HL Deb 28 June 1922 vol 51 cc74-6

LOUD CHARNWOOD rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will obtain and publish information as to the legislation now in force in the United States (whether Federal legislation or legislation of any of the several States) requiring publication of the names of donors to Party funds and of the amounts of their subscription; and whether, if similar legislation exists in any of His Majesty's Dominions, they will at the same time publish information in regard to it.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the comparatively mild and innocuous Question which I have put on the Paper was, of course, intended at first as a sort of appendix to the braver Questions which originally appeared in front of it. The fact that those Questions have now been postponed until to-morrow does, in a way, leave me high and dry, but I do not suppose that, in any case, any very weighty contribution to the grave matter to be discussed to-morrow would have been expected from me by your Lordships. I do not think that the Question I now ask, or the benevolent answer which, I know, it will receive, need at all have the effect of precipitating the serious debate of to-morrow.

As many of your Lordships know, there have been for some years Statutes in the United States, both Federal Statutes and a Statute of New York City, and, I believe, some others, of which the intention is to secure to Party funds and contributions to them that sort of publicity which generally attaches to subscriptions to hospitals, or the like, and which by law attaches to subscriptions to joint stock companies. It has, I think, for some time presented itself to the minds of many people in this country that it might be a good thing if a similar publicity attached to Party funds here. There is, of course, nothing in that idea which is hostile to the existence of Party funds. There is no reason in the world why people who act munificently towards a Party which they honestly support should be more nervously modest about their munificence than they generally are when they subscribe to any work of charity. On the other hand, it is, I think, fairly obvious that such publicity, if it could be secured, must act as a safeguard against those accidents which do occur from the coming together of Party funds and of some share in the bestowal of honours in the same hands.

I ought, perhaps, to explain that the motive for which publicity of this kind is required in America is not precisely identical with that which I have indicated. There, of course, the intention is rather that the influence exerted upon the policy of the Government or the Legislature by big moneyed corporations with an interest of their own in tariff questions, or in the, granting of public franchises, and the like, shall, so far as it is exercised by gifts to Party funds, be exercised above-board and in the sight of all men. Without going further into the matter, I may suggest that that object is one which might easily be of importance in our country, too. It is well, when questions, for example, such as that of a tariff, are being fought out in public, that the political influence exercised by the wealth of great moneyed interests should similarly be an open and undisguised one.

Frankly, I suppose that most of us will be inclined to think that legislation with that intention would be extremely difficult to draft in such a manner as to make it effective, but such information as I have got—it is, I confess, not very much—leads one to suppose that the American legislation docs really answer its purpose, and that up to date, at any rate, the right-method of evading its operation on any large scale has not been invented. Consequently, I think that information of the exact terms of all such legislation in America, and in the Dominions also if it happens to exist in any of them, which I do not know, is very likely to be of very considerable use in considering the question of effective legislation of the same sort in this country. If this information, which I have no doubt the Government will secure for us, should prove to have the interest which very probably it may have, perhaps I may be permitted to recur to this subject on some later occasion; but if I may trouble your Lordships with one word more it is this: I very earnestly hope that some noble Lords opposite, with greater experience and of greater authority than myself, will give their serious consideration to the element of practical suggestion which does, I think, lurk in my Question.


My Lords, the Government would be very glad to supply the information asked for by Lord Charnwood as regards the United States. I am not sure if any legislation of this kind exists in the Dominions, but immediate inquiry will be made, and if it does Papers will be presented, corresponding with those relating to the United States of America.