HC Deb 12 November 1980 vol 992 cc509-46

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [7 August], That the Resolution of the House of 20th March 1975 shall have effect from 1st July 1980 with the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph 2 of that Resolution: That for the purpose of determining the annual maxima of such assistance the following formula shall apply: £96250 for each seat won by the party concerned plus £1925 for every 200 votes cast for it at the preceding General Election, provided that the maximum payable to any party shall not exceed £290, 000."—[Mr. St. John-Ste vas.]

Question again proposed,

4.41 pm
Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Basildon)

As I was saying at 12 minutes past midnight in the morning of Friday 8 August, Labour Members spend most of their time in Opposition opposing not the Government but each other. I am delighted that in the intervening period of three months, brotherly love has broken out on the Opposition Benches and that at least for this week there is some degree of unity. However, it is incumbent upon one not to be too churlish at this time. I shall therefore not pursue those points today as much as I probably would have done had the debate on 8 August continued into the wee small hours of the night.

I shall try to be brief, but this is an immense subject. I do not think that the House should rush it. Certainly, one of my criticisms of the manner in which the business has so far been considered relates to the attempt to rush it through the House just before the Summer Recess when many hon. Members had disappeared. It is therefore right that the House has a fuller opportunity to debate the matter this afternon.

Before I resume the gist of my remarks, and given the three months that have elapsed since the subject was last debated, it might be helpful if I briefly outline the intention of the motion that was moved by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment. No doubt he will be back before long. I note that someone will be taking a note of the pearls of wisdom that fall from our lips. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) will get the notes right, even if he did not get his orders right earlier this afternoon.

The intention of my right hon. Friend's motion is to increase the amount of taxpayers' money devoted to Opposition parties. In his opening remarks on 7 August, my right hon. Friend said: The effect of the motion is to increase the amounts of financial assistance payable to Opposition parties to assist them in carrying out their parliamentary business". I should like to explore those remarks further in due course. At present the amounts payable are £550 for each seat won by the party at the last general election, plus £1.10 for every 200 votes that it received". There are a number of qualifications which set out whether a party is an Opposition party or not, one of them being that: In order to qualify, a party must have at least two Members elected to the House".—[Official Report, 7 August 1980, Vol. 990, c. 935.]

Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps you can assist me and other hon. Members with regard to our procedure this evening. I notice that a number of amendments appear on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden). I should like guidance as to whether those amendments will be called during the course of the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine)

It may help the hon. Gentleman to know that Mr. Speaker has selected none of them.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that there is no hint of challenge to Mr. Speaker's decision, which Conservative Members honour implicitly, in anything that I say. It may assist those of us who may be minded to table amendments to matters such as this in future if some guidance could be given about the circumstances in which we might be able to table amendments to this sort of motion. A large number of hon. Members have appended their names to these amendments. Perhaps you will give some guidance on this point, because it seems to be a waste of time if no amendments are to be called.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

This is a matter for Mr. Speaker, and I have no doubt that he will note what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not entirely sure what is being got at. Can you confirm that at the end of the debate, as things stand at the moment, there will be only one vote? Can you also confirm that there is nothing which the House can do to enable it to take a vote on some of the amendments that appear on the Order Paper? Although many Conservative Members are in favour of the principle, and would be happy to vote for the motion as amended, they may be faced with the decision to vote against the motion if they are not given the opportunity to vote for the amendments.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has put the matter absolutely correctly. There will be only one vote and he must make up his mind on that basis.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

On a different point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) seems to be having a second bite at the cherry, and I am sure that that is within the rules of order. I was fortunate enough to have caught the eye of the Chair during the debate three months ago. Since that time, I have considered the matter and have come up with several fresh arguments on the question why we should not pass the motion. Shall I be deprived of the opportunity of explaining to the House as why we should not approve this motion?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

This is no second bite of the cherry. It is still the same cherry that is being bitten. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) has had his opportunity. Such water as flows under the bridge subsequently is something that we cannot do anything about now.

Mr. Murphy

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Much as I am concerned to know that we shall not have the benefit of listening to my hon.

Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) once again, I am concerned to know whether my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be given a second bite of the same cherry. Perhaps you will elucidate on that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Yes. I think that there is no doubt about that.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. One accepts that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is entitled in this resumed debate to offer some comments. I have great respect for the ability of my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) to take correct notes for my right hon. Friend of what is said in the debate. If my right hon. Friend is likely to seek to catch the eye of the Chair at a later stage, I think that it would be proper to adjourn the debate until such time as he is able to be present.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That has never been the practice of the House. The Leader of the House will be present in due course. I am confident that the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) will fully apprise him of any developments that he should know about.

Mr. Marlow

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House may agree and feel that it is worth while voting for moneys for the Leader of the Opposition and for the Labour Party to have moneys to enable it to carry out its routine work, because it is after all, potentially—although not for a very long time, God willing—the Government of this country. The House may well feel that it is a complete waste of Government money to give any money to the Liberal Party, which is completely irrelevant throughout the country. Is there any way that the House can be enabled to take a vote on the one and then another vote on the other?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not possible in the terms of the Order Paper.

Mr. Lawrence

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are discussing the important issue of providing taxpayers' money, at a time when that money is in extremely short supply, to Opposition parties. What is the point of debating the issue in the absence of any representative of the Welsh nationalists and of the Irish parties? I see that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) is in his place as the representative of the Scottish National Party and that representatives of the Liberal Party are on their Bench in width and strength.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. None of those matters would be for the Chair.

Mr. Proctor

Cherries are not an autumnal fruit. However, I am pleased to return to the cherry or bone that I was gnawing on very nicely until someone came along and took it away. I was genuinely trying to be of assistance to the House. Three months have elapsed since the previous debate took place, on 7 August. I was trying to remind the House of the terms of the Government motion and the nature of the present position. I do that in the knowledge that this is a resumed debate and that presumably my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will speak at the end of the debate and not at its beginning.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Leader of the House of Commons and Minister for the Arts (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

indicated dissent

Mr. Proctor

My right hon. Friend's reaction from a seated position indicates that he will not speak at the end of the debate. It may be possible for me to speak for a longer time if my right hon. Friend does not intend to go into the details of the Government's recommendation. I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that in view of my right hon. Friend's indication you will allow me some latitude in reminding the House of what the Government intend.

At present the amounts payable under the resolution of the House of 20 March 1975 allow payments of £550 for each seat won by a party at the previous general election plus £1.10 for every 200 votes that it received. However, a number of qualifications were set down. These relate to whether a political party is a political party and include the qualification that a party must have at least two Members elected to the House as members of the party at the preceding general election. That is rather important because there is in the House the representative of a political party—the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder)—who is its sole representative.

Mr. Michael Brown

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is completely correct. I cannot think of all the minor parties in the House but I am conscious of the fact that the Social and Democratic Labour Party is represented in the House. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) sought the endorsement of the electors prior to the election taking place as the representative of a certain political party. Obviously many of the electors voted for him because of his strong personality, but many voted for him because of the association that he had with a certain party. I understand that he no longer has that association. Will my hon. Friend address himself to the possibility that minority parties may have representatives elected at a general election that they send to this place as Members of Parliament and who subsequently break away from the party that sent them to Westminster? We have to devise some way of overcoming the rather difficult problem that can arise when a minor party has a successful candidate at a general election who is then for some reason—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman desires to catch my eye at some time to make a contribution, that is another matter. At this stage he should be making an intervention in a speech.

