Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he will not give way. I call Sir Norman Fowler.

Sir Norman Fowler : 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 and to the agents of the Governments and royal families. I hope that I have made that position absolutely clear.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler : No, I will not give way again.

There have also been other allegations made today notably, on television and radio programmes, by--

Mr. Campbell-Savours : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you will have heard, the right hon. Gentleman said that he would reply to me. He has not replied to two of the questions that I have asked--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. That is not a point of order.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : May we have a reply--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman knew full well when he rose to his feet that that was not a point of order. I call Sir Norman Fowler.

Column 206

Sir Norman Fowler : I have set out the position as clearly as I conceivably can. I certainly do not intend to give way to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) again. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I am trying to listen to the right hon. Gentleman, but his hon. Friends are not helping me to do so.

Sir Norman Fowler : 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.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : 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.

Mr. Thurnham : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not it wrong for Opposition Members to repeat untrue allegations under the privilege of the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : If it had been wrong, I would have ruled those hon. Members out of order.

Sir Norman Fowler : 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

Column 207

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.

Mr. Hoyle rose --

Sir Norman Fowler : 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.

Mr. Donald Anderson rose --

Sir Norman Fowler : 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 publolitical 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

Column 208

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--

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green) rose

Sir Norman Fowler : 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.

Mr. Mike O'Brien rose --

Sir Norman Fowler : 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

Column 209

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.

Column 210

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.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East) rose

Sir Norman Fowler : 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.

Mr. Dobson : 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.

Sir Norman Fowler : The hon. Gentleman once again shows his total lack of integrity. The allegation that he has just made is simply untrue.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) : It is true.

Sir Norman Fowler : 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.

Column 211

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.

Mr. Dobson : 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?

Sir Norman Fowler : 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.

Mrs. Beckett : 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.

Sir Norman Fowler : 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

Column 212

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. 6.15 pm

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : 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

Column 213

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

Column 214

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 be 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,

Column 215

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.

6.27 pm

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : 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

Column 216

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 reconside1- 9t"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

Next Section

  Home Page