in terms of strength vis-à-vis Government parties. They must think of this not only absolutely but in relative terms. Without a Select Committee having been appointed, we are being asked to strengthen the Front Benches—that is what will happen.

It has been said that we need research facilities. In a modern State with the great complication of politics and economics we must have people who can do research. Is not one hallmark of democracy that a member of the public, not just a Member of Parliament, has easy and direct access to information—public access to public information? But we are getting further and further away from that, as is well known to hon. Members who try to handle EEC documents. Those documents are not easy of access to Members of Parliament, let alone the public.

If hon. Members are saying that to be able to understand all these complexities we need specialists who can get the information, should they not also say that the information should be made more easily available to the public and to Members of Parliament through strengthening research or Library facilities? That is surely of equal importance.

At the same time, there is a case for party needs, and I am not contesting that, particularly for some minority parties. We have heard about salaries for the Leader of the Opposition and the Whip and the need to staff the office of the Leader of the Opposition—or Leaders of the Oppositions if hon. Gentlemen wish. Work has to be done in connection with the Order Paper, the moving of amendments and keeping in touch with outside organisations. There is also the day-to-day organisation of the House and arrangements for Divisions and so on. I know that there are arrangements for helping parties in these matters, and to those I do not take great exception. If those arrangements are not available to minority parties, why not extend them? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Edelman) that there may be a degree of patronage in that, but at least it is nothing like the degree of patronage in the motion, especially in relation to research assistance for the Front Bench. That perhaps is one of the major threats to the relative power of the back bencher, which is small enough as it is.

I do not have to remind Conservatives that they are in some difficulty with patronage in their outside party organisation. They may be moving away from that position. The Labour Party does not suffer from that in its outside organisation. If we inject a greater power of patronage into our leaders inside the House, will there not be a danger of a greater degree of communication with further layers of semi-civil servants and party servants who move in and out of Whitehall? Will there not be a new breed of semi-professional politician-cum-civil servant perhaps serving an apprenticeship to the House? Should not we look at that aspect with great care?

Mr. Arthur Lewis

We know that Ministers, right, left and centre, have had advisers and appointed them to ministerial jobs. Will not this be another stepping stone? As and when ministerial jobs come along, advisers to political parties will be appointed as Ministers.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend may be correct, although that is a matter of speculation. The provision of support in the form of liquid cash enables that practice to go on, whereas it would not with the secondment of civil servants which takes place at present.

If by some mischance the 'notion is agreed to, I hope that it will be changed. It appears to contain no power of audit over the money so expended. The powers of audit and the necessity to declare how the money is spent should be no less stringent than they are in relation to General Elections. It must be seen how much money is spent on purposes directly connected with the House and how much on other purposes.

I agree that there is a case for a change in the present arrangements. I argue that it is not right to change them in the direction suggested by this ill- considered motion. No Select Committee has been appointed and there has been no discussion about this important constitutional innovation. The very fact that the subject has not gone to a Select Committee and has not been discussed is a danger signal, to say nothing of the shameful way in which the motion was originally introduced to the House. In view of the weight of speeches against the proposal, I hope that the Minister will concede that there is a case for helping minority parties to perform their democratic functions, but let us have another look at it, let us send it to a Select Committee, and let us see precisely what the problem is so that we can strengthen the power of Parliament and not strengthen further the powers of the executive and its Front Bench alternative.

5.50 p.m.

Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

In opposing the motion, I do not wish to dwell at length on the important issue of principle which has been touched upon by many hon. and right hon. Members. I am wholeheartedly opposed to the principle of compulsorily requiring the taxpayer to pay for that which he may abhor and certainly does not consent to.

For me politics is about idealism and principles or it is about nothing. Some of us may be able to show, hopefully, our idealism by coming to this House. Others may show it by working in their wards or streets. But the only way in which many citizens of this country can show their idealism is to make small contributions to the party of their choice. If this motion is passed, ordinary people in little streets throughout the country will say, "Why bother, why should I contribute? The State will cough up. Why should I do without my packet of fags and why should I make a small contribution? "0ne more blow will he struck by the State against the idealism and the decency of the ordinary person. The situation will be worse than that. Politicians will be brought further into contempt in the eyes of the ordinary person.

Why does this motion arise? As my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) says, it arises for two reasons. The first is the incidence of inflation. Whose fault is that? It is the fault of the politicians. Having created that inflation, they say that Opposition parties hit by it should be safeguarded against it, again by the unfortunate taxpayer.

Secondly, this motion arises because Opposition parties have become unpopular.

Mr. Nigel Lawson

Not just Opposition parties.

Mr. Budgen

All parties have become unpopular. So it is said, "All right, then we are unpopular, let us extract it from the taxpayer ".

The increasing gulf between the parties and the people will only increase as a result of these proposals.

I want to mention a point which has not yet been made. I note with interest that these proposals are based upon the performance of the parties in the preceding election. One way in which the balance of power changes in a democracy is that after a General Election the electorate consider the performance of the various parties and, according to their approval or disapproval of the parties, so they pay up. In this way they either prepare the party of their choice for the next General Election or withdraw their support from the party they once supported. However, these proposals will fossilise the political parties in the position they held at the preceding election. To that extent the motion is undemocratic.