Mr. Proctor

As always, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) for bringing information to my attention. I was not seeking to question the qualifications that have been set down.

Mr. Marlow


Mr. Lawrence

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) must be allowed to get on.

Mr. Proctor

I was seeking to remind the House of the nature of the qualifications. I hope later to turn to some of the issues and difficulties that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe mentioned. I have mentioned two qualifications—namely, that a party must have at least two Members elected to this place as Members of Parliament at the preceding general election or have one such Member and have received at least 150, 000 votes at that election.

I represent a constituency that is quite large. I think that it has the third largest electorate in England, Wales and possibly Scotland. There are larger seats in Northern Ireland. At the last general election there were 107, 000 electors in my constituency. I shall be interested to hear from the Government how they foresee 150, 000 votes being cast in a parliamentary constituency for one Member. No doubt there is a quirk in the rules somewhere and perhaps someone will be able to explain that qualification to me. At present I do not understand it.

There is a maximum ceiling that applies to any single party. It was set out by the leader of the House on 7 August and it is contained in the resolution of 20 March 1975. The maximum ceiling or entitlement is £165, 000 as of 1978. The Government are proposing increases and I shall remind the House of what those will amount to over a period.

The resolution of the House on 20 March 1975 was backdated to 1 January 1975.

At that time the amount per seat that each Opposition party could receive, as result of gaining a seat on the previous general election, was £500. On 1 January 1978, in accordance with the resolution of the House, that sum was increased to £550. That was an increase of 10 per cent. The resolution before us will take effect from 1 July 1980 and it will increase the sum of £550 to £962.50. That is an increase of 75 per cent.

The amount per 200 votes cast was fixed at £1. With effect from 1 January 1978, that was increased to £1.10. Again, that is an increase of 10 per cent. In accordance with the resolution before us, that figure of £1.10 will be increased to £1.925 with effect from 1 July 1980. That is an increase of 75 per cent. The maximum figure applies only to the main Opposition party, which is now the Labour Party. On 1 January 1975 the maximum figure was £150,000. On 1 January 1978, that figure was increased to £165,000. Again that is an increase of 10 per cent. According to the Government's resolution, the figure will be set arbitrary and without argument at £290,000. That is an increase of 75.8 percent. Given our present economic climate, those are sizeable increases.

Mr. Lawrence

In the debate on 7 August, nobody assessed the overall figure that the taxpayers would have to pay to Opposition parties as a result of the votes cast in the general election of May 1979. The public would like to know how much money we intend to vote overall to the Opposition parties at a time of economic stringency, when there has to be no increase in public expenditure for the needy in our society.

Mr. Proctor

That is a very important and helpful comment. To the best of my ability, I shall help the House.

Mr. Marlow


Mr. Proctor

I should like to answer one question at a time. I shall give way later. I am not noted for not giving way, especially on such occasions.

I tabled a question to the Leader of the House and his reply was printed in the Official Report for 11 November 1980. I asked for the information that my hon. Friend has inquired about. According to the reply, under present Government proposals the maximum sum payable to the Conservative Party for a full year is nil, because the Conservative Party is in government. The maximum amount for the Labour Party would amount to £290,000. The Liberal Party—which was weightily and heavily represented earlier in the debate, but whose numbers seem to have faded recently—would receive £52,107.83. I am not sure what it will do with the 83p. The maximum available to the Scottish National Party, which is not represented in the debate, would be £6,777.93. Plaid Cymru, which I am sure is eager for its money, would receive £3,199.35. The Ulster Unionist Party would receive £7,261.10 and the Ulster Democratic Unionist Party would receive £3,568.95. Those are not inconsiderable sums. Indeed, given our economic circumstances, those sums are monstrous.

Mr. Beith


Mr. Marlow

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been so courteous in giving way with such readiness and alacrity. Some minutes ago it was said that an essential qualification for any political party was that that party should have at least two Members of Parliament in this House, elected by the people of this country. This issue worries and exercises me. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend could clarify it. In my view, and that of many others, there is no such thing as a Liberal Party. There is, rather, a collection of individuals—

Mr. Beith

Look who is talking.

Mr. Marlow

Those individuals come from different parts of the country. All of them, in their own way, are all things to all men. It would be absurd for the House to vote money to such an organisation. My hon. Friend has been courteous, kind and clear and I should be grateful if he would clarify that point in the interests of Opposition Members.

Mr. Proctor

I am not inserting any qualification. In 1975, the House approved a resolution. The qualification was inserted in 1978 and will be added to again tonight. It is not my qualification and I do not urge it. My hon. Friend asked me whether two Members of Parliament constitute a political party and whether the House was right, in March 1975, to include that qualification rather than a qualification setting a higher number. I tend to err on the side of my hon. Friend and to agree with him. Like him, I am an individualist. I realise that the Liberal Party is a collection of individuals. Its members say different things in different constituencies at different times, depending on their political purpose. That has been true of members of the Liberal Party, at least since I joined the Young Conservatives in the early 1960s. It was doing that then and it will not change now. I do not expect a leopard to change its spots. However, I do not wish to pursue that line.

Mr. Beith

The hon. Gentleman refers to the sums of money available to Opposition parties, but he has made no reference to the amount, which must be between £½ million and £¾ million, that the Conservative Party collected when in Opposition between 1975 and 1979. Is he now going to say that he will give that money back?

Mr. Proctor

There speaks an hon. Gentleman who was not present for the debate on 8 August, when I dealt with that point at some length. The hon. Gentleman has not had the courtesy even to read the report of that debate. We have come to expect such behaviour from members of the Liberal Party. A cursory look at the debate would have given him the answer that one Parliament does not bind another. I and 80 of my colleagues on these Benches were not Members of on the Conservative Benches were not Members of the Parliament that took the decision in 1975. Had I been an hon. Member at that time, I should have voted against the proposition in 1975 and again in 1978. I said that in the previous debate. A number of my colleagues voted against those motions at the time.

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

I apologise to my hon. Friend for not being present when he started his speech. Am I right in assuming that he is opposed not to all financial help to opposition parties but merely to the excessive rate of increase?

Mr. Proctor

The debate is not on the principle of whether to give aid. As I made clear in the previous debate, I am against giving aid to political parties inside or outside the House. I shall make some suggestions later about how the difficulties of Opposition parties can be alleviated, which may have support from both sides of the House, including the official Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)

I do not want to break my hon. Friend's continuity of thought. If I may say so, he has done extremely well by giving way on so many occasions. However, I am a little troubled that he is particularly critical of the Liberal Party. I am distressed to see only one member of the Liberal Party seated in a lonely posture. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) appears to be reluctant, no doubt out of courtesy, to defend himself vehemently. I have a suggestion that may assist the hon. Gentleman and those hon. Gentlemen representing the Scottish and Welsh national parties. My hon. Friend has pointed out an anomaly. The main Opposition party would receive £290, 000, but the Welsh nationalist party would receive only a little over £3, 000. That cannot be fair. Members of those parties should be able to deliver as effective an opposition to the Government as the main Opposition party. The main motion by the official Opposition—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have already pointed out to another hon. Member that if he wishes to make a speech his time may come. The hon. Gentleman should be making an intervention and not a speech.

