I beg to move,
That this House records it concern at the revelation that Asil Nadir and his companies made nine separate donations totalling £440,000 to the Conservative Party, which were undeclared in his company accounts and undeclared by the Conservative Party itself; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to endorse the Charter for Party Political Funding published by the Labour Party, in particular its demand that all political parties should publish fully audited accounts which disclose the source of all large donations and should refuse any donations from individuals who are neither British residents nor British nationals, any donations from foreign Governments or their agents and any donations from foreign companies not registered in Britain; and urges Her Majesty's Government to commence proceedings against any company which has made a political donation without declaration under the Companies Act 1985 and to invite all parties to submit their list of company donors to the Department of Trade and Industry to assist in ensuring compliance with company law.
Britain today is a country in turmoil. Its people, perhaps slowly emerging from three long years of recession, feel anxious, beleaguered and insecure in their employment. All too many of them are insecure in the possession of their homes, conscious that there is no such thing as a safe job or a secure profession and increasingly fearful that there are all too few safe streets. The people of our country know that last April they were deceived and their confidence was betrayed by the Government and the party in which they placed their trust. As they gaze with dismay on the failures of the Government, their confidence is further eroded not only by the crass incompetence that they see the Government displaying but by the atmosphere of sleaze and the odour of corruption that they exude.
For years, Conservative Governments have listened to no one. For years, they have used the power and patronage of government, at least in part, for party political advantage. This is a Government who have ceased to be able to tell the difference between the country's interests and their own—perhaps they have even ceased to believe that one can be distinguished from the other. For years they steadily placed, honoured and promoted those who saw things in the same narrow compass, until it would appear that there is no one to blow the whistle, no one to see the line of proprieties being crossed and no one to call a halt.
There is a remarkable coincidence between the Government's placement of honours and donations to the Conservative party. The top ten corporate donors—[Interruption.]
Order. I should say at the outset that I cannot force right hon. and hon. Members to listen, but what I can enforce is that whoever has the floor during this debate will be heard, and I hope that my cautionary remarks will be taken on board by hon. Members in all parts of the House.
Since 1979, the top 10 corporate donors to the Conservative party are as follows. United Biscuits has given more than £1 million and the honours received were one peerage and one knighthood; Hanson, £852,000, two peerages; Taylor Woodrow, £837,362, which is remarkable precision, one peerage and one knighthood. British and Commonwealth gave about £823,000—I shall leave out the odd figures—and received one peerage; P and O gave £727,000 and received one peerage and three knighthoods; Glaxo gave £600,000 and received two knighthoods; Trafalgar House gave £590,000 and received one peerage and one knighthood. There is a remarkable coincidence in the placement of honours and the placement of money—
While the hon. Lady is giving us the figures, will she tell us how much the National and Local Government Officers Association spent on its misleading and grubby advertising campaign at the last general election?
The money that NALGO spent on its election campaign—or in the campaign that it ran at the time—[Interruption ] I am quoting the hon. Member for Plymouth Sutton (Mr. Streeter). It was his description, not mine. That money will be found declared in NALGO's accounts, which is more than can be said for many of the donations to the Conservative party.
As I was saying, given the placement of people and the award of honours, there seems to be no one who will tell the Conservative party when to call a halt.
Not for the moment.
How else can we explain the Treasury's extraordinary decision to pay the then Chancellor of the Exchequer's legal fees in a private lawsuit? How else could the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—since promoted to be Secretary of State for the Environment—have thought it uncontroversial to allow a major company to pay to have his grounds improved? How else can we have reached the position where it is so widely believed as to be no longer a matter of much remark that, as the list that I quoted shows, honours given in the name of the Crown are regularly assumed to be purchased by financial contributions to the Conservative party? How else can it ever have been thought—
How else can it ever have been thought acceptable that the party of government publishes no proper, independently audited accounts, acknowledges that more than half its funds come from sources it is not prepared to reveal and now admits under pressure that a large part of its campaign to secure the election was funded from overseas?
No, certainly not. [Interruption.] I have given the answer.
How else can it be thought acceptable for the party of government to react as it did for months, with complete indifference, to the discovery that it was paid almost £500,000 in a fashion which breached company law by someone now a fugitive from British justice?
In his evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs the other day, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler)—I am pleased to see him here today because I hope that he will answer the questions that he did not answer in that Committee—said:
I am not in the business of looking for ways round the laws of the country",
as, of course,Mr. Nadir did in the donations he made to the Conservative party. However, perhaps I can draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention and that of the House to a story that appeared in Scotland a year or so ago.
James Sneddon, the former director of the Conservative Board of Finance Scotland, who is no doubt well known to Conservative Members, said:
The attraction of the British United Industrialists arrangement"—
this is for the payment of donations to an organisation outside the Conservative party—
is the exclusion of any disclosure of such a payment as a political donation in the statutory accounts of your company.
That is the advice that the gentleman gave to those whom he hoped to seduce into giving money to the Conservative party through that indirect route, a way around the law. It was advice being given by the Conservative party about the way around the law.
The hon. Gentleman has made a serious allegation about the circumstances in which someone was employed. I am not responsible for the employment of someone in a company in which, as I understand it, he did work for which he properly received remuneration. The hon. Gentleman cannot show that the Labour party received money illegally from companies, as we now know that the Conservative party has.
In a moment; I want to say a little more about British United Industrialists. I do not want to leave the point before I have made the matter clear.
Advice was given by the Conservative party that it was a means of companies paying money to the party without shareholders being told. I hear some Conservative Back Benchers saying that the organisation does not exist. I understand that it may have been wound up but, for many years, Conservative Members asserted that donations made in that way were nothing to do with them. Indeed, in a debate in another place not so very long ago—in 1989, I believe—the then treasurer of the Conservative party implied, and may even have stated, that such an organisation was not a means of channelling money into the Conservative party.
Just a moment; I am about to give the hon. Gentleman some information that I know he wants.
Despite the denial by the Conservative party in the House of Lords and for many years outside, when talking of indirect means the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) said:
British United Industrialists has been mentioned—everyone understands the role of the recipient and realises that a large proportion of the funds paid to it are passed to the Conservative party. There is complete openness and accountability."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 16 May 1989; c. 7.]
Conservative Members may say that that organisation did not exist, but it did, and it was a means of channelling money to the Conservative party.
I shall say a little more about breaches of the law rather than about the implications.
Other breaches of the law occur among those who support and give money to the Conservative party.
Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his intervention. I understand that he will seek to catch my eye later, so he might do one of two things for which I asked earlier: he might at least listen.
The Financial Times revealed that in 1990 a company called Sovereign Leasing made a donation of £100,000 to the Conservative party. It failed to declare the payment in its accounts, thus breaching the law. The donation came to light only because the company was taken over by the Bank of Austria, which presumably had slightly higher standards.
There is also on record a company called Hartley Investment Trust. In the run-up to the 1987 general election that company gave £167,000 to the Conservative party, which was the largest corporate donation to the Conservative party ever recorded—so far, at any rate. That company is breaking the law. It should have filed accounts for the year ending March 1991 by the end of April 1992, and for the year ending March 1992 by the end of April 1993. It has failed to do so. That company is chaired by Alan Lewis, and the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox)—the chairman of the 1922 Committee and a member of the Conservative party's board of finance—is a non-executive director. So let us hear less from the Conservative party about the people who legally give money to the Labour party and declare their donations.
The background to the way in which the Conservative party receives its money is the reason why we have proposed a charter for political party funding, to apply to all political parties in this country. However the issue may have arisen, we believe that it is right that such a charter should now be introduced, but from the evidence so far it appears singularly unlikely that the Government have either the will or the guts to do that.
The presence on the Government Front Bench of the Secretary of State for Employment is a clear sign of how the Government propose to handle the debate—and on how they have handled the matter from the beginning, when it was first revealed that the Conservative party had taken money illegally, in secret and from overseas. The Conservatives say nothing about the way in which they are funded—
Order. A number of Members may not be listening as carefully as I am listening. I have been listening most carefully, and the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) is talking about the corporate structure of the Conservative party. I ask hon. Members at least to give a hearing to the Front-Bench speakers from both sides. Indeed, I insist that they do so. If hon. Members listened a little more carefully, they might hear a little more clearly what is going on.
Not for a minute.
Conservative Members will respond as they respond to every criticism or concern, no matter how well founded or by whom expressed. First, they bluster that it is an outrage that they should be criticised at all. Then they say that all the comment is misplaced and results from ignorance or malice. Finally, they assert, as they are asserting today, that no matter how flimsy or non-existent the evidence, their critics are not merely as bad as they but far worse, and hence should say nothing at all.
The trouble is that Conservative Members probably believe that. It was said of the inhabitants of the Nixon White House at the time of Watergate that part of their problem was that they had become so out of touch with general expectations about standards of behaviour and what was acceptable in political life that they thought that everyone was behaving in the same way as they were but was just not being honest about it.
My suspicion that that is the attitude of the Conservative party is reinforced by some information that came my way on Sunday courtesy of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). At the end of last week, I am told, the companies division of the Department of Trade and Industry sent a request to Companies house for the civil servants there to go through the files of 12 of the late Robert Maxwell's companies to see whether they could unearth any undeclared donations to the Labour party. I hope that that means that we will at least be spared in this debate the dubious proposition advanced by the chairman of the Conservative party that it is no concern of the Government whether or not companies obey company law.
I must tell the Secretary of State that I find it a somewhat doubtful manoeuvre that civil servants should be asked to do the Conservative party's dirty work. The Conservatives have every right to seek information from Companies house, but why do they not send along someone from the Conservative party and pay a search fee like everyone else?
The Labour party's position is simple and clear: every year we publish independently audited accounts. They are reported and debated in full at our annual conference.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to hear this.
Much of our funding comes, as the world knows, from the trade unions affiliated to our party. Indeed, that is so well known that the Conservative party in government has made repeated attempts over the past 14 years to reduce the funds and remove, if it could and at the very least restrict, the Labour party's access to those funds. In my opinion, that in itself is a rather dangerous use of political power for partisan, party political advantage. That is the kind of thing at which we raise our eyebrows when it happens in third world countries.
Our relationship with the trade unions is known, public and voluntary. It is governed by the Labour party's rules and constitution and by those of the affiliated trade unions. It is also rigidly controlled by law and supervised by a special officer of the courts. There is no question of a casual disregard for trade union law as there evidently is for company law.
Six million trade unionists voluntarily pay political levies and 4·5 million of them belong to unions affiliated and contributing to the Labour party. Incidentally, they are British—
Order. It is pretty obvious, even to someone as thick-skinned as me, that the right hon. Lady is not giving way. Therefore, hon. Members should not persist when that is made clear.
Those trade unionists live here and vote here and their interests are bound up with the future and well-being of Britain. They have no other axe to grind and no other interests to serve.
As it happens, the income that we receive from the trade unions is today a declining share of the Labour party's income. Taking the position overall, in 1991 they contributed just over 50 per cent. of the Labour party's income. By a remarkable, although unfortunate coincidence, more than 50 per cent. of the income of the Conservative party in election year came from undeclared sources.
The trade unions contributed just over £7 million to our general election campaign" 68 per cent. of those funds. The Conservative party apparently received £7 milli on in overseas donations alone for its election campaign—that is the heart of the matter. I say "apparently" because, although the former director of the Conservative party's board of finance, Major-General Wyldbore-Smith, has admitted as much, and its former treasurer, Lord McAlpine, has said on the record that money was paid to the Conservative party through "tons" of offshore and overseas accounts, none of this information is properly in the public domain.
The British public had no idea, when they cast their votes just over a year ago, that the money for all the seductive and untruthful advertisements attacking the Labour party came, in secret, from outside these islands.
The Labour party's accounts for 1991 show an entry of £228,000 accredited to high-value donor activity. Would the right hon. lady tell us who the donors were and how much each paid?
The hon. Gentleman can find that information, as he said, in the Labour party's published accounts for 1991. That is the sum total of high-value donations that the Labour party received; it is half of what the Conservative party received from one man alone.
The hon. Gentleman should take on board the fact that we are not going to accept the total double standards of the Conservative party in this matter. Almost every penny of the money that the Labour party receives is identified by organisation—because most of it comes from organisations and fund raising. We do not give the name of every pensioner who sends us a tenner, or the name of the school caretaker who writes to me every month and donates the tiny sums that he raises for the Labour party. If the Conservative party tells us who pays even half of the funds it receives, we will certainly publish the names of our contributors.
It is because of all this that we have proposed and published a charter for party political funding. One of our main proposals is that every political party should publish properly audited accounts, refuse donations from people who are neither British residents nor British nationals, and decline ever to take money from foreign Governments or their agents.
I understand that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield told the Select Committee on Home Affairs that the Conservative party has a rule that it does not take money from foreign Governments, despite the many, many rumours to the contrary. It is not clear to me, however, from the reports that I have received of the right hon. Gentleman's evidence when exactly that rule came into force.
Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman will seek to catch my eye later in the debate. He ought to contain himself for the moment because it seems to me that the right hon. Lady is not prepared to give way to him.
I shall give way in just a second.
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman's evidence to the Select Committee was that such a rule now exists. It is not clear to me that he said clearly to the Select Committee when it came into force. Will he tell us, now, when it came into force?
It has always existed; it exists now and has always existed. Will the right hon. Lady, now that she has raised this question, dissociate herself from the comments that she made this morning about this totally unsubstantiated story about the Saudi Arabian royal family? She has slurred that family. Will she now withdraw her comments?
The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield should re-read his copy of The Guardian. I see no cause for, and I do not have the slightest intention of, withdrawing what I said. What I said was clear and specific.
Serious allegations have been made—not by me—that the Conservative party took money from agents on behalf of foreign potentates. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, other allegations have been made that the Conservative party took money from agents of foreign Governments. Those allegations are important and serious and should be discussed. I said that they should be denied if they were untrue. The right hon. Gentleman has denied them, so what is he complaining about?
There has conspicuously been no answer to other questions put to the right hon. Gentleman by people such as John Latsis and others, and I shall come to that in a moment. The reason why the rumours exist and the stories are—[Interruption.] I will not withdraw.
The reason why the allegations have been made goes to the heart of the debate. The Conservative party will not tell the people of the United Kingdom where it got the money. When Conservative Members tell us that, there will be no need, no cause and, presumably, no further rumours.
Before the last general election, when the Prime Minister was, as he puts it, "batting for Britain" on a two-day visit to Hong Kong at the expense of the British taxpayer, he devoted a large chunk of his time to batting for the Conservative party, attending a dinner at which large sums were raised for his election campaign. One of those said to have been present is Li Ka-Shing, who is a close associate of the Chinese Government. Many of those said to have been present are reported to have contributed substantially to Tory party funds on that occasion and others. That must, self evidently, have been at least without the disapproval of the Chinese Government and it has been alleged that it was at least partly with money to which they gave their consent. [Interruption.]
My hon. Friends are concerned that information has been passed from the Box on what they regard as a party political matter.
It has been said that one of those present is a large contributor to Conservative party funds. I find it a rich irony that money was given to the Conservative party certainly without the disapproval of the Chinese Government.
The Labour party has frequently been accused without there being the slightest word of truth in it. I hear Conservative Back Benchers making such comments today, although I notice that they do not have the guts to stand up and say it. The Labour party has often been accused of benefiting from what used to be called Moscow gold.
