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Column 597As the House will know, the motion provides for the revision of the amounts of money paid in support of the Opposition parties--which is perhaps ironic, given the circumstances of the past two days. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Thurrock has the grace to smile at that. This money has come to be known as Short money after the Labour Leader of the House who first instituted the payments in 1975.
The purpose of these payments is to assist Opposition parties in carrying out their essential parliamentary duties at Westminster. At the last review in 1988, the then Lord President, now Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords, carried out a thorough review of the workings of these funds and introduced new arrangements for accountability. My proposals are rather less sweeping. I seek not to review further the scope or purpose of the main Short money, but merely to update the sums paid. I think that the principle of these payments is both accepted and well established.
It has been customary to review Short money in the early part of each Parliament. The current formula was agreed in 1988 and provides that Opposition parties should receive £2,550 a year for each seat gained at a general election, and a further £5.10 for every 200 votes cast for the party. A party is, for this purpose, defined as having at least two Members of Parliament and having received at least 150, 000 votes at the general election.
Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford) : I am somewhat confused about the votes criterion. The Liberal Democrat party may have had more than two hon. Members elected, but each of its candidates said something different to each elector in his constituency, so does the party qualify for the money, and if so, how should it be paid, given the disparity among its members?
The proposals have three elements, which are a good deal simpler in principle than the lengthy motion would imply. They are, first, that the two elements of the formula should be uplifted by 35 per cent. to allow for inflation since the last settlement in 1988. Secondly, from 1994 onwards, Short payments should be inceased every April by reference to the retail prices index. Thirdly--an entirely new element--a fund of £100,000 should be established for Opposition travel in connection with Front-Bench duties, to be distributed on the same basis as Short money and uprated in the same way. On the main Short money, the Government propose an uplift of 35 per cent. to take account of inflation since the last settlement and to take effect from 1 April 1993. From 1 April 1994, therefore, taking account of the regular review proposals that I have introduced, the formula's two elements will be updated annually by reference to the retail prices index.
This reflects the view that I have held for some years--it was reflected also in my proposition to the House last night on Members' pay--that it is much more sensible to have a regular uprating mechanism for payments of this kind than to leave them for several years and then to have what looks like a large increase but actually is not so large, given what has happened in the intervening period. Whatever views people may have of these payments, I
Column 598hope that it will be generally agreed that it is sensible to have a regular mechanism to keep them reasonably up to date.
The new element is the establishment of a separate fund of £100,000 for Opposition travel, to be distributed pro rata to Short money among Opposition parties. As with the main Short money, the resulting figures are maximums for expenditure incurred. In the previous Parliament the Rowntree trust, believing--it has proved, rightly--that there was a gap in our provision in this area, undertook an experimental project, not using public money, in which limited grants were made in support of Opposition travel for legitimate parliamentary purposes. Approaches from the trust and discussions with Opposition leaders have convinced the Government that there is a genuine case for provision of this kind, recognising the growing need for more Opposition spokesmen to travel in the United Kingdom and Europe, and the needs of their spokesmen on foreign affairs, defence and overseas development to travel if they are to do the job that our system expects of them--regardless of whether we always like what they say.
The provision for annual uprating of the travel fund will be on the same basis as Short itself--by reference to the RPI in April of each year. Arrangements for claiming and accounting will be in line with those already in place for Short money. The amount available for overseas travel by Select Committees is much larger than this fund, running at about £600,000 a year.
Those are the bare bones of the proposals. I shall not attempt to run through all the details of the motion, except to point to one detail that I know has given rise to some confusion. In paragraph 1(3), the motion refers to a period of 15 months from 1 January 1993 to 31 March 1994 and to amounts in the formula that do not correspond to the percentages that I have quoted. The figures £4,030 and £8.16 comprise 12 months at the revised rate for each figure, plus three months at the old rate. The effect is to change the start of the accounting year from 1 January to 1 April and to provide amounts for the resulting 15 month period to correspond with the proposals. The proposals come well over a year after the start of the Parliament and are the product of extensive discussions through the usual channels. I hope that they will be welcomed by representatives of those channels as giving them properly provided support in our system for the work of Opposition parties. I also hope that the mechanism that I have suggested to the House will mean that we will not need to return to the issue in the near future. I commend the motion to the House.
