HL Deb 30 July 2002 vol 638 cc817-21

11.36 a.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That, in the opinion of this House, the provisions of this Resolution should have effect—

  1. (a) in place of the Resolution of 27th November 1996 (giving of financial assistance to opposition parties in this House) in relation to the giving of such financial assistance for periods after 31st March 2002, and
  2. (b) in relation to the giving of financial assistance to the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers for periods after 31st March 2001:
    1. (1) Financial assistance shall be available to assist the Opposition, the second largest opposition party and the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers in carrying out their Parliamentary business.
    2. (2) The maximum amount of financial assistance which may be given is—
      1. (a) for the year beginning with 1st April 2002—
        • Opposition £ 390,555
        • Second largest opposition party £ 195,000
        • Convenor of the Cross Bench Peers £ 35,000
      2. (b) for each subsequent year, the maximum amount for the previous year increased by the percentage (if any) by which the retail prices index for the previous March has increased compared with the index for the March before that, and (if the resulting amount is not a whole number of pounds) rounded to the nearest pound.
    3. (3) The financial assistance available under this Resolution includes assistance in respect of expenses incurred before the passing of this Resolution.
    4. (4) In the case of the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, financial assistance shall also be available, to a maximum of £35,000, to assist him in respect of expenses in carrying out his Parliamentary business for the year beginning with 1st April 2001.
    5. (5) Any claim for financial assistance by a party or the Convenor ("the claimant") is to be made to the Accounting Officer of the House; and the claimant must—
      1. (a) provide that Officer with a statement of the facts on which the claim is based;
      2. (b) certify to that Officer that the expenses in respect of which the assistance is claimed have been incurred exclusively in relation to the claimant's Parliamentary business; and
      3. 818
      4. (c) as soon as practicable after each 31st March following the passing of this Resolution, furnish that Officer with the certificate of an independent professional auditor to the effect that all expenses in respect of which the claimant claimed financial assistance during the period ending with that day were incurred as mentioned in sub-paragraph (b) above.
    6. (6) Paragraph (5)(c) does not apply to a claim for assistance under paragraph (4), but when making such a claim the Convenor must provide the Accounting Officer of the House with the certificate of an independent professional auditor to the effect that all expenses in respect of which the claim is made were incurred exclusively in relation to the Convenor's Parliamentary business.
    7. (7) In the case of any year in which there is a General Election—
      1. (a) the period ending immediately before the date of the Election and the period beginning with that date are to be treated as separate periods;
      2. (b) the maximum amount which may be given to each claimant for each of those periods is a proportionate part (rounded to the nearest pound) of the maximum amount for the year in question; and
      3. (c) in relation to the first such period, paragraph (5)(c) has effect as if references to the last day of the period were substituted for references to 31st March.
    8. (8) In this Resolution—
      1. (a) the "Opposition" means the party in opposition to Her Majesty's Government having the greatest numerical strength in the House of Commons;
      2. (b) the "second largest opposition party" means the party in opposition to Her Majesty's Government (other than the Opposition) with the greatest number of Members of this House among its members;
      3. (c) the "retail prices index" means the general index of retail prices (for all items) published by the Office for National Statistics (or any index or figures published by that Office in place of that index); and
      4. (d) "year" means a year beginning with 1st April.—[Lord Williams of Mostyn.]

Lord Barnett

My Lords, I find it not exceptionally surprising that this lengthy Motion should appear on the Order Paper on the last day of the Session. I do not suppose that there is anything exceptional about that. I have a few questions for my noble and learned friend.

First, on the additional amount of money—it is quite a substantial sum—how was the sum of £390,555 calculated? On what basis was it decided? It would be interesting to know how the money is planned to be spent by the official Opposition and the Convenor. We are given very broad terms in relation to the way in which they will spend it. It includes, assistance in respect of expenses incurred before the passing of this Resolution". Can any of this substantial sum of money be paid to Members of your Lordships' House on the Opposition or Cross Benches?