Mr. Proctor

As usual, my hon. Friend's observation is interesting, but I do not wish to get involved in the Welsh question. I merely wished to give the House the figures that perhaps the Government should have given.

Mr. Stanbrook

I shall not have the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so perhaps I may be allowed to intervene. With regard to alternative sources of revenue, might it not be possible for Sir Terence Beckett and the CBI to come to the assistance of the official Opposition?

Mr. Proctor

That is an interesting and sensible point. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson), the treasurer of the Labour Party, is in his place and not at Centre Point, outside the reception desk of the CBI, with a begging bowl.

Let me draw together the strands of my resumed speech. The money that was taken from 1 January 1978 amounted to £165,000 for the Conservative Party, which was an increase of 10 per cent. What happened to the retail price index between 1975 and 1978? It increased by 58 per cent. In their resolution of 1978, the then Government granted only a 10 per cent. increase. The roles are now reversed. The Government are now setting the maximum at £290,000, which is an increase of 75.8 per cent. The increase in the retail price index over 1978, 1979 and the first part of this year is 41.4 per cent. Those who want an increase in the figures say that there should be an increase because of inflation, but the increase they are asking for is much greater than the increase in the RPI.

Mr. Beith

It is a Government motion.

Mr. Proctor

It is, and I oppose it. I hope that Opposition Members will, too, just as some of my colleagues in the previous Parliament opposed the motions then.

Mr. Michael Brown

When an individual hon. Member votes in the House, he does so according to his conscience. It may be an indication to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) of the weakness of the Government's case that they have not sought to impose an official Whip.

Mr. Proctor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention.

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

We must dispel this rumour immediately. The Whips do not instruct Conservative Members.

Mr. Michael Brown

Of course not. Not at all.

Mr. Clark

Whips merely request the presence of hon. Members.

Mr. Proctor

I am grateful for that intervention by an experienced hon. Member and his correction of two new youngsters. I hope that the two Whips on the Government Front Bench will take note of my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I do not want to interrupt the hilarity of the occasion, but the hon. Gentleman referred to the debates that took place in 1975 and 1978 when there were differences of view. There is a marked difference between those debates and this debate. The earlier debates were conducted seriously, with hon. Members making substantive and important points, instead of engaging in a blatant filibuster.

Mr. Proctor

I have not been cautioned by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about filibustering and I take no lessons from the Opposition in that matter. We know the eagerness with which Opposition parties wish to pass the motion. They have a vested interest in it.

Mr. Michael Brown

Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mr. Proctor

No. I must get on.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. May I give the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) a little advice? If he wishes to catch the eye of the Chair he is not going the right way about it.

Mr. Proctor

Thank you for your protection. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that I shall not need it for the rest of the evening.

Let me take up the intervention of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). He said in our previous debate that he considered the Government's proposal to be modest. In support of that contention, he quoted two of my right hon. Friends, the Members for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) who said that it was a "modest little proposal", and for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), who said that it was a "very modest increase".

The word "modest" seems to roll off the tongue easily when talking about other people's money. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said: It is time to make this modest increase".—[Official Report, 7 August 1980; Vol. 990, c. 939.] I looked up the 1975 debate to see what the hon. Gentleman said at that time. He said: 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'."—[Official Report, 20 March 1975; Vol. 888, c. 1910.] There has been a sea change in the hon. Gentleman's attitude, but of course he is now sitting on the Opposition side and he is on the Front Bench rather than the Back Benches.

Mr. George Cunningham

The difference is that in 1975 the House took a decision and when the same matter came up in 1978 I supported the decision taken at that time. That backs up what I said earlier. Differences of view were expressed in 1975 on both sides of the argument, but the House took a decision. It is that decision which we are forwarding a little tonight.

Mr. Proctor

Tonight's debate and that of 7 August are the first opportunities that the House has had to discuss the matter and to touch upon the question of principle and the amounts that are proposed.

In present economic circumstances, the proposed amounts are too much. That is why some of my right hon. and hon. Friends tabled a series of amendments. That was the only way of taking a course that might appeal to a larger number of hon. Members, including, for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) who agrees in principle to the giving of public funds to Opposition parties but believes that 75 per cent. increases are excessive.

Mr. John Townend

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Labour Party is financially subservient to the trade union movement to far too great an extent? Does he agree that, if the Government's proposals were accepted, that subservience would be reduced, to the benefit of not only the Labour Party, but the country?

Mr. Proctor

No, because I believe that the funds would be directed to other political purposes. I do not accept my hon. Friend's conclusion, though I accept the point about the dangers that arise from the close link between the Labour Party and the trade union movement.

Mr. Best

Does not the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) exemplify the point that I made earlier about the inherent unfairness of the motion to minor Opposition parties? There is a large amount given to the Labour Party from external sources. That facility is not available to the minor Opposition parties. Does that not reinforce the point that I made earlier?

Mr. Proctor

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for underlining that point.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Conservative Members need some advice. There are now sufficient hon. Members in the House to succeed with a closure motion should you be asked to accept one. I am sure that you would be sympathetic to such a call if it were made at a reasonable hour. In those circumstances, the longer the filibuster continues on the Conservative Benches, the greater will be the denial to the House of a decent debate on an important matter.

Perhaps you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will advise the newcomers to this sort of thing that there are better techniques available, if they wish to avoid the consequences of a closure, than filibustering and debasing the argument on a serious matter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sure that the advice given by a senior Member of the House will not be overlooked.

Mr. Proctor

I always take due note of what the treasurer of the Labour Party says. I scour the pages of the media, watch my television screen and listen to the radio with great interest to learn what he has said about the momentous issues facing the country. The official Opposition might not argue so vehemently or protest so strongly if the Labour Party's finances were in rather better order.

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)

Do I understand my hon. Friend correctly? Is he arguing that there is no case on the ground of an increase in the cost of living for an increase of the size suggested, or on the basis of an improvment in productivity, for example? When honest working people are being asked to settle for 6 per cent., why should we give ineffective people 75 per cent?

Mr. Proctor

That is indeed my point. I did not want to put it so brutally.

I was coming to our three or four amendments, which have not been selected by Mr. Speaker. They would limit the 75.8 per cent. increase in the amount of money going from public funds to the major Opposition party to compensate it for increases in its costs, including pay, increases which amount to 41.4 per cent. over the period in question. I and a number of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden), last night tabled the amendments to limit the increase to the 6 per cent. cash limit that applies elsewhere. That limitation seemed to us to be eminently sensible. Some have argued that it is not, because we are comparing apples and pears; they say that the cash limits apply to pay, and that financial assistance to Opposition parties is rather different.