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South) In March 1974, the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson said"No Government have anything to gain, and certainly the country has nothing to gain, from Opposition parties lacking the necessary facilities, financial and otherwise, for doing their job in the House."-- [ Official Report , 12 March 1974 ; Vol. 870 c. 72.] As Prime Minister, he was proposing the funds that we are presently discussing.
The Rowntree Trust had made funds available then for a pilot project to help the Opposition with the costs of carrying out their parliamentary functions--an initiative which led to those whose posts were funded by that means to be known in Labour party circles as chocolate soldiers.
Column 599The spokesmen for the Opposition at that time, now Lord Prior, in response to the Prime Minister's statement, drew attention to the fact that
"one of the benefits of the change in Government in recent years"
a benefit that is rather overdue at present--
"is that it has brought to the notice of Governments the very great difficulties from which Oppositions suffer, particularly Shadow Ministers." --[ Official Report , 29 July 1974 ; Vol. 878, c. 33.] From the onset of the scheme, some hon. Members have legitimately objected. Some clearly confused it with the separate principle of state funding for political parties, as previous debates show. My party and I support such funding for exactly the reasons that led in the first place to Members of Parliament and their staff receiving a salary from the taxpayer. Without such funding, membership of the House would be restricted to those with private wealth or to those who have attracted financial support on a personal basis from others with wealth and power. I repeat, we are not discussing the principle of public funds for political duties--not state aid for political parties as discussed by the Houghton committee and the Hansard Society--but support for some of the parliamentary work of the Opposition.
The idea of providing such funding has been repeatedly endorsed by the Top Salaries Review Body in its examination of the financial support provided by Members of Parliament. As long ago as the 1987 Parliament, it expressed the view that it should be "regularly updated" and it pointed out that at that time the support declined in value in relation to individual allowances for all MPs.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that money for Opposition parties was not necessarily such a revolutionary step, bearing in mind that candidates are subsidised for general election campaigning and that many hon. Members who are opposed to state funding of Opposition parties, as they are opposed to state funding generally, do not, I notice, object when they are subsidised as candidates at a general election when they receive facilities for which they would otherwise have to pay? Is not there an apparent element of hypocrisy in standing up and denouncing the subject of this debate?
Mrs. Beckett : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that sometimes people fail to see such subjects in the round and where they are being inconsistent in their attitude to one thing rather than another. I take the point of my hon. Friend that one such inconsistency is the way in which all hon. Members benefit from such funding.
The Top Salaries Review Body suggested that there should be regular updating of the support and that it should be carried out on what it calls a realistic assessment of need. By drawing the analogy between the funding received by every Member of Parliament for their office costs and their staff and the way in which the TSRB support for the concept of separate Short money was expressed, it addressed another point that has been made in previous debates.
I refer especially to a notion that has found favour with Government Back Benchers occasionally in the past--that, as the office costs allowance has been increased for all Members, the need for separate funding for the parliamentary work of the Opposition has been eroded or removed. That view is clearly rejected by the TSRB, as it
Column 600has regularly been rejected when it has assessed the enormous extra work load that is carried by Opposition Front- Bench spokesmen and their staff.
n important issue that still has validity, which the settlement, whatever its merits, fails to address. The settlement before the House derives its validity, as the Lord President correctly pointed out, from the fact that it recognises the movement of inflation over the past six years since the 1987 settlement. The settlement also addresses--for which we are grateful to the Lord President--the thorny issue of the future movement of inflation, by linking the settlement to the retail prices index.
As there is so little public knowledge and the correspondence that Front- Bench spokesmen receive from the public makes it plain how little knowledge exists outside this place--and, often, not very much within it--about the background against which the settlement has been awarded, it is right to place one or two facts on the record for the benefit not only of hon. Members but of students of our affairs. As the Lord President said, the settlement in cash terms increases the figure awarded in 1987 by 35 per cent. Since 1987, the office costs allowance paid to all Members of Parliament has increased in cash terms by 87.5 per cent. Since 1987, the costs of the Prime Minister's office have just about doubled in cash terms. In that figure, the increase for other costs--presumably equipment, travel, employment costs and other overheads--has more than doubled. The increases in salaries was less, at a mere 87 per cent.--closely analogous with the figure for the office costs allowance. The final and perhaps the most significant myth, which previous debates have shown is also cherished by Government Back Benchers, is that only the Opposition draw taxpayers' money to fund parliamentary advisers and staff and their work. The Government also employ political advisers--a move which I wholeheartedly endorse. It is right that political advice and political work should be carried out by political staff and not by the civil service. The Government say that they are not able to tell us the overall cost of employing some 40 members of staff in those capacities to supplement the work of civil service staff and advisers. However, we know that the bill for their salaries alone has also about doubled since 1987. In 1993, that bill will amount to £1.37 million, slightly more than this settlement provides for the entire costs of the Labour Opposition.