For all these reasons, these proposals strike at an important part of the principle of democracy. Most hon. Members are here for deep idealistic reasons. I believe that the citizens of this country also play a part in political activity, for deep idealistic reasons. As we say in the Black Country, they like to be able to put their money where their mouth is. This motion stops them. It says that the State —the Big Brother—will take over this deeply idealistic contribution which each of them wishes to make to the party of his choice.

5.55 pm.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I think the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) has talked a lot of rubbish. We might as well say that because public funds are used to pay for the books in the Library rather than having a collect- ing box in the Central Lobby it follows that the public feel that they can do nothing by subscription to assist the political parties

Mr. Powell

This is the House of Commons Library. It is not a party library.

Mr. Cunningham

I sympathise with that point. The point I am making is apt to the point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West

A number of hon. Members have objected to the idea of using public funds to provide research assistance and other similar back-up help for hon. Members. I do not share that view at all. There is no ground upon which such a practice will discourage people from contributing towards political parties. For example, we give free postage for the distribution of election literature, so called. That does not prevent the major part of the costs of an election being met by voluntary contribution.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

In that instance everyone is treated alike. They are not specially selected, as will be the case with this motion because the power of patronage will mean that it is just to the chosen few.

Mr. Cunningham

If I could be allowed to continue with my speech, I will deal with the points which the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend have raised.

I apologise in advance to the Minister because I shall be unable to stay for his reply. I want to put one or two specific questions to him and I shall read his answers, if it is possible for him to give any, with interest.

It has been suggested that the cut-off figure of £150,000 for any one party is a modest figure, given costs these days. That figure would provide for a staff of 50 receiving salaries between £2,500 and £8,000 a year, with ratios as between the higher and lower levels which I believe would exist in a well-furnished party office. A staff of 50 for an Opposition party office is grotesquely large and does not merit the word "modest ".

Secondly—and this harks back to the point made by the hon Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop)—what happens if there is a splinter party of 10 hon. Members from a large party? Presumably that party would receive assistance only on the basis of the £500 per seat There can be no additional element in respect of the rest.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I thought I made a rather different point. If half of a party re-labels itself, it can avoid the £150,000 limit—the hon. Gentleman can do the arithmetic for himself—using the formula in the motion.

Mr. Cunningham

I cannot see a party dividing itself into party A and party B just for the sake of getting £150,000. I think my case is right.

Mr. Nigel Lawson

On a point of information—

Mr. Cunningham

I do not have any information. I am asking my questions and I shall express my views when I come to them. This motion is in terms of Opposition parties. What about a small party which supports the Government all the time? We do not have a party—although we are grateful for the help of Plaid Cymru—which supports the governing party the whole time. According to this motion I think I am right in saying that the SDLP is not a party because it has only one Member.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

By the terms of the motion the SDLP is a party. On a constitutional point, a party that may vote with the Government but is not part of the Government is accounted here as part of the Opposition.

Mr. Cunningham

I will read that sentence with great interest. We must be forgiven if we see very much more of one SDLP Member in this House and not perhaps as much of the other. That answer raises the question: what about a single-man party? Is there any reason why the first Member of the SDLP in this House should need less support as a single-man party here than as a two-man party, a five-man party, or a ten-man party? I would say not.

Mr. Lawson

There is only one Member in that party.

Mr. Cunningham

We are considering today only one aspect of a package of measures which ought to be considered together. There is, first, the question of assistance to political parties outside the House, for their general activities. There is, second, the business of assistance to parties within the House, which we are considering now. Third, there is the question of assistance to individual Members for research or whatever. Fourth, there is the question of the communal facilities of the House, such as the Library. I cannot see that it is right to consider one of these and take a decision upon it in isolation from the rest.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) that the whole package ought to have been referred to one Committee of the House, probably not the Procedure Committee but a special Committee to deal with the whole business. We should then take a decision in the light of its recommendations, although not necessarily accepting them. Parliamentary democracy in this country does not in practice depend on the main Opposition party, or all of the Opposition parties added together—except for brief periods such as occurred last summer and which are unlikely to be repeated except once every few decades.

Parliamentary democracy in this country works, when it does—which is rare—when back benchers on the Government side take independent decisions. My principal grievances against this measure is that it provides assistance to those people whose criticism of the Government ought to be well-informed—and it is a good thing if it is—but whose criticism of the Government will not matter unless there are sufficient back benchers on both sides of the House to carry the day against the Government. I agree with the implication of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South that the assistance ought not to be provided to political groups as such.

I am absolutely in favour of increasing the amount of assistance given to Members as Members. If those Members choose to use that assistance—whether provided in cash or in kind—in a community, whether of party or sub-party groups, or whatever, that is a matter for them. I do not want, when my party is in opposition, the assistance which ought to come in part to me to be going to my party leadership. Frankly, that does not assist me to do the job I was elected to do.

I shall not be voting against the motion, because I shall be at an important meeting in my constituency. If there were a chance of defeating the motion, which there is not, I would be here to vote against it. Since the Conservative Party is to vote for the motion—

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

It is not.

Mr. Powell

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? The debate has been heard mainly by the Parliamentary Secretary, although the Leader of the House was present for part of it. It simply is not conceivable that on a matter such as this, which concerns the House so intimately, the Government could proceed to force and carry a Division on the motion after a debate in which so much criticism has been made of the motion from all sides. I am assuming that the Parliamentary Secretary will have conveyed, or will convey, to his right hon. Friend the reasons why he cannot possibly, without affront to the House, proceed to force this motion through.