However, I then call in aid Front Bench speakers on both sides of the House, who have gone out of their way in previous debates to make out that this financial assistance goes largely to pay salaries. It is definitely the paying of salaries in the public sector. It seems nonsensical that we can have a limit of 6 per cent. for civil servants, local government officials and workers in the nationalised industries, but we cannot so limit the public funding of Opposition parties, most of which funding will go on pay in the public sector.

Mr. Beith

This is a serious and important point. Can the hon. Gentleman name one Government Department that is calculating its salaries for 1981 on the basis of a cash limit that was set for 1978? Will he bear in mind that we are talking about amounts that have not been increased since 1978?

Mr. Proctor

There has been a considerable change in the intervening period. That largely answers the hon. Gentleman's point.

I have a loathing for the motion, a loathing that I hope the House has grasped. It is unfortunate that we cannot vote on the amendment. I shall certainly vote against the motion.

5.35 pm
Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

Having read the Official Report of the debate on 7 August, I have been tempted into taking part in the debate. I thought that the opposition to the motion was pretty pathetic, and that has been confirmed by the first speech this afternoon. I think that the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) said that he was the second graduate to come here from the University of York. I hope we shall not have many more like him.

Mr. Michael Brown

The hon. Gentleman may like to know that I am the other hon. Member to represent the University of York, if universities are represented in this House.

Mr. Brown

That is hardly an advertisement for the University of York.

I wish that the hon. Member for Basildon had been less arrogant when he talked about the Labour Party's affairs. He made one or two sneering comments about brotherly love. He might consider the brotherly love that was shown this afternoon between his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and his hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). Perhaps because he sits where he does he does not see the loving glances that pass between his right hon. Friends the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and the Prime Minister.

The hon. Gentleman made cheap debating points and that does nothing to enhance the prestige of the House when we are considering a serious subject.

I do not accuse anyone of filibustering, of using the techniques that are employed here to achieve certain objectives, but Conservative Members are not very clever politically if they have to spend hours discussing a relatively unimportant matter. We are debating not the principle, but merely the topping up of the amounts involved. They should do more justice to the House and to the real problems that face the country. The best that they can produce are schoolboyish pranks. Perhaps they do not like their right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. It is not for me to become involved in the machinations.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that a principle settled by one Parliament may not be contradicted by another?

Mr. Brown

Of course it can, but that is not the issue before us. It is up to the hon. Gentleman to use his influence within his party, where presumably brotherly love is to be found everywhere, to have the principle debated again. If he wants that to be done, he should not waste the time of the House by making points about a matter that is not before us.

We are not discussing the principle. There were divisions in the Labour Party about giving money to political parties. I have always been a believer in that. I would go even further, and say that if we want a healthy democracy more money should come into political parties, provided that there is public accountability, which there is not to the same extent over the Tory Party's finances.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson), who happens to be treasurer of the Labour Party, can make his own comments, but it is a well-known secret that being dependent for so much of our money on trade union sources creates problems for the Labour Party. That is not an anti-trade unionist remark. It is an understanding of the history of this movement. Nevertheless any backers can extract the price for their backing. That goes for the Conservative—

Mr. John Townend

Will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to explain why the Labour Party, over the last two decades, has seemed to be incapable of persuading the ordinary Labour voter to subscribe sufficient money to finance the Labour Party? [Interruption.]

Mr. Brown

I do not like to apply to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for protection. I do not normally need it, but there is a bit of a rabble present this afternoon. I believe that the community, taxpayers or individuals, should finance political parties through public money, provided that there is accountability and it is in the open.

During the debate on 7 August the hon. Member for Basildon asked why public money should be given to unpopular institutions. I am amazed that hon. Members who desperately wanted to come to this place should denigrate those who have been in political life or think it clever to make snide remarks about politicians in general. We do not rate highly in the popularity stakes with the public. It is the schoolboyish attitude of people like the hon. Member for Basildon, in their approach to politics, that downgrades the status of politicians and those who become involved in politics.

There are no doubts in my mind. The principal is right of using public money, through Parliament, to enhance the democratic practices and traditions of this country. I want an improvement in the amounts. New hon. Members have a lot to learn in this place. If some of them are ever in Government they will find that the odds are stacked against Opposition parties unless they have adequate resources. It is part of the health of the democratic structures of this country that money should be made available adequately for the parliamentary purposes of the political parties.

Mr. Keith Wickenden (Dorking)

Following to its logical conclusion the hon. Gentleman's argument that for there to be effective opposition there needs to be funding from State sources, is he saying that since 1975, when funding started, the calibre of opposition has been higher than it was before then?

Mr. Brown

That is a silly question. No one is capable of giving an objective answer. The Conservative Party, when in Opposition, took this money. I have read the proceedings of 7 August. I cannot find any statement by the hon. Member for Basildon that he was speaking on behalf of the Conservative Party and that he was conducting a whip-round to pay the money that was taken under false pretences when the Conservative Party was in Opposition. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did say that he would like the money to be paid back, but I can find no such reference in his speech. He should perhaps clarify the point. Does he wish to intervene? I thought not.

I do not intend to embark on the narrow detailed points about the rate of inflation and who was responsible for it. I am arguing a general principle. Having recognised the need to give financial aid to political parties, we are under some obligation, in fairness, to ensure that adequate funds are made available. I hope that the House will support the motion.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Before calling anyone else, I should like to inform the House that the motion before us is fairly narrow. It deals with the amount that should be paid. I was not present for the 79 minutes that the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) took over his speech, counting the 25 minutes that he spoke in the previous debate. I must say to the House that this is a fairly narrow issue.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it correct to interpret your advice to the House as meaning that we are not discussing the principle? If that is the position, do I understand, that you are suggesting to the House that we merely address ourselves to the narrow part of the debate dealing with the amount?

Mr. Speaker

There are bound to be references to the principle. That is different from detailed discussion. The House has decided the principle. What we are deciding tonight is the amount.

5.46 pm
Mr. Keith Wickenden (Dorking)

I shall not detain the House for 79 minutes. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has fairly pointed out that this should have been a serious debate on a serious matter. It is right to remind the House of that. I sat through the whole debate in August and I have listened throughout this afternoon. I sense, apart from the wish of the Government to get their business through the House efficiently, very different reactions on the Opposition Benches from what happened in August and what is happening today. I hope that Opposition Members will not consider my views too critical. I sense, however, a patronising criticism of Conservative Members, who are in some doubt whether these funds should be paid. That is not an entirely fair reaction.

We are entitled—indeed, we are under an obligation—to consider carefully all measures that involve public spending, no matter what the amount. A much more serious and fair reservation has been expressed on behalf of the Liberal Party. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), who is not present today but who attended the debate in August, said to me after that debate that he thought Conservative Members had been very unfair because when we were in Opposition we had taken this money. I think that those remarks have also been expressed by the hon. Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and for Rochdale (Mr. Smith). I accept that point. It is fair and valid. I would not wish to rely on extenuating circumstances.