On the basis of the Prime Minister's office, where salaries represent less than a third of overall costs, it would appear that the proper support services provided for the Front Bench of the Conservative party cost the taxpayer between £4 million and £5 million, as opposed to the £1.33 million that the settlement provides for the Labour Front Bench.
Part of the unquantified costs of the Government will be the cost of travel and accommodation properly met for advisers accompanying their Ministers on Government business in the European Community and overseas. In the previous Parliament, as the Lord President identified, funding for one visit a year to the institutions of the Community was provided for the first time to every Back Bencher. The same provision was made available to the Opposition Front Bench, but no further such provision.
Column 601Also in the previous Parliament, as the right hon. Gentleman was courteous enough to acknowledge, the Rowntree Trust offered the Opposition a small travel fund to help defray such extra costs. The trust did so with the explicit recommendation that such a facility should be taken up by the Government as a proper charge on public funds. I pay tribute to the Lord President for his work in persuading his colleagues to accept that notion. The Rowntree Trust said in its letter to him that it was right for such funds to be provided so that Opposition Front Benchers
"were not beholden in any respect because the costs were not borne by vested interests in the form of foreign governments and/or professional lobbyists."
It said that the matter was important, and I share that view. The settlement enshrined in the order does not offer the Opposition any real opportunity, except in the area of travel costs, to expand and improve services to the official Opposition. We certainly cannot match the improvement in services to the governing party and to Back Benchers that have been supplied since 1987, but the settlement will at least allow us to maintain the service that we currently provide. That is particularly important because, as the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen)--I still think of him as the hon. Member for Oswestry--a former Leader of the House, identified recently in an article in The Guardian, the role of the Executive has become more and more powerful. All hon. Members are having greater and greater difficulty in getting answers to parliamentary questions. Answers that we used to get from Ministers tend to come from agencies, and Ministers seem increasingly reluctant to answer even those questions that they accept as being valid to them. That places considerable difficulties in the path of all hon. Members, and especially those whose role it is to shadow and scrutinise the movement of Government policy.
I shall give my last couple of examples of what the standstill in our parliamentary funding means. I appreciate that we are at least able to stand still and not to go backwards. For the Leader of the Opposition, when he was shadow Chancellor, we were able to provide from public funds money to employ one adviser to shadow the Treasury and the Chancellor's political and other advisers. For the shadow Foreign Secretary, we were able to provide from public funds money to employ one adviser to shadow the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Foreign Secretary's political and other advisers. I could go through the Departments to show that the position is the same for all of them, but I shall not.
For Opposition Front Benchers who match--in my view they over-match--the parliamentary work of Ministers of State and Under-Secretaries in, say, the Department of Health, which alone employs 12 press officers, we are able to provide from public funds, nothing. For Opposition Front Benchers who match the work of Ministers of State and Under-Secretaries in all the other Departments of State, we are able to provide from public funds, nothing. In all those Departments that my colleagues shadow, thousands of civil servants back up the work of their Ministers every day, and we parliamentarians with our very few staff match them every day. We appreciate the
Column 602work of the Lord President in presenting this settlement to the House, but I know which party in this place gives value for taxpayers' funds.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) : I appreciate that, on the 239th day of this Session, hon. Members will not wish me to speak for too long. I shall endeavour to puncture in the gentlest way the congratulatory bonhomie between Front Benchers on this subject. We are debating the use of public money, and we are entitled to examine a little more closely how it is used.
The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) was concerned that the official Opposition, and I dare say the Liberal Democrats, were underfunded and were therefore not able to give as good a service as they would like to the constitution. The right hon. Lady did not need the assistance of Short money to prepare her speech. She had only to ask her PPS to go to the Library, or she could have gone herself, to pick up the document that I have here.
Opposition parties and all Back Benchers have the advantage of the Library and House of Commons research facilities. Hon. Members who are sufficiently interested to check tomorrow's Hansard will find that the right hon. Lady quoted almost verbatim great chunks from the House of Commons research document.
