Electoral Finance (Miscellaneous Provisions)

– in the House of Commons at 4:20 pm on 22nd November 1983.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 4:20 pm, 22nd November 1983

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish limits on the total expenditure by political parties during the period of a general election; to establish the right of shareholders of public companies to contract out of political donations made by public companies; to make provision for elections in political party organisations to certain senior offices concerned with administering political expenditure; and for connected purposes. The first part of the Bill seeks to limit the amount that can be spent by political parties nationally during a general election campaign. Of course, candidates are strictly limited on what can be spent on their behalf—there is no controversy about that—but what sense is there in controlling that expenditure, when a party can spend nationally as much as it choses? For instance, in the last election, the Conservative party had about £15 million to £20 million available to spend—and quite likely spent a great deal of that amount. Against that, the Labour party had, at most, £2·5 million.

If the argument is to be that it is simply sour grapes on the part of members of the Labour party, surely the same argument could be used by rich candidates who could argue, "Why can't we spend as much as we wish?" We know the answer to that. No candidate, however rich, can spend more, or have more spent on his behalf, during a general election campaign than a poor candidate. So, in my view, the change that I am proposing is necessary and desirable.

The second point of my proposed Bill is to give shareholders the same rights as trade unionists have to contract out of political donations. Although that right exists for trade unionists, no such right applies to shareholders. It sometimes is said that a shareholder can always sell his shares if he is unhappy about political donations, but he may not wish to do so. He may take the view on commercial grounds that he is quite happy with his shareholdings but he is unhappy about the political donations, whether to the Conservative party or to any of the front organisations with which the Tory party is connected. I should like shareholders to be given that right.

It is interesting to note that in a recent Fabian Society pamphlet, the author, Dr. Keith Ewing, who lectures at Trinity hall, Cambridge, says: not only are political donations made without shareholder consultation, they are almost certainly unlawful in many cases. He says: Most companies do not have any express power to make political payments. That is an interesting point, and one that I imagine the Government would be concerned about. I say that somewhat ironically. More than £2 million a year is donated to the Tory party from companies, and the idea that the Conservative party only gathers in the money from bazaars and at constituency level is false. Certainly, it gathers some money there—no one would dispute that — but it gathers in a very substantial amount from companies and front organisations. It is perhaps notable that the chairmen of the six biggest donors to the Tory party all received peerages in 1982, although I am sure that that is simply a coincidence.

The last part of my proposed Bill deals with providing for the election in political party organisations to certain senior offices concerned with administering political expenditure. I would much rather that the Conservative party put its own house in order, without the need for legislation. I am sure that all my right hon. and hon. Friends share that sentiment. However, the absence of basic democracy at national level in the Conservative party is surely something that we cannot ignore. It has been said that the chairmanship of the Conservative party is an appointment. He holds a very influential position. He is not elected, he is simply appointed. Not only the chairman of the Conservative party, but the deputy chairman, four vice-chairmen and two treasures are all appointed by one person. As some would say, one person, all the votes. The sheer impertinence of the Government lecturing trade unions about democracy when there is such an absence of democracy inside the Tory party is surely evident. No trade union would conduct its internal affairs in the same anti-democratic manner as the Conservative party. Each year on television we see the Conservative party conference, and that conference is completely stage managed from start to finish——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not use arguments that he might use if he got leave to introduce his Bill.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker, but I am trying to show the need for such a Bill. However, I take on board what you say.

We have to bring the Conservative party into a basic democratic framework, and try to remove it from what I would describe as its eastern European habits. We must also try to make it recognise that in a democracy it should carry out its functions in a proper manner. After all, it took the Conservative party 150 years after the trade unions started their democratic affairs to elect its leader. Before 1965, even the leader of the party was not elected.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I am sorry to stop the hon. Gentleman, but we are now straying. We have an important debate to follow.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

The three points that I have made are my reasons — real reasons — why such a Bill is necessary. I believe that it is necessary for such reforms to take place. Certainly, in the internal affairs of the Conservative party my sympathies are entirely with the Tory reform group. What I advocate is not, I think, particularly controversial and seems not to be opposed. If the Bill is passed on the nod, and it is unanimous with the House, I hope that the Leader of the House will persuade his Cabinet colleagues to find Government time so that my modest proposals may make progress.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. On two occasions you drew attention to the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) was using arguments on his ten-minute Bill, that he would use if he got leave to introduce the Bill. I know that there are differences that apply to Standing Order No. 10, whereby an hon. Member must stick to the precise reasons why he wants the Bill to be introduced, but I believe that when an hon. Member introduces a ten-minute Bill, anything that appertains to that Bill can be raised. This is the first time that I have heard an hon. Member being questioned in that manner. I wonder, therefore, whether you will look at the precise points on which you intervened to make sure that you were absolutely correct on those two occasions.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I must tell the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and the House that the application under Standing Order No. 10 is to seek the leave of the House to bring in the Bill. An hon. Member must not adduce arguments in those 10 minutes that he would adduce if he had leave to bring in his Bill.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Again, you have said that this is a Standing Order No. 10. I am trying to demonstrate that this is not a Standing Order No. 10 application. This is a ten-minute Bill. My hon. Friend has been to the Public Bill Office and gained the opportunity to put it to the House. I suggest that my hon. Friend has been putting forward the arguments in a proper manner, and should be allowed to do so.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I shall have to withdraw unreservedly. Two 10s have confused me. I mentioned Standing Order No. 10, and of course it is a ten-minute Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Clearly, this Bill has been given a unanimous first Reading, and I therefore hope that the Leader of the House will provide Government time for my Bill, as is only right and proper.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Who will prepare and bring in the Bill?

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Mr. Joseph Ashton, Mr. Norman Atkinson, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Bob Edwards, Mr. Doug Hoyle, Mr. James Lamond, Mr. Ted Leadbitter, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. Bill Michie, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), in view of his interesting and helpful intervention. Perhaps I can put forward his name, if he has no objection.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Winnick, Mr. Joseph Ashton, Mr. Norman Atkinson, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Bob Edwards, Mr. Doug Hoyle, Mr. James Lamond, Mr. Ted Leadbitter, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. Bill Michie and Mr. Dennis Skinner.