I would only say that hon. Members who support my amendment, which you, Mr. Speaker, have not called, were almost exclusively not present when these matters were previously debated. We are debating them, so far as we are concerned, for the first time. I hope that we are entitled to question the principle even though we must meet the criticism of Liberal Members that we took the money. I make no bones about it. If we were to succeed in the aim that I would like to see of cutting off support for all political parties, the only honourable course for the Conservative Party would be to repay the sums of money that it had previously drawn. There can be no argument. It would be proper for us to do so.

On the general principle, I accept the difficulties that Opposition parties—

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

As well as repaying the money that the Conservative Party received in Opposition, is there not an obligation on the present Prime Minister, who received the money when the Leader of the Opposition, to inform Parliament why it is in order for the Conservative Party in Opposition to find no principle against it and to receive financial help to be an effective Opposition whereas, in this Parliament, when in office, it seeks to deny it to Opposition parties?

Mr. Wickenden

With respect, the hon. Gentleman is not being fair. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as Leader of the Opposition, took the funds which were freely given as a result of a resolution of the House. It was proper that she should do that. Now we have a different House. We are entitled to examine all resolutions and to decide whether we agree with them.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We are discussing a Government motion which was moved by a Minister. Accusations of inconsistency cannot be made against the Government. A distinction must be drawn between Front Bench speeches and Back Bench speeches. Even the length of them is a guide.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We can have only one interruption at a time.

Mr. Wickenden

Thank you for your protection, Mr. Speaker. I shall concentrate on numeracy.

Mr. Marlow

Does my hon. Friend agree, in view of the intervention by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans), that we would feel that there was a great deal less hypocrisy in the strong desire of the Labour Party for public money if many Tory trade unionists were not forced to pay Labour Party dues through their union levies? If the Labour Party suggested that that should be reversed we should be more sympathetic and regard the remarks by the hon. Member for Aberdare as less hypocritical.

Mr. Wickenden

I do not wish to be embroiled in a party political slanging match. I have a serious point to make. I do not wish to make party political points at anybody's expense.

I confess to being fairly simplistic in these matters, but I was not aware before I came to the House that Opposition parties were supported by the State. I am certain that my constituents did not know. I am certain that they would not have approved if they had known. Perhaps we have been at fault. Perhaps we should have told them.

Mr. Beith

The hon. Gentleman is making a serious contribution to the debate. He should realise that even before these funds were granted Opposition parties were aided. The Leader of the Oppisition was paid a salary and provided with a car. Two Opposition Whips were paid salaries and two staff members in the Opposition Whips office were paid out of public funds.

Mr. Wickenden

I have sympathy with the Liberal Party view. The case is valid. If I had my way all the perks would be cut out, but I take a simplistic view.

I do not believe that my constituents are aware that these considerable sums are being expended for the benefit of political parties. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir. W. Clark) said on 7 August that these were not really subsidies to political parties but funds made available to enable parties to conduct research. He said that the funds did not benefit political parties. I cannot accept that view. Until 1975 Opposition parties had to find funds for their research from their own resources. That is the proper way for a party to behave.

The political parties are now relieved of that obligation, whether £150, 000 or £290, 000 is involved. Opposition parties are relieved of drains on their funds. No doubt it will be our turn in due course. If somebody offers to pay my mortgage direct to my building society that is no less a benefit to me because it has not gone into my bank account. That is an exact analogy.

At a time when hospitals are closing, when employees are losing jobs—or accepting low salary increases or none at all—when help for handicapped children, the sick and the aged is being restricted, it is difficult to justify a 75 per cent. increase in funds for any political party. I have no taste for it. I wish that we could vote out the resolution, but I suspect that that will not happen. I shall vote against the motion knowing that I am saying something on behalf of my constituents who regard this as a dishonourable way of spending public money

5.55 pm
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The hon. Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) brought a refreshing seriousness to the debate. I welcome his contribution, although I disagree profoundly with it. He made the honour of his stand by saying that if the Conservative Party were to take the view that all such support for Opposition parties should be ended it had an obligation to repay the State the moneys that it had taken. I am not sure that that view would be welcomed by Lord Thorneycroft and others.

The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends should recognise that the principle of supporting the party activities of Opposition parties goes back much further than 1975. It goes back to the recognition that the post of Leader of the Opposition was a salaried one, to the payment of Opposition Whips and staff in their offices. Many such facilities, none of which are for the benefit of the Liberal Party, existed before the funds under discussion were granted.

We are talking about the salaries of people who are paid a great deal less than hon. Members. They have no less a right to fair consideration than those amongst whom the ywork, such as Members' secretaries and staff employed in the House. We are discussing people who work in the Whips' offices and other offices in the House. They work long hours and work hard. They are as entitled to fair consideration as others who work in the building. They have worked under the same cash limits since 1978. The 1978 increase did not compensate for the rate of inflation between 1975 and 1978. To the credit of the Government their motion, which I trust they will support, seeks to remedy that deficiency by ensuring that the assistance available will be similar to that which was available when it was introduced.

It is not reasonable for hon. Members to seek to prevent reasonable salary increases for such workers. The opposition to the motion can be compared with the attacks that are made periodically on the Civil List. Some hon. Members fail to recognise that some of the people involved earn ordinary domestic wages in the Royal Household, for example. They are just as entitled to fair consideration as anybody else. Government Back Benchers should not be so cavalier in their attitude to employees.

Such hon. Members have only one let-out. They can argue that political parties should increase their fund raising and add to resources in their parliamentary offices to the extent to which Government assistance no longer meets the rate of inflation. However, that comes ill from the richest party in the land, the financial backers of which have always been among the richest in society. It is up to members of that party to decide where to direct their appeal. This is not the occasion to go into the more curious aspects of that, such as writing to people who have been given Government grants.

Mr. John Townend

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a 75 per cent. increase to cover the period between 1978 and 1980 is considerably in excess of the rate of inflation? Is that not another example of one of the problems now facing the country, namely, being hooked on indexation? Other groups, such as the firemen, are being asked to accept 6 per cent. Why should not the employees of political parties accept wage increases of 6 per cent?

Mr. Beith

The hon. Gentleman is addressing his remarks to a party that believes in an incomes policy. There should have been an incomes policy from the beginning of this Parliament, rather than its being introduced this year. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that tonight's motion goes beyond what is necessary to cater for the increase in inflation since 1978. It remedies more than that by taking us back to the 1975 levels of support. I commend the Government for taking that step.

The hon. Gentleman is not talking about the application of a 6 per cent. Pay increase. He is talking about the application of 1978 cash limits to 1981. No Government Department in Whitehall has been asked to organise its salaries budget on the basis that it would receive either what it received in 1978 or what it received in 1978 plus 6 per cent. Enormous salary increases have taken place throughout the public service since 1978. More relevant are the salary increases that have taken place within this building during that time—not only hon. Members' salaries but secretaries' salaries—through the increases in the secretarial allowance—and the salaries of the staff of the House on a House of Commons Commission Vote. They received reasonable, and in some cases good, salary increases because of decisions taken by the House. Not allowing any reasonable increase in the funds available to Opposition parties would deny salary increases to those who are entitled to equal consideration.