Mr. Cunningham


Mr. Gerry Fowler

Is the right hon. Gentleman referring to me as the Parliamentary Secretary?

Mr. Powell

Are you not a Parliamentary Secretary?

Mr. Fowler: No.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Order. We cannot have two interventions at the same time. The same rules apply to the Front Bench as to the back benches.

Mr. Cunningham

I am glad that my hon. Friend has established the fact that he is a Minister of State. I wish that the right hon. Member for Down, South and others would not use phrases such as "force this motion through" and "free vote" which carry the implication that no measures pass this House except by the voluntary votes of hon. Members. This motion will be approved because not sufficient people are here to vote against it or because it is clearly indicated that a majority will vote for it, so that there is no point in voting against it. In the light of what has been said, before I absent myself, I shall make careful inquiries about how the principal Opposition party is to vote. I certainly would not want my absence to prevent the killing of this motion.

I would prefer assistance to be provided to individual Members and for them to use those funds, either individually or in groups, by parties or otherwise, to provide the assistance they require. It is a rather difficult business to provide the kind of assistance which an individual Member needs to carry out his duties effectively. In my view very great help could be provided by an extention of the facilities of the House of Commons Library. The Library does a great deal for Members. Any weaknesses in its service are due not to any lack of will or helpfulness on the part of its staff but to the small size of that staff.

It amounts to this, that each member of the staff of the Library has a schedule of work, a policy area, which is too wide for him or her to be able to keep completely abreast of. The result is that when a Member goes to the Library for assistance the assistant to whom he speaks is normally obliged actually to do some research to find out the answers.

The situation ought to be that there are sufficient staff in the Library for each member of that staff to be in effect a consultant, having the time to keep abreast of events so that off-the-cuff answers can be given and many papers written with the minimum of research. If that were done—it would involve probably quadrupling the research staff of the Library—a large part, but not all, of the assistance that Members require could be provided in that communal and non-political fashion.

Then we should provide to individual Members financial assistance, whether in the form of cash or nomination rights, for people to receive salaries for research purposes. It does not matter which of the two, but I prefer the second. The facilities should be provided to individual Members and not to political groups.

6.10 p.m.

Mr. John Cockcroft (Nantwich)

Although I see certain merits in these proposals, I feel that the backing of shadow Ministers, of whatever party, is inadequate. They are no match for the Ministers, backed by the strength, influence and power of the Civil Service.

On the whole, I do not feel that Members of Parliament need more in the way of research assistance and so on, since the Library fulfils the needs of most Members of Parliament on a day-to-day basis.

Political parties always need more money. It is no secret that the Conservative Party is not flush. In the long run, if the parties deserve the money they will obtain it, and if they do not deserve it they will not obtain it.

On balance, I am against these proposals, despite what I have just said, because I agree that to some extent they represent the thin end of the wedge. The increase in power of the State under every Government since the Second World War has been continuous, and there is a danger that we shall all become State pensioners. This measure may be a step in that direction. I believe that there is a danger in the proposals, whether we are talking about supporting Opposition parties inside or outside the House. I realise that today we are speaking mainly of strengthening the party leaderships further at the expense of the back benchers, and I know that we are already some way on the road to presidential rule in this country.

West Germany provides the most concrete overseas example. I was interested to read that one-third of the revenue of the West German political parties is provided by the State, which illustrates my fear that the political parties may become too dependent on the power of the State and on subventions from the taxpayer. When aid was first provided to the West German political parties, it was little used. However, the demand for that money expanded steadily when it was seen to be available from the Exchequer. By all means let us study the experience of other countries, including West Germany.

We should treat this proposal with some respect and not come to a rapid conclusion. The proposal is a good one, but needs to be thought about seriously before we approve it.

6.14 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

I apologise for not having been present at the beginning of the debate It is sig- nificant that this debate has been ill-attended, because I regard these matters as of great importance to the functioning of Parliament and Government.

Although the Government may well be motivated by the best reasons in the matter, I think the proposal has been ill-thought-out. I object—as I suspect do many other back benchers—to the way in which birth was given to this idea. I was not consulted as to the form that this would take. The proposal was presented to me, and, I suspect, to the majority of hon. Members, as a fait accompli—decided somehow, somewhere, behind Mr. Speaker's Chair, between the two Front Benches. I constantly oppose that kind of get-together because it immediately arouses the suspicions of back benchers. This is essentially what the proceedings of the House are about. The conflict between the Front Bench establishment, whether Opposition or Government, does not matter.

I believe that back benchers, whether Government or Opposition, are labouring under considerable disadvantages both inside and outside the House. I do not disagree with the principle of making money available. In principle there should be a State subvention to enable the Government machine to work more efficiently. We obtain our Government machinery on the cheap. The cult of the amateur dies hard. However, the remedy does not lie in strengthening the hands of the official Opposition—it lies in strengthening the hands of back bench Members.

We talk about the grass roots. "Participation" is an "in" word. Parliament and its Members, both individually and collectively, have become alienated from the rest of the country because we do not have a professional way of dealing with the everyday problems of our constituents.

Permit me to suggest the way in which I should like to see this money spent, if it is made available. Most Members of Parliament spend the weekends in their constituencies holding surgeries and visiting on a shoe-string budget. I depend entirely on voluntary effort for that kind of work, or else I pay for it from the money I receive. I do not think the electors would oppose the provision, in each constituency, of an office for the Member of Parliament and of one or two full-time staff who could take individual cases through the week. The Member of Parliament could hold his surgery at that office and the full-time staff would prepare his case list. Constituents would know that an office was available for the Member of Parliament and the local councillors. In other words, it would be the equivalent of the local ombudsman's office in each constituency. I consider that to be more desirable than the Government proposals.

The great danger in these proposals is that they provide an element of patronage in the hands of party leaders. A kind of party political Civil Service will be created in the House which might have nothing to do with the individual Member. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) mentioned this in his interventions. I did not hear his speech, but I agree with the gist of that.

Mr. David Steel

The constituency facilities for a Member of Parliament just described are already supplied, in the case of myself and of many Members of other parties, by the local political parties out of voluntary funds. To a certain extent we are supporting a public facility with voluntary funds and I think that it is therefore not unreasonable that the machinery in Parliament should be slightly more dependent on public support.

Mr. Hamilton

One need not be exclusive to the other. The voluntary provision can be provided in the constituency, while there can be a State provision in Parliament, or there can be a combination of both. If only a limited amount of public money is available I should prefer a semi-professional, full-time organisation, however small, in each constituency for the sitting Member, of whatever party, so that the people would know where to go with their complaints and would not have to wait until the weekend or until their Member visited the constituency. There would be constant contact between the office and the Member of Parliament throughout the year.

In view of the reservations which have been expressed by most speakers so far, the Government might well refer the matter and its related problems to a Select Committee, rather than bulldoze the measure through by counting on the apathy and indifference of the majority of Members.

6.19 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

I am opposed to the motion, because it is the thin end of a nasty big wedge. If, as the Leader of the House has said, it is intended to strengthen parliamentary institutions, it is like strengthening and fattening a calf before the slaughter.

So far, we have heard three speeches in favour, including those by the Leader of the House, a Member of the Liberal Party and a Member of the Scottish National Party. None of them has put forward a convincing argument that this money must come from the taxpayer. That is the point. No one disputes that the political parties in this House are in need of greater facilities for research and for conducting parliamentary business generally. But those facilities are obtainable. They are available through existing machinery, such as the Library. Why should not the facilities of the Library be extended? Why should not we have more experts and other staff in the Library to assist us as parliamentarians? That is a question which should be taken up, and I have no doubt that it will be following the espousal of that cause by so many hon. Members who have taken part in this debate.

In any event, must the taxpayer fork out for these extra sums which appear to be required by certain political parties? The example given on behalf of the Scottish National Party was most revealing. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) said that under these proposals he would get £9,000—

Mr. Henderson

Not personally.

Mr. Stanbrook

Of course not personally. If what is being said is that for want of £9,000 the Scottish National Party cannot do its job properly in this House, what sort of party can it be? How can it deserve any support at the polls?

Mr. Henderson


Mr. Stanbrook

No. I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have promised to detain the House for only a couple of minutes or so. The party which claims to represent a large proportion of the Scottish population says that it cannot raise £9,000 by its own efforts. That is anathema to the spirit of democracy.

Mr. Henderson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his solicitude. My party, like any other in this House, could do a more effective job if it had the necessary resources.

Mr. Stanbrook

For £9,000, SNP Members could do a more effective job. Where are they to get that £9,000? Why should it come from the taxpayer? Where is the argument that the taxpayer must pay when he may well be opposed to the SNP?

It might be of some assistance if I told the House what I consider to be the proper method of raising funds and illustrated it by reference to my own constituency.

The Orpington Conservative Association raises £10,000 a year, which it spends entirely within the constituency, on political activities, including financing the agent and the staff of the office. That sum is raised by 42 branches, 25 of them being wards and village branches, 14 being women's branches and three being Young Conservative branches. It is raised in small amounts at jumble sales, coffee mornings, raffles, and collections at meetings, and through subscriptions and small donations. It involves political activity throughout the constituency, during the year, by some 7,000 members of the association. In that way, they raise political support and, for me at election times, 26,000 votes.

Mr. William Hamilton

Look what they have got.

Mr. Stanbrook

As the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) says, look at what they have got. I believe that they are very pleased with what they have got.

This is the healthy way in which funds can be raised for political purposes. So long as funds are raised by political parties in that way, our democracy is healthy and safe from tyranny. Once we start accepting money from the State and forcing the taxpayer to make up our deficiencies in fund raising, we are on the slope towards tyranny.

6.23 p.m.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

We have had a most interesting and enthralling debate, even if the House has not at all times been packed with thoroughly interested and engrossed participants. Had it been possible for the Leader of the House to remain with us all the time, I do not suppose that he could have been other than disappointed by the ingratitude with which his open-handedness has been received on all sides of the House, especially his own.

Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) is no longer with us. For that reason, I shall not pursue his arguments very far. But I think that my hon. Friend was wrong in discerning a new principle here. It has been done. Whether the practice is good or evil is another matter. Salaries have been paid to Leaders of the Opposition and Opposition Chief Whips. Help has been given in the past in posting the Whip, and so on. It is not a wholly new principle.

I was very struck by the deep-found distrust expressed by Government supporters of their own Front Bench—

Mr. William Hamilton

All Front Benches—the right hon. Gentleman's especially.

