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31 Jan 1996 : Column 1001

Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will have noticed that question No. 175 appears on the Order Paper today in the name of the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw). The question appears to have been placed on the Order Paper to elicit the result of the inquiry to which the question refers. This is a matter of immense importance that should have been dealt with either by a statement to the House or by an oral answer from the Secretary of State for Scotland. All Scottish Members are here and, while we have plenty to do, we could hear the answer to that question orally. Is there a procedure whereby that question can be answered now so that we can debate the matter now?

Madam Speaker: There is no procedure whereby the hon. Member can secure an oral answer to that question. I have not heard that any Minister is seeking to answer it orally or to make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I rise to draw your attention to the fact that the European Commissioner for Transport has today approved the expenditure of £440 million of public funds in aid to the state airline of Spain, Iberia. This will have a damaging impact on UK airlines. Is there any way in which the House can debate this matter, because British taxpayers' money will be used to damage British interests?

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman may like to raise the matter with the Leader of the House during Business Questions if he is seeking a debate on this or other matters.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It has been widely reported today that senior judges--including a former Master of the Rolls--have criticised the Home Secretary for playing politics with the administration of justice. Given the gravity of these accusations, has the Home Secretary indicated to you whether he intends to come and give an explanation to the House?

Madam Speaker: No. As I said earlier, I have not heard from any Minister that we will be having a statement today on any of those issues.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North): Subsequent to the point of order of my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg), Madam Speaker--

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Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman and the House know that once a point of order has been dealt with, it must rest there. I have given my answer to that point of order.

Mr. Wilson: It is a different point of order.

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman said that it related to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth. He cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) might like think about a different point of order while I deal with the hon. Member for Linlithgow.

Mr. Dalyell: While it is quite right, Madