HC Deb 26 November 1987 vol 123 cc481-501
Mr. Speaker

Before I call the Leader of the House, I must tell the House that I have not been able to select the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and his hon. Friends.

10.14 pm
The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)

I beg to move, That the Resolution of the House of 20th March 1975 shall have effect with the omission of the proviso to paragraph (2) of that Resolution. The motion will not, I hope, detain the House for long. [Interruption.] It seeks to make only—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will those hon. Members who are not staying for the debate please leave quietly?

Mr. Wakeham

It seeks to make only one limited change to the resolution that has been the basis of the arrangements for providing financial assistance to Opposition parties since those arrangements began in 1975. It comes before the House as an interim measure, against the background of an overall review of the scheme, and for that reason I hope that the wider questions associated with the subject can be left to a later occasion.

The prospect of an overall review was raised in March this year by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen). He said that he expected a review of the financial assistance arrangements to take place either later this year or next. That has now begun, and it would be premature to make significant changes to the scheme before the House has had an opportunity to consider the proposals that the review produces. I realise that there are important issues to be looked at in any reappraisal of the arrangements —questions about the basis of the formula; the amounts for which it provides; the uprating of these figures; and the relationship between this scheme and other benefits available to the Opposition. All those issues may be discussed when the House returns to the subject.

In considering the motion, the House may find it helpful to be reminded briefly of the background to it. Arrangements to give financial assistance to Opposition parties were introduced by Lord Glenamara when, as Mr. Edward Short, he was Leader of the House, hence the term "Short money" by which the scheme is sometimes known. The assistance is related solely to the work of the Opposition parties at Westminster, and the amounts available are set by a formula. This provided for a certain amount for each seat won at the preceding general election, and a much smaller amount for every 200 votes cast for that party.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Will my right hon. Friend help those of us who were not here in 1975 by telling us whether there is any assessment in the formula for the quality of work done by the Opposition? He has said so far that it is simply an arithmetical formula. Is he prepared to accept that some of us will be looking for quality in the Opposition's contribution and input in assessing whether they should get any of the money at all?

Mr. Wakeham

If my hon. Friend has views on that —I suspect that he has—I shall be perfectly prepared to discuss the matter with him, but I suggest that that would probably be better done at the review rather than today when we are dealing with an interim arrangement while the existing arrangement is the subject of the present review. I should be happy to receive the views of my hon. Friend, who may wish to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, during the debate.

The present levels of £1,500 for each seat and £3 for every 200 votes were approved by the House with effect from 1 January 1985. In addition, a figure was set for the maximum which could be claimed annually by any one Opposition party. That is currently £450,000.

The motion would remove that maximum figure. On the basis of the formula agreed in 1985, the official Opposition would be able to claim annually an additional £50,000 or so, following the relatively modest improved result they obtained in this year's general election. That increase would take the amount they could claim annually to about £490,000— substantially above the maximum for which the resolution provides.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

We do not intend to oppose the motion, but I should be interested to learn why a maximum was set in the first place if it is being removed on the first occasion that it comes into operation.

Mr. Wakeham

That shows that it is sometimes a mistake to give way. The point made by the hon. Gentleman is exactly what I am coming to. There is one point of substance on which I should perhaps comment, in case any of my hon. Friends feel that we are proposing to be more generous to the Opposition than Lord Glenamara thought would be appropriate when he set up the arrangements. His view was that there should be a maximum figure as well as a formula, because the responsibilities of a principal Opposition party were not necessarily greater because it had, say, 250 rather than 200 Members.

I have no doubt that the House will wish to address that proposition in the wake of the review and I would not wish to pre-empt that now. My reason for bringing forward the motion is to seek to maintain the position of the Opposition parties under the arrangements as last approved by the House. When the House approved the present figures for the formula and for the maximum figure, it set the maximum figure at just above the total amount to which the formula would then entitle the main Opposition party. That enabled all the Opposition parties to claim the full amount available to them under the formula. Today's motion would maintain that position. I believe that that approach must be the right one, pending completion of the review.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I understand the mathematics in relation to the main Opposition party and I understand the dilemma of the Leader of the House in respect of the overall review when it comes to the minority parties, particularly the SDP, which now has two separate mutations. To whom will the money for the SDP be allocated? Will it go to the former leader or to the current leader? Will it go to the provisionals or to the officials?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman establishes me in confirming that my view is right that we should consider these matters after the review and not tonight when we are dealing with the interim measure to continue the existing arrangements.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

My right hon. Friend may be coming to the point; he might already have made the point, but there has been some hubbub and it has not been possible to hear everything that he has said. Can my right hon. Friend answer one question clearly? If we vote for the motion, will the Opposition get more money than if we vote against it? If we vote against it, do they get more money than if we vote for it? Which way should we vote if we want the Opposition to get less money?

Mr. Wakeham

If my hon. Friend will promise to listen carefully to what I have to say and will seek to remember what I have said until the Division, so that there is no mistake afterwards, I have to tell him that if he votes for the motion the Opposition will get more money; if he votes against the motion the Opposition will get less money. I recommend to my hon. Friend that he votes for the motion. I think that I have said enough to explain to the House the nature of the motion and the reasons why we should not go beyond that today.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has cleared the air for the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). Will the right hon. Gentleman please tell him that one day the Conservative party will be the Opposition?

Mr. Wakeham

I thought that I was going to have to explain it all over again to the hon. Gentleman. I think that he and I will both be fully retired before that day arises.

As I have said, the House will have an opportunity to consider the more general issues which arise from the review of the Short money arrangements but in the meantime I commend the motion to the House.

10.23 pm
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

The Leader of the House has described this as a modest proposal in advance of a thorough review of financial assistance to Opposition parties. That is precisely what it is — a very small amendment to an existing resolution of the House. It follows the pattern of the first resolution on the subject on 20 May 1975. It was affirmed in a number of subsequent resolutions in 1978, 1980, 1983 and 1985, and, for those in any doubt, the first proposal came from a Labour Government, when the principal beneficiary of the money proposed for the use of Opposition parties was the Conservative party.

The House is being asked to do something simple and straightforward — to agree that the agreed formula for financial assistance to Opposition parties, which is based on seats and votes, should be adhered to in the light of the result of this year's general election. I need hardly remind the House that that election adjusted the seats and votes of all parties in the House, especially those of the Labour party. The Labour vote went up from 8,457,000 to 10,000,000 at the general election, and its number of seats rose from 209 to 229. The application of the formula would bring the amount of money to which we are entitled considerably above the limit established in the original resolution. I remind the House of the considerable contribution made to the figures by the electorate in The Wrekin, which returned a Labour Member of Parliament and in which the Labour vote rose by about 5,000. That is one of the reasons why we think it right that the House should support the motion.

When the original motion was proposed, there was quite rightly, a debate on the principle of whether there should be financial assistance for political parties. It was a genuine debate about an issue over which there are deep divisions. Having made the decision that there should be support for Opposition parties in Parliament, it would be quite wrong not to pass the resolution this evening—it merely means that the formula can be applied. The debate on the principles has already taken place, and if we do not remove the ceiling tonight the formula that was previously agreed cannot be applied.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

The hon. Gentleman said that Labour party membership had risen in this Parliament. However, he has not said what the average electorate in each constituency represented by a Labour Member numbers. Most of the increases that he is talking about took place in Scotland, where the constituencies are minuscule. The hon. Gentleman will find that the average size of a constituency held by a Labour Member before the last election was larger than it is now, so why should the Opposition be entitled to any more money?

Mr. Grocott

One of the gains with which I am familiar took place in the 15th largest constituency of the 656 constituencies in the United Kingdom — that of The Wrekin, which has an electorate of 83,000 and is a Labour-held seat. It is common sense that the formula should be based on seats and votes. That acknowledges the greatly increased work and effort required of an Opposition party in a modern Parliament. Perhaps the best statement of that, made with characteristic frankness, came from Jim Prior in a debate in July, 1974—the Conservative party was then in opposition—when he said of the Opposition parties: Concerning additional cash for Opposition parties, I suppose that one of the benefits of the change in Government in recent years is that it has brought to the notice of Governments the very great difficulties from which Oppositions suffer, particularly Shadow Ministers … But certainly, as far as this proposal goes, I believe that Front Bench spokesmen, with the additional correspondence and additional research work that is now required of them—which is far greater than it was even a few years ago—do need the sort of assistance that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned."—[Official Report, 29 July 1974; Vol. 878, c. 33–4.] There is no doubt, and it is accepted in the increased allowances to individual Members in recent years, that the pressures and demands on Members on the official Opposition and other opposition parties has greatly increased over the years. The motion is entirely in line with previous motions applying an agreed formula based on seats and votes to opposition parties. I commend the motion to the House.

10.31 pm
Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

I cannot support this motion, because it is fundamentally and inherently wrong to force the taxpayer to contribute to the funds of any political party in Britain. Political parties should raise their own funds by their own means by appealing to their supporters. That is the principle to which the Conservative party has adhered for many years. It certainly did not support the introduction of this provision in 1975 and many hon. Members myself included, voted against it at that time.

It must be inherently wrong that in this healthy democracy of ours it is necessary in a blind sort of way, according to the number of votes recorded and hon. Members elected to the House, to call upon taxpayers to contribute to the funds of voluntary organisations serving political ends whether or not the taxpayers support those political ends.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that the letter sent by the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) to shareholders in newly privatised public assets was in a sense doing exactly that by trying to make money for a political party from public assets? Indirectly, that money was from taxes paid.

Mr. Stanbrook

What the hon. Member says betrays his ignorance of the democratic process. The motion proposes that whether he likes it or not the taxpayer will have to subsidise political parties. That is a far cry from asking people for financial support. I am in favour of people contributing voluntarily. The system that presently applies to the Conservative party should be encouraged and not discouraged by motions such as this.

In an earlier incarnation I was an officer of the Government of Nigeria. In those days, about 30 years ago, one political party required all its candidates to sign two letters, both of which were undated. One of the letters was addressed to the Speaker of the House and offered the resignation of the Member concerned. The other was addressed to the equivalent of our Fees Office and said that, from the date of election, 10 per cent, of the salary of the Member concerned should be paid to the political party.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

Just like the Labour party.

Mr. Stanbrook

As my hon. Friend correctly says, just like the Labour party. Any member of that Nigerian party who strayed out of line simply had the date inserted on the letter and it became a resignation letter. All of the members of the party paid 10 per cent, and that was automatically deducted from their salaries in order to maintain their own party because they did not have the ability, strength, knowledge or support in the country to justify raising money by appealing to their supporters. That system applied in a relatively unsophisticated country where the people had nothing like our political experience of operating a democracy.

Therefore, it is quite wrong for the Labour party, which introduced this provision, and for all those parties that would benefit from it to say that they cannot raise money and appeal to the taxpayer to give them money whether he likes it or not to keep their essential services going.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

I appreciate the stance of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), although I disagree with it. Having voted against this in 1975, did the Conservative party in the period during which it was in opposition take the money that was payable to the Opposition? Would the Conservatives take it if they were again in opposition in future?

Mr. Stanbrook

My understanding is that they did not take it, so they were true to their word. In any event, I have voted against resolutions on every occasion, so I can speak with a clear conscience. It is not right or good for our democracy that political parties should depend in any way upon public revenue for support.

Mr. Wakeham

I have been looking at the Division lists and I can say to my hon. Friend that he voted against the resolution in 1975, as indeed did a number of surprising hon. Members on both sides of the House. I ought to say that the Conservative Opposition took the money then.

Mr. Stanbrook

I can only depore that fact; it is wrong in principle. If protests are not raised about the practice in the House every time that the matter is raised, taxpayers will be required gradually to pay more of the central research and headquarters costs of the parties. We do not know even now how the money is spent.

There is no control on this money whatsoever. Does the Public Accounts Committee know about it? It has never been investigated. So far as we know, the money goes to the Labour party, not to the Leader of the Opposition. It is not necessarily applied for the stated purposes.

Mr. Grocott

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stanbrook

I shall be glad to give way to the hon. Gentleman if he will assure me that none of the money goes to the Labour party.

Mr. Grocott

The hon. Gentleman can be absolutely assured about that. It has been stated on many occasions that the money is used for parliamentary opposition within the House.

Mr. Stanbrook

I am very glad to hear that, but one reason why we have kept the funding within bounds is the ritual protests by hon. Members like myself against the principle. If the Labour party has the support in this country to justify a national political party, surely it can raise the money necessary for the operation of the office of the Leader of the Opposition in the House, because it is a small proportion of the money that is required to carry on a national political party.

In the Conservative party we constantly get complaints about the extent of donations, but almost every constituency association is self-supporting and raises its money from numerous small functions and individual subscriptions; from profits derived from jumble sales, coffee mornings and cheese and wine parties. Those activities are doubly beneficial because, while they provide for the activities of the party within the constituencies, they enable democracy to work better and the party is more responsive to those who vote for it and who pay something for it at the same time. The Labour party knows nothing about that because it is so dependent on funds coming from trade unions.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

What I do not quite understand from the hon. Gentleman's contribution is this: if the Conservative party is in a healthy financial position, and certainly we know that substantial sums of money are received from industry, why did Tory Members vote for the measure in 1975 and were only too willing to receive the money when they were in opposition? Although I know that the hon. Gentleman voted against the motion with some of his hon. Friends, the majority of his hon. Friends did otherwise and they received the money in opposition. Why did he not persuade his own party that it was wrong to take that money in order to run an effective opposition?

Mr. Stanbrook

The hon. Gentleman has not been listening to what I have been saying, and he is quite wrong. The Conservative party did not vote for the provision in 1975. My right hon. Friend has said that it may have accepted money subsequently. That is as may be, but in principle it was regarded as wrong by many members of the Conservative party.

So far as donations from companies are concerned, money should be raised from as broad a base as possible. That means individual subscriptions, small amounts, being collected within constituencies, and that for the most part is what the Conservative party does.

I could not have supported the amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and others, most of whom entered Parliament at the last election. They have not had the salutary experience that some of us have had of being in opposition. I remind them that discipline here is a matter for Mr. Speaker. It is not for hon. Members to impose it in relation to payments made to individual parties.

10.41 pm
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

I, too, regret that the amendment standing in the names of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and some of his hon. Friends has not been selected, because, though feeble, at least it was a positive attempt to measure attendance, record and effort against the remuneration of Members. It is not a bad idea to pay by results.

With that in mind, I have been looking up the extramural activities of the Conservative Members who put their names to that amendment. What do they do outside the House, these part-time MPs?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but I remind him that this matter concerns assistance to Opposition parties. It does not go wider than that.

Mr. Rogers

Yes, Mr. Speaker, and that is why I believe that Opposition parties should be rewarded by results, and to illustrate my case I am referring to Conservative Members who are managing directors, consultants, bankers, insurance agents—some of them not so good at that, either—a crematorium director, a professional footballer—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am finding it difficult to relate the hon. Member's remarks to the subject of assistance to Opposition parties. He is miles wide of that. He must stick to the subject under discussion.

Mr. Rogers

I am sure that you will be generous enough to allow me to illustrate my argument in this way, Mr. Speaker. We have a pro-footballer and cricketer — although there are doubts about whether he was either of those—and one does not know what else he may have been. I need not give more illustrations. It is clear that Conservative Members are simply indulging in hypocrisy.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said that money should not be given to political parties. He takes that view because, like so many of his class and background, he believes that power, like privilege, can be bought: that if one's cheque book is strong enough one can buy power, privilege, health care and one's way into parts of society that only money enables one to enter. That is at the root of what the Tory party is all about. The Tory party is the party of choice and the party of freedom, but the choice and the freedom are available only for those who can afford to pay for them. That is the Tory party, and it is coming out tonight.

The hon. Member for Orpington talked about the party raising its money with jumble sales and sewing circles. What a load of codswallop. Everyone knows where the Tory party gets its millions. The information is published every year, and it is easy enough to get hold of it. The hon. Gentleman's party managers are so proud of where they get their money from that they publish their list themselves. Fine. At least they are not hypocritical, as so much of the argument from the Conservative Benches has been tonight.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

May I ask the hon. Gentleman to direct his mind to the point that has attracted so much interest on this side of the House'? There is a strong feeling among Conservative Members that there is an implied condition that Opposition Members who receive money from the House for the furtherance of their duties should uphold the traditions of Parliament. The money is provided for the better operation of Parliament, and good behaviour and obedience to convention are essential for that better operation.

Recently, along with many other new Members, I was present in the House when you, Mr. Speaker, unfortunately found it necessary to name a Member. In the Division that followed, we saw a number of Opposition Members — including Whips — vote against you. I was also present when—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is going to develop his theme in a speech, which would be out of order. This is not an intervention.