Conservative Members who made proper and extensive use of the funds for Opposition parties when they were in opposition should recognise that fact, as their Government have done, and should go into the Lobbies with their Government—where I expect to see a good total of Ministers—to ensure that there is some honour and decency in the House. We should not work on the basis that what is good for a party in Opposition is not good for a party when it becomes the Government.

It would be a bad day for the House if we were to set the example tonight that advantages freely taken in Opposition were denied to others when that party became the Government. I hope that not many Conservative Members wish to take that course—

Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)

rose in his place and claimed move, That the Question be now put.

Mr. Speaker

I am not yet prepared to accept the closure. I am conscious that this is a continued debate. I shall bear that fact in mind, but not at this moment.

6.3 pm

Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

I am in favour of financial assistance for Opposition parties. It is bad for the country if there is not an alert and well-informed Opposition. It is bad for the country not to have a good Opposition.

I shall give the House the benefit of my experience when I first entered the House. The Department of the Serjeant at Arms informed me that I could not have a filing cabinet for the first six months. A cabinet was then put into the Gentlemen's Cloakroom, with the result that my secretary could not file my letters. That was not helpful. I had an Adjournment debate on the lack of facilities for Members of Parliament.

I have never pressed for extra payments for Members, but, together with a well-known member of the Liberal Party and a member of the Labour Party, I have lobbied on such matters as not having free postage to write to constituents, not having telephone facilities, and having only a desk and a filing cabinet. I support the aim of providing sufficient secretarial and research help for Opposition parties so that they are able to do their job properly. However, I part company from the Government's motion because of the considerable increase in the amounts to be given.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who spoke for the Liberal Party, said that as people were working side by side with those who receive salary increases and with Members of Parliament whose last salary increase was about 10 per cent.—not 75 per cent.—it would be fair if they received an increase, but 75 per cent. seems to be going too far. I had hoped that one of the amendments would be selected for debate. I should have been happy to vote for the amendment that I signed. We must set an example, as we always have done, with our salaries and with other matters. This is a case where the numbers of staff probably could be cut, even if individuals are paid a proper salary in relation to those alongside whom they work.

To show my disapproval of something that cannot possibly be accepted outside the House—a 75 per cent increase, even if it is spread over a longer period than one year—and as I cannot vote for an amendment, I feel obliged to vote against the motion. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House does not wish to give a further explanation and that he will not speak again tonight. I had hoped that he would. I was not present—there is no excuse for that—when the matter was debated in August. I should like a little more explanation of why the amount is set at 75 per cent. We should know more about that. The figure is far too high when the country is being asked for sacrifices. I believe that Opposition parties should have full facilities and full back-up research, but the figure of 75 per cent should be cut to about 30 per cent. I am not voting against providing facilities for Opposition parties. I believe in those facilities for myself, for every hon. Member and for each Opposition party, but 75 per cent is far too much to ask our constituents to swallow.

6.8 pm.

Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)

We are all aware of the so-called ratchet effect in politics. With each turn, we have in recent times moved further and further towards a Socialist approach. I believe, and I am sure that my hon. Friends agree with me, that the Government were elected to stop such a movement and consciously to turn in the opposite direction—hence the disquiet being shown by many of my hon. Friends about the motion before us to increase the finance available to Opposition parties.

We have an opportunity tonight to put the brake on another aspect of the Socialist approach—the printing of more money, parcelling it, and presenting it to designated groups, in this case political parties. The political parties otherwise will become increasingly dependent upon this inflow of cash. The ordinary citizen unwittingly ends up by paying, both through increased taxation and increased inflation. Surely the political parties that would benefit from this increase in finance, whatver their philosophy, become immediately tainted, intentionally or otherwise, by the Socialist approach. The ratchet effect will be seen to produce continual movement in a Leftwards direction if the increases are agreed. I sincerely hope that my hon. Friends will be voting against them tonight.

The Conservative principles on which I fought and won Welwyn and Hatfield lead me, regretfully, to view the acceptance of such political largesse as inappropriate and debilitating. I use the word "regretfully" with care, for I recognise that the then Conservative Opposition benefited from this finance. However, I believe—and many of my hon. Friends agree with me—that that decision was erroneous, and it is to be fervently hoped that tonight such an error will not be compounded.

In our view, Conservatism is based on freedom and common sense. Common sense surely tells us that to maximise freedom is to minimise dependence upon the State, and that should include a reducing of this golden cord between Government and political parties, with a view to ending it finally.

I believe that we have before us tonight the opportunity to start ending that process, and I sincerely hope that many of my hon. Friends will join me in the Lobby in voting against the motion.

6.11 pm
Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)

I do not have any objections to the selection of means to ensure that opposition within the House of Commons is effective, for without effective opposition it is highly unlikely that we shall have effective government. But I believe, equally, that having established a principle there is not the slightest reason why that principle has to continue unchanged over a period of time, merely being updated, as it were, according to external circumstances, regardless of the evidence of its effectiveness or otherwise.

There is a great danger that we shall decide this issue—the amount of money paid from public funds to Opposition parties—in the same way as in the past we have tried to justify wage increases. We have said "The cost of living has increased. Therefore, there should be an increase payable to workers in particular activities." It seems to me that that is now generally regarded as erroneous. We no longer think that everyone is automatically entitled to a rise in pay equal to whatever happens to be the rise in the cost of living.

Although it may be that those who serve political parties in this House have to make considerable sacrifices and accept relatively low pay and long hours, they cannot be excluded from acceptance of the fact that no one has an automatic right to be given increases in salary based purely on the external changes in the price level.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) thought that I was being brutal when I made a comment about productivity. It was not intended in that sense at all. What I was attempting to say was that, whether or not we agree with the 6 per cent. limit which is being set on wages in the public sector, it is something that we are all having to discuss and explain.

It is extremely difficult, therefore, for any Member when apparently it is suggested that there should be increases of an amount which can be set at 75 per cent., although I accept absolutely the point already made that we are talking about a percentage related to a base of 1978 and not the present day.

I accept that point, but I believe that we have to sell policies to the public. It is part of our job as Members of Parliament to encourgae people to realise that an efficient House of Commons is to their advantage. I do not believe that it is possible to sell the kinds of figures that are produced by following the formula put forward by the Government in the motion.

I should have much preferred to be able to vote for one of the amendments to which I put my name, but that is not possible, so again one must simply take the view that, if that is so, one must reject the proposal because it is not in line with the general proposals which are being put to the country and to which we are being asked to give our support.

The next argument in favour of increasing the amount payable as a back-up to Opposition parties is on the lines of comparability—that hon. Members' secretaries are having certain payments and, therefore, those who work in the offices of the political parties should have similar payments. Over a period of years we have had arguments based on comparability, but surely we have come to reject it as the basis for deciding remuneration. There is very little comparability between jobs. It is almost impossible to find any two people who are similarly designated and who put the same amount of effort and energy into their work. I suggest, therefore, that the comparability argument is entirely unacceptable.

