HC Deb 28 October 1985 vol 84 cc660-1
32. Mr. Beith

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he plans to review the funds granted to Opposition parties in Parliament.

Mr. Biffen

The amounts payable to Opposition parties under the Short money scheme have so far been revised on four occasions since the scheme's inception in 1975. The latest rise was effective from 1 January 1985. 45too Following this pattern, a further review would be likely to take place in 1987 or 1988.

Mr. Beith

When the Leader of the House considers the matter again, will he bear in mind that the Short formula does not tell the whole story, because of the enormous range of exclusive fringe benefits granted to the Labour party as the official Opposition? Will he take into account the £80,000 in salaries for leaders of that party in both Houses, the £66,000 for civil servants seconded to them and the £30,000 for a car and chauffeur for the Leader of the official Opposition?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct. The Ministers of the Crown Act 1937, under which a salary was first paid to the Leader of the Opposition, also provided for a number of supporting expenses to come from the public purse. The hon. Gentleman is, therefore, quite right. The evolution of the Short money system since then has meant that two systems have been operating in parallel. I agree that it is perfectly valid to consider that at some future date.

Mr. John Mark Taylor

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the anomaly that whereas the Labour party apparently sees fit to accept public money to keep its democratic institutions working, a large proportion of the trade union movement apparently resists acceptance of such money to keep its democratic institutions working?

Mr. Biffen

I would rather confine myself to what goes on in this Chamber. I believe that the provision in the 1937 Act allowing public funds to be made available to the Opposition party has proved itself. Perhaps in the fullness of time wiser counsels will also prevail in the trade union movement.

Mr. Dormand

I hope that this will not be treated as a party matter— [Interruption.] It will not be too long before the Conservatives find themselves in opposition. We are talking about the workings of a healthy democracy. At present, the Short money is entirely inadequate for an Opposition to function properly. I was most disturbed to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that the matter will not be reconsided until about 1987. Does he agree that it should be done much sooner?

Mr. Biffen

There are some who would argue that it is not the absence of money which makes for an ineffective Opposition. We should beware of being too liberal in the application of so-called Short money. An agreement has been concluded and it would be appropriate for it to run to 1987 or 1988, as I have suggested. Of course, these are all matters that are considered from time to time, so the hon. Gentleman should not get too excited about it.

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