I direct the House to the motion on the Order Paper. I must ask the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), who has the Floor, to direct his speech to the motion. The motion concerns the provision of resources to Opposition parties. It is not about the interests of Conservative Members.

Mr. Rogers

I had left that a long time ago, Mr. Speaker. I was simply commenting on the speech of the hon. Member for Orpington, which was perfectly in order. If he was in order, I strongly suggest that I am in order. I then gave way to the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), who is a barrister and comes in here occasionally, to allow him to get the flavour of the debate. However, he wanted to make a speech, but you rightly brought that to an end.

Parties need money to operate. The important issue is where that money comes from. There are strong arguments for state funding of parties. That would mean, for instance, that the Conservative party could break away from the shackles of big business and the City and start to operate as an enlightened, intelligent and democratic party. Instead, it will continually be in hock to the people who finance it.

It is becoming progressively more expensive to run political business.

Let me give a simple illustration. In 1979 the Prime Minister's office cost £1,400,000 to run. In 1986 it cost £5 million. No one is saying that it is not cheap at the price; no one is saying that we are, or are not, getting value for money. That is not my argument. My argument is that a political operation is expensive, and if it is expensive for the Prime Minister and for the Conservative party in Government, it is expensive for the Opposition. I should have thought that, instead of burking, Conservative Members would have supported the Government, who are sufficiently enlightened to realise the grave implications of adopting the attitudes of the secondhand car salesmen on the Conservative Back Benches.

10.49 pm
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

I support the motion and the review that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced. The motion relates to democracy. I respect the views of the few hon. Members, on both sides of the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), who have consistently opposed the payment of such moneys, but on balance it is entirely right that the money should be paid. In the late 1970s, the Conservative party in opposition accepted the money, and we should pay it to the present Opposition, but when reviewing the matter I hope that my right hon. Friend will take into account some of the events of the past few weeks.

May I allude to an incident two days ago, when one of your Deputies was in the Chair, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard) was opening her first Adjournment debate—a debate on mental health, which hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree is extremely important— when the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) chose to stage his little protest and attack the Chair, although not physically this time. He not only lost five minutes of the debate, but he forced my hon. Friend to start her speech four times. I do not believe that he did it on purpose, but that is what happens if hon. Members regard breaches of discipline in the House as a means of gaining publicity.

May I also mention the incident involving the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). People will appreciate how strongly some Conservative Members felt about the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Prime Minister.

Mr. Winnick

The hon. Gentleman is talking about conduct that does not meet with his approval, although I should have thought that conduct was a matter for you, Mr. Speaker. Is he aware that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who was Secretary of State for Defence before he walked out of a Cabinet meeting, went up to the Mace, put it above his head and demonstrated? What does the hon. Gentleman think about that behaviour?

Mr. Brazier

I shall deal with that point later.

In the incident in which the hon. Member for Linlithgow was involved, the important point is not that the Prime Minister was involved; nor is it important that a new Member was involved in the other incident that I mentioned, although that is why 31 new Members signed the amendment to the motion. What matters—it should not be for new Members to have to say this — is that every Member represents 60,000 or 70,000 constituents and should be given a fair chance to make his or her point heard within the rules of the House. An attack on the rules of the House, whether it comes from one party or the other, is an attack on democracy.

For nearly six months I have managed to avoid mentioning my political idol, Sir Thomas More. When he occupied the seat in which you sit now, Mr. Speaker, he risked his life several times to uphold the rules of the House. Subsequently, as Lord Chancellor, he said something that we should all remember: that if the devil himself came forward he would not try to prosecute him unless he could do so within the laws of the country.

When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House reviews the sums paid to Opposition parties, he should consider deducting a nominal amount of £1,500 that is the capitation allowance, for each Opposition Member who chooses, from this moment on, to break the rules of the House to the extent that you, Mr. Speaker, must suspend him.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Is my hon. Friend saying that the money given to the Social Democratic party should be regarded as a marriage licence, or a death grant?

Mr. Brazier

I do not know whether it would be in order for me to tell the House a story, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may tell a story if it is relevant to the motion on the Order Paper. I have taken his remarks so far as being a background to what he is intent on saying, but his remarks must be related to the motion.

Mr. Brazier


Mr. Tim Bos well (Daventry)

Can my hon. Friend shed any light on the presence or otherwise of the Social Democratic party? Is it too moribund to attend to decide whether it will marry or continue with the last rites?

Mr. Brazier

I do not think that I can comment on my hon. Friend's intervention.

I have some final comments to make to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. First, this is a matter that concerns primarily Opposition parties, because there is no public handout of the same sort for the party that is in government. It would seem, however, that Opposition Members have nothing to fear. Presumably they believe that at some time in the next century the Conservative party will find itself in opposition. To that extent, the motion applies to all parties.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the Conservative party in Scotland is in opposition, it having only 10 Members in Scotland?

Mr. Brazier

We are not trying to claim the money, whatever the hon. Lady's views on that subject may be.

I am not being vindictive. I am not suggesting that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House should consider deducting money on the basis of past offences. I merely suggest, Mr. Speaker, that it would increase your authority were such a deduction to be made for future offences. All those on both sides of the House who believe in democracy should welcome the nominal change to our arrangments that I propose as a step to upholding the rules of the House.

10.58 pm
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) referred to an amendment that you did not select, Mr. Speaker. As he was not a Member of this place at the time, I shall tell him that there was a debate on what should happen to Members who were suspended or named.