The right hon. Lady said that she wanted to come clean about trade union contributions to the Labour party. Would she kindly tell the House about the massive contributions that the trade unions make to marginal constituencies in which trade union officials work full time during election campaigns? How much did that cost and is it fully declared?
The problems of Conservative Members are, first, that they assume, as I said earlier, that what they are doing must be what everyone else is doing and, secondly, that they do not understand how the structure of the Labour party works—[Interruption.] There are strict rules about how much funding and support can be given by trade unionists to any constituency and any constituency party.
No. I am in the middle of a passage. As I was saying, the suggestion that the Labour party receives money from overseas has always been described in thrilling accents as Moscow gold. The notion that Chinese communists give consent to funding of the Tory election campaign would be hilarious if it were not serious.
Of course, the Prime Minister's much reported visit to Hong Kong is not an isolated example. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) obtained through parliamentary questions—[Interruption.]—therefore, the information was extracted with difficulty from the Government—has shown that between 1988 and 1991 there were no fewer than 35 ministerial visits at taxpayers' expense to Hong Kong, of which 16 certainly involved party political activity by the Ministers in question, and a further three probably did.
Apart from the Prime Minister's visit and the money that was raised from Hong Kong, other allegations have repeatedly been made about a variety of donations, some suggest from Dubai and others suggest from Saudi Arabia and so on.
But I say again that the heart of the matter is that such allegations are made and they can be made because of the secrecy that surrounds the source of the Tory party's funds. In election year it spent £26 million.
I notice that Conservative Members always rise to their feet bellowing when we mention the word "secrecy". I wonder why.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. He has risen about a dozen times. If the right hon. Lady does not wish to give way, he must resume his seat. Does the right hon. Lady wish to give way? No.
As I was saying—I am anxious for the House to hear it—in election year the Conservative party spent £26 million. Of that, £15 million was from sources unknown. The Government's case is that none of this matters because those who give such large sums secretly to the Tory party do so without reward or even the expectation of reward, out of the sheer kindness of their hearts.
It must be a touching scene. Picture, for example, the famous meal in Hong Kong or the lunch held in Downing street just before the election. The talk turns to the shocking state of Britain. So poor, it cannot fund the Conservative party to run a decent election campaign. I wonder whether the Prime Minister allowed a small, brave, manly sob to cross his lips; a friendly arm round his shoulders, "My dear boy, don't say another word. What is a million pounds here or there to me?"
There is no doubt that Conservative Members will have to eat all those harsh words that they have said over the years about do-gooders. There they are exposed in the ranks of their own friends doing good for the sake of it and, in classic fashion, doing it by stealth.
What is truly remarkable about the Government's version of events is that it is the overseas contributors in particular who understand that they will receive no reward except in heaven for their noble gesture. That is remarkable because we know that it has not always been so clearly understood by some nearer to home, who should in theory be more familiar with the way in which these things work.
Lord King is often described as the ultimate insider. He is the man who successfully persuaded the Government to privatise British Airways, from which he, it would be fair to say, has profited enormously. One would think that he must have understood the delicacy of the relationship between donations to Tory party funds and political decision making. But after all those years of close association, he understood so little that he actually withdrew funding a year or so ago, linking that withdrawal explicitly and publicly to a disagreement over Government policy as it affected British Airways.
Indeed, one almost gets the impression from a report in The Guardian on Monday of a reported conversation between the Prime Minister and Mr. Gorbachev that the Prime Minister forgot for a sheer microsecond, because he is said to have mentioned to Mr. Gorbachev that he was raising the matter because he had promised Lord King that he would. even though British Airways did not give money to the Tory party any more. Of course, as the Prime Minister and his colleagues have explained, that has no relevance as it does not make any difference whether or not money is given to the Tory party.
The right hon. Lady will recall the explosive issue of routes to Tokyo and slots at Heathrow, when British Airways did not get what it wanted despite the money it paid to the Tory party—[Interruption]—which surely proves that one cannot buy influence. Does she agree that that proves that influence cannot be bought from the Tory party?
I am not sure that I heard the concluding words of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but what I heard of his remarks was well worth hearing.
The Prime Minister said last week that companies donated money to the Tory party because British business
believes that our policies are right for British business, the British future and British jobs"—[Official Report, 17 June 1993; Vol. 226, c. 990.]
Again, those who might be expected to be aware that that was the only reason for giving money to the Conservative party do not always seem to realise it.
During the Guinness dispute with Distillers, Ernest Saunders got quite the wrong end of the stick. As he said on television:
One of them, a very senior figure … said he noticed we did not contribute to the Conservative Party and when were we going to … I think there were three occasions during the period … when it … came up, not in any way as a threat. But it came up sufficiently for me to realise that if we were going to go on rolling, I would have to put this matter to the board and our policy would have to be re-thought.
The interviewer asked Mr. Saunders what he thought the comment had meant and he replied—[interruption] I am sure that Conservative Members want to hear the reply, which was:
I took it … to indicate that if one was going to need political access at the highest level, and political support, then an ongoing … relationship which involved contributions, would have to be part of the agenda.
We now know that he was just being reminded of the wonderful opportunities for charitable giving. It all makes a truly amazing story, some might even say an incredible one. Of course, that is just what it is—incredible, literally beyond belief. It is no longer tolerable that the party of
government should take such large sums of money secretly and refuse to reveal to the British people whence they come.
Is it not significant that the two cases where the evidence is at its clearest—Sovereign Leasing and Asil Nadir—came about through extraneous circumstances, that is, the receivership and the take-over of the company? So is it not likely that there are bodies buried all over the place? Surely it is right in a democracy that the governing party should come clean and show us where those bodies are.
My hon. Friend is entirely correct in his observation that most of the matters of which we know have emerged only incidentally and the Conservative party has not revealed the source of the money.
What is infinitely more serious than the award of honours—itself a minor scandal to which I have referred—is the influence that such secret donations buy on the policy of the British Goverment. In 1990 and in 1991, when debating the Finance Bill, we raised the issue of the generous tax treatment of offshore trusts. We said that the costs to the British taxpayers of such measures were estimated to be between £1 billion and £2 billion, and sought to persuade the Government to make a change of policy. First, the Government poured scorn on the figures. They then refused to make a change. Finally, they claimed in 1991 to have completely resolved the matter. That case was not accepted by independent commentators and accountants.
I wonder whether it would have been so readily accepted by the British press if it had known that it was through such trusts and accounts that money, which at the time the Tories desperately needed, was being channelled into Tory party funds from overseas. Similarly, the tax treatment of investors not domiciled in Britain makes this country, together with countries such as Luxembourg and Switzerland, one of the most generous in the world to the seriously rich.
Ministers boast of Britain being a tax haven. This year's Finance Bill further loosened the law on tax avoidance for those with available accommodation in the United Kingdom who may not now need to be taxed as residents. Meanwhile, the Government's utterly incompetent management of our economy has left us in debt up to our ears, and Ministers are attacking the unemployed, those with disabilities and pensioners. Those who give the Conservative party money are benefiting at the expense of those who have only votes to give.
Other questions about the effects of the process on Government policy are bound to arise. Why do we not ban tobacco advertising, as all medical advice suggests that we should? Is it because of the money that tobacco companies give to the Tory party—and at what cost to the British taxpayer through the health service? Why does the British taxpayer pay for an army training facility in Dubai when swingeing cuts are being made in defence expenditure? Is it, as has been alleged, as a quid pro quo because the Sultan of Dubai donates to Tory party funds?
Yes, it is sleaze.
Why have the Government so singularly failed to police the Companies Acts? Even more outrageous, why does the Tory party advise companies on how to get round the existing legislative curbs and make donations to the Tory party by the back door so that their shareholders are kept in ignorance of what is being done? We know that it has recently done so.
The policies of Britain's Government should be decided by what is in the interests of the people of Britain and should never be subjugated to what is in the interests of the Tory party. If that is not happening, what do the Government have to hide? Why do they not publish full accounts? Why do they not adopt our charter proposals, which are simple and straightforward? I think that Conservative Members have forgotten that this is not the first time that the Government have had the opportunity to clean up their act.
In January 1989 the House of Lords carried an amendment to put the treatment of donations by companies on much the same footing as the treatment of donations by trade unions to the Labour party. That amendment was rejected in the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield—who has made a lot of noise today, but all from a sedentary position—was the man who moved to reject the amendment. He said that the issue would have to be placed on an annual general meeting agenda, would be a nuisance and shareholders could get rid of directors if they chose. He said in Committee:
That is why I believe that it would be wrong in principle to clutter the agenda of annual general meetings in this way"—[Official Report, Standing Committee, 16 May 1989; c. 8.]
What an important consideration—a major and terribly worrying matter—that it would be wrong in principle for shareholders to be bothered with the little matter of whether their company gives hundreds of thousands of pounds of their money to the Conservative party, with or without their knowledge!
The suspicion unquestionably exists that, if the Conservative party will not reveal from where it obtains more than 50 per cent. of its money—[HON. MEMBERS: "The Labour party does not."] We reveal from where we obtain almost every single penny that we receive. More than 50 per cent. is undeclared, secret, large parts of it from overseas. If the Conservative party refuses to make that declaration, the suspicion must arise that the damage that would be done to the Conservative party by the British people finding out from where it obtains its money is even worse than the damage that is being done today by secrecy.
The call for reform comes not only from the Government's political opponents, but from within the ranks of the Conservative party itself. The Conservative party's organisation, the Charter Movement, says:
The Conservative party should not be financed from abroad. It should not be financed by or on behalf of foreign governments. It should not be financed by those who have no vote in United Kingdom elections. It should not be financed in a furtive way.
Those are the words of the constituents and members of the Conservative party and they would be ashamed if they saw the way in which their representatives are behaving in the House of Commons today.
Lord McAlpine said on British television the other evening that he did not know that Asil Nadir was, as he put it, a crook. But if his donations had been publicly declared from the beginning, it is highly probable that word would have got back about the questions being asked.
There is in all this a terrible danger for the health and well-being of democracy in Britain, a danger of which Conservative Members have no inkling or understanding. If the British people come to believe that the very processes of democracy are being insidiously suborned, to their existing disillusion with the blatant casual betrayal of all the promises that the Government made them at the election might be added that deep corrosive cynicism that, wherever it is found, saps public confidence in democracy and creates profound public unease.
This is a shabby Government, a deceitful Government, a Government unworthy of the trust that the British people placed in them last year. Their weaknesses and deceits permeate and disfigure the very fabric of British life. It is time that they went.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is not it an ancient tradition in the House and in the country that the civil service is non-political and apolitical? During the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), eight civil servants sitting in the Box have been passing notes to the Minister on political points. Is not that an example of the stinking corruption of the Government and do not you, Madam Speaker, have the power to remove civil servants who are being tainted by such an example?
The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to give credibility to what he has just said. We must bear in mind the fact that those to whom he refers cannot answer for themselves.
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand perfectly that those who serve the Government cannot answer for themselves. That is all the more reason why they themselves should make it clear that they are not associated with the Government's political fortunes. If you, Madam Speaker, have no power to remove them and if the Government do not have the decency to remove those civil servants from temptation, might not it be better if the civil servants took their own action to protect their own order?
I beg to move, to leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
'believes that the principle of voluntary funding underpins the strength of democratic political parties in this country; records its concern at the purchase by trade unions of votes in the election of the Labour Party leadership, the selection of candidates and of votes on policy at Labour's Party Conference sufficient to secure binding commitments; and calls upon the Labour Party to end the control over its policy, organisation and leadership wielded by a small number of trade union leaders.'.
I have been in this House for about 17 years, but I do not believe that I have ever heard such a shabby, irresponsible, miserable speech. What a waste of an Opposition day this is. Gone suddenly are the demands by the right hon. Lady for debates on public expenditure, Bosnia and unemployment. It is amazing what a little good news will do. The right hon. Lady calls herself the deputy Leader of the Labour party. I believe that she will grow to
be quite ashamed of her speech, which was riddled with rumour, innuendo and smear. She referred to an atmosphere of sleaze. The only atmosphere of sleaze that exists after her speech is to be found among Opposition Members.
Why are we debating political funding today? I know the answer. From the depths of Walworth road has come some rather bad news. The general election defeat has left the Labour party with the most serious financial crisis in its history. I hear someone say that that is not true. I have here the report of the national executive committee of the Labour party, which says:
The general election defeat has left the Labour party with probably the most serious financial crisis in its history.
Now we know why we are having this debate. The Labour party wants to get its paws on the public purse. It wants the taxpayer to bail out its sinking ship. Enough of the pretence. That is really what this debate is all about. It is about the Labour party's desire to have state funding of political parties. But the confidence trick is exposed for what it really is—just a ruse by that party to get its hands on taxpayers' money. That is the party's secret agenda.
The saddest aspect of this debate so far is the willingness of the main Opposition party to strike at the heart of our political system and our democracy. They are trying, by a series of slurs and innuendos, to bring our democracy into disrepute. In recent years they have not only opposed the Conservative Government but sought to undermine the very foundations of our political system. In doing so, they destroy their own credibility. They now attack everything. They do not have policies any more; they just manufacture political smears.
Let me give some examples. Despite the words of the Lord President at Prime Minister's Question Time today, the right hon. Lady maintained the allegation contained in The Guardian of this morning, which is now being exposed as a slur. The allegation has been shown to be completely without foundation. A statement issued earlier today, which was referred to by the Lord President, made it clear not only that no such meeting as had been alleged took place but that neither Prince Bandar Bin Sultan nor anyone connected with the Saudi Arabian Government has made donations to the Conservative party, directly or indirectly, or has been asked for such donations. Why, then, did not the right hon. Lady withdraw that disgraceful imputation?
I will give way later.
In her speech, the right hon. Lady sought not only to uphold the credibility of that baseless allegation, but to raise a number of other unsubstantiated allegations. I believe that Labour Members will fail in their attempt, because the integrity of our system shines through all that they say.
The Labour party alleges that, in this country, money can buy honours and favours. That may have been so some years ago, but it is not true today. In fact, on 4 March my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced a series of measures to improve the system, including making the means of nomination for honours much more open and widely known. What is not sufficiently well known is the rigorous scrutiny that is conducted to maintain the integrity of the system.
Just one moment. Let me finish what I wish to say about the honours system.
Our honours system gives the nation an opportunity to recognise the enormous contribution that so many people make to our way of life. The award of honours for service and achievement has been a valued part of British life for many years. That whole system is subject to a series of safeguards, which I will explain to the House.
Scrutiny is carried out independently and impartially. If the right hon. Member for Derby, South or any of her chums doubt that, let them come out and say so. Let me explain how the system works. All recommendations for policital honours are examined carefully by the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee, which is composed of distinguished Privy Councillors; all three major parties are represented. Its members are Lord Pym, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos and Lord Thomson of Montifieth. It is no accident that two former Labour Cabinet Ministers are among their number—although one has now joined the Liberal Democrats.
When the leader of any party nominates any individual for a political honour—[Interruption.] I shall come to the other honours in a moment. It is important that I put the record straight, in view of the right hon. Lady's disgraceful attack on the system.