Secondly, there is the whole question of how an expenditure becomes valid. That is not entirely clear in the Resolution. The "Accounting Officer" will decide; I assume that that means the new chief executive, who is an excellent Clerk of the Parliaments. I am not sure whether he will be able to define what exactly valid expenditure is or, in the case of the Convenor, for example, whether expenditure dating from more than a year ago—1st April 2001—is valid expenditure. Perhaps the Convenor or an assistant will tell us how that money has been spent, which would establish whether it was valid expenditure.

Those are my modest few questions. I hope that my noble and learned friend will answer them in his usual manner.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the modest answer to those modest questions is to be found in the Resolution. My noble friend Lord Barnett will notice in subparagraph (5) that: Any claim for financial assistance by a party or the Convenor"— called, amusingly, "the claimant"— is to be made to the Accounting Officer of the House". All of the detail is set out there. It is a matter for each claimant for this form of social security to make out the case to the accounting officer. There is nothing new about that. So far as I understand it, the system is exactly the same as that which presently obtains.

In respect of the figure of £390,555, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made a reasoned case in terms of research, secretarial assistance, IT and so on, which was carefully negotiated with the noble Lord, Lord Carter. Some pruning was done and a mutually agreeable and acceptable figure was arrived at. I stress that there is nothing new about this, apart from the extraordinary generosity of the Treasury and the Government on this occasion.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, as someone who has more usually been friendly towards the opposition than towards government, I want to express some measure of gratitude for the support given to my noble friends on my Front Bench, who are always very kind to me. I believe that they need some help in order to enable them to compete with the huge resources available to modern governments. That is the point.

I want to ask one question which relates to my anxiety about the future. I have always been able to keep my enthusiasm for political parties under very strict control. I have even come to believe—I have said this in your Lordships' House previously—that political parties are the only thoroughly nasty thing of which one needs to have more than one. Therefore, my fear on this occasion is that this munificence may now make life easier for the Government to promote some wider measure of help to all political parties, in which case, I should be very uncomfortable.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, when he says that the Conservatives need some help. But I can limit myself only to financial assistance. What we are trying to achieve at present is part of the wider context of making this House more effective. It is legitimate for the Cross-Bench Peers, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives to claim that they need to be adequately resourced. As to any further suspicions that the noble Lord has on a continuing basis, I must say that I am deeply shocked.

Viscount Tenby

My Lords, in the unavoidable absence on official business of my noble and gallant friend the Convenor, and in answer to what has been said this morning, perhaps I may say that it is nothing new. What is new is that we have any money at all on the Cross Benches. After battering at the gates of the Treasury for about five years, we have now been given a sum of money. I would not be as ungenerous as to say that it is a widow's mite because we are grateful for anything—any crumbs that fall from the table of the main parties in this House. Really we are scavengers, simply existing on what we can get and trying to do our best with it.

But we must have some money to enable us to function at all. We do not have, as do the other parties—I make no complaint about this—vast armies of researchers from the party organisation. Therefore, we have been very grateful to have a certain sum of money which enables us to employ an extremely able research assistant, who is able to inform us about matters under discussion in this House. I should like to record my thanks.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, at present the Cross-Benchers have about £21,000 a year. The proposal is that that should increase to £35,000 a year, backdated to 1st April 2001. I stand amazed at our generosity.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the Government and the Leader of the House should be congratulated on the proposal before us. When the governing party was in opposition, there was no such thing as Cranborne money. Cranborne is the son of Short. When Labour were in government in the other place, Ted Short—now the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara—initiated the Short money principle. That principle arose in response to the fact that the governing party had a wide range of support from Whitehall but the opposition parties had none. In opposition, Labour had to rely in the House of Lords on obtaining, and pleading for, a small amount of Short money from the other place.

It is to the everlasting credit of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, that, within a year of what I assume he knew would be a change on the Benches, he proposed Cranborne money. The first amount to be allotted was £60,000 a year, and £30,000 was made available for one half-year. After five years, the case for a five-fold increase has been made by the Leader of the House and accepted by the Treasury. I do not consider that to be over-generous because the money needs to be spent and it needs to be validated. I do not want to feel that any shortcomings of the Opposition in this House are due to a shortage of cash; they are due to other reasons.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, yes.

On Question, Motion agreed to.