Mr. Peyton

I have never done any harm to anyone. I was tempted into the belief that Government supporters were taking this rather innocent proposal as an opportunity to air their profound mistrust of the ordinarily rather nasty manoeuvres in which their Front Bench engage from time to time. However, I am sorry that they chose this occasion to do so. There are other occasions when their right hon. Friends merit a condemnation which they do not get from their supporters.

I hope that the little manoeuvre that we have seen today—

Mr. George Cunningham

Get on with it.

Mr. Peyton

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to give me advice, I hope that he will get to his feet to do so.

Mr. Cunningham

Will the right hon. Gentleman get on with the merits of the proposal and not treat us to all the irrelevant stuff that he is mouthing at the moment?

Mr. Peyton

I thought that the hon. Gentleman would say that. He promised us that he was going back to Islington. If he has nothing better than that to say, I hope he will expedite his departure.

It was interesting to hear my old friend the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) announce that he was not an establishment man. I do not know whether the Leader of the House was here at the time. If he was, he must have taken it as an announcement of fairly shattering news. Anyhow, we acknowledge that we were already dimly familiar with it and that the hon. Member for Newham. North-West is not an establishment man.

I must say, however, that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West wandered off into the mists of distortion and hyperbole in condemning this modest little proposal.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) ate his cake and had it, too. He disliked the proposal very much, but he was prepared to take the money.

Mr. Powell

Is it the right hon. Gentleman's contention that in this House hon. Members who argue for or against the wisdom of a measure should refrain from doing so according to whether they or their parties might or might not benefit?

Mr. Peyton

I made no such suggestion. I merely paraphrased what the hon. Member for Antrim, South said, namely, that he saw objection to the proposal in principle but was prepared to take the money. That is a perfectly fair paraphrase of what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Molyneaux

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is just a possibility that I was endeavouring to persuade the House to reject the motion?

Mr. Peyton

I never denied that. However, the hon. Gentleman did not go dangerously far down the road in his attempt to do so. I was merely paraphrasing his remarks—not unfairly, I thought.

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) was clear. He gave the proposal a measure of, by that time, much needed welcome.

The hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Edelman), whom I very much miss here at the moment, followed the lead of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West and dived into hyperbole with comments about pursefuls of gold being thrown about and extensions of patronage which, quite rightly, he found abhorrent. Then he was shocked when I said that if he was against extensions of Government patronage he should take the opportunities which will be presented to him in the near future of opposing many of the measures brought before Parliament by the Secretary of State for Industry. The same remark can be applied to the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs), also not here now.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) made a powerful speech in which he made some fairly rough comments about these poor political parties, of which we are all members. It is one thing to disapprove of political parties—

Mr. Lawson

I do not disapprove of political parties.

Mr. Peyton

My hon. Friend may not disapprove of them, but he said that parties were hard up because people had become fed up with them. I hope that I am not misquoting him in any way. My hon. Friend cherishes, as I do, the voluntary spirit.

I think that my hon. Friend got this matter out of context. I believe that it was put in the right proportions by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). I do not want to embarrass the hon. Gentleman with my support, nor do I want to embarrass myself overmuch by being at odds with my hon. Friend. However, I do not want to get too close to the hon. Gentleman. Rightly, the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles pointed out that this is a question of extending existing assistance to support the fabric of Opposition. We must dwell upon the fact that over the years—at least since I have been a Member of this House—the means of support available to the Opposition have dwindled steadily as against the steady and, to my mind, loathsome growth in the power of the Government. We must have some means of redressing the balance.

I observe, in parenthesis, that the constant reference to research—that this proposal, if carried, would finance extensive programmes of Front Bench research—is a euphemism of the highest order. I believe that the number of research programmes for which we will be financed if the proposal is carried will be very few indeed. It will enable political parties, or those who occupy a Front Bench or other capacity in their parties, to answer letters.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Jobs for the boys.

Mr. Peyton

The hon. Gentleman is far too concerned about jobs. I believe that he is wrong to worry about this modest proposal compared with the number of major jobs constantly generated as a result of his right hon. Friends' policies. I wish that he would apply his mind to the major dangers instead of getting upset about tiny questions like this one.

We should bear in mind that the motion would only extend in a fairly modest way the assistance which is already given. Anyone who gets the idea that we are breaking wholly new ground and introducing a totally new principle is quite mistaken. We are not concerned with activities outside Parliament. Therefore, no new ground is being broken, nor is any principle being breached.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) got a bit carried away by talking about politics being idealism or nothing. I do not think that ideals are very much in danger as a result of this modest proposal. It will enable Opposition parties to do their jobs with slightly greater efficiency and to perform tasks the ability to perform which the public will generally take for granted.

Mr. Spearing

The right hon. Gentleman has paid me the compliment of not commenting on my speech. Therefore, I presume that he finds little fault with it. Does he agree that there is a distinction between the present system and what is proposed? If all we are doing is extending the present system, surely we could extend it without this motion. The motion brings in cash instead of the kind which at the moment is provided.

Mr. Peyton

The hon. Gentleman must pursue his argument with himself. I had not intended to dwell at length on his speech because I could not think of anything interesting to say about it. As I understood it, his main desire was that the whole question should be referred to the Select Committee on Procedure, of which the hon. Gentleman is an ornament.