During that debate we heard those who suggested, in the form of an amendment, that it would not be a bad idea if Members who were suspended forfeited their pay. The hon. Member for Canterbury will be interested to know that I voted for forfeiture of pay. I am sure that he will be interested to know also that the majority of Tory Members voted that Members who were suspended should retain their money. The hon. Gentleman should have a word with some of his hon. Friends, but not, perhaps, with the Leader of the House, who was not in his present position at that time. I see no real hardship in having to forfeit a few bob in the course of what is a well-paid occupation.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) voted in principle in 1975 against the Short money. He has reaffirmed that decision this evening. I believe that the hon. Member should remember that the Tory party took the money and, more than that, it took his money as well. It took the equivalent of the money of the hon. Member for Orpington. It took the number of votes that were cast for that hon. Member as well.

I think that it would be a fair bet—I am prepared to have this checked out—that every member of the Tory party who qualified under the rules in 1975 contributed towards that total of Opposition money that they kept until 1979. [Interruption.] Someone says that there was no alternative. I venture to suggest that if the principle was so strong it would not have taken a great deal of ingenuity for someone to say, "Well, my principles are so strong that I believe that the money should not be handed over in my name." In fact that person could have gone further and said, "I will contribute the money instead." They could have moved a resolution—they could have done lots of things. Although the hon. Member for Orpington made a strong point, the fact is that for four glorious years the Tory party took the money in the name—

Mr. Marlow

The hon. Gentleman is saying that that was wrong. Therefore it is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to take the money.

Mr. Skinner

What I am saying is that to get the money every single Member contributed towards it.

The Government also use a lot of money and it is worth noting that, during the past few years a check on the amount of money that is spent by the Prime Minister in carrying out her functions in Downing street and Chequers, shows that when the last Labour Prime Minister left the amount of money that was expended—

Mr. Marlow

The hon. Gentleman has changed his mind.

Mr. Skinner

No, I have not. When the last Labour Prime Minister left office the amount of money that was expended in 10 Downing street and Chequers was £1.25 million per annum. In eight years that figure has increased to £4.9 million per annum.

If there are to be penalties we should start with one today. It is simple. The Secretary of State for the Environment has cost the taxpayer another £50,000 because he printed a Bill the wrong way round. No surcharge for him. There is no one crying on the Tory Benches about that expenditure of Government money coming straight out of the taxpayers' pockets. That money has come, as the Prime Minister would say, from, "Your next door neighbour's pocket."

This is an interim measure.

Mr. Marlow

Is the hon. Gentleman going to take the money?

Mr. Skinner

I never took any.

This measure does not deal with the problem faced by the Leader of the House. I believe that there will have to be some hard thinking done to sort out the mess on the Benches beside and behind me—[Interruption.]—I refer, of course, to the SDP and the Liberals.

The votes that were cast in June 1987 were cast for people standing for either the Liberal party or the SDP —the alliance. An easy calculation was made. One way was to calculate the money on the basis of the number of the Members who were returned for the alliance. The other was to calculate the amount of money on the votes for each of those candidates — a fairly simple matter. It always has been simple. Now there is the possibility of several different mutations. Possibly there will be a merged party with a new name, it may be the Democrats or it may be a much longer title. There could well be another smaller party—the Council of Social Democracy. Not one voter cast a vote for the Council of Social Democracy at the last election. Not one voter cast a vote for a merged party. Someone has to calculate how the money is to be split up.

It has crossed my mind that one of the reasons why the ex-leader of the Social Democratic party, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) wants to retain the party's name has more to do with putting his hand into the taxpayers' pocket than it has to do with some matter of principle.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

For once I agree with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). He has put his finger on a most important point. Does he agree that many of the votes cast for those two parties that masqueraded as one were bogus, that they would not be cast in current circumstances and that it is, therefore, quite improper to award money on the basis of their bogus prospectus that won false seats and false votes?

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Gentleman might be interested in a letter that I sent to the Leader of the House on 25 August, before the merger was discussed, in which I said: Dear John Wakeham, As you know, the result of the ballot on the SDP was in favour of a merger, yet discussions are continuing as to whether a separate SDP will be formed. All this presents you and the Commons with the problem of allocating the so-called 'Short money' for the next few years. For instance, if another leader is elected by the SDP MPs, will that leader receive the allocation which I believe currently stands at £62,562, or will it remain with the leader at the time of the election, David Owen, MP? Further, what will happen if a merger takes place and a rump of SDP supporters form another 'mutation'; will that new party receive money even though it did not fight the general election of 1987 in that precise form? In view of the fact that this is taxpayers' money I believe the public have the right to know. The Leader of the House replied by saying that the matter was under review. When I receive letters like that, I know that there is a problem. I received another letter this week in answer to another problem in which it was said that I would be answered shortly. [Interruption.] It is not a laughing matter. I must say, however, that in some of my wilder moments I have enjoyed the dilemma that is facing the Leader of the House and hon. Members on the SDP and Liberal Benches.

I am looking forward not so much to the end of the debate as to the review. I want to hear how Solomon divides the money. It will need a Solomon to do that because the taxpayers are keen to know what will happen to that cash. As we have to wait for that review, I shall reserve my judgment.

11.4 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

There are a number of problems with the proposition before us, not the least of which is that, in the time honoured constitutional sense, one Parliament cannot bind another. The view that the House took of the matter in 1975 need not inhibit or bind the House or the Parliament in 1987.