Mrs. Beckett : I used two quotes from Hansard which are contained in that document. If the hon. Gentleman has read that document, perhaps he will tell me where it contains the rest of the material that I used about funding that the Conservative party receives from the state. If he can show me that or any of the rest of the material that I used, I shall be grateful to him.
I should like to remind the House of the original purpose of the Short money. As the right hon. Lady has done us the courtesy of quoting from Hansard, as quoted in the Library research document, I need not refer to those passages again, save to say that it was Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, the former leader of the Labour party, who as Prime Minister set out in Hansard of 12 March 1974, vol. 870, column 47, as the right hon. Lady has just done, the purpose of Short money, although it was not called Short money at that time. The right hon. Lady also quoted from speeches by Edward Short, now Lord Glenamara, who also set out the purposes for which Short money was to be used.
There is a need for a properly funded Opposition set-up, and that is not in dispute between any of the parties. It is one thing to be in government, but it is another to make sure that the Government justify themselves, and if the Government are to be tested, the Opposition parties must be ready and armed in intellect, research documents and so on. [Interruption.] I note that Opposition Members are concerned about their ability to oppose the Government. Although there is no dispute about the need for proper funding for parties, the public at large are entitled to know whether they are getting value for money. Large sums are involved. Reference to this excellent document prepared by the Library shows the amount to which the Opposition are entitled under the new uprating system. It may be of interest to many people outside to know that, in 1992, the
Column 603Labour party received just under £1 million in Short money. The amount was £946,250. I do not know how many hospitals could have been--
The 15 months ending March 1994 will bring to the Labour party £1, 577,000. For the year of 1994-95, it will get £1,331,000.
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Does my hon. Friend realise that those sums are about what an average American Senator receives for his personal staff? Does he really think that it is wholly unreasonable that the party in opposition--whichever party--should have something a little in excess of that?
Mr. Garnier : I am sorry if I have confused my hon. Friend. What is at issue is not the principle that the Opposition should have some money to do the job required of a loyal Opposition, but whether the public are getting good value for the huge sums of money distributed to them. The sum of £1,577,000 over 15 months is a lot of money in anyone's book, whether one is an American senator or a British Member of Parliament.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) : I must have misheard my hon. Friend, but I thought from the figures that he gave that the Opposition parties were to get a rise of 50 per cent. over last year, which seems rather generous in view of the other settlements in the public sector. Perhaps he can correct me.
Mr. Garnier : My hon. Friend may have misheard me. Let me repeat the figures so that he gets them on board. For the year 1992-93, the Labour party received £946,250 in Short money. Under the new proposals, over the 15 months ending March 1994, the figure will be £1,577,344 and, for 1994-95, it will be £1,331,173.
The Labour party is not alone in receiving Short money. The Liberal Democrats, who I am glad to see will be able to speak with one voice tonight as only one member of that party is here, received in 1992 just under £200,000--£199,420. In the 15-month period ending 1994, they will get £326,384 and then on an annualised basis for 1994-95, they will get £275,536.
I am as delighted as anyone that the Opposition parties should now have access to travel funds. However, I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House whether that will enable the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) to charge to the public purse his Cobbett's rural rides, or whether that cost will be borne by him personally or by the funds of the Liberal Democrats.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : Does the hon. Gentleman recall the one occasion on which I spoke to him? He was seeking a pair so that he could attend a court case in the Caribbean. Does he think that it is appropriate for him to preach about value for money when he is not a full- time Member of Parliament, given that he was pursuing another profession during the debates on the Maastricht Bill?
Mr. Garnier : The hon. Gentleman demonstrates the point that I am trying to make. Value for money is everything. The case that I was hoping to get to, but could not, was not in the Caribbean. The new proposals under clause 4(b) make it clear that the accounts have to be properly audited by a professional auditor, as has always been the case. That is good, but to what extent must there be detail in the audited reports presented to Parliament and the regulatory parliamentary authorities? Would it be permissible for the Opposition simply to say, "Opposition work" or "Work of the Shadow Cabinet"?
Mr. Garnier : Indeed, or in the courts. I believe that Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen work in the courts. The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) is a regular attender at the courts as a barrister when he is not working terribly hard on behalf of the Labour party. Whether the hon. Member who represents the other bit of Brent goes to court, I have no idea, but I will leave him to deal with that himself.