I must tell you, Mr. Speaker, in a moment of candour, that my admiration for the Select Committee on Procedure does not sweep me off my feet. If I wish to solve a difficult problem, probably the last thing that would occur to me would be to deliver it to the Select Committee on Procedure. I do not wish to be unfair to the Select Committee, any more than to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing).

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham)—it is so sad—has already accepted my invitation and gone. What I wish to say to him, despite the abruptness of his interruption during my remarks, is that his comment, that parliamentary democracy works only when Government back benchers take independent action, is characteristic of someone who has shown a measure of courage in this House. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not present to hear me say that.

I do not wish to prolong my remarks. These relatively modest proposals are designed to cover activities which most people outside this House would take absolutely for granted.

I accept that all increases in demand upon the public, particularly at this time, are very unwelcome. We are concerned to make the ordinary mechanics of Parliament—no more than that; nothing grandiose at all—a little less difficult than they might otherwise become for the Opposition.

On this occasion I share the view of the Leader of the House that, when dealing with matters inside the House of Commons, it is not an unreasonable requirement or hope that the Opposition should have that modest equipment which will redeem them from being sentenced to total inefficiency.

6.38 p.m.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Gerry Fowler)

This afternoon we have heard what are, to me at least, some novel constitutional doctrines. If the debate has served that purpose only, it has had a purpose.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said that it was disgraceful that the Government should bulldoze this measure through on a free vote. I think that I must have a word with my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary and suggest that if he wishes to deal with some of the difficulties that he has had in the past he should give us a free vote on all measures, because it would appear that he will then get remarkable loyalty from the benches behind him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central was not unique in advancing the doctrine that, in essence, this House was essentially about a conflict between the Front Benches and the back benches collectively, but that, to me, is a novel constitutional doctrine. I should he second to none in my defence of the rights and importance of back benchers and their views in this House, but the notion that the principal purpose of this House is to embody in physical form a conflict between the Front Benches and the back benches is one which I think most hon. Members will resist.

I agree with hon. Members who have suggested that we should all be concerned to strengthen the position of back benchers, but hon. Members who spoke in this sense cannot have been unaware that the Boyle Committee is examining the question of hon. Member's salaries and other perks.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The Government are not rushing that through.

Mr. Fowler

It has been suggested that, unlike that measure, this measure is being rushed through. Yet it was included in the Gracious Speech in March last year. Last year my right hon. Friend made two statements in the House about it. It has been part of the Government's programme for a year. What do my hon. Friends mean when they say that we are rushing it through?

It has been said that the motion has been introduced in a shameful way—but it has been on the Order Paper since the beginning of January.

Mr. Spearing

I think that my hon. Friend is referring to something that I said. I was referring not to today but to the first time that the motion appeared on the Order Paper, immediately after the Christmas Recess.

Mr. Fowler

It is one thing to object at the time that a motion appears on the Order Paper, perhaps at short notice. When the Government accede to the request of hon. Members that the motion should be withdrawn and it is introduced again well over two months later, it is absurd to protest again.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said that there must be back-bench resentment of this measure because it strengthens the executive. I note the view of my hon. Friend that the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, or the Liberal Party may one day form the executive. Some of my hon. Friends seemed to be in a remarkable state of depression about their prospects. Others were in a state of remarkable euphoria because they seemed to think that the motion was designed only to aid the Conservative Party, and that there might not come a day when the Labour Party would be in opposition. I wished that I shared either that euphoria or the belief that the SNP would form the Government of the United Kingdom. I share neither belief.

My hon. Friend argued that there would be back-bench resentment because this measure could only strengthen the executive. The implication of his argument seemed to be that it would be perfectly all right if the same sum of money were divided among the boys, but that if it were provided for research assistance to ensure an effective Opposition in the House and one step was taken —not the only one which might be necessary—to redress the balance between executive and Legislature which has tipped steadily in favour of the executive in the past century and the money was not divided among the boys, it was an objectionable measure. Not only can I not share that view; the Government must respect it.

The whole purpose of this measure is to strengthen democracy. It may well be that we must take other measures—perhaps in respect of devolution to certain parts of the United Kingdom and in support of back-bench Members. We may wish to consider what we should do about aiding parties outside, but I must reject the notion that we are discussing a precedent which necessarily determines the result of the investigations of the committee which will be established to examine that question. To say that there may be other things that we should do and therefore we should do nothing until we can do them all simultaneously is an absurd argument.

It has been suggested that the money involved would be better spent, perhaps, on the Railways Board—that was the view of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs)—or on the social services, education, or something else. But the amount of money we spend on the social services, education and the transport system, and the control exercised over it, turn equally on the maintenance of a viable democracy, and this motion is designed to strengthen the democratic system.

The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) wondered whether it was not odd, or, perhaps even out of order, that we should make provision for assistance to Opposition parties by a motion rather than a Bill. The proposals in the motion, if the House agrees to them, will in due course be given legislative effect in an Appropriation Bill and there will be no need for separate legislation. There is nothing odd about this.