A further point which has not been touched on previously this evening is the assumption that efficiency will somehow be brought about by spending more money on a bigger bureaucracy, whether it be for a major party, such as that of the present Government, or a smaller party. I do not accept that spending more money means that one will be more efficient and effective. I have heard no case put forward to suggest that opposition has become more effective since these proposals originated in 1975.

The question was posed earlier—I think that it was treated in a jocular fashion—whether there is any such evidence. I think that there is not. In practice, there is something to be said for encouraging political parties to look to those who serve the party—not so much the House as the party—to recognise that they have a role to play in offering personal service, in making sacrifice and also in offering voluntary service. I find it very difficult to understand why minority parties, which are represented in this House by a handful of Members, cannot use voluntary service to provide the back-up that they require.

Finally, the argument has been advanced that people will be paid badly if there are not public funds available to supplement their salaries. I suggest that it is incumbent on the Opposition parties, whichever they may be at any given time, to pay their staff the proper going rate for the job and to make sure, therefore, that they use the number of staff that they can afford to pay. The staff should be paid properly, but the number and size of the bureaucracy should never be considered as being the measure of the efficiency of the back-up to political parties.

I greatly regret that there will be no way of expressing my feeling that the proposals of the Government are based on a principle that is sound but that the financial terms of the formula are unacceptable. I shall, therefore, have to vote against the motion, trusting that the House will recognise that I have made clear that I am in favour of the principle of supporting Opposition parties.

6.18 pm
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe)

As one who has sat throughout the debate, from the time when it started before the Summer Recess, I have listened to all the arguments that have been made, and I resent the charge levelled early this afternoon by some hon. Members who were not present when the debate started before the Summer Recess who suggested that those of us who were asking the Government to account for the reasons why they wanted the motion passed were being in some way childish or school-boyish.

You will have observed, Mr. Speaker, that most of us who have spoken with misgivings on the motion have been Members who entered this House in May 1979. While I recognise that the House is being asked tonight to consider not the principle of assistance to Opposition parties but a narrow motion to increase that assistance, I think that it is right for those of us who had no part in the decision in 1975 and the debate in 1978 to indicate to the House that there is a new Parliament, with a very different complexion in terms of hon. Members elected who resent the principle of recourse to the public purse in order to fund Opposition parties.

Had Brigg and Scunthorpe been fortunate enough to have a Conservative Member of Parliament in 1974, and had I been that Member, I would not have voted for the principle in 1975. I shall not dwell at length on the argument about the principle, but when we are discussing the extent to which we increase the support that on a previous occasion the House decided to give to Opposition parties, we are entitled to consider the eventual destination along which this route might take us.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) rightly drew attention to the fact that assistance to political parties was given before 1975. The position of Leader of the Opposition has been recognised in our constitution as an official post, in terms of payment, since 1937, and I do not resent that. We should give the Leader of the Opposition the right to an official car. But if the hon. Gentleman's point was that we should accept the principle of aid to Opposition parties because that aid had already been implicitly accepted in earlier years, when we gave official recognition in terms of salary to the Leader of the Opposition and to certain Opposition Whips, he is on a dangerous road. Where will it end?

The point that we must argue today is that if we agree that it is right and proper, having accepted the principle of providing financial assistance to Opposition parties, to index an increase in the funds for Opposition parties, where will that take us eventually? The local party in my constituency has to sustain a bureaucracy. My agent and my secretary are paid for by the local Conservative association, and they often have to undertake the equivalent of parliamentary constituency work in my constituency. They make arrangements on my behalf, for which my local party pays. They make arrangements for my surgeries and for many of my constituency engagements that I do not consider to be of a political nature, but I do not suggest for one moment that public funds should be given to that area of the Conservative Party's activity in my constituency which relates to carrying out the hon. Member's duty.

Since the salaries of my agent and constituency secretary, which are paid by the local party, have to be raised voluntarily by my political party, whatever the rate of inflation, we have more than a slight amount of cheek when we resort to that cosy device of indexation—which is available to all people, including hon. Members, who are paid from the public purse. Many people in my constituency have had to accept pay increases far lower than the rate of inflation. They are not in the public sector, and they have to take account of the state of the economy and the possible consequences for their future employment of the wage rate that is negotiable.

I object to the principle of bringing forward a motion in the way that this one has been brought forward by the Leader of the House, although he did so in an honourable fashion. One Labour Member suggested that the Government were reneging on a previous decision. I speak as an hon. Member who is behind the Leader of the House. He, as a member of a Shadow Cabinet before, has accepted that from the point of view of the Shadow Cabinet there are duties that need to be carried out by people who assist in the Shadow Cabinet and who assist in the Whips' Office, and he presumably accepts the point made by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. But there is a difference in accepting the principle between those hon. Members who faced the electorate for the first time in May 1979 and the Leader of the House, although I do not wish to suggest that he is being dishonourable.

I have made clear that the majority of Conservative Members who were elected in May 1979 would not have voted for the principle in 1975, but we accept that that position has been taken. However, we have a right to ask the Leader of the House and the House itself to bear in mind that many people in our constituencies and in our local political parties do not have recourse to the simple device of indexation to solve their problems.

My local Conservative association was not very well off in 1975; it had had a bank overdraft for many years. Had it not been for the considerable effort of the local party in raising funds, the association would not have been able to sustain an election campaign that assisted me in promoting my party's views to the people of Brigg and Scunthorpe. My local party had been in Opposition for 40 years, but the driving force was that it had to raise every penny of its own money, and to this day I am proud to defend the policies of the Conservative Government.

My agent rightly expects to receive an increase in her salary, as does her secretary, in the same way as the staff who work in the offices of the Opposition political parties are entitled to expect an increase. But I have to go out into my constituency, persuading Conservative supporters—it is an easy task—of the need to continue to finance my local political party. We are an ingenious Conservative association. It costs approximately £15,000 to run the association. Before the election it cost £10,000, but because there are now duties that devolve upon my agent and secretary that are of a semi-constituency nature, we have to raise £15,000 at a time when I also have to defend the record of my Government. It is an easy record to defend, and I am proud to do so.

I assure the House that money has been flowing into my constituency coffers as it has never flowed before. I am happy to indicate to the House the sort of efforts that we have to make outside the House to raise funds where we do not have the benefit of indexation to pay the legitimate requirement of my agent for an increase in salary. We are ingenious. We have pie and pea suppers, punch and paté lunches—

Mr. Beith

We all know that.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman says "We all know that", but his party has not done its work out in the sticks and at the grass roots.

Mr. Beith

Yes, it has.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman says that he does go out into the sticks and tries to raise the money.

Mr. Murphy

Will my hon. Friend tell the House the reaction of his constituents, when he attends those important functions, with regard to public expenditure, and whether it is right to be spending more than an increase of 6 per cent?

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend anticipates the central theme of my remarks. This is the nub of my argument. My hon. Friend indicated that it was wrong continually to accept the view that the general public must make efforts to restrain their salaries while those of us who are protected in the public sector with the device of indexation can simply jack up our salaries, our staff salaries or the salaries of those who work for opposition parties—even though they work for very long hours.