In those circumstances, it is the duty of the Chief Whip of any party to provide the Scrutiny Committee with a statement detailing any payments—or expectation of payment—given to any party by any individual concerned, directly or indirectly, with such payments. In addition, the Chief Whip must provide an assurance that those donations were made without expectations of an honour. All other names—apart from those receiving political honours—come forward through a system of repeated scrutiny, on which political interests are not represented.
The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) gave the House an absolute undertaking that the Conservative party had not received any moneys from the Saudi authorities—the Saudi Government. Will the Secretary of State now answer a question? Has any Saudi-sponsored agency, any Saudi-based business man or any Saudi national arranged to lend, lent or given large sums to the Conservative party—or any Conservative party funding organisation—in the past three years?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the credibility of the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) as an authority on sleaze would have been strengthened if, during her disgraceful speech, she had had the courage to refer to the "lavender list" of resignation honours published in 1976 and the bankrolling of the private office of the then Labour leader, Harold Wilson, by private subscription? I believe that some of the people on the Opposition Benches featured on that lavender list.
I just happen to have a copy of the lavender list. Let me tell the Leader of the Opposition that he continues attacks of this kind at his peril. If Labour Members wish to get into the sewer of politics, they should hardly complain when they find that they are up to their necks in it.
Let me put one or two questions to Labour Members. I am growing increasingly impatient with their hypocrisy on the subject of Mr. Robert Maxwell.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) may be proud of that, but I am not giving way.
For many years, the Labour party enjoyed the sponsorship of Mr. Maxwell and his Daily Mirror newspaper. There was a very public cheque, accepted with grovelling gratitude, by a Labour party conference. How much more money was involved and was that money his to give? It has certainly not been repaid. We hear from the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) that he is very happy about that money. I wonder whether the Maxwell pensioners are happy about it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems confused as to how much was given. First, Walworth road put out an authoritative statement that £43,000 had been given by Mr. Maxwell. That figure then became £41,000, then £38,000 and when the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke on the radio a short time ago, it had sunk to £31,000.
The Labour party received £31,000 from Mr. Maxwell-rather less than even one of the many donations made by Asil Nadir.
I have not finished yet. The right hon. Gentleman asked a question and I am giving the answer.
No other money was received. That money was given because Mr. Maxwell matched a collection made at the Labour party conference. It must have been one of the most public donations ever given to a British political party since it was given on prime time television. The right hon. Gentleman now has his answer. That is all that the Labour party received.
The Labour party does not reveal details of high value donations. If the late Mr. Maxwell had not chosen to make his highly public gesture on television, the House would never have known about it.
I have another point to make to the right hon. Member for Derby, South. What about all the other payments? What about the £38,000 paid by Mr. Maxwell towards the costs of a legal action to overturn the Boundary Commission's proposals in 1982? That was undertaken on behalf of the then leader of the Labour party and it is acknowledged in the many books on the subject that he was exceedingly grateful for that £38,000. It has been well documented on many occasions and I will provide all the extracts. Also, it was recently reported in the newspapers. I hope that the right hon, Member for Derby, South will make inquiries.
I am sad that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has left us for a moment. I pay tribute to his integrity because he believes that all the money should be repaid by the Labour party.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that the issue concerning my constituents—he has not yet begun to address it—is that Lord King made it clear that he was withdrawing support from the Conservative party because a discrete area of policy no longer pleased him? What is the country to conclude about all the other contributors to the Conservative party, both declared and secret, who continue to pay money to that party?
So far, we have heard about Robert Maxwell. The Secretary of State keeps saying that all this is well documented. That is fine, because everyone can examine the documents and draw their own conclusions. Since he has told us how much Mr. Maxwell gave directly and indirectly to the Labour party—we have never tried to hide that—will the Secretary of State tell us how much Asil Nadir gave to the Conservative party? How much was given by Mr. Latsis, Mr. Botnar, Mr. Yiren and Mr. Ka-Shing? We will do a deal. If the Conservative party pays back the money to those people, we will club together and pay back the money from Robert Maxwell.
Before the hon. Gentleman has a whip round among his hon. Friends, let me tell him about that list of names. Statements have been made making it clear, for instance, in the case of Mr. Li Ka-Shing, that the allegations are completely baseless. I understand that the next edition of Business Age magazine will contain a detailed retraction and an apology. I should like the hon. Gentleman to consider doing the same.
I have given details of moneys donated by the late Robert Maxwell that have reached public scrutiny. I should like to know—I hope that the right hon. Member for Derby, South will consider this—what other sums have not seen the light of day.
Let me blow away the smokescreen surrounding the Opposition's motion. When the Polly Peck group made a series of donations totalling £440,000 to the Conservative party during the 1980s there was no evidence of any malpractice. We have always made it clear that the Conservative party will return any stolen funds to their rightful owners. The chairman of the Conservative party has made it clear that the party does not accept contributions where there is any suspicion that they have been obtained illegally. We do not accept contributions where there is any question of strings being attached and we certainly do not accept contributions from foreign Governments.
If Opposition Members addressed themselves to the substance of their motion, they would see that a fundamental quesiton arises. If they were ever to regain power, would they make it illegal for individuals to make anonymous donations to political parties? [Interruption.] If they would not, the motion is spurious, but, if they would—and they seem to be saying "yes"—some important democratic principles are at stake. Political activity, like charitable activity, is voluntary. The Conservative party at least upholds the principle that contributors should be entitled to privacy. I believe that the principle of voluntary funding underpins the strength of our democracy and the party political system in this country and we destroy it at our peril.
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He cast a disgraceful slur on the integrity of our individual civil servants and condemned them collectively.
The critical difference between the funding of the two main parties is that when companies donate to the Conservative party they do so because they share and support Conservative principles and policies. When trade unions give to the Labour party cause they do so because they want to decide its principles and policies.
It is striking that there is no obvious queue of enterprises or entrepreneurs waiting to fund the Labour party. The only queue at Walworth road is of Labour members quitting the party en masse; according to the figures that I have read in the accounts of the Labour party, its membership went down by 50,000 between 1990 and 1991. Indeed, some reports now put it as low as 100,000. This means that the membership of the Labour party is now equal to that of the Liberal Democratic party. Labour Members should ask themselves why.
On the subject of the disclosure requirements of the Companies Act 1985, which the right hon. Member for Derby, South mentioned, I shall make some important points so that Opposition Members can desist from making ill-informed comments. I do so, unavoidably, in the absence of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I hope that I speak for hon. Members on both sides of the House when I send him, on behalf of the House, our best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Members of the Opposition seem to misunderstand the role of the Department of Trade and Industry in enforcing the disclosure requirements. It is primarily the duty of companies and their directors to comply. Having said that, however, the DTI takes its responsibilities very seriously by, for example, following up allegations of non-compliance, except where the matter is more appropriately handled by another agency.
In the case of Polly Peck—[interruption] This is an important point. In the case of Polly Peck, the Serious Fraud Squad Office has taken the lead.
Can the Minister say, therefore, why, late last week, the companies division of the DTI asked Companies house in Cardiff if it would research the box of one group of companies only—the group of companies associated with Robert Maxwell—to see whether the directors had properly declared all such contributions? In the light of the controversy this afternoon already about the possible abuse of civil servants and politics, will he say whether he thinks that that request was a proper use of civil servants' time?
That is typical of the sort of allegation that is being made. I am not aware of any such circumstances. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed, but I will, of course, investigate. The hon. Gentleman should not make allegations of that nature without checking thoroughly in advance. It is wrong to seek to involve civil servants in a party political battle.
Since the right hon. Gentleman referred to Polly Peck a moment ago, may I remind him of what he said five minutes earlier, which I wrote down at the time? He said that the Conservative party does not accept contributions where there is any suspicion that they were illegally obtained. Is the Secretary of State asking the House to accept that there is no suspicion that the money received from Polly Peck and Asil Nadir was illegally obtained? If he is not saying that, why does not he agree to give it back to where it belongs?
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman chose to misinterpret what I said and what has been said by my right hon. Friend. Let me make it absolutely clear that the Conservative party does not accept contributions if there is any suspicion that they were illegally obtained. That applies to all the donations that the Conservative party receives. I also said that the Conservative party does not accept donations where there is any suspicion that there are strings attached. That is not the case with trade union donations to the Labour party.
Mr. Edmonds recently showed the red card to the leader of the Labour party and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. He said:
We pay for the Party, we have the right to democracy in the Party.
Democracy usually means one member, one vote; in the Labour party it means one trade union leader, I million votes.
The trade unions—meaning, in practice, a small handful of trade union leaders—control 40 per cent. of the electoral college for the party leader; they account for 70 per cent. of the votes at the annual conference. No fewer that 175 Labour Members of the House are sponsored by unions.
I remember that the late Joe Gormley said that they had a certain number of Members of Parliament in their bank, because they funded them through the National Union of Mineworkers. And Tom Sawyer, of the National Union of Public Employees, said on 2 June last year that while they continued to fund the party,
we will have a say. It is as crude as that. No say, no pay.
Trade unions now supply over 70 per cent. of the Labour party's finance.
In many ways I am a strong believer in trade unions, but I believe that they do themselves a great disservice by identifying themselves with one political party only and allowing it to be a parasite living off trade union funds.
We have heard very little evidence from the Labour party and what evidence we have heard I have refuted. I remind the House that the hidden agenda for today's debate is Labour's desire to have its political campaigning funded by the taxpayer. The reason behind that is obvious and it is a paradox for Opposition Members.
The Minister referred earlier to the late Joe Gormley and implied that sponsored members of the National Union of Mineworkers went along with what he had to say. Let me just put him straight. At the time that Joe Gormley was president of the NUM, he was in favour of the Common Market; I was not. He was in favour of the Labour Government's pay policy and I voted against it. He was in favour of proportional representation and I was not. Joe Gormley has gone and I am still here.
The hon. Member for Bolsover was not here earlier when I paid a tribute to him for his integrity by saying that, if he had his way, the Maxwell money would be repaid. He is nodding in agreement.
Exactly. I am saying exactly what the hon. Member for Bolsover is saying. He is in nobody's pocket, but the rest of his party is in the trade union pocket.
There is a paradox for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen. While Labour remains in the grip of the trade union movement it is unelectable. If it tries to escape from the trade unions, it will become bankrupt. How on earth can is square that circle? As usual with the Labour party, it is the taxpayer who provides the answer. I shall tell the Labour party the problems about state financing, which are all too obvious. It is wrong in principle to fund political campaigning. Why on earth should the taxpayer,who already has to fund the health service, education and defence, fund the Labour party's political campaigning?
How are the moneys to be allocated between the parties? If it is by seats won, we should hear protests from the Liberal Democratic party, which is one of the strongest advocates of the state financing of political parties. If the money was allocated on the basis of votes cast at an election as far back as four years previously, what equity would there be? No doubt the Labour party would allocate funds according to the latest opinion poll. It allocates policies according to the latest opinion poll, so why not do that with its finances as well?
I dealt with the point comprehensively.
The debate has been prompted by a desire to have taxpayers' money funding the Labour party. The Labour party's submission to the Select Committee on Home Affairs gives the game away. It is a lengthy wish list for cash from the taxpayer and it reads rather like a plaintive version of the Labour party manifesto. In its own words, the Labour party is here today to
argue for the introduction of forms of State aid
for political parties. If Labour wants a party, let it pay for it and not the taxpayer.
We learnt during last year's general election campaign that the Labour party has descended from the days of Gaitskell and Attlee to being the party of "nudge nudge, wink wink" and the party of rumour and innuendo—indeed, the party of the sly innuendo. Today's speech by the right hon Member for Derby, South was a travesty and a disgrace. It pitched, weaved and evaded, while all the time seeking to undermine some of our most hallowed institutions. The right hon. Lady will not be allowed to get away with it. The Labour party always denigrates what is good about Britain. The Government stand for the integrity of the existing system. I will not allow the Labour party to undermine public confidence in the integrity of our system. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to throw out the motion.
Before I call the next hon. Member, I reiterate, because of the time, my plea for short speeches. A number of hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye.
I have never heard such synthetic anger as that demonstrated by the Secretary of Slate for Employment. He had nothing to say and no information to give us. We still do not know in whose pockets the Tories are. The right hon. Gentleman threw no light on the sources of Tory party funds. I can only hope that, when it is the turn of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), the chairman of the Conservative party, a little more information will be given to the House.
The debate is about the secretive and sleazy way in which the Tory party is funded. It is about the unique way in which honours fall on company chairmen who give to the Tory party. It is also about the very curious case of Mr. Asil Nadir and the help that he has received from Conservative Members.
No answer was given by the Secretary of State. Indeed, he demonstrated to us, once again, that the Tories are afraid to reveal the sources of the funds that pour into their coffers. Can the Secretary of State tell us why the Tories published their accounts until 1979, since when those accounts have not been published? It is interesting that that change came about.
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall tell him what information is now given to us. We understand the expenditure and what Tory central office receives. In 1992, central office received £20·7 million. When we asked about that and about company donations, the Tory party told us to look at company accounts. I repeat: in 1992, the Tories received £20·7 million. When the records were checked by Companies house, only £2·9 million was shown in company accounts. That means that there is a deficit of £17·8 million. We want to know where that £17·8 million came from.
The hon. Gentleman has made the suggestion about the accounts of the Conservative party that was made by a member of the Select Committee last week : that no accounts had been published between 1979 and 1983. They were published, and I undertook to send copies to the Select Committee.
I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because I expected him to tell me where the difference of £17·8 million came from. I shall give way again to him. I am told that he is a treasurer of the Conservative party. I give way to him now so that he can stand up and tell us where the £17·8 million came from. Does the hon. Gentleman care to do that? I am waiting. I do not think that we shall get the information from the horse's mouth. We certainly did not get it from the Secretary of State.
Matters are worse than that. According to Business Age, £71 million has been donated in this way since 1985. [Laughter.] I hear Conservative Members laughing. I am quite prepared to sit down and to let one of them get up and tell us where the money came from. No. That has finished it now. The lager louts have finished for today.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this marvellous magazine Business Age is really the "Hello" of business publications? It talked about Sarawak as a desert kingdom, when it is in Borneo.
That is a very useful piece of information, which has added to my knowledge. Does the hon. Gentleman now care to tell us, taking just 1992, where the almost £18 million that is unaccounted for came from? We know that the funding—
It may be boring, but it is nevertheless true. In fact, it is not boring to my colleagues, because we should like a little light shone on the matter. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can help us.
As a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I have to tell my hon. Friend that he is being very unfair to Conservative Members. They will not be able to answer my hon. Friend. I refer him to evidence given to the Select Committee, particularly that from Mr. Eric Chalker, who was on the Conservative Board of Finance and who represented 84 constituencies. He said:
Over £67 million of expenditure was recorded by the Conservative Party … in my fours years on the Committee, but no one had to account for a penny of it to the Conservative Board of Finance nor to any other elected body.
Conservative Members do not know the answers; nor does anyone else.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. Perhaps only two people know where the funding came from. One is Lord McAlpine, whom the unfortunate President of the Board of Trade apparently saw on his visit to Venice. I join the Secretary of State for Employment in hoping that the right hon. Gentleman has a speedy and full recovery and is soon back in the House. However, the President of the Board of Trade visited Lord McAlpine, and Lord McAlpine is one of the men who knows.