The House has long followed this procedure when authorising various forms of payment to its Members in connection with their duties as Members. The clearest example—one could not have a clearer example—is that of the payment of Members' salaries. In 1911 the House agreed, on a motion, that a salary should be paid. No special Bill was introduced, but subsequently the necessary provision was included in the Appropriation Act 1911. That procedure has been followed on a number of occasions since, and every Member present will be familiar with it because it has been followed in respect of the payment of the secretarial allowance, which was introduced in 1969 and changed last year, and in authorising assistance to Members attending the European Parliament.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

This motion is concerned with payment not to Members but to political parties. The matter would be better dealt with by a Bill than by a process which has not been used in the past for paying bodies other than Members.

Mr. Fowler

I think that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. The purpose of the motion is not to give assistance to political parties per se it is for certain political parties in the House and, as far as I know, the parties in the House are comprised of hon. Members. Therefore, the position is exactly as I have suggested: this is a motion for giving assistance to certain categories of Members.

Mr. Arthur Lewis


Mr. Fowler

My hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not give way. I think that he has had his fair share of the debate. He made a rather long speech.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) asked two specific questions. First, what would De the provision for inflation? It is the Government's intention that what is being voted today should be examined from time to time in the light of inflation and other questions to see whether it is still the appropriate arrangement.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether it was true that the motion was merely an extension of the general principle, which has been long established and manifested in the support already accorded to the Opposition, for the better working of Parliament. It may surprise some hon. Members to learn that the sum spent in salaries for the Leader of the Opposition and for certain other Front Bench Members of the Opposition in this House and in another place is already £27,000 per annum, and the much larger figure quoted by the hon. Gentleman for general support given to the Opposition is broadly correct.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Some of us who were Members before my hon. Friend opposed that, too.

Mr. Fowler

It is true, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, that there are people who work in the Opposition's Whips' Office who, in terms of the way in which they are paid, are civil servants.

Mr. Peyton

I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not wish to mislead the House or anybody else. I hope that he will make it clear that in the case of this Opposition, as with the last, the only people who receive any money from public funds, apart from their salaries as Members of Parliament, are the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip.

Mr. Fowler

Certainly, Sir.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

That is done by a Bill.

Mr. Fowler

At all events, I believe that the general point is established, that what we are doing today is not a

departure from all that has been done in the past; it is merely building upon what has been long-established practice in this House—to strengthen democracy through strengthening the power of the Opposition as against the executive. I hope the House will long continue to tread that road, because it seems to me the way to better government as well as to more effective parliamentary democracy. I commend the motion to the House.

Mr. Peyton

I ought to amend what I said. There are, of course, two other Whips in this place.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 47, Noes 159.

Division No. 152.] AYES [6.55 p.m.
Adley, Robert Grimond, Rt Hon J. Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Grylls, Michael Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Benyon, W. Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Biggs-Davison, John Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Richardson, Miss Jo
Bradford, Rev Robert Hurd, Douglas Ross, William (Londonderry)
Budgen, Nick Jessel, Toby Skinner, Dennis
Clegg, Walter Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Spearing, Nigel
Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Stanbrook, Ivor
Cormack, Patrick Lawrence,Ivan Tapsell, Peter
Crowder, F. P. Lawson, Nigel Tebbit, Norman
Cryer, Bob Macfarlane, Neil Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Dunlop, John Macmilian, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Winterton, Nicholas
Dykes, Hugh Marten, Neil Wise, Mrs Audrey
Eden Rt Hon Sir John Mather, Carol
Fairbairn, Nicholas Mayhew, Patrick TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Farr, John Moate, Roger Mr. Arthur Lewis and
Goodhew, Victor Molyneaux, James Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop.
Anderson, Donald Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Huckfield, Les
Ashton, Joe Davidson, Arthur Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Bain, Mrs Margaret Dempsey, James Hunter, Adam
Baker, Kenneth Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Edge, Geoff Janner, Greville
Bean, R. E. Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) John, Brynmor
Beith, A. J. English, Michael Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Eyre, Reginald Lamond, James
Berry, Hon Anthony Fairgrieve, Russell Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Bishop, E. S. Finsberg, Geoffrey Lipton, Marcus
Blaker, Peter Fisher, Sir Nigel Luard, Evan
Boardman, H. Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Luce, Richard
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Foot, Rt Hon Michael Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) MacCormick, Iain
Bradley, Tom Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) MacFarquhar, Roderick
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fox, Marcus McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Brittan, Leon Freud, Clement McNamara, Kevin
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Gardiner, George (Reigate) Madden, Max
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) George, Bruce Magee, Bryan
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Gilbert, Dr John Marks, Kenneth
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Graham, Ted Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Carmichael Neil Griffiths, Eldon Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Cartwright, John Hampson, Dr. Keith Meyer, Sir Anthony
Clark, William (Croydon S) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mikardo, Ian
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Hayhoe, Barney Millan, Bruce
Concannon, J. D. Heffer, Eric S. Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Henderson, Douglas Miller, Mrs Millie (Illford N)
Corbett, Robin Heseltine, Michael Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Cordle, John H. Higgins, Terence L. Moyle, Roland
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Hooley, Frank Neave, Airey
Cronin, John Hooson, Emlyn Nelson, Anthony
Crouch, David Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Newens, Stanley
Noble, Mike Scott, Nicholas Tomlinson, John
O'Halloran, Michael Scott-Hopkins, James Townsend, Cyril D.
Osborn, John Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Wainwright, Richard (Coine V)
Ovenden, John Shersby, Michael Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd
Palmer, Arthur Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Pardoe, John Sims, Roger Ward, Michael
Pavitt, Laurie Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Watkinson, John
Penhaligon, David Snape, Peter Watt, Hamish
Perry, Ernest Stallard, A. W. Weatherill, Bernard
Peyton, Rt Hon John Stanley, John Welsh, Andrew
Phipps, Dr Colin Steel, David (Roxburgh) White, Frank R. (Bury)
Prior, Rt Hon James Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham) Whitehead, Phillip
Radice, Giles Stoddart, David Whitlock, William
Reid, George Stott, Roger Wigley, Dafydd
Roderick, Caerwyn Strang, Gavin Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Rodgers, George (Chorley) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Temple-Morris, Peter
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Ryman, John Thompson, George Mr. John Ellis and
Sainsbury, Tim Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Dovon) Mr. Joseph Harper.
Sandelson, Neville Tinn, James