Therefore, I simply say that before us is a motion that would implement the device of indexation, although that device is against the interests of the present Government's general policies, to restore the position of the salaries of those who work in Opposition parties. I do not accept that the figure of 75 per cent., to which my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) referred, is at all justified in the present economic climate. As we are having to ask steel workers, British Leyland car workers, and those in the private sector, especially the engineering industry, to make sacrifices—as some Members of Parliament expected each other to make sacrifices earlier in the year in respect of our salaries—it is only right and proper that our office staff and the staff of opposition parties should be expected to make a certain sacrifice.

A new ball game was introduced last week, when the Government rightly announced a cash limit of 6 per cent. for wages and salaries in the public sector and in local government. It is quite proper for that discipline to be accepted by the Opposition parties.

I regret that it will not be possible for me to vote for one of the amendments to which I am a signatory. Therefore, I shall have no option but to vote against the motion.

6.32 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

I understand the arguments of principle against any financing for political parties and against any form of indexation. I prefer to come into the debate at a slightly different tangent, to ask whether it is reasonable to pay £290,000 to a political party and to give some help to small opposition parties. It is about £500 per constituency.

It seems to me that if we are really fussed about the amount of money involved we ought to address ourselves to the back-up to Ministers, where it would be far easier to find the savings that would provide the equivalent sum in the Ministries. I am not arguing that we should necessarily cut the amount spent on back-up to Ministers just because we are putting the money up for Opposition parties. It seems important that the Opposition parties should have reasonable finance available for their parliamentary work. Obviously, it makes more of their funds available for their other political work, but that is something that we must accept. It would have been perfectly reasonable for the Government to bring

forward a motion to raise the limit to £290,000 even if there had been no inflation since the last increase.

Looking at the trend of increased assistance to Members of Parliament and increased assistance towards the way in which we try to discharge our job of controlling the Government, or at least being in a position to frustrate the Government at times, one needs to approach the question of support for political parties, especially Opposition parties, not in a partisan way. I recognise that very few partisan remarks have been made in the debate. The important thing is to ask whether it is reasonable that a certain amount of money should be made available.

In my view, the amount suggested is reasonable. Even if we manage to kill inflation during the next year, I hope that the House of Commons will, in two or three years' time, consider what extra assistance should be provided to political parties, because in general Parliament does not do a good enough job—whether from the point of view of an individual Member of Parliament or from that of organised political parties—in examining what Governments try to do and the ways in which they try to do it. There is a great deal more progress that we can make. A small amount of money for political parties will not make all that much difference. It seems to be a move in the right direction.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 208, Noes 54.

Division No. 498] AYES [6.34 p.m.
Aitken, Jonathan Cartwright, John Dubs, Alfred
Allaun, Frank Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Alton, David Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Ancram, Michael Cohen, Stanley Eadie, Alex
Anderson, Donald Coleman, Donald Eastham, Ken
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ernest Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. English, Michael
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Cook, Robin F. Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)
Ashton, Joe Corrie, John Evans, John (Newton)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Cowans, Harry Ewing, Harry
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill) Faulds, Andrew
Beith, A. J. Crowther, J. S. Fitt, Gerard
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Cryer, Bob Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Bevan, David Gilroy Cunliffe, Lawrence Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Cunningham, George (Islington S) Ford, Ben
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven) Forrester, John
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Dalyell, Tam Foster, Derek
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Davidson, Arthur Foulkes, George
Bryan, Sir Paul Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Buchan, Norman Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Freud, Clement
Butcher, John Dempsey, James Garel-Jones, Tristan
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Dewar, Donald Gourlay, Harry
Campbell-Savours, Dale Dixon, Donald Graham, Ted
Cant, R. B. Dobson, Frank Grant, George (Morpeth)
Carmichael, Neil Dormand, Jack Gray, Hamish
Carter-Jones, Lewis Dorrell, Stephen Greenway, Harry
Gummer, John Selwyn Marshall, Jim (Leicester South) Sever, John
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Martin, Michael (Gl'sgow, Springb'rn) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Mason, Rt Hon Roy Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Hardy, Peter Mawby, Ray Silverman, Julius
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Maxton, John Silvester, Fred
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Maynard, Miss Joan Sims, Roger
Haynes, Frank Meacher, Michael Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Mellor, David Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
Hicks, Robert Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Snape, Peter
Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Spearing, Nigel
Hooley, Frank Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshaw) Spriggs, Leslie
Horam, John Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw) Sproat, Iain
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Stallard, A. W.
Howells, Geraint Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes) Steel, Rt Hon David
Huckfield, Les Morton, George Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Stott, Roger
Hunt, David (Wirral) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Strang, Gavin
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) O'Halloran, Michael Straw, Jack
John, Brynmor O'Neill, Martin Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Temple-Morris, Peter
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda) Palmer, Arthur Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Park, George Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Parker, John Tilley, John
Kerr, Russell Parris, Matthew Tinn, James
Kershaw, Anthony Parry, Robert Torney, Tom
Knox, David Patten, Christopher (Bath) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Lamble, David Pavitt, Laurie Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Leadbitter, Ted Penhaligon, David Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Leighton, Ronald Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Watkins, David
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Price, Christopher (Lewisham West) Welsh, Michael
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Race, Reg White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Litherland, Robert Radice, Giles Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South) Wigley, Dafydd
Lyell, Nicholas Rees-Davies, W. R. Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Lyon, Alexander (York) Renton, Tim Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
McCartney, Hugh Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Robertson, George Winnick, David
McElhone, Frank Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW) Woodall, Alec
McKelvey, William Rooker, J. W. Woolmer, Kenneth
MacKenzle, Rt Hon Gregor Roper, John Wrigglesworth, Ian
Maclennan, Robert Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
McWilliam, John St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Marks, Kenneth Sandelson, Neville Lord James Douglas-Hamilton and
Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n) Scott, Nicholas Mr. John Stradling Thomas.
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll) Proctor, K. Harvey
Banks, Robert Hawkins, Paul Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Hordern, Peter Skeet, T. H. H.
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Kilfedder, James A. Spence, John
Best, Keith Knight, Mrs Jill Sproat, Iain
Blackburn, John Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Stanbrook, Ivor
Bright, Graham Loveridge, John Thompson, Donald
Brinton, Tim McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe) McQuarrie, Albert Thornton, Malcolm
Budgen, Nick Marlow, Tony Townend, John (Bridlington)
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Mills, Peter (West Devon) Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Moate, Roger Viggers, Peter
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Neale, Gerrard Ward, John
Cranborne, Viscount Neubert, Michael Wheeler, John
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Page, John (Harrow West) Wickendon, Keith
Fookes, Miss Janet Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Pawsey, James TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Glyn, Dr Alan Porter, Barry Mr. Christopher Murphy and
Gray, Hamish Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down) Mr. Den Dover.
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Resolution of the House of 20 March 1975 shall have effect from 1 July 1980 with the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph 2 of that Resolution That for the purpose of determining the annual maxima of such assistance the following formula shall apply: £962.50 for each seat won by the party concerned plus £1.925 for every 200 votes cast for it at the preceding General Election, provided that the maximum payable to any party shall not exceed £290,000".

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