HL Deb 26 February 1985 vol 460 cc837-9

3 p.m.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how much the Exchequer contributes at present towards the finance of each opposition party in each House of Parliament, excluding remuneration of individual Members of either House.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, in accordance with a resolution passed by the House of Commons on 23rd January 1985, the present maximum annual amounts of financial assistance payable, as from 1st January 1985, to each opposition party in that House are as follows:

Labour Party 440,355
Liberal Party 88,641
SDP 62,562
Scottish National Party 7,977
Plaid Cymru 4,878
Ulster Unionists 20,397
Democratic Unionist Party 6,789

This provision is made to assist opposition parties in carrying out their parliamentary business generally. It is for the party concerned to decide whether to make any allocation towards the costs of carrying out their parliamentary business in this House.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Viscount for that very full explanation of the amounts paid under what I think is generally called "Short" money, in which all the parties in the other House share on the basis of both seats won and votes gained. However, the noble Viscount has not told me what amounts, apart from salaries, the Treasury bears in regard to this House. If the answer is, none, I should want to ask the noble Viscount why there is this enormous discrepancy between the two Houses.

Furthermore, as it is well known that payments are made by the Exchequer to individuals in this House (with which we are not concerned, either as to names or amounts) does the noble Viscount propose to ensure that those payments are more wide-spread, having regard to the constituent membership of your Lordships' House and the fact, for example, that there are 85 Members of your Lordships' House who take the whips of either the SDP or the Liberal Party?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, the best of all possible reasons that I can give the noble Lord for not being able to tell him how much the Treasury contributes to this House is that I do not know. I do not know for the best of all possible reasons, that I am not supposed to know; because it is for the parties themselves to decide what they give to this House for their parties in this House to conduct their business. That is none of my business, and because it is none of my business I am delighted to say that I do not know it. For that reason I cannot answer the noble Lord.

However, I can say that the formula on which this money is given to the various parties takes account of the number of seats which each opposition party won at the last General Election and, indeed, the number of votes that it received. Every effort is made to make this apportionment as fair as possible, and I hope that the noble Lord and his party think that they receive what they ought to receive from their party in another place. If they do not, they must attach the blame for that to their party in another place and, for once, thank goodness, not to me.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, does the noble Viscount's answer mean that if I started a small political party—it does not matter what name I care to give it or anyone else cares to give it—I could receive some of the cash?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I would not underestimate the capacity of the noble Lord to start a party on his own and to attract considerable support. However, he would have to win the votes at a General Election and gain some seats. If he won neither seats nor votes, he would not get any money. I suspect that the noble Lord would get both votes and seats and probably receive some money, but he will have to wait for the next General Election before he does that.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, does the noble Viscount recollect that the conditions under which this money is paid and the formula were discussed with all the parties in the other place at that time and agreed by them? Secondly, is the noble Viscount aware that the transitory nature of our achievements in public life are such that the press now write the word "Short" with a small "s"?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I gladly recognise the part which the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, (when his name was different) played in another place in what I believe to be a reasonable arrangement for the work of the parties both in another place and in this House. I was of course associated with the noble Lord in that particular endeavour at that time, and indeed belonged to a party that was a recipient of some of the money for which, contrary to what might sometimes be said, at that time we were extremely grateful. It helped us to conduct our business in another place, as it did other parties. I believe that it is a reasonable arrangement and that it makes sense. As to how this House is served, I must continue to say that that is a matter for the parties themselves.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will not the noble Viscount agree that, quite apart from the "Short" money—which we obviously all welcome and in regard to which we pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, for his signal contribution—there is also a discrepancy between the assistance given to individual Members of this House and those in another place, in that Members of another place get their postage paid whereas we do not? Is it not unfair that noble Lords who engage in a large volume of correspondence because of their work in politics should have to pay for it out of their own pockets?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I spend my time trying to curtail the length of Questions in this House. I constantly remind my colleagues on the Front Bench that they should not answer questions which are outside the remit of the original Question. The Question that I was originally asked explicitly said: excluding remuneration of individual Members of either House". Therefore, I believe that I would be totally outside my own rulings if I did other than say that I do not think that that particular supplementary question came within the Question that I was originally asked. If I said anything else, my noble friend the Chief Whip, would remind me that it is high time that we passed on to other business, but as I am myself answering, I shall not do that.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that I was not asking about remuneration; I was asking about reimbursement of expenses legitimately incurred as a Member of this House?

Viscount Whitelaw

Yes, my Lords, and in my simple way I perhaps regarded the words: excluding remuneration of individual Members of either House to include reimbursement of their expenses. Perhaps I was incorrect in that, but I thought that the Question was directed to what the parties receive and not to what individuals receive in any capacity. If I was wrong, I apologise to the noble Lord, but, frankly, in my own mind I do not think that I was wrong.

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