HC Deb 23 March 1987 vol 113 cc15-6
21. Mr. Peter Bruinvels

asked the Lord Privy Seal what recent representations he has received concerning the requirement that financial assistance provided to Opposition parties should be expended solely in support of the parliamentary business of those parties; and if he will make a statement.

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

As I told my hon. Friend in answer to his question on 2 March, each Opposition party qualifying for financial assistance has to certify that any reimbursement claimed is in respect of expenses incurred exclusively in relation to that party's parliamentary business.

Mr. Bruinvels

Is my right hon. Friend able to tell the House when the next review will be undertaken? When that review is undertaken, will the assessment be made of how the £630,000 which was allocated in 1986 is spent? Will it be an undertaking that the assistance is given to a particular party for carrying out its "parliamentary work here at Westminster," as Lord Glenamara said on 20 March 1975, or for "activities at Westminster," as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said on 23 January 1985?

Mr. Biffen

As I have already said to the House, I thought that we were now sufficiently close to a general election to ensure that the next review would be in the next Parliament. The point raised by my hon. Friend about the whole question of monitoring spending is one that could be considered at the time of the review and, of course, it would be done in respect of all political parties.

Mr. Beith

Does the right hon. Gentleman not recall that when his party was in opposition those sums were disbursed largely to the Conservative research department? Could it be the temporary absence of those funds that has led that organisation to become so slipshod and inaccurate in its work; such as, for example not knowing that during the Lib-Lab pact inflation went down from 20 to 7 per cent. and that Labour's nationalisation measures were stopped? Is he looking forward to the return of those funds to his party?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has raised a facile point. I assure him that if we are to quarry for the ineptitudes of research activities on behalf of the respective parties, the Liberal aspect of the Liberal-Social Democratic alliance would come out top of the league.

I shall now turn to the more serious point, which is what I am sure the hon. Gentleman intended. I thank him for pointing out the great importance of research in sustaining a party in opposition. That was never more evident than now.