The other person is perhaps someone to whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) referred—Sir Brian Wyldbore-Smith. He is apparently a director of the Conservative Board of Finance—a curious name, but a curious job, too. Apparently, Sir Brian used private addresses to receive cheques—they were not sent directly to central office. They were made out to him personally, eventually passed on and often paid into an offshore account in Jersey, a tax haven.
They eventually landed at central office with Lord McAlpine, whose office, I understand, was always kept locked except when he was in it, so that the secrets could not be given to the rank and file or to members of the Cabinet. Therefore, my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) is right to say that Conservative Members do not know where the funding came from.
I fully expected the Secretary of State to tell us about foreign backers, as that is what part of the debate is about. Why did we not hear about the foreign business people who poured money into the Conservative party's coffers? Why did we not hear a bit about what came from all the trips made to Hong Kong, the 16 occasions when Tory fund raisers went there with Ministers?
Perhaps the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield can tell us a little more about Li Ki-Shing, the Hong Kong-based billionaire. He is one of the richest people in Hong Kong, and was the Chinese Government's representative at the Hong Kong and Shanghai bank, which we all know recently took over the Midland bank. Perhaps the £1 million that he is reported to have given was payment for allowing the takeover to go through—[Interruption.] Is anyone denying that he gave £1 million? I am prepared to give way. Are you telling me that he did not give £1 million or that you do not know? You have your opportunity—
Thank goodness, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are all very relieved that you have no responsibility for it.
Let us consider Greek shipping millionaires, because they are interesting people. John Latsis is reported to have given £2 million to the Tory party by 1991. He had previously given £500,000. If Conservative Members do not believe it. why do they not intervene to say so?
What about the curious case of the Sultan of Brunei, who was very close to the previous Prime Minister and her family? What about the Fayed brothers, who took over the House of Fraser? There was great difficulty in getting the Department of Trade and Industry's report of the inquiry into the case published. They are still company directors, but we do not share the Tories' amusement about that.
The DTI inspector said that the Fayed brothers had dishonestly represented their origins, their wealth, their business interests and their resources to the Secretary of State, the Office of Fair Trading, the House of Fraser directors and shareholders and their advisers. However, because of previous contributions, they are still acting as company directors.
I shall mention Asil Nadir a little later. We are told that he had no right to expect an honour or a peerage for his donations to the Tory party. I think that he was treated very unfairly, because the facts are that industrialists who give money to the Tory party are far more likely to receive an honour than non-donors.
My hon. Friend will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) mentioned United Biscuits and the £1 million given to the Tory party in order to gain an honour for Sir Hector Laing. Is he also aware that a factory closed in my constituency which, had it received that £1 million in investment, would not have had to close, with the loss of 1,000 very much needed jobs?
Is it not strange that seven Conservative Members made representations, written and oral, to the Attorney-General—in one case, the hon. Member saw him in the Division Lobby? We know who three of the seven are; why do the remaining four not explain why they made representations when there could have been no constituency interest? Is it because Mr. Nadir was involved in Tory party finance, or is it something even more sinister?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because I had intended to ask that question a little later. We need an explanation of why those names are being withheld from the House. What have they to hide? Why is the Attorney-General not prepared to make them public? The Secretary of State has not explained, so we can only hope that the chairman of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, will not only tell us why the names have been withheld but give us the names themselves. Let us have a little openness in the debate.
Before I gave way to my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North who made a good intervention, I was saying that 100 out of the 199 honours awarded were given to people in charge of companies that had donated to the Conservative party. The interesting aspect of that is that only 6 per cent. of the companies concerned disclosed the donations.
Yes, that question is not even worth replying to.[Interruption.] Now Conservative Members are shouting; now they have come to life. When we asked them to tell us who contributed the missing £17·9 million in one year alone—1992—they were struck silent. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) intends to answer that question, I hope that he will intervene, but I shall not give way to frivolous interventions. I am giving the hon. Gentleman every opportunity to answer the question. He could tell us now. He does not know? He does not, but he does not deny the fact either.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South was right to name a few of the companies.
That is a rather telling point. It may account for the Government's total opposition to the Bill on Sunday trading introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell). We are talking about huge donations. We have been told that United Biscuits gave £1 million, and we know the honours that were received. And what about Hanson?
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
Order. I was watching the debate on the monitor before I came into the Chair, so I know that the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) has been enjoying himself today. I am having great difficulty in hearing the debate, and if I am to control the debate, I wish to hear it. If hon. Members on both sides would control themselves, that would be of advantage to the debate.
Yes, Hector Laing received his knighthood as the hon. Gentleman said, but—[Laughter.] When hon. Members have had their little joke, perhaps they will listen. When Sir Hector Laing gave £1 million, he received his peerage from a Conservative Government. Not only that, but his successor Sir Robert Clarke also received his knighthood from a Conservative Government.
Now let us deal with the curious case of Lord Hanson. Hanson gave £852,000, and not one person but two people received peerages—Lords Hanson and White. At the time of the takeover bid for ICI, was it not rather curious how reluctant the Conservative Government were to take action?
Conservative Members are enjoying themselves now. Perhaps the hon. Member for Chelmsford would like to stand up and tell me where the money comes from.
The Leader of the House might have mentioned the fact that Lord White received a peerage although he spends most of his time overseas, in the United States. That was a good pay-off. So it was not surprising that, when one of our leading companies was threatened, there was not much action by the Government to defend it.
My hon. Friend mentioned United Biscuits and the substantial contribution that it has made to the Conservative party. Is he aware that United Biscuits pressed for the abolition of the Potato Marketing Board, with a view to securing a substantial reduction in the price of potatoes? United Biscuits did that because it is one of Britain's largest users of potatoes, in its processing plants.
The general view in the potato industry is that there is a direct link between the abolition of the Potato Marketing Board and the contribution to the Conservative party. [Laughter.] That is the general view in the farming industry. Let Conservative Members deny it.
I am amazed at the hilarity shown by Conservative Members when my hon. Friend made that telling point. Do they no longer want farmers' votes? Are the contributions from United Biscuits more important to the Conservative party than farmers' votes?
I could carry on with a long list—[HON. MEMBERS: "More."] If I had time, I could go on to Taylor Woodrow and P and O, and Sir Jeffrey—now Lord—Sterling, and many more. But I shall not bore you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I hope that the answer to many of the questions that I have asked will be given by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, the chairman of the Conservative party.
Asil Nadir believes—with much justification in my view—that he has been extremely badly treated by the Conservative party. The Conservatives now admit that he gave £400,000, and Mr. Nadir claims to have given an awful lot more. Some of that £400,000 was given after it was alleged that he stole money from Polly Peck. [HON. MEMBERS: "Alleged."] Of course, alleged.
If any of us wanted to buy a television set in a pub, he would probably look twice at it before buying, and if it turned out to be stolen, he would be charged with receiving stolen goods. Yet the Conservatives will not give the money back. They say that they may if it is demanded of them, yet they know that that money was not shown in Polly Peck's financial returns.
We have heard the Secretary of State claim that the Conservative party would always give back any money if there was a suspicion that it had come from an illegal source. That was most interesting, and I wonder whether my hon. Friend knows whether there is any record of the Conservative party ever having given back a donation.
No, not that we know of, but then, of course, the Conservatives are not very good at publishing records of any kind.
Let us consider Mr. Asil Nadir and his friends in the Conservative party. We know that he is charged with theft and fraud to the value of £30 million. We also know that he jumped bail of £3·5 million. I wrote to the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), to tell him that I intended to raise certain points. I am sorry that he is not here today. It is rumoured that, quite apart from the loan of a Volvo, he dined with Mr. Nadir on the Saturday before Mr. Nadir left the country on the following Tuesday. I would have been very interested to learn from the hon. Member for East Hampshire what they discussed over that dinner.
I find it very surprising that the newspapers state that the hon. Member for East Hampshire has complained that Polly Peck was undermined by MI6. Having served on the Select Committee on Trade and Industry which examined the supergun affair, I am not too surprised about that claim. However, it is astonishing that the person who is rumoured to have made that accusation is still a Minister responsible for security in Northern Ireland. That is rather amazing.
I agree that the names of the other people involved should be known. One of those who spoke and wrote on behalf of Mr. Nadir unfortunately cannot be with us today—the President of the Board of Trade. I would have liked to hear why the President of the Board of Trade had lunch with Mr. Morgan, who handles Mr. Nadir's PR. Mr. Morgan denies that they talked about Mr. Nadir, but the President of the Board of Trade said they did. What was there to hide when Mr. Morgan had to deny that they spoke about Mr. Nadir?
I would have liked to ask the President of the Board of Trade why it has been decided not to strike Mr. Nadir off as being unfit to hold company office. I would also have liked to ask the President of the Board of Trade why, even though the Serious Fraud Office had been informed that Mr. Nadir might leave the country, he was able to fly away on a small plane without let or hindrance.
There are many questions which should be answered in relation to that matter. However, I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am prepared to sit down now if we are going to hear about the missing millions.
The Conservative party has brought all this on itself. The Conservatives received secret funds and donations, not only from companies in this country, which are not recorded, but from people outside this country who do not have a right to vote here. I believe that that practice should be stopped.
Why does not the Conservative party take up the offer that we have made—something with which hon. Members representing other parties would agree—and publish everything so that we know the source of all the donations? We would then know who is pulling the Conservative party's strings, and why, and how much those people are paying for the privilege of doing just that.
Frankly, that was a fair old ramble through the undergrowth. With respect to the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle), he asked me a number of questions, but he ended up providing the answers to them himself. When he referred to Lord Hanson and Lord Laing, he raised the issue of two people who were actually first honoured by Labour Governments. That seems to be the entire answer to the point that he was making.
As the House will know, for the past 12 months I have been the chairman of the Conservative party organisation. In addition, as the House will know, I gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee for almost two hours last week. I will therefore seek to be brief in setting out my position.
Let me start by dealing with the allegation in The Guardian this morning to which reference has already been made and which has received a great deal of publicity. It was alleged that the Conservative party received millions of pounds in cash from the Saudi Arabian royal family and that the donation followed a meeting in London between a Cabinet Minister and prominent Saudis with close links to the Saudi Government and royal family.
That allegation was picked up by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett). In the article she is quoted as saying that she would raise the matter in today's debate. She did not raise it until I raised it with her.
No, I want to finish this point.
That allegation and charge has been proved to be—[Interruption.] Okay, that charge has now been countered and it is said that it is totally untrue. I want to quote the statement made by the Saudi ambassador to the United States. He said:
All the allegations in The Guardian's article are untrue and wholly without foundation. No such meeting took place. The allegations are baseless and harmful fabrications and, in view of the serious nature of these allegations, His Royal Highness the Ambassador is taking legal advice as to the appropriate course of action to allow him to obtain a full retraction and an apology.
That is the position and I believe that it would now be right for the right hon. Member for Derby, South to dissociate herself from the matter.
The right hon. Gentleman is trying to make a great deal of the fact that I did not raise the issue during the debate—
There is no need for the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) to bellow. There is nothing that I need to withdraw. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) wanted to know why I did not raise the matter in my speech. I had intended to do that, but before I reached that point, the right hon. Gentleman had already intervened. What I said in the press, what is certainly true and what I have no need to withdraw is that very serious allegations had been made and I said that I would raise them or see that they were raised in the debate so that there could be an opportunity for those allegations to be refuted or confirmed. What is there to withdraw in that?
The right hon. Lady really cannot be as naive as that—if she is, she should not be the deputy leader of the Labour party. She is giving credence to that kind of rumour and allegation. In investing in and putting her name to the matter, she knows perfectly well what she is doing and she should have dissociated herself from it.
The right hon. Gentleman is missing something that the Government have missed throughout the debate. The point is that the Government could disprove all of this by publishing the accounts. The issue arises from the fact that a number of people, including those in the Saudi embassy, have said that this took place. We cannot know whether that is true, but we do know that the Government make a distinction between Governments giving money and the money given by individuals. In the Saudi case, individuals may have been directly involved in that money because of the peculiar monarchic situation in Saudi Arabia. That is why the only way out of the trap is for the Government to publish the figures.
Again, that is exactly the kind of smear and rumour that we have heard all afternoon. I challenge the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) to make those comments outside the House. He knows that he would not then have the privilege that he has inside this place.
Let me make it absolutely clear: the Conservative party did not, does not and will not accept donations from foreign Governments. That also applies to royal families arid to the agents of the Governments and royal families. f hope that I have made that position absolutely clear.
I think that they were saying goodbye to the hon. Member for Workington. Some hon. Gentlemen we miss in the House; others we miss perhaps a little less.
Other allegations have been made today, notably on television and radio programmes, by the hon. Members for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). At times, they appeared to repeat allegations that first appeared in the magazine, Business Age, and which resulted in legal action being taken against that publication. More to the point, however, that legal action has caused the magazine to retract its allegations, issue an apology and to agree damages. I hope that that will be noted by the Opposition.
We are in some difficulty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Absolutely".] We have been told by the Secretary of State for Employment that Business Age has apologised. The chairman of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), has just said the same. In between those two announcements, however, I received a message that informed me that their announcement is untrue.
I believe that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras will find that the information that he has just given to the House is inaccurate.
Business Age appears to be the well from which Opposition Members draw their allegations. That magazine has also alleged that the Conservative party has £200 million salted away in secret accounts overseas. [Laughter.] That allegation has been widely reported on radio, television and the newspapers. I must tell the House and, in particular, my right hon. and hon. Friends that I sometimes wish that that allegation were true. That allegation was so daft, however, that we have offered a 10 per cent. finder's fee to anyone who is able to find that elusive £200 million. Needless to say, we have heard nothing further.
It is important to consider the serious nature of the point at issue. As chairman of the Conservative party, I am, in common with my predecessors, committed, first, to the voluntary financing of political parties. It is the voluntary commitment which gives a political party its strength. That means that a strong party must have a large, nationwide membership.
One point that has not been understood in the debate, and which should be emphasised, is that the vast majority of the Conservative party's income is raised at the constituency level. In 1992–93, we estimate that the overall income for the party was £26 million, of which £18 million was raised and spent in the constituencies and only £8·3 million was raised centrally.
It is the central organisation and central fund raising which have attracted all the public attention. It is important to recognise, however, that the Conservative party has no national membership income, unlike the Labour party and the Liberal party. All membership subscriptions to our party are paid locally to constituency associations.
I believe that the House has just about heard enough from the hon. Gentleman.
I do not deny the need for rules to govern the way in which money is raised. I obviously accept that. The most fundamental of all those rules must be that money does not buy political power.
I shall not give way.
The real scandal would be if donations bought control over candidate selection, control over the leadership election and control over policy. That is why I find the Opposition motion so extraordinarily hypocritical, because everything that I have said applies not to the Conservative party, but to the Labour party.
At the last election, the Labour party received three quarters of its funds from the trade unions. Trade union money buys the unions a 40 per cent. say in the selection of candidates, a 40 per cent. say in the selection of the leadership and a 70 per cent. say in party policy determined at party conference. As Tom Sawyer, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Public Employees has said, "No say, no pay." That needs to be repeated again and again, because that reveals the position of the unions. I am not inclined to take lectures from the Labour party on this matter. If it wants reform, there is a great deal that it must and can do for itself.
I am even less impressed by the argument for state funding. In a country where voting is not compulsory, it would be very curious to make it compulsory to donate to party-political campaigns.