I, and many of my hon. Friends who signed the excellent amendment that has not been selected, were not here in 1975. We have a different view of the House, the way in which it works and of the Opposition. Our respect for the Opposition is perhaps not that which our gentlemanly predecessors took in 1975. There are a number of reasons, but I will recount just two or three as that should suffice. The first reason has been alluded to by my hon. Friends. In judging the performance and quality of the Opposition and their contribution to the House, in the constitutional arrangement, and in deciding whether taxpayers money should be given in an even handed way to the Opposition, we look to their attitude to you, Mr. Speaker. It has already been suggested that many Opposition Members, including Opposition Front Bench spokesmen and Opposition Whips sought not to support you, Mr. Speaker over a vital matter of the convention and conduct of this House. The House is entitled to take a view of that matter. We should judge whether we should fund the Opposition in view of their conduct towards you, Mr. Speaker, and how they support you. They are sadly and totally lacking in that support.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you please guide the House? On the occasion to which the hon. Gentleman is referring, was not the motion moved by the Leader of the House at the Dispatch Box? Anyone voting either way on that motion was voting in support of the Leader of the House or against him.

Mr. Speaker

I should be very grateful if the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) would keep me out of these matters.

Mr. Forth

Indeed, Mr. Speaker.

Another matter that we might consider is the attendance of Opposition Members in the House. We need look no further than last Friday when there was a very important debate to which the Opposition were supposed to attach a great deal of importance.

The Opposition, whom we are being asked to fund, were nowhere to be seen in the Division Lobbies on Friday. The debate was about a vital matter to do with the coal mining industry and we are told repeatedly that Opposition Members are very concerned about the industry. We looked in vain for them in the Lobbies; they were not doing their jobs. They were not opposing and they were not representing their constituents.

I believe that we are entitled to make our judgment on the conduct of Opposition Members their contribution to the House and the seriousness with which they treat the House.

Mr. Rogers

I support the hon. Gentleman's contention although I disagree with his illustration of last Friday. All of us were here, but we decided not to vote. We were here and that is the end of it. Having said that I support the hon. Gentleman's contention, but not his illustration, will he now table a motion that I will sign for clocking on and clocking off at every entrance to the Palace of Westminster and so turn this into a proper job? If the hon. Gentleman has the guts to table such a motion tomorrow I will support it and I am sure that most of my hon. Friends will do the same. If that is what the hon. Gentleman is saying, he should have the guts to do it.

Mr. Forth

I am tempted by the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. In invite the hon. Gentleman to examine my voting record in the House, because I believe that it bears any examination.

That is not the point. The motion invites us to vote money for the Opposition. It does not invite us to do anything else. We are entitled to judge the Opposition in terms of their conduct in the House, their attendance in the House and the extent to which they pay this House respect by attending and voting in the Division Lobbies.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Will my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why Opposition Members may be so concerned to get this money is that they are worried that the sponsorship from the National Union of Mineworkers might be withdrawn after last Friday?

Mr. Forth

Tempted though I am by my hon. Friend's comments, I will resist temptation and say merely that Opposition Members will have to make their own peace with their paymasters.

I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider my final point. I am prepared for the House to make its judgment in this and for the Opposition to carry the main burden of voting on the motion. I hope to have the opportunity to vote against the motion and I hope that my hon. Friends will bear in mind that the value of the resolution can be judged no more clearly than by the number of Opposition Members who appear tonight to vote for the motion. I hope that my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends will be prepared to accept that, if they cannot join me in voting against it, the best thing that they can do is to abstain so that we may judge how many Opposition Members have taken the trouble to be here to carry the motion.

11.10 pm
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) has taken us along some false lines. Last Friday's debate, at which I was present, was on a private Member's motion and is not relevant to this debate. A number of my hon. Friends and I were in the House. However, the debate was on the coal mining communities and, having looked into the Chamber on several occasions, I chose to leave it to those hon. Members with a direct involvement in the constituencies affected.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

When the hon. Gentleman had the chance to support private enterprise in opening a coal mine in Burnley, he chose to withdraw his support from the local council, of which he was the leader at the time. Perhaps he might give us his reasons for doing that.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If he were to do so, it would be very wide of the debate.

Mr. Pike

The hon. Gentleman's accusation is totally wrong anyway, but you have indicated, Mr. Speaker, that you do not wish me to take up the point, and I shall accept your ruling.

The business of last Friday is not relevant to the motion, which relates to the money to be paid to the Opposition parties.

Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood)

The hon. Gentleman says that the events of last Friday are not relevant to the debate. Will he cast his mind back to the events of nine days before that, when we debated the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill? At 5.20 am, only 32 Opposition Members were present. Does that reflect their interest in the dock labour scheme?

Mr. Pike

Again, that business was supposed to be private business, although the Government whipped Conservative Members to support the Bill.

Mr. Frank Cook

My hon. Friend may find it helpful to recall the debate on the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill. If he examined the Official Report, he would find that about 99.8 per cent, of the contributions to the all-night sitting were made by Opposition Members. From the Conservative Benches we heard only the snores of those hon. Members who were sleeping in a drunken stupor.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that the use of the phrase "drunken stupor" is not permitted in the Chamber.

Mr. Cook

On the advice of my hon. Friends, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw the word "drunken" and substitute "half sober".

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should withdraw his remarks completely.

Mr. Cook

I withdraw the word "drunken", Sir.

Mr. Pike

In their determination to voice their opposition to the motion, Conservative Members seek to raise matters that are not relevant to the debate. We have heard a reference to named Members being disciplined. On many occasions, Mr. Speaker, you have said that when hon. Members speak in the House they are responsible for their own speeches. Therefore, whether justified or not, what hon. Members do is not within the control of Opposition parties. Again, we have been led along a false path.

When the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) referred to the funding of parties, he was clearly confusing two separate issues — the funding of political parties outside the House, which is certainly nothing to do with the motion, and the funding of an Opposition, the issue that we are debating. In any democracy there must be an Opposition consisting of one or more parties.

Mr. Barron

The money that we are talking about tonight is nothing compared with the cost to the taxpayer of the Whitehall machine which has been subverted for a party-political cause.