I am concerned that, for example, on page 15 of the House of Commons Library brief, which is available free to all hon. Members without the use of Short money, reference is made to the money provided to the Labour party. The Shadow cabinet received 36.5 per cent. of the Short money going to the Labour party, the parliamentary Labour party staff 33.3 per cent., and the leader 21.2 per cent.
Mr. Garnier : Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am deeply grateful to you. May I perhaps also, when discussing value for money, ask whether the public realise exactly what the official Opposition do when they seek apparently to oppose Her Majesty's Government. Let us take the example of last night's activities and ask Members of the House whether they appreciate exactly what was going on and whether the public are getting good value for the taxpayers' money. I understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am sure that you will deprecate it as much as I do, that last night, during the course of the various debates--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that we are principally dealing with a motion about updating of funds. While it is acceptable to make allusions to the scope and purpose, I do not think that we can really go into details of events that are in the past.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am not sure whether you or the public are aware that the Short-funded Opposition parties, both Labour and Liberals, blocked the doors to the voting Lobby last night. Is that a new definition of the block vote?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Hon. Members must be aware that the Chair is well aware of what happened in all parts of the House, but those matters took place yesterday. We are not here to discuss them this evening.
Mr. Garnier : I am concerned that the public at large are not aware of the sums of money that are devoted to the Opposition parties and the way in which the Opposition abuse the money that they are getting by abusing the procedures of the House. If the public knew exactly what the Labour and Liberal parties did with the money and how they spent their time, they would wish us to take a much closer look at the way in which public moneys are spent on them.
Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North) : My hon. Friend seemed to be saying a moment ago that the purpose of the Short money was thoughtful research by Opposition parties. Does he agree that not many members of the public would think that the sort of thoughtful research that they might be doing was into how to lock a lavatory from the outside so that the Serjeant at Arms could not get in?
Mr. Garnier : I am sure that my hon. Friend will have heard what the Deputy Speaker said about yesterday's events and I will not be drawn down that passage--if I might so call it--again. I would ask the House to bear in mind before they pass this resolution, with or without a vote, that the public are entitled--
Mrs. Beckett : I was hoping that before the hon. Gentleman left this most interesting discussion, he would deal with another important fact that perhaps he will not find in his free copy of the document from the Library, which is how we get value for money from the costs of the Prime Minister's office, which are now running at £10.7 million a year.
Mr. Garnier : As I recall, the right hon. Lady has had to stand in for the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) on a number of occasions during Prime Minister's Question Time. She has never used that opportunity to ask that question. I should have thought that that question would have been better asked on such an occasion than of me this evening.
I know that a great many Members of the House wish to speak on this most important matter this evening and I will not detain the House for very much longer. Suffice it to say that the public are entitled to expect the Members of the House to consider rather more carefully the way in which money is provided by the taxpayers for the Opposition parties, and to ensure that the money is properly spent and accounted for in a public fashion. Then, at a general election, if the Opposition are right when they say that they give good value for money as an Opposition, the public will have the opportunity to keep them in opposition so that they continue to give good value for money.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : I had seen the brief before, but I had never heard the advocate. The brief might have been worth something, but I do not think that the person to whom it was given would get paid a lot for that performance. [ Hon. Members :-- "Not even in the Caribbean."] Not anywhere. I do not know whether the electors of Harborough would think that it was great value for money either.
Column 606I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) is not here. He is the relevant usual channel for the Liberal Democrats and the other minority parties. He would be here were it not for the fact that, after the most recent meeting of our parliamentary party, which was extremely abstemious and held in the precincts of this place, he was struck by something like food poisoning and has not been around, apart from voting yesterday. He sends his apologies and I trust that the Leader of the House and the deputy leader of the Labour party will understand. We are debating these matters now because we did not index-link Short money in 1987. Had we index-linked Short money in the same way as we have now linked other payments concerning Members' pay, we should not have had to return to it today.
The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who intervened a few minutes ago, clearly was not present for the speech by the Leader of the House. We are discussing the first increase since 1987. It reflects the changes in the size of the Opposition parties. The amount that parties get reflects their size in the House. If the Labour party gets more this time, it is because it has a larger number of Members in the House. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) seems to have some obsession about Liberal Democrats.
It has also taken a long time for a settlement to be reached. That is regrettable : it has been a long parliamentary Session since last summer and it has taken until now to agree.