I am aware of the Short money used inside Parliament, but it would be a radical extension of current practice to give money for party activities out in the country. Obviously there are practical objections to such a system. Rules would have to be devised to govern how the money was divided and a bureaucracy would have to be established to check how that money was spent. How would those funds be divided? If it were on the basis of past votes, that would simply freeze the status quo. If it were given on the basis of the number of candidates fielded, that would simply encourage extremist candidates to stand.
Above all, I do not believe that the public would support such a change to state funding, particularly when we are rightly seeking to put a check on public expenditure. The idea of compulsory taxpayer funding of the political parties is opposed by about 80 per cent. of the population—the vast majority are overwhelmingly opposed to it.
Let me set out the mechanisms and principles that govern the way in which the Conservative party raises money. In the past 12 months, I have set up a new management board that oversees spending in the same way as a board of directors might do in a public company. That board establishes accountability for our members and for all parts of the party. We are also in the process of setting up a new board of treasurers, which will be responsible for central fund-raising activities.
Last week, I set out for the Select Committee some of the rules that govern our fund raising. For example, we refuse to accept any donation of which we do not know the source. We refuse to accept any donation that we have reason to believe contains illegally obtained money. We refuse to accept any donation to which strings are attached. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment dealt with that issue extremely well in his speech.
I must repeat what I said to the Select Committee on the question of honours. Under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925, which was introduced as a result of the abuses committed by the last Liberal Government, any attempt to meddle with honours awarded is illegal. Such an activity is not just wrong; it is illegal. An Act of Parliament exists to prevent such intervention and, of course, the Conservative party observes the law.
I have listened to the Opposition's allegation about peerages, but the hon. Member for Warrington, North has destroyed their case with his own-goal revelations about Lord Hanson and Lord Laing. The first honours given to those individuals did not come from a Conservative Government, but from a Labour one. There is nothing in that allegation. We refuse to accept any money from foreign Governments. I have made it clear—
I will not give way.
I have already dealt with the absurd report in The Guardian today, so I shall comment on one or two of the other suggestions that have been made. We have not received money from the Government of Kuwait, the Government of the People's Republic of China or any other Government whatever. As for the suggestion by Business Age that the Sultan of Brunei has given us money, the standard of journalism in that magazine leaves a certain amount to be desired. It describes Brunei as a tiny desert kingdom. Every atlas that I have seen shows that. far from being a tiny desert kingdom, Brunei is next to Borneo and the only sand there is on the beach. The standard of journalism in Business Age must be treated with a great deal of caution—much more caution than has been shown so far by Opposition Members.
Within the rules that I have set out, we certainly accept contributions from public and private companies. I underline that, under the law, those contributions must be declared by the companies.
I will not give way. The hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) questioned me for hours last week and I do not wish to continue that.
The attitude of Labour Members is hypocritical. I have a copy of a letter—I sound like the shadow trade and industry spokesman—from the right hon. Member for
Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) about the Labour party's attitude in December 1992. It is to a company, B and Q, in which the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) has a great deal of interest. There was a complaint which concerned a fund-raising ball held at the Conservative party conference. The right hon. Member for Copeland says:
I recognise that some of this publicity was a result of comments made by my Parliamentary colleagues. I would like to make Labour's position clear. We recognise the need for business to communicate with politicians of all persuasions … The Labour party was delighted to welcome B and Q at our gala dinner at the Park Lane hotel in June. We recognised your objective in attending was to further your corporate needs. I am grateful for your support and I hope that it continues.
That seems adequately to deal with the issue of B and Q.
Apart from corporate donations, we receive voluntary contributions made by individuals from their own resources. They are given to the party on exactly the same basis as they are given to other parties. I agree entirely with what Lord Hailsham said on this matter:
It is the most basic right that what a man does with his money, like what he does with his vote, is a private affair. We defend it.
In the Conservative party, no donor—large or small—receives any influence or favours in return for a donation. There are, therefore, no grounds to override the fundamental individual right to privacy.
As far as Mr. Asil Nadir and his contributions are concerned, the House will know—I made this totally clear to the Select Committee on Home Affairs—that we do not comment on specific donations to the party; nor do we intend to do so. However, in view of the fact that information that we provided in 1991 to the administrators of Polly Peck International has been made public, I shall make the following facts clear.
Contrary to what the Leader of the Opposition said last week, the Conservative party did not receive £1·5 million from Mr. Nadir. Over five years starting in October 1985, the party received a total of £440,000 and the last contribution was made in March 1990. Those donations were made not by Mr. Nadir personally but by Polly Peck International or Unipac Packaging Industries. We know of no further donations from Mr. Nadir or his companies.
The donations were made at a time—this needs to be emphasised—when Polly Peck was regarded as a highly successful British company. I understand that the company made similar donations to organisations and bodies such as the Spastics Society, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Royal Opera House. The responsibility for disclosing those donations rested with Polly Peck.
I understand that the then deputy chairman of the Conservative party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope), wrote to the administrators, Touche Ross, in October 1991. He ended his letter by saying:
We have of course consulted our solicitors and have been advised that there is no legal obligation to provide you with the information you seek as regards to Polly Peck International plc unless you have obtained an order of the court requiring disclosure of the information concerned. However, the Conservative party is quite willing to assist you as administrator in this matter without that necessity. I do not know what the position is under Cypriot law, but for the same reason you will see the information included as to Unipac.
Details of the contributions are then set out.
We never received a reply to that letter. There was silence from Touche Ross for the next 18 months. The issue was next raised when a copy of the information—I do not know whether it was a copy of the letter—was provided to the Opposition spokesman on trade and industry, the hon. Member for Livingston.
There were new allegations in The Sunday Times, again quoting staff from Touche Ross. At no stage have we been contacted by Touche Ross since our 1991 letter. The result is that, yesterday, I asked our lawyers to contact Touche Ross directly. One hour before entering the Chamber, I finally received a letter, 601 days after our first communication.
Obviously, we will now consider that letter. I do not believe that any reasonable person will expect me to give a snap reaction and response to it. [Interruption.] It is a serious point. If the matter was so urgent, Touche Ross should have come back to us quickly, rather than after 600 days. To avoid any doubt, let me make this clear. If we receive proof from Touche Ross or any other source that the money we received was stolen, we will return it. I make that position absolutely clear.
We now need to deal not with unsubstantiated allegations and unsourced press reports. We need evidence instead of pure assertion. I hope that Touche Ross will start to deal with us and not pursue the matter through the newspapers.
I will not give way.
I have set out the position of Mr. Asil Nadir fully and clearly. Let me make this clear: we will return the money if it was stolen. I hope that the Labour party makes such a pledge regarding the tens of thousands of pounds that the Leader of the Opposition admitted were received from Mr. Robert Maxwell. That issue needs to be addressed. I realise that the figure that has been given is £31,000. We want to check carefully whether that is the complete figure. If the money received from Mr. Nadir is tainted, it seems that the money received from Mr. Maxwell is covered in black tar.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Tory party ever received any money from Robert Maxwell? If everything that Robert Maxwell did was tainted, why did the right hon. Gentleman, when he was the Secretary of State for Employment, sell to Maxwell the Professional and Executive Register at a time when it was rumoured that higher bids were received from other companies? The hon. Gentleman did not deny those rumours.
It is not true. It is specifically untrue. I challenge the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras to provide evidence to support what he says. The hon. Gentleman does not appear to understand how sales take place in government. Ministers do not make those decisions. However, for avoidance of doubt and from my own clear memory, Mr. Robert Maxwell did not appear in one way or the other in the matter.
In my recollection, the offer that was made to the Department of Employment was by far the highest offer. The hon. Gentleman seeks to make yet another slur. It is slur after slur.
If the right hon. Gentleman's recollection is so clear, why did not he challenge the doubts cast at the time in newspapers such as The Times about whether the Maxwell bid was the highest offer? If he thought that Robert Maxwell was so monstrous a person and that his companies were so unreliable, why did he say:
We were impressed by their plans to make the company the flagship of the new employment services division of their business"?
Why did he say:
There is no doubt that they have the expertise and commitment to give the Professional and Executive Register the start in the private sector that we want for it"?
Can he confirm now that it is entirely closed down?
The hon. Gentleman is a disgrace not only to his Front Bench but to standards in politics. He continues to repeat things that he knows are untrue. He knows that he is in the hole and is protesting and protesting. What the hon. Gentleman says is untrue. I hope that when he comes to think about it, if he ever comes to think about these things, he will withdraw the suggestion that he has made.
The Conservative party's position is precisely this. Unlike the Labour party, we do not believe that the taxpayer should be forced to bail out political parties.
We should have the record straight in the House. The right hon. Gentleman has already referred to Short money—taxpayers' money which goes to the Opposition political parties. It is also on the record that public money from the taxpayers goes to the Conservative party to fund the advisers and appointees that it has in government. The Conservative party receives at the minimum, and on published figures, substantially more than the Labour party. I believe that it receives about four times as much as the Labour party. Those appointees of the Conservative party advise the Government in supplement to Government advisers.
I hear what the right hon. Lady says, but I am not sure whether it takes the debate much further. We are debating how much further down the road to state funding we want to go. There is a clear divide between the positions of the two parties. The right hon. Lady wants state funding. The Conservative party does not want state funding. I believe that the public overwhelmingly do not want state funding.
Unlike the Labour party, we do not sell votes at our party conference to our donors. Unlike the Labour party, we have always had a system of one member, one vote in the selection of our candidates. We have had such a system literally for decades. As my right hon. and hon. Friends know, many of us are here today because at the selection meeting our chief competitor was thought to be backed by central office. There is no question whatever about that.
Unlike donors to the Labour party, our donors do not wield block votes at our party conference or decide the leadership of the party. When the Leader of the Opposition sought election to his present position, he sent his aides around union conference after union conference. That is not remotely the position in the Conservative party.
There is one true scandal in the funding of British political parties. It is the funding of the Labour party, a party which has sold its soul to the highest trade union bidder. The Labour party is basically undemocratic. It is union-dominated. Its constitution is one of reasons why it has stayed on the Opposition Benches for 14 years and why it will stay on those Benches for a great deal longer.
This has been an interesting debate so far. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) had some interesting things to say about the continuing negotiations on the Polly Peck donations received by the Conservative party. He said that he was in negotiation with lawyers and with Touche Ross.
If the right hon. Gentleman is in any doubt that any of the £400,000 to which he referred is under suspicion, the right course is for him to pay that money into court and leave it in the hands of the court until such time as a legal resolution has been arrived at for the proper disposition of that money. If he did that, he would be seen to be completely above suspicion.
The right hon. Gentleman announced that he had received a letter from Touche Ross. It is certainly strange that it took Touche Ross so long to reply. Something seems to be seriously wrong there. If the right hon. Gentleman wanted a course of action that was above suspicion and would certainly satisfy me that the Conservative party was doing everything possible to ensure that it was beyond any controversy or complaint, he would pay that money into court forthwith.
I wish to make a short speech because I do not want to be part of the party political harangue that has been going on. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come on."] Indeed, it would be easy for me to be sanctimonious. I assure hon. Members that I shall not do that. At least the last time that the Liberal party was in a position to deploy honours we were open about it. We had price lists. There were price tags on honours. The law has been changed since then. I certainly accept the assurances by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield about the various stories that have been flying around. I am pleased that he gave them.
It is time that we drew a line under some of the allegations, charges and counter-charges that have been made, because they do not do the process of politics much good. The sooner that we turn to the important aspects of the matter, the better. It may be a controversial position to take, but I am willing to draw a line in the sand—the Saudi Arabian or any other sand—about what has happened in the past. If the House turned its mind to what we could do collectively and across the party political divide to re-establish public confidence in financing of the political parties, it would be all to the good.
Of course the funding of political parties is a matter of public interest. It is a fundamental element of a democratic process that the way in which parties finance themselves and the uses and sources of that money are transparent. I suggest to the House that that is not the case at present—for a variety of reasons. We have an ancient and antiquated unwritten constitutional system which tends to land us in problems when crises arise suddenly out of the mists and take us by surprise. We discover that there are anomalies. We make the constitutional changes as we go along.
Liberal Democrat Members have been saying for longer than we can remember that we should examine the whole constitutional machinery. Such an examination would include the way in which parties are financed. Dare I say it, it may even include consideration of whether there is a role for the state in party political financing.
There is an argument for that and we should perhaps examine the way in which sister democracies such as Canada and Germany operate. There are some lessons to be learnt there. The German system is not perfect, because it encourages central parties to get fat, bloated and lazy. There is so much money swilling around that they do not need to go out and fight for members and donations.
We should encourage people to give. The more who give money voluntarily towards the political process, the healthier it will be.
I must at that point enter a caveat, and I address it particularly to Conservative Members. There must be a threshold on individual and corporate donations above which matters become dangerous. I do not know whether the line should be drawn at £2,000, £5,000 or £10,000. Once we get into five and even six-figure numbers, the level of money could distort the balance—I am not making accusations but arguing purely in terms of principle—because any political party would have to respond.
Politics is today an extremely expensive business, with multi media technology, and propaganda costs a lot of money. I am in favour of propaganda, because it is an open and honest part of the process. We must all tell our tales and get our policies across. The media are becoming more complicated and pervasive. While that creates the need to raise more money, we must resolve to generate it in an open and honest way.
The time has come for us to consider two simple changes. The Government should sponsor bilateral talk with all the parties in the House to see if we can reach agreement on two simple questions. The first is about the level of individual and corporate donations above which we should have to solicit the approval of the donors to make their identities known.
That would not cost anybody anything. People may argue that it would frighten donors off, but, as the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield said, it is a free country and people can do as they wish with their money. We should encourage them to put money into politics.
Consider, for example, David Sainsbury. Nobody could complain that a man such as he—some may say that he was misguided about the way in which he deployed the money, but that is a separate question—should not have contributed in the way he did. When the SDP started, he gave it a foot on the first rung of the ladder, which it was perfectly legitimate for him to do. He did it openly, and it had the result of which we are aware. We should not discourage such giving. Indeed, we should encourage it.
But if we are to go that far, the Government of the day should be given protection against the suspicion that will always exist if there is not a threshold governing big money players in the game. Otherwise, there will always be the conspiracy theory. If the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield was doubtful about conspiracy theories, and as he listened to the Labour party's Front-Bench speakers, he must have appreciated that there would always be people looking for excuses to run scare stories. That is bad for business. It should not be impossible for the parties to agree a figure, or at least to discuss the question of individual donations.
There is a second, quintessentially simple move that I suggest that we consider seriously. Companies are today no longer easily and readily under the control of their shareholders. I do not complain about that, because companies have become complicated and sophisticated organisations. Company law is behindhand in achieving a proper relationship between shareholders and company managements, but that is a subject for another debate.
If companies, particularly big firms, engage in substantial donations—I do not consider £2,000 to £5,000 in the form of annual or other donations to be untoward, because such amounts do not skew the balance of influence in any political organisation—company law should ensure that their managements must secure the sanction of their shareholders before engaging in donations running into four and five-figure sums.
Those two changes would not be massive or involve great statutory controls or large Acts of Parliament. They would enable us to move to a point from which innuendos could be dealt with. Everything would be in the public domain, open and above board.