Mr. Pike

I shall deal with that later.

When this move was introduce in 1975 it recognised that within the workings of Parliament — I emphasise "within the workings of Parliament" because that is what the motion is about — the Opposition must have good sound working machinery for there to be a democracy.

The measure sought to ensure that the Opposition could play their role in the proper functioning of Parliament. I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, and certainly those on the Treasury Bench, will recognise that the Opposition have it within their power to make the procedures of democratic government grind to a halt. If items that usually go through on the nod were debated, the system could fail.

If we want an efficient Opposition and if we want to counter that massive amount of money that my hon. Friend said a moment ago is there to support the Government machinery, it is fair and right that the Opposition should at least have some funding. That will ensure the continuation of parliamentary democracy, over and above the Executive. I am sure that Back Benchers on both sides of the House will want to ensure that this House has a voice to debate issues and exercise its powers in a proper manner at all times.

11.22 pm
Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood)

It is interesting that for the first time in the four years that I have been a Member of the House the cost involved in an amendment has not been mentioned. It has become a feature of Government contributions that we are told how much, we are taking from the taxpayer.

Mr. Skinner

The maximum of £450,000 is to be raised to £500,000, the difference being £50,000, which is about the amount that the Secretary of State for the Environment lost on the reprinted Housing Bill.

Mr. Hayward

Or that the closed-shop printers have lost on the Bill.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I hope that it is a general principle in the House that Ministers of the Crown are responsible for whatever happens. No one can blame the printers for not removing the word "Restricted" from the document.

Mr. Hayward

We are considering the position of the main Opposition parties. I stand to be corrected, but my calculation is that it will cost the Government between £20,000 and £25,000 extra in contributions to the main Opposition parties. That may not seem a large sum of money compared to the sums that we deal with in the House on a day-to-day basis, but my calculation is that it is a year-on-year increase of between 15 and 17 per cent.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Perhaps I could help the House. I have been reading carefully the resolution of 20 March 197.5. It covers the problem that may arise if the Liberal party decides to form a new party and if any part of the SDP decides to join that new party. We may be able to save the taxpayer some money. I ask the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), the only Member of the Liberal party here at the moment, to take due note. Paragraph 3 of the resolution says: it shall be a condition of qualification for such assistance that a party must either have at least two Members elected to the House"—

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)


Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)


Mr. Speaker

Order. The trouble with a long intervention is that it almost seems like a speech. We cannot have an intervention on an intervention. Will the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) ask his question?

Mr. Wallace

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have listened to the many contributions giving advice on how we might merge parties, which I hope we will do—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Wallace

It is a hypothetical situation and, therefore, should be ruled out of order.

Mr. Speaker

Will the hon. Member for Dorset, South bring his intervention to a close?

Mr. Ian Bruce

May I advise my hon. Friend that paragraph 3 says: 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"—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is enough.

Mr. Hayward

I thank my hon. Friend for an intervention which may be longer than my contribution.

What I do not understand about the extra sum of money that we are being asked to give to the main Opposition parties is why this must be dealt with tonight? As the Leader of the House said, we are in the process of a review. It is not as if there will not be an opportunity in the near future to decide how we fund each of the Opposition parties. Why, then, bring forward one change as an interim measure?

Mr. Grocott

It is simple. The formula as agreed by the House is being applied to the new figures after the general election.

Mr. Hayward

If the formula were applied to the results of the 1987 general election according to the decision of the House on 20 March 1975, the limit which the main Opposition parties would be up against is in the proviso which it is suggested we should delete, that is, that the maximum sum of money should be £150,000. I do not understand why we should vote on one amendment when a review is being undertaken. Following the review, a motion on which we can vote will be put to the House at some time in this parliamentary Session. As has already been said several times, the main Opposition parties do not warrant any increase in allowances. When the vote was taken in March 1975, allowances for hon. Members were small. They are now substantially larger per Member, so all Opposition Members have already had a substantial increase in their allowance, which make them in theory at least more effective Members of an Opposition. We have only to refer back to the last three weeks to see how much more effective those Members have been. That is why we should not vote on one amendment when we shall have the opportunity in the near future to vote for a complete review. We should wait for that, and not vote this evening.

11.30 pm
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I am not at all surprised by the attitude of Conservative Members. I have felt as though I was in a circus tonight, with all the clowns on their Benches. Their attitude has been appalling. One day, that lot of Conservative Members will find themselves on the Opposition Benches

We have had experience of some of the young lads from the Conservative Benches in the Committee that is discussing the Employment Bill. They have made larger contributions in the Chamber than they have upstairs in Committee. They give me the impression that they still have their nappies on and are wet behind the ears.

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). All that he could talk about was the money for Opposition parties that is being proposed by the Leader of the House. I agree with the Leader of the House on this matter, and I shall vote with him. The hon. Member for Orpington forgot that the taxpayer is paying for the Treasury Bench, too. When it comes to money being provided for the Opposition, how can we compete with the Conservative Benches, which are full of millionaires?

We know where Conservative Members get their money from, too. I received a letter from the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). In fact, I received two letters from him, begging for money for the Conservative party.

Hon. Members have spoken about quality. I maintain that the quality on our side has been considerably enhanced in the wake of the last election. I also suggest that there is a lack of quality on the Government Benches. We shall find out where this money should go after the next election, when some of that lot — Conservative Members — find themselves in our position. The problems of inequality for Labour Members and the problems of voting were mentioned in the context of the Friday debate, but the fact that the Government rolled in the payroll vote was not mentioned. They do not deny that now, but they did on Friday. The Government pulled a fast one last Friday.