All those who understand democracy in Britain agree that there should be funding for the work of Opposition parties in this place. I should stress to the hon. Member for Harborough and his colleagues that the system was introduced by the Labour party when it was in government, and the Conservative party was the first to benefit from it as the then Opposition. It may not be long before Conservative Members are in need of it again, and they will be grateful that we have passed this motion tonight.
It is far better to have this system than what the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) rightly called the chocolate soldiers precedent. The Rowntree Trust helped us out, but that is not the proper way to fund a political system.
It is also a completely different issue from either the state funding of parties or of members. It is so that political parties in this place can have some collective specialist ability to do their job. It does not fund more than a single figure number of staff for my party. There are about seven or eight paid staff and some equipment to serve the whole panoply of Departments for those of us who have parliamentary spokesmanship jobs. I shadow seven or eight Ministers in this place. [Laughter.] That is true, as there are about 100 Ministers. Many of us fund research for
Column 607that from our own office costs allowance, topped up considerably from our salaries, in my case for every year in 10 years. The right hon. Lady was right to say that the bill which the Government charge the taxpayer both in terms of the conventional running of the Prime Minister's office, the press officers--hundreds of them for all Departments--the civil service and now the political advisers runs into seven-figure sums. The total figure for the largest Opposition party, at something over £1 million, is a relatively modest contribution.
Let me remind the House and anybody who reads this hereafter that we are debating the measure on the basis of the Government getting millions and millions of pounds of public money when at the last election they got 41.9 per cent. of popular support, with the Labour party getting more than one third or 34 per cent. of the vote and getting only the Short money figure that the hon. Lady enumerated. My colleagues and I had 17.8 per cent. of the vote and will receive about £300,000 for the entire year. Five other parties, which have not yet been mentioned, also benefit from the order--the two nationalist and three Irish parties. They receive funding commensurate with their size and with the votes cast.
The last justification is that increasingly we have a more difficult job to do. European and domestic legislation is more technical. I accept that the Library service does an extremely good job, and I am on record as paying tribute to it. However, at short notice it often cannot respond to demands to provide information necessary to a political party.
I pay tribute to the Leader of the House, who has been helpful, courteous and efficient throughout. His has been a difficult job in defending the interests of the House when there has been such pressure on him from both the Treasury and his colleagues. It is a tight public expenditure round and the settlement is fair. We all owe much to the right hon. Gentleman--and I hope Conservative Members realise it--for providing a settlement which, from now on, will look after hon. Members in their official duties within their parties. It will do so in a fair and reasonable way and without the need to return to the House for a further order.
The postscript is that the travel fund is hardly an enormous sum, given the duty on political parties to keep up with the responsibilities of Government and Parliament.
The country expects us to be well informed and to do our job properly. The motion is reasonable and fair. It is also modest. It will ensure that we do our job better and serve the nation better in the days ahead.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford) : I shall not detain the House for long, but there are a couple of points that I wish to raise. I do not want to go into the detail of whether any funding should be given to Opposition parties to pursue their duties. I accept that, to some extent, there may be some requirement for that. However, I do not always understand why. One element of the fund is for research and I accept that there may be some need to find out a little about what is going on--but to what extent? What is the research for? I shall return to that matter in a moment.
Another element of funding is for travel. I wonder what the Opposition parties do when they go to other countries. What do they talk about? There used to be a convention that, when overseas, Opposition Members did not talk
Column 608about how rotten the Government were. That convention has now been broken. Perhaps we should link to any funding a requirement that Opposition Members are a little more delicate in what they say about this great Government of ours. I think that that would be a fair requirement. I do not benefit too much from overseas travel at the moment, probably for reasons to do with the Maastricht debate. I suspect that I will not benefit for some time.
I want to comment on the transparency of the whole matter. I am concerned about what happens to some of the funding for research, which is a fairly loose word. I accept that if the funding is applied directly to research in matters to do with the House, it is reasonable to provide such funding. However, I am concerned that some of the money might find its way outside the House to party organisations.
My borough, Waltham Forest, is Labour-controlled, and I am greatly opposed to its policies. I should not want some of the funding to find its way to that council. At a recent council meeting, there was a clash about the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act--legislation recently passed by the House. In particular, there were statements of objection that turned into a downright refusal to implement legislation that is on the statute book. One councillor said about the requirement to check whether people are in this country illegally :
"I'm not going to grass-up people for being illegal immigrants if they choose to live here."
It is quite clear from the Asylum Bill, which we passed and in which the Opposition were involved, that this is something they dare not do.