If we do not take such action, there will he a danger—again, I do not make a party political point, though it is an important aspect that particularly the Conservative party must bear in mind—that any party that has been in power for three, four or more terms will start to run up against the charge of nepotism in relation to placements on party and public bodies, hospital trusts and so on. After a party has been in power for a number of terms, there is bound to be a suspicion that insiders will get control, and that party advisers, pollsters and pundits will take charge of the party apparatus.
That danger is made worse by commercial aspects for which the Government are not responsible. I refer to cases such as Barlow Clowes, Maxwell, Lloyd's and the Guinness affair. Such cases erode public confidence. More than anything else in today's debate, I am nervous lest such matters fare badly in the country's high streets, with people saying, "They are all in it, up to their necks."
While I do not believe that to be true, we must accept that there are problems. They will get worse, and they are always worse for the Government party, no matter what is discussed in terms of party political finance. It particularly applies to a Government who have been in power for as long as the Conservatives have held office.
That is why the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield has a heavy responsibility on his shoulders. I appreciate that he has problems. He must get his management right, and he must find £8·3 million for next year or his party will grind to a halt. Frankly, I could run a handsome party for £8·3 million. There is an argument for keeping parties lean, cheap and cheerful, as is the case with the modern Liberal Democrats.
As I say, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues bear a heavy responsibility for ensuring that they get the balance right. In that connection, the right hon. Gentleman can ignore much of the nonsense that has been thrown at him from across the Floor of the House today. But he cannot ignore it all, and he must give serious thought to the issues that I have raised. I hope he will do that.
My hon. Friends and I are faced with Hobson's choice today. I have great difficulty with the Labour motion, especially as it invites us to support some sort of Labour charter. That is testing our patience a long way. We do not have much choice. I wish to make it clear that—subject to what the Leader of the House, who is persuasive, may say in reply to the debate; he may yet persuade me to the contrary—I do not want anybody to read anything into any support that we may give to the Labour motion. Certainly nobody should read into it our support for a Labour charter, because large chunks of it are nonsense.
As I listened to the extremely reasonable speech of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) I could not help but feel that there are many lessons that we might yet learn from the sale of political honours by his party in times past. I am pleased to know that all of that is in the past and that, at any rate from his point of view, we are now reasonable and understanding of one another.
As the House knows, the Select Committee on Home Affairs decided towards the end of last year to inquire into the funding of political parties. Our terms of reference were to examine the case for and against the state funding of political parties, the methods by which parties should be financed, the adequacy of the money that is raised for the purposes that are needed, the desirability of controls over the sources of finance and other statutory requirements that might be placed on donors or recipients. It was reassuring to have the Liberal party treasurer state in evidence that we received yesterday that, placed in the same political position, he would have been delighted to have accepted £440,000 from Asil Nadir.
We were getting on with our work quietly and sensibly when we approached the silly season, which coincided with the upturn in the economy, which greatly irritated Labour, the criticism of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) from within and without his party, and the drying up of income to the Labour party, to which reference has been made. There was a row about one man, one vote in the Labour party and the fact that, if there is one man, one vote—[HON. MEMBERS: "One person."] Please forgive me. I should say that if there is one man/woman, one vote, the trade unions might get nasty and forget their historic obligations to the Labour party.
They might remember what Tom Sawyer from the National Union of Public Employees told us, "No say, no pay". They might remember the words of John Edmonds of the GMB, when he said. "It's our party". They might remember what Bill Morris, of the Transport and General Workers Union, said when he reminded the Labour party of the size of his union's donation—£1·5 million. The older of us will recall Arthur Scargill having to come to the Bar of the House to apologise for saying that if Labour Members supported by the National Union of Mineworkers did not deliver for that union, they would lose their sponsorship. The trade union movement provides 70 per cent. of Labour party funds, helps to choose candidates, and votes on policy and candidates. I might ask in passing, what business contributor to the Conservative party has those powers?
Therefore, it is vital that Labour Members should raise the issue of state funding of political parties—the taxpayers' contribution. The trouble with the Labour party is that, if it was popular with successful British industries and if the people who give it their votes raised money for it by contributions—as they do for the Conservative party to the tune of £17 million—we would not be having today's debate initiated by the Labour party. It is because the Labour party is so anti-business and anti-ordinary people that it has to raise money through the trade unions. If the trade unions take away that money, the Labour party will have to raise it from the taxpayer.
I said that we were in the silly season because the Labour party is making itself look foolish by allowing itself to be associated with the rubbish in The Guardian about Saudi money. It is not remotely likely that the kings of Saudi Arabia would have an aeroplane, with its engines revving, full of used £5 notes ready to deliver to the Conservative party on the first day of the general election. I see that my right hon. Friend the chairman of the Conservative party is present. He will know that, if that had been the case, the party would not be £17 million in the red. It does no credit to The Guardian, which passes itself off as an organ of judgment and credibility, or to the Labour party, gleefully to take up such utter nonsense.
It is silly to campaign about the sale of honours. There is not the slightest evidence to show that honours have been sold. The Labour party is certainly vulnerable on that issue. Asil Nadir must be bitterly disappointed that the £440,000 that he gave for the purchase of honours not only failed to buy him a knighthood, but resulted in him being prosecuted with such strength that he has fled the country and dare not face up to his responsibilities.
The Labour party has shown not only silliness but an amazing gall. According to the party, Robert Maxwell gave only £31,000 or £43,000, plus £38,000. Yet he was a secretive man with a lot of companies into which he tucked a lot of money. He was a former Labour Member of Parliament and a dedicated Labour party supporter. He was secretive and generous. I wonder whether any Members of the Labour party can put their hand on their heart and say that that was the only money that that generous and secretive man ever gave to the party.
The Labour party says that he gave only £31,000 or £43,000, plus £38,000. I should like to know whether any of his family ever gave any money to the party or whether any of his companies did so. I should like to know whether he gave the party gifts in kind or advertising space in the Daily Mirror or any of his other papers. I wonder whether any of the money that that corrupt man gave to the Labour party was returned to the creditors and pensioners. If it was not, I should like to know how soon it will be returned.
Silliest of all is early-day motion 2184 calling on me to reconsider my position as Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. It states that I have admitted to
being involved in accepting free all expenses paid trips to the illegally occupied areas of Cyprus
to which the fugitive Nadir has fled from justice. I do not know whether to laugh or cry at the fact that that motion has the signatures of 100 honourable and supposedly sensible members of the Labour party.
Of course, I admitted to being involved: I had to declare my visits in the Register of Members' Interests, as we all have to do in this place as hon. Members and as members of honourable organisations which operate with the sanction of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the approval of Parliament. No allegation has been made that I took any money from Asil Nadir. I did not, I do not know him, I have never met him, I have never corresponded with him and, as far as I know, I have never been a beneficiary of his largesse. I was invited to visit north Cyprus by the Government of north Cyprus.
No, I shall not give way for the moment.
The Government of north Cyprus, although not recognised by the international community, represent a grievously wronged people. It is strange that the Labour party, which claims to have concern for human rights, never speaks up for the Muslim Turkish minority in Cyprus. They once ruled Cyprus, together with the British, from 1571; the Greeks never did that. They did not slaughter 103 villages belonging to the Greeks in 1963, 1967 and 1973. If the British soldiers who lost their lives fighting against the Greek EOKA bid to unite Cyprus to Greece—
I went to north Cyprus with some highly respected Labour Members of Parliament—the hon. Members for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland), for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), for Ipswich (Mr. Cann) and for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds)—as well as with the hon. Members for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) and for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), and as well as my hon. Friends. By tabling such a silly motion, the Labour Members are shooting themselves in the foot because their own respected and highly reputable people came on that visit.
If I am to resign because I accepted a sponsored visit—as do many hon. Members from both sides of the House—should they not be asking members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs who continuously accept sponsorship from trade unions, the interests of which they are directly considering in the inquiry, to resign as well? I would not be so childish or silly to make that request of the hard-working Labour members of my Select Committee, but the motion shows how silly the Labour party is.
Looking down the list of 101 Labour signatures I see to my astonishment that 58 of them are sponsored by the trade union movement. One of the signatories, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), has admitted visiting General Electric in Boeing, Cincinnati and Seattle. The costs of his visit were borne by companies including British Airways.
The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) declares an overseas visit in August and September 1992 to China, with accommodation and hospitality provided by the Chinese Government, although he paid for the travel himself.
The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) made an overseas visit to Tokyo, Japan, as a guest of the World Parliamentarians' Conference for Support of the United Nations. I do not know where the money for that came from.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) went to Colorado, United States of America, to visit a nuclear dry storage facility and that was funded by Scottish Nuclear Ltd. The hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) visited Cyprus. That was paid for by the Government of Cyprus, yet the hon. Gentleman has the nerve to sign the early-day motion requesting my resignation.
The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) went to Libya, sponsored by the Libyan Government, and to Berlin, Senegal, Martinique and Libya again, visits, I think, in the main not paid for by the hon. Gentleman. I do not know the parliamentary word for hypocrisy, but if I did I would use it.
The Home Affairs Select Committee will doubtless consider all those issues. It will consider whether taxpayers really want to fund political parties and what control a Government may or may not exert if it is the paymaster through the taxpayer of such funding. It will want to consider the level of donations, corporate giving and whether the law requiring disclosure of donations is sufficient.
I should like to know, and no doubt the Select Committee will ask, whether the Labour party receives any corporate donations and, if so, if it will give us the names of those corporate donors. If it will not, why is it demanding that the Conservative party gives the names of its corporate donors?
I should like to ask the Labour party what the item "high value donor activity" of £228,000 in its 1991 accounts means. I should like to know, and the Select Committee will no doubt ask, whether the Labour party believes that the freedom of the individual to decide what party he supports, whether by his vote or by his or her donations, should be removed, and whether the Labour party has become anti-civil liberties. I should like to know whether the Labour party believes that individuals should be forced to disclose their donations. I should like to know whether disclosure is practicable. The Select Committee will be asking those questions.
Why cannot a donation to a political party be given through organisations so that the real donor is hidden? How many trade union employees work as full-time agents for the Labour party? How many trade union premises were used by the Labour party during the 1992 election? How many trade union vehicles were used? Was all that declared? How much Labour opinion research was done by the trade unions? No expenditure has been declared for that in the Labour party's accounts, so someone must have paid for it and it seems likely that it might have been the trade unions.
The Home Affairs Select Committee went to Washington and we visited an office in order to see how high disclosure worked in the United States. A name, such as that of the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), is typed in and reams of paper come out saying that he gave $220,000 to the Republican party, $150,000 to the Democratic party, $100,000 here, $10,000 there, $5,000 there. The only people who go to those offices, where about 120 people work at state cost, are the researchers for the candidates standing against the incumbent congressman to see what dirt they can churn out. For my part, I do not think that the British taxpayer wants to spend that kind of money on that kind of research in order to pretend that there is open disclosure of contributions to parties.
Perhaps in all his searches of company and political party records the hon. and learned Gentleman would care to examine those of Polly Peck and Asil Nadir to see whether his name and the payment for his accommodation during his recent visit to Cyprus appear there.
I have disclosed it, so it does not matter. I signed the Register of Members' Interests the moment I returned. If the hon. Gentleman had known about that register, he might not have put down such a silly early-day motion, nor got so many of his silly friends to sign it.
I hope that the silly season will end soon and that the Select Committee will return to sensible, calm deliberations, settle down and remember that we have the least corrupt political system in the world.
It is time that we stopped trying to pretend that we are a weak, vapid, failing nation which ought to be the laughing stock of the rest of the world. We are not. We are one of the great nations of the world. Other countries look to us for political probity, and the sooner that Opposition Members realise that the better it will be for Britain.
For the greater part of his speech, the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir. I. Lawrence) spoke not as the Chairman of an all-party Select Committee trying objectively to consider the subject before us, but as a partisan politician. However, as my starting point, I agree that there is relatively little corruption in our political system compared with what one reads about in, for example, Japan, or areas where there is a clear correlation between contributions to the leading party and public contracts. We are still relatively corruption-free.
One of the bulwarks of that is our party system which ensures that Members of Parliament can, to a large extent, rely on their party for the funding of their campaigns, rather than on external donors. That is why the parties themselves must be above question.
Some fear that the political culture in Britain is changing for the worse. Because of some highly publicised trials that have taken place during the past few years, there are strong fears about Britain's corporate structure. The same sleaze, which, alas, is well publicised within the City, might move over into our political system. There is also anxiety about the activities of certain lobbying organisations. But whether or not such fears are justified, this is a good time to learn the lessons of Asil Nadir and some of the revelations that have come to light and to try to alter our law and procedures accordingly.
One of the sadder features of the good, tub-thumping, party speech of the Secretary of State for Employment was that he did not seem to realise that there is a problem and that is worrying. Surely we can learn from the current revelations and build, or attempt to build, barricades to guard against the dangers and the personal conflicts of interest that are likely to arise for Governments as a result of financial contributions.
There will always be temptations. The best guarantee against politicians falling into those temptations is openness. I commend to the House the dictum of the Supreme Court Justice Brandeis that sunlight is the best disinfectant. I hope that in all our political funding for all the parties we will be prepared to let in as much sunlight as possible in the hope that those who might otherwise be tempted will draw back and remember the fine political culture within which we have all been brought up.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's speech with great care. Does he feel that every penny donated to a political party should be governed by the rules that he has just advocated, or is he referring just to large sums of money donated for the purpose of obtaining influence? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is a basic human right of anyone who has earned his money and has paid his taxes to make whatever contributions he wishes? Does not this apply to the small-time private individual seeking to advance his political belief through a political party?
I have set out a broad principle, which must be interpreted on the basis of reason. Certainly one would not want the widow of Cheltenham, who may or may not make contributions to the Conservative party, to be obliged to make such a disclosure. On the other hand, if Ross Perot were to give money to the Conservative party, it would be democratically wrong that there should not be disclosure so that the British public might make up their own minds. It should be clear that we are not in danger of being bought or of having conflicts of interest.
There are two basic concerns, the first of which is foreign donations. When the Select Committee went to the United States it learnt that foreign donations are totally banned in that country. In the American system there is consensus, from right to left, that such donations are wrong. I am aware of the argument that people who believe in the free enterprise system should be allowed to make contributions as they wish. In respect of domestic matters I accept that principle, but in the case of foreign donations other important principles of our democracy are paramount. There is a real danger of conflict of interest.
For a period of 10 years I had the honour to be a foreign affairs spokesman for my party. In that capacity, I dealt with questions relating to Hong Kong and with questions concerning Cyprus. I have no doubt at all about the personal integrity of those Front-Bench politicians with whom I dealt at that time, but one has to guard against conflicts of interest. In the case of Hong Kong, during the 1980s very sensitive issues were discussed by representatives of this country, representatives of Hong Kong and representatives of the Government of the People's Republic of China. If it were known that senior Hong Kong business men were contributing massively to the funds of the Government party they would clearly be at least under temptation. There would be potential problems of conflict of interest.