I agree with the suggestion that money should be paid according to results, and with my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) who suggested that we clock in. I would be on overtime every day.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Haynes

I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman has had a fair whack and intervened many times today, while I have sat here quietly.

The point is about giving hon. Members a fair hearing. We get most rabble rousing from Conservative Members when there is a Labour Member on his feet or when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is at the Dispatch Box. They glory in it, but they ought to be ashamed of themselves, start to find their parliamentary manners and have respect for the Chair — as I always have. I have always had respect for the Chair and always will, and it is high time that that lot over there did as well.

I know that I have wandered from the amendment, but, because I have respect for the Chair, I shall come back to it. The arguments that Conservative Members have made are not fair. I believe that the Opposition parties are doing a first-class job. It is that lot over there which are sliding down the hill to hell. They will lose the next general election, and they will then realise why.

11.35 pm
Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

I wish to speak as a member of a small minority party in the House.

It is important that the Government take on board the fundamental right of minorities to speak in any democratic establishment. We in the Scottish National party and in the Plaid Cymru have tried to observe the rules of the House carefully and to work hard at scrutinising the work of successive Governments. We have had access to what has become known as Short money. Rather than consider the tenuous and dubious routes down which the House has been taken tonight, perhaps we should consider accountability and how effectively the money is used by Opposition parties.

I was in the House in the 1970s when Short money was introduced and we were congratulated on using it to employ staff in the House to enable us to examine legislation, ask questions and be a more effective Opposition — unlike the then Conservative Opposition, which appeared to pour the money into Central Office coffers for party political purposes. Opposition parties should be expected to explain to the House and taxpayers how the money is spent.

The rights of minorities are fundamental to any concept of democracy. We have not arrived here by any strange methods. We have contested seats in elections on the same basis as every other political party. We are here because we have the hearts, minds and votes of electors. We try to represent them, and any money that is given to us will be used to ensure that we represent them as effectively as possible.

It is unfortunate that some of the debate has been clouded by cheap political points that bring the system into disrepute with people outside who do not understand the workings of this place. Moreover, Opposition parties and Back-Bench Members of the governing party do not have the facilities which many of our counterparts in Europe and the United States enjoy. Short money goes a small way towards meeting that problem. It embodies a concept which we should respect and adhere to, and we should not cheapen it with some of the nasty remarks that have been made tonight.

11.39 pm
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Opposition Members may be surprised to hear that I believe that there is a case for public money being given to Opposition parties to support their role in the House. A loyal Opposition is an important part of the British constitution. As a very strong and perhaps Right-wing Tory, I also believe in value for money. I was surprised that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House did not speak about value for money and performance indicators. It is important that when we give money to the Opposition the public should have that right to judge how the money is spent.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) talked about payment by results. That is a good old Liberal principle that was introduced by Robert Bow in 1862 in education. We all know what happened then. In every school in Britain, when inspectors came to judge payment by results, all the children chanted parrot fashion what they had been told by their teachers. That is what we get from the Opposition every day. We are getting payment by results in terms of parrot fashion squawks every day in debates in the House.

We ought to have a look at the performance indicators by which we can judge the Opposition. I suggest that we first look at the quality of speeches. It is interesting to look at the number of research assistants allocated to Opposition parties. The SDP, which is not represented in this debate, has four reseach assistants for each of its Members. Even with the assistance provided by those people beavering away, hon. Members in the SDP do not even turn up to speak. Therefore, we have a right to question why that money is being spent.

The quality of speeches from the Opposition is lamentable. They show appalling research and a lack of knowledge on the part of the speakers. Earlier the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) talked about the Health Service. There was not a single fact in his speech about his own health authority. He did not tell us about the nurses and doctors that it has and how many operations they carry out.

Mr. Frank Cook

If the hon. Gentleman has any capacity for recall and retention, he will remember that I threw away about three quarters of my prepared statement in order to allow other hon. Members—such as the hon. Gentleman — to speak. Whether other hon. Members spoke is not a matter for me; it is for the Chair. I was sufficiently gracious to allow time for other hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman ought to be sufficiently gracious now to acknowledge that and should not make snide remarks.

Mr. Bennett

The hon. Member has a very short memory, because I recall that he spoke for at least 17 minutes and made many assertions from a word processor speech. He did not give us any facts about the North Tees authority. That is what we are looking for. If Opposition Members make speeches in which they attack the Government, they should carry out research and make proper, methodical speeches.

Let us consider what happened at Question Time. The Leader of the Opposition is paid a salary. Twice a week at Question Time he is beaten over the head by the Prime Minister because she does her homework while he asks glib questions without carrying out research.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

Hot air.

Mr. Bennett

As my hon. Friend says, it is hot air.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the payment given to the Leader of the Opposition has nothing whatever to do with the Short money that is aid to Opposition parties and to Back-Bench Members?

Mr. Bennett

I entirely agree with the hon. Member, but of course I am dealing with the principle of spending money on the Opposition. I want to see value for money. The Opposition spoke about voting. Any hon. Member who looks at the Division lists will see time and again that the Opposition disappear when there is a crucial vote. We remember what happened on Friday and what happened on the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill. If we had a performance indicator on votes, the Opposition would lose out on that.

Mr. Wallace

There is general agreement that a good democracy depends on a good Opposition. The logical conclusion of the hon. Gentleman's speech seems to be that money paid to Opposition parties should in some way be conditional on how the Opposition operate. It is a dangerous principle for the Government to attach conditions about how the Opposition should operate within the bounds of order.

Mr. Bennett

I do not think that the hon. Member understands what I am saying. I am talking about—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion,MR. SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to order [20 November.]

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That the Resolution of the House of 20th March 1975 shall have effect with the omission of the proviso to paragraph (2) of that Resolution.

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