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 142, Noes 47.

Division No. 153.] AYES [7.03 p.m.
Anderson, Donald Fox, Marcus Perry, Ernest
Ashton, Joe Freud, Clement Peyton, Rt Hon John
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) George, Bruce Prior, Rt Hon James
Bain, Mrs Margaret Gilbert, Dr John Radice, Giles
Baker, Kenneth Ginsburg, David Raison, Timothy
Bean, R. E. Graham, Ted Reid, George
Beith, A. J. Harrison, Waller (Wakefield) Roderick, Caerwyn
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Hayhoe, Barney Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Heffer, Eric S. Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Berry, Hon Anthony Henderson, Douglas Ryman, John
Bishop, E. S. Heseltine, Michael Sainsbury, Tim
Blaker, Peter Higgins, Terence L. Sandelson, Neville
Boardman, H. Hooley, Frank Scott, Nicholas
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hooson, Emlyn Shersby, Michael
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Bradley, Tom Huckfield, Les Silverman, Julius
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Sims, Roger
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hunter, Adam Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Snape, Peter
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Janner, Greville Stallard, A. W.
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Stanley, John
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Carmichael Neil Lamond, James Stewart. Rt. Hon M. (Fulham)
Cartwright.John Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Stoddart, David
Clark, William (Croydon S) Lipton, Marcus Stott, Roger
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Luce, Richard Strang, Gavin
Concannon, J. D. Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) MacCormick, Iain Thompson, George
Cordle, John H. MacFarquhar, Roderick Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) McGuire, Michael (Ince) Tomlinson, John
Cronin, John McNamara, Kevin Wainwright, Richard (Coine V)
Cryer, Bob Madden, Max Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Marks, Kenneth Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Davidson, Arthur Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Ward, Michael
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Meacher, Michael Watt, Hamish
Dempsey, James Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Weatherill, Bernard
Dunwoody. Mrs Gwyneth Mikardo, Ian Welsh, Andrew
Edge, Geoff Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) White, Frank R. (Bury)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Whitehead, Phillip
English, Michael Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Whitlock, William
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Moyle, Roland Wigley, Dafydd
Eyre, Reginald Neave, Airey Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Fairbairn, Nicholas Noble, Mike Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Fairgrieve, Russell O'Halloran, Michael Young, David (Bolton E)
Finsberg, Geoffrey Ovenden, John
Fisher, Sir Nigel Palmer, Arthur TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Pardoe, John Mr. John Ellis and
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Pavitt, Laurie Mr. Joseph Harper.
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Penhaligon, David
Adley, Robert Cormack, Patrick Farr, John
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Crowder, F. P. Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Biggs-Davison, John Doig Peter Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Bradford Rev Robert Dunlop, John Goodhew, Victor
Clegg, Walter Dykes, Hugh Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen Eden Rt Hon Sir John Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Hurd, Douglas Mayhew, Patrick Spearing, Nigel
Jessel, Toby Meyer, Sir Anthony Stanbrook, Ivor
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Moate, Roger Tapsell, Peter
Lamont, Norman Molyneaux, James Tebbit, Norman
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Townsend, Cyril D.
Lawrence, Ivan Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Winterton, Nicholas
Lawson, Nigel Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch Wise, Mrs Audrey
Macfarlane, Neil Richardson, Miss Jo
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Marten, Neil Ross, William (Londonderry) Mr. Arthur Lewis and
Mather, Carol Skinner, Dennis Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop.

Question accordingly agreed to.


1. That in the opinion of this House it is expedient that as from 1st January 1975 provision shall be made for financial assistance to any Opposition party in this House to assist that party in carrying out its Parliamentary business:

2. That for the purpose of determining the annual maxima of such assistance the following formula shall apply:—

£500 for each seat won by the party concerned plus £1 for every 200 votes cast for it at the preceding General Election, provided that the maximum payable to any party shall not exceed £150,000:

3. That it shall be a condition of qualification for such assistance that a party must either have at least two Members elected to the House as members of that party at the preceding General Election, or that it has one such Member and received at least 150,000 votes at that Election:

4. That any party wishing to claim such assistance shall make to the Accounting Officer of the House a statement of the facts on which this claim is based:

5. That the cost of this provision shall be borne on the House of Commons Vote:

6. That parties making claims under this provision shall be required to certify to the Accounting Officer of the House that the expenses in respect of which assistance is claimed have been incurred exclusively in relation to that party's Parliamentary business:

7. That claims under these arrangements shall be made quarterly, and that the annual maxima shall be applicable to claims made in respect of expenses incurred during any one calendar year.