The same goes for Cyprus. It is said that Asil Nadir gave money not just because he happened to believe in the free enterprise system, but because he was, rather vainly—vainly in the sense of personal vanity and in the sense of failure—hoping to gain a personal honour. It was said also that he was lobbying on behalf of the Government of north Cyprus. During the 1980s we were also trying to resolve the Cyprus problems. It is clear that, although it is a guarantor power, Britain did not at that time take any initiatives. I cast no aspersions at all about the personal integrity of Ministers who were responsible for British foreign policy. However, acceptance of money from Asil Nadir, who was lobbying on behalf of a government not recognised by any other country in the world, created the likelihood of a conflict of interests. In my judgment, these and other questions make it most undesirable for parties to accept contributions from foreign donors.
The second concern arises in respect of contributions from private donors. What disclosure is reasonable in those circumstances? Business people are not always public-spirited. What is their motive in making contributions? Some people point to the very close correlation between knighthoods and contributions to the Conservative party. In that regard I make no particular point. Nor do I make any point about, for example, the drinks industry. I am strongly of the view that there should be random breath testing. Some people may say that the Government steadfastly refuse to accept the principle of random breath testing because of the very substantial, and increasing, contributions made to the Conservative party by the drinks-related industry. At least that is in the open. We know that the drinks industry makes massive and increasing contributions, as is its right. In this regard, I make no particular complaint.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point. I represent what I consider to be the brewing centre of England and I have never had any representations from any brewer to the effect that I should oppose the random breath testing of drivers. In fact, I am strongly in favour of random breath testing. Although the hon. Gentleman may be suspicious of them, these large organisations, which undoubtedly give money to political parties, do not always seek to put pressure on those parties.
The brewers' interest in the Government's plans to break up their monopoly might be a better example. I wonder if any Conservative Members have had representations about that matter.
So far as I am able, I am relying on points of principle. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, but I shall not follow it up at this stage.
I want to make the general point that, in a democracy, transparency is very important. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) asserted that, in a democracy, citizens have a right to make voluntary contributions. Some people may give to Oxfam, some to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and others to the Conservative party. But surely it is naive and simplistic to suggest that there is no difference between giving voluntarily to a charity with a specific objective and giving to a party which, in government, can—in many cases does—adopt policies that may flow from such contributions. In the case of Asil Nadir, I regard as wholly naive the suggestion by the chairman of the Conservative party that if funds are proved to have been stolen they will be returned. What evidence would be sufficient? No numbered bank notes were transferred from Polly Peck into some Jersey offshore account. It is quite impossible to trace money that may have been stolen and then transferred into an offshore account, part of whose funds may have been illegally obtained. All that one can say is that some of the money is likely to be tainted. If, in respect of this matter, the Conservative party chairman had any honour he would repay funds that clearly are the subject of fraud. He cannot get away by saying that if it can be proved that the funds were stolen the money will be repaid. Such proof is impossible. Nadir may have believed in the free enterprise system, but he was doing much else.
I return to a point made by the hon. and learned Member for Burton. It is clear that, in respect of Maxwell, my own party is somewhat vulnerable. I make no attempt to dissemble in respect of that matter. However, I know of no member of the Labour party who has sought to lobby the Attorney-General in respect of members of the Maxwell family who face criminal prosecution. Surely alarm bells ring when seven Conservative Members—not just the constituency Member, in whose case one might understand such action—make representations on behalf of this gentleman to the Attorney-General, whose duty it is to make objective decisions in respect of prosecution. The fact that Nadir paid such substantial sums and the fact that there may have been other types of contribution indicate that something smells, that something is amiss in the British state.
The Sunday Times—a paper that normally pulls its punches in respect of the Conservative party—has said that the Tory party took
stolen money from an ambitious crook who believed he was buying a favour".
That was the paper's allegation. The Conservative party allowed itself, with its eyes open, to be led into a conflict of interests; it saw the danger and walked into it. I believe that that is wrong.
Let me again quote Supreme Court Justice Brandeis, who said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Why does the Conservative party fear the sunlight? What has it to hide? In a democracy, why should not citizens know how their parties are funded and be allowed to make their own decisions?
This is a sleazy debate initiated by a sleazy party, which is attempting to denigrate politics and democracy. The motion is not worthy of a great party. While our Prime Minister is in Copenhagen, successfully persuading the world's greatest nations to desist from creating an all-out massacre in Bosnia, what does the Labour party wish to debate? It wishes to debate the issue of whether donations to a party should be transparent—whether they should be disclosed. Moreover, it is going about it in a way that depends on rumours, sleaze, the bandying of names and the slinging of mud in the hope that it will stick.
Various names have been flung—for instance, that of Asil Nadir. Last week, Labour was certain that the sum involved was £1·5 million. In the Select Committee on Home Affairs, it was a Labour Member who happened to ask the chairman of our party whether he was not sure that other donations from Asil Nadir, of which he was unaware, might bring the total to £1·5 million. In fact, as the party chairman has said openly, the sum is £440,000.
What has happened to politics in this country? We used to accept the word of Members of this honourable House. We did not ask them to give evidence on oath. What is happening to the Labour party? When someone says something openly to the House and states that it is a fact, Labour Members say, "We do not believe you. What about this, that and the other?" What they say is just sleaze and mud slinging, involving no truth and no backing. It shows how low they have sunk. Their performance in today's debate makes me feel ashamed of the House: I think that it is a disgrace.
Conservative Members have flung around the name of Robert Maxwell. I think it disgraceful that we should raise such matters, because this is not what the debate should be about. The hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle), who has now left the Chamber, even mentioned the name of Ernest Saunders, in connection with something that he—a convicted man, whom no one would now believe—wrote in a book. I asked the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) whether she had read the Select Committee evidence, because I was present on the Terrace on the occasion in question. I remember telling Ernest Saunders that I thought the current takeover bid for Distillers absolutely stank. He stared at me in amazement.
I was entirely right: the bid did stink, for all the reasons that subsequently emerged in the prosecution. Perhaps that is the way in which Ernest Saunders wants to gloss over the fact that Tory Members have spoken to him and asked for donations. If hon. Members want to believe anything, they should believe his book; but does it say anything about my having approached him and told him that his bid stank? It does not.
Let us have an end to all the mud slinging. Allegations have been raised about the Sultan of Brunei; the chairman of our party has said that they are untrue. We do not accept money from foreign Governments, or from the families of foreign rulers. That should be the end of the matter. That is the way in which we behave and those are the standards of the House.
Order. No hon. Member may voice, from a sedentary position, the Christian name and surname of another hon. Member. If the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) wishes to intervene, he should stand up and do so; otherwise, I should be grateful if he would keep his thoughts to himself.
The hon. Gentleman should address that query to the hon. Member in question, not to me. I do not know the circumstances; I am simply saying that, when someone says something in the Select Committee or the House, it is the truth. We do not lie in the Chamber, or in Select Committees. When things have been said in Select Committees, we do not then turn round and suggest that the person who said them was lying—or was not telling the truth, or was not being accurate. Other such phrases seem to have become current in the House. That is not the way in which we behave.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it denigrates the standing of the House and that of all hon. Members on both sides of the House when such suggestions are continually bandied about, although they have been clearly denied?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What Labour Members are doing in this debate is fundamental to democracy. They are trying to ridicule the Conservative party and, in so doing, are ridiculing themselves. They have given the impression that all politics are as filthy dirty as theirs. What we have seen today and in the disgrace of the past few weeks is the filth and dirt of the Labour party, not that of the Conservative party.
I have been closely associated with Italy and I have just come back from a trip to Peru, where I examined human rights and all the issues in which Labour believes—issues in which I believe as well; we have that in common. I found that, in those countries, the British political system was highly regarded. We have the respect of the whole world. In Peru, the system had broken down because of a total lack of respect for the political set-up.
Let me finish. The Peruvian president had emerged from behind, rather like Ross Perot, with no knowledge of politics and no political backing. He had been virtually unheard of a fortnight before the election. Having emerged as president, he looked around at the political scene. All the political parties had been denigrated and were in chaos. He rejected them and turned to the army. The world said, "No, that is not good enough." He then tried to return to a democracy. I hope that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) understands that I am not suggesting that the system in Peru is right. I am trying to say that if we go along this road, we are creating that sort of chaos.
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman.
We also see chaos in Italy. The political parties have behaved in a way that is right, but there have been attacks and counter-attacks and the political system is disintegrating. We are travelling in that direction and that would be dreadful.
We have heard many innuendos about Asil Nadir. There are enough lawyers in the Labour party to know what the law is. They know what is legal or illegal, but they continue to talk about illegal funding. There is no illegal funding. If the board of a company agrees that a donation should be made to a political party, and that political party accepts the donation, it is legal.
Let me finish my point.
It is up to the board of directors to declare it in the accounts. If it is not declared, the funding is not illegal but the lack of declaration is. There are some very good lawyers in the Labour party and I have great respect for them, but they continually say that it is illegal money. It is not. It is illegal if it has not been authorised by the board of directors and, in those circumstances, it would have to be returned. If it was in excess of any authority or the company was bankrupt, it may be illegal. I do not know enough about bankruptcy because I am a criminal lawyer.
It has been suggested time and again by the Labour party that the Conservative party is blacker than black and the Labour party is whiter than white. If Labour Members had read some of the evidence of the Select Committee, they would have seen the evidence of an academic, Dr. Pinto-Duschinsky, who told us that all three major parties refuse to disclose individual donations. He said that it is hypocritical—I am trying to recall his words accurately because I am not allowed to quote from the document—for any party to throw stones in respect of this matter. He told us that during his research he went from party to party asking for a list of its largest donors. They all said no. He said that he went to Walworth road and was told that it had not hitherto disclosed the names of individual donors. Where is the argument? It is utter hypocrisy for the Labour party to suggest that it allows the names of individual donors to be given.
I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the state of politics and what is coming across from this debate. I am a sponsored member of a trade union. It is not a secret because it is declared in the Register of Members' Interests. Anyone can read in the accounts of any trade union how the Labour party receives money from trade unions because it is public knowledge and the Labour party publishes what it receives from the trade union movement. Conservative Members have made much of this because they know how much we get. Therefore, why is it wrong or undesirable for the Conservative party, in the same way, to publish the amount of money that it receives in donations from companies? I fail to understand that. As the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) said, it is nothing to do with small individual donations. Why is the Conservative party so opposed to making public what we already make public and which the trade union has to make public by law? That is the difference between us.
It has to be disclosed by law if one is sponsored by a trade union. It is important because it has to be registered in the Register of Members' Inter ests. We all know that we have to do that. That is very different from donations given freely to a political party.
Yes, by companies. We have heard enough about the nature of political sponsorship. That sort of donation has a tag on it and I have seen those tags used in the Chamber. Members of various unions get together and do what their union bids them do in the Chamber. That is wrong and I have often felt that such hon. Members are not truly independent. Donations to the Conservative party are independent of individual Members. There is no company that says, "Because we have donated £5,000 to the Conservative party we should have 30 per cent. of the votes." There is no company that says that is because it has donated £10,000, it should have a percentage of the votes in choosing a candidate or a percentage of the vote at conference. That is the difference.
We must think about whether there should he disclosure. Dr. Pinto-Duschinsky told us that although disclosure is good in theory it would not work in practice. He told us that it does not work in the United States, Germany or Italy. That is the sort of evidence which we have been hearing and which we hope to continue to hear in the Select Committee.
I do not want to continue much longer, but the Select Committee on Home Affairs has been undertaking a serious and important study. I supported that study, together with Labour Members, because I felt that there should he an inquiry into the funding of political parties. I thought that it was time that we looked into the question of funding to see which way we should go. I supported that; I was perhaps the one member of my party who did so. I hoped that we would have a serious discussion and hear evidence that would be helpful and useful to us from academics, the parties and other interested people, so that we could produce a report that would be far better than the sort of charter that has been flung across the table by the Opposition. I hoped for a report that would reveal deep thought and have all-party support—a very good report that everyone would consider.
I am sorry to say that our Committee deliberations have been rather hijacked by Opposition members of the Committee. They have taken them as an opportunity to do exactly the same as we have seen them doing in the Chamber. There has been innuendo, sleaze, rumour and disgraceful behaviour and a refusal to believe people—the sort of behaviour that is not worthy of an hon. Member. This is a very sad day for us, because I really hoped for a good, worthy report.
I started off in the Committee leaning towards disclosure. I felt that it would be a good thing for political parties to disclose donations above a certain level. I was not sure what that should be; I wanted to hear evidence as to whether it should be £100, £500, £1,000 or £5,000. I did not know whether it should apply only to companies, or to individuals and companies. I wanted to hear the evidence and consider whether it was the right direction in which to go. I had an open mind, but I was leaning towards disclosure.
I have seen in the Chamber today and over the past few days and weeks what use is made of information. That information is used only to dig dirt, for sleaze and smears, and to behave dishonourably. And now I say that only over my dead body will I accept in the report a statement that there should be disclosure. That information is wanted for all the wrong reasons, not for the right ones.
It was my idea—whether it was a good or a bad one, I am not sure—that the Select Committee should consider the financing of political parties. At the time, the Conservative members affected boredom. One of them said how difficult it would be for the public to take us seriously if we wasted our time on this issue. But, after they had affected boredom for 40 minutes, it became absolutely clear that, far from being bored, they were riveted by the subject. One of them told me that they were afraid that we would start asking where their money came from.
I am sorry that that is the way that the inquiry has gone, because this has been a disappointing debate. I particularly regret the contribution of the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), and indeed that of the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby). I thought that they were disappointingly partisan. There is a bigger issue at stake if one is a democrat, and one or two speakers have touched upon it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said that our political culture was changing for the worse, and so it is. It is regrettable that, in our political life, money is now a greater feature of how a general election or by-election campaign is run, or how a party is funded. The more money that is required, the more dubious those resources become.
That is not a party political point. It affects all three main parties when they are in government. The Liberals, at least, are straightforward about it. Mention has been made today of the lavender list, and the name "Robert Maxwell" has been chucked around the Chamber. I do not think that that does the Labour party any credit. Why not be straightforward about it, because then people will start to take us seriously on the general principle that is at stake?
Any party in government is vulnerable to the charge that it is making decisions on the basis of vested interests. If the vested interests are secret, the party is even more vulnerable to that charge. It is a fact of life that one of the great mysteries of British politics is how the Conservative party is funded. It is a mystery not only to the British public at large, but also to most Conservative party members.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who is rightly agreeing with me, is one of the democrats in the House, and it is always a pleasure to find myself in agreement with him. I know that there are other hon. Gentlemen who believe that the present state of affairs cannot continue, because it is tainting the whole political process. We are all politicians and, whatever our party views, we have one thing in common: we care about how politicians are perceived outside the House.
During the course of this debate, I have been wondering whether members of the public listening to our deliberations today will feel better or worse about politicians and our political process. I am afraid that, after hearing all the speeches, with some honourable exceptions, they will feel worse, because the longer this kind of agonising goes on, the more our political process will be demeaned.
I will not get involved in trading the sort of insults that have been traded today. Quite enough has been said about who contributes what, and in what circumstances. I will not waste any time on that, but will merely draw the attention of the House to one or two principles that should be upheld in a democracy—and we all want to live in a democracy.
First, is it right in a democracy for any political party to be funded by donors whose names are secret, as are the amounts that they contribute? Powerful people always want to protect their interests; they do not do things out of the kindness of their hearts; they do them because they want influence. The only medicine for that is daylight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East quoted a United States Supreme Court judge. That is the best solution. The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West said that, after listening to today's deliberations, he had come to the conclusion that there should not be any disclosure. It is up to him how he justifies getting back on his own party political side. I was disappointed by that, because, as he said, he was one of those on the Committee who thought that it would be a good idea to investigate this subject. If he is concerned about the general effect of the political process, the answer is not more, but less, secrecy. That is surely the road down which most sensible people outside the House would expect us to be going.
