HC Deb 14 June 1995 vol 261 cc784-5
7. Mr. Chisholm

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will amend the Companies Act 1985 to ensure that information on political donations given by companies is made available to customers of the privatised utilities. [26809]

Mr. Jonathan Evans

I have no such plans. Customers of privatised utilities can readily obtain information on any political donations through disclosure in the companies' annual reports.

Mr. Chisholm

Why should shareholders in privatised utilities be told about political donations when customers, who have to foot the bill, are not? As the Conservative party has sanctioned the windfall profits and share option bonanzas of the utilities, surely the public should be told which companies have returned the favour.

Mr. Evans

In a sense the question is disingenuous, because when information on a company's political donations is disclosed in its annual report it is invariably disseminated in the newspapers. Furthermore, I note that the hon. Gentleman is the only one of the top 10 Labour Members in the draw to ask questions who is not sponsored by the co-operative or trade union movement—unlike the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who is sponsored by the GMB. Mr. John Edmonds of the GMB has said that he intends to challenge political donations: he apparently believes that they are unlawful because they do not buy political influence—unlike donations to the Labour party.

Mr. Jessel

Is not the word "utility" misleading, in that it seems to imply that if something has come along a pipe or a wire it must be more useful than a physical article or object bought in a shop? Is that not a nonsensical distinction? Why should someone who has bought a fluid or a gas which has come along a pipe be privy to more information than someone who has bought a physical object in a shop?

Mr. Evans

My esteemed and honourable Friend highlights the fact that what is important is the efficiency of the service delivered.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

How does the Minister justify the fact that utilities such as Thames Water can give £50,000 to the Conservative party by taking the money from senior citizens such as Thomas Monaghan, a military cross holder, who was charged £193 for the changing of a washer? Will the Minister hold an inquiry into that scandal and ensure that Mr. Monaghan and others know that money is being taken away from them to give to the Conservative party?

Mr. Evans

As the hon. Gentleman seems to have no difficulty in finding out what political donations particular companies make, why does he want to place a charge on every customer of every privatised utility by requiring the information to be sent to them?