The question of state aid has been raised. It was not one of my motives, when I made my suggestion to the Select Committee, that we should have state aid for political parties. Unlike other members of the Select Committee, I am not prepared to state my conclusions before I have heard the evidence, but I am so far unpersuaded that that is the solution to our problems. I agree with the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) that we should be concerned for the future rather than the past. Like him, I am prepared to draw a line in the sand, the jungle or wherever it happens to be, and look to the future.
There are one or two things on which there ought to be unanimity among democrats in the House and on the Committee. The first is that there must be proper disclosure of those who contribute to whatever political party.
I am the first to admit that the hon. Gentleman has conducted himself with great reasonableness during the inquiry into funding. Does he agree that it is a pity that the Opposition have chosen to have this debate today, before the Labour party has given its evidence to the Select Committee?
Would it not have been better for this debate, if it were to take place at all, to have taken place after we had heard from the Labour party's witnesses? The three main political parties would then have given their evidence, and we could then have reached conclusions and informed this debate rather better.
It might have been better, but the fact is that we are having this debate today. It has been prompted not so much by the Select Committee's deliberations as by the departure of Mr. Nadir to northern Cyprus. I do not have any influence over his timetable. We are having this debate today, so we should try to address the issues today. Disclosure is fundamental, and it is not a controversial issue in other democracies. One of the puzzling things is that issues that have been tremendously controversial here do not appear to be controversial in other countries.
The second principle is that company donations should be placed on a footing similar to that for donations from other organisations, such as trade unions. That point should not be controversial. I shall probably get myself into trouble somewhere for saying that I am not all that disappointed that a Conservative Government passed legislation that obliged trade unions to hold a ballot on political funds every 10 years. That does not give me much trouble, and I believe that it was a healthy move.
As it turned out—I have no doubt that it was not the Government's intention—it was healthy for the trade unions. The trade union leaders had to get out and about among their members, and justify the political funds. They did so successfully, to the extent that one or two trade unions that had not had a political fund voted to have one. We should be grateful to the Conservative party to that extent.
Another simple principle is that there should be a limit on the size of donations. In the United States—I hope that hon. Members will correct me if I have got it wrong—the limit is about $250. We can have a debate about what the size should be. Some favour limits of between £5,000 and £10,000. That is not realistic. I favour some limit, although I do not lay down precise figures. We all have different figures in our heads. However, there should be a limit on the size of donations.
I am sorry, I was wrong. In the United States, the figure of $250 applies to what should he disclosed. I thank the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood). The figure that must be disclosed should be about $250, although we shall need to debate exactly what it should be.
There should also be a limit on the size of donations, whether by individuals or organisations which, of course, would be more than $250. We can have a debate about what the figure should be.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) said—this point has been made in evidence to the Select Committee—that individuals should have a right to dispose of their properly taxed income as they please. I agree up to a point that individuals should have that right, but I believe that there is another right in a democracy. That right is for the electorate to know who is funding the organisations whose various programmes are contending for recognition. No absolute rights are involved, and one right has to be balanced against the other. Although we can argue about where to draw the line, a line should be drawn.
A point on which all democrats should be able to agree is that there should not be foreign donations. People who are not entitled to take part in our elections should not be allowed to contribute to the funding of one of the parties involved in political campaigning in elections. That is a simple principle which is readily accepted in other countries.
The Secretary of State for Employment said that the integrity of our system shone through, which was a surprising remark in light of the debate. Whatever else one can say about today's debate, one cannot say that it has shown up the integrity of our system. We have an opportunity to improve the integrity of our system and I want our system to be respected elsewhere in the world. Regrettably, that is not the case at the moment.
I shall be disappointed if our Select Committee divides on partisan lines on those simple points on which every democrat should agree. One objection that may be made is that, if the proposals are accepted, the amount coming into the main parties will go down. That is very possible. However, it may be a good thing rather than a bad thing for less money to be spent on the political process.
If the result of shedding daylight on the funding of our political system is that contributions go down, I for one as a democrat will be able to live with that. I believe that our political system will be healthier as a result.
I profoundly agree with some of the points made by previous speakers, such as the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson).
I also noted what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), my constituency neighbour and the chairman of the party, said. It was a robust defence and a necessary defence. It was important for me and, I suspect, for hundreds of thousands of Conservatives that he laid to rest some of the scandals, rumours and charges that have gone careering around our public life. My only comment is that it was a defence of the system as is. That is what is under challenge. I shall give a good reason why I think that it is profoundly unsatisfactory as is.
It is profoundly unsatisfactory to watch the Prime Minister of Great Britain go to an international conference in Copenhagen which is important for our interests and to see him, the representative of us all—we all wish for the well-being of our country in its external relations—being besieged by inquiries about the funding of the Conservative party. It was a massive distortion and a deflection from purpose in government.
I give the other instance. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment fell into saying "we the Conservative party". Those who sit on the Conservative Front Bench are the Government of the United Kingdom. They have to act in the national interest and, from time to time, they have to rise above the mere partisan exchanges into which we enter with such vigour and, sometimes, enjoyment across the Floor of the House. It is not right that a Minister should defend the fund-raising activities of the Conservative party of which I am a member. My right hon. Friend is Her Majesty's Secretary of State and that in itself shows the confusion in the public mind between the financing of a political party and the business of our country, as exemplified by the Government of our country.
There are matters of considerable principle behind this debate. Several hon. Members have identified the fact that we are discussing our public system. It is the only way in which, in a democracy, we can transmit our purpose through our institutions and through our Government. It is, therefore, the most basic principle that those institutions should be seen not to be corrupt in any way. I have used the expression, "like Caesar's wife"; like Caesar's wife, the Government should be above suspicion. When challenged on that point, I cannot think of any Caesar's wife who was above suspicion. In fact, they engaged in regicide as often as not, if I remember sufficiently my Suetonius. However, the principle is right. Governments should be above suspicion.
In the mass of charges and counter-charges, I, like every other hon. Member and certainly like every Conservative Member, wish to defend the integrity of my party. I am unable to defend it, because I cannot point to any published list of where the funds come from which would exorcise the malignity of the charges. I make that point as my principal purpose.
Political funding or contributions to funding are not, as the former Chancellor Lord Hailsham said, a matter merely of privity or the fact that we have a right to dispose of our money as we wish. I accept that it may be true of charities in general: charities such as the Red Cross and a number of others actively seek funds. The motives of the givers in all instances can be questionable. They may be honourable; many people give to charities in the hope of aggrandising themselves in the eyes of the community. The givers may subtly be trying to reach for honour and recognition. Many give for honourable reasons, but political parties are different because they are contending for the Government of the country. They therefore hold public policy decisions in their hands.
It is important that the public—that is you and I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and everyone here—do not think or cannot conclude that there is something essentially corrupt in the process. I appreciate that these are grand words, but our suspicious minds will always lead us to do just that. As long as donations are hidden and screened by the arguments that the right of privacy gives us the right to donate very large sums to political parties, there will always be a question mark. Public policy should dictate that large sums of money should be identifiable in the accounts of a party.
The wider question, which has been touched on today, is that of integrity in public life. As a Conservative, I have to say that a seediness has been perceived by Conservatives in my constituency. It is with some diffidence that I mention the members of the Conservative Front Bench. I mention them because at the heart of our system—as emphasised at the beginning of my remarks—is integrity in public life. I am not interested in private lives; we are all entitled to one. That integrity must be manifest in public life. I can only report to the House and to my party what my Conservative association and my constituents have identified.
There have been three Ministers of the Crown whose activities I cannot understand in the light of procedures for Ministers published by the Cabinet Office. I cannot understand a Minister of the Crown accepting a holiday financed by the head of a foreign state. I cannot understand a former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—now the Secretary of State for the Environment—accepting the gift of moneys towards his pond. When I was growing up, the sense of integrity in public life would have meant that an honourable man would have resigned. Perhaps I am wrong. He would not only have been out of the Cabinet but out of public life because the demonstration of the flame of integrity is the one trust that the public have.
If we become disillusioned with our political processes, they are worth nothing. Our cry should be that the integrity of the institutions of state is the defence of each one of us as individual citizens. We look to the officers of the law for fairness because therein lies our freedom. The confidence with which we can look to the officers of the Crown is the confidence of our state. We diminish ourselves, but, much more, we diminish those whom we represent.
This is a great country; it is a great democracy. Why are we trying to defend the status quo and yesterday when the world is swimming in an avalanche of—for all I know—the most profound lies? Why should we be diminished by that when we can call a halt to it today? The chairman of the Conservative party could say tomorrow that we will open our accounts. I hope that he will do so. We are a political party; we have battles to fight and causes to maintain. We could then say that a political party has to cut its coat according to its cloth—perhaps that is what we should be doing too.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) spoke of integrity in public life. It has come to my notice that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) misled the House this afternoon when referring to an article in Business Age. I have of course—
The right hon. Gentleman has inadvertently and possibly unwittingly misled the House by stating that the article recently published in Business Age was going to be the subject of a full retraction. I have given notice to the right hon. Gentleman through the Government Whip—[Interruption.] I am sorry for the interruption from the Government Whip. I am told that the editor of Business Age has issued a statement arising from what the right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon. It reads:
"Business Age has never at any stage intended to and will not he publishing a retraction of its story. The gentleman's statement was therefore quite untrue.
I should like to know from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether it is in order for the right hon. Gentleman, having not satisfied or informed himself of what the editor of Business Age was going to do, to have unwittingly misled the House by saying that the magazine was to issue a full retraction, quite apart from any minor corrections to do with any particular personality with which the magazine might deal.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We heard from a member of the Government Front Bench that there was no confirmation of the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). In fact, we have given to the Whips Office for communication to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) a copy of the statement from Business Age. The statement is on the magazine's letterhead and comes from Tom Rubython, the editor. It is quite categoric. I merely wish to place that on the record.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), especially in view of the sentiments he expressed. Some Conservative Members have called today's debate a silly season or sleazy debate and there have been such elements in it. However, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills raised the tone of the debate, which is much to his credit and that of the House.
I also agree with some of the points made by some Labour Members and by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who said that the motion and the amendment created a dilemma. It creates a dilemma for our party because we can agree with elements of both. I have not yet read the Labour party's charter for party political funding, so I am a little reluctant to give Labour a blank cheque. Basically, we support the principle of the disclosure of donations. I am not sure whether it should be carried as far as requiring parties to publish full accounts, but we believe that donations should be disclosed.
I confess that what I understand to be in the Labour party's charter causes us some embarrassment. I believe that the trip wire for disclosure is a donation in the region of £5,000. I have seen that figure in the public prints. That would cause the Ulster Unionist party serious embarrassment because I am not aware of our ever having received a donation of that order. No doubt the trip wire could be set at an appropriate figure so that we could disclose something.
The principle of disclosure is right. Conservative Members complained about sleaze, smears and allegations. The simple answer to the complaints is that, if there were disclosures, there could be no smears or innuendos. The Conservatives are suffering from self-inflicted wounds in that respect. Secrecy inflames or creates suspicion which could be dispelled.
I may not be fully informed about the niceties, so I say with some trepidation that the position of Conservative central office is somewhat anomalous and dangerous. The controversy attaches not to the money raised through associations, which comes through the national union, but to the direct payments to central office, which is an anomalous body.
The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield -Mr N. Fowler) described himself as the chairman of the Conservative party, but my understanding is that that is not his job. Instead the right hon. Gentleman is the chairman of central office—a position to which he was not elected but appointed. Central office has its origin in the private office of the Prime Minister and if we bear that fact in mind we see the danger for the Conservative party. If there is a suspicion regarding moneys going to what is in essence the Prime Minister's private office, that is getting close to home and it is fairly dangerous. I should have thought that for the good of the party it would be desirable to disclose the facts and to put the position of central office on a more regular basis. I know that there are movements within the Conservative party pressing for that to be done and for internal democracy within the party. I wish those movements well. It would be good for the health of the Conservative party and for the health of public and political life in this nation if there were some effective internal democracy.
As will be understood from the comments that I shall make later, I do not believe that one can separate the question of funding from the question of structure. The two are related. The line that the Conservatives have taken is simply to blame the Labour party and to say that it is just as bad, or worse, referring to its relationship with the unions. I am sure that Labour Members will acknowledge that there are anomalies in their relationship with the unions, too, which have given rise to some vulnerability.
I make my suggestion with trepidation, as I may not be aware of all the subtleties of the relationship, but I have often thought that there is a simple solution to the charges made and to the problems that the relationship with the unions creates for the Labour party. For historical reasons, that relationship is quite understandable. However, the legislation governing unions now contains the requirement for ballots on political funds and trade union members effectively have to opt whether to pay the political levy. Why does not the Labour party arrange that by saying that opting to pay the political levy is opting for membership of the party? Why do not all those persons simply pay the political levy as members of the party? The Labour party could work that idea through in detail. It would get rid of the problem of a union, or a person controlling a union, appearing to buy votes, because the votes would be the votes of real people who had opted, by paying the political levy, to join the party. That should solve the problem.
I cannot mention the political levy without mentioning what strikes me, as a Member representing a Northern Ireland constituency, as a serious anomaly. There are trade unionists in Northern Ireland, some of whom opt to pay the political levy and thereby help to finance the Labour party. Yet what does the Labour party do to those trade unionists who fund it? It bars them from membership. Is that creditable? I believe that by now the Labour party headquarters computers are programmed to eject immediately from the system any correspondence with the postcode BT, or automatically to generate a refusal if any such correspondence gets in. The Labour party takes people's money but refuses them membership. That is not creditable.
I notice that the Labour motion refers to contributions from persons overseas. The principle behind the reference is healthy, but I understand—I hope that hon. Members will correct me if I am wrong—that the Labour party maintains an organisation which people who live outside the United Kingdom can join to show their support for the principles of the party. No doubt such people pay a membership fee; there may or may not be a financial relationship. I believe that the membership of the support group, if I may call it that, is not limited to British nationals, but that anyone may join. That creates the anomaly whereby anybody in the world can support the Labour party—except 1·5 million citizens of the United Kingdom—
As I have said, we cannot separate funding from structure, but there is a serious point to be made about overseas support. I greatly regret that there is no Member in the Chamber who represents the Social Democratic and Labour party, because in that context we must mention the way in which that party not only receives but solicits overseas support. We know of the dinners held in Dublin to raise funds and the efforts made to raise funds from Irish Americans. Irish Americans from across the Atlantic are clearly persons overseas and money is raised from them. In the past the SDLP has accepted funding not only from individuals but from a body known as the National Democratic Foundation, which is closely linked to the United States Democratic party.
I believe that the SDLP received six-figure sums from the National Democratic Foundation, sums in excess of the total income of the Ulster Unionist party. In addition, the party received specialist assistance, training and expertise. Its members were regularly sent to the United States to be trained. That was all done by an element of the Democratic party and now that the party is in the White House that element is talking about sending special envoys to Northern Ireland. That is the degree of the intimate relationship between that element of the Democratic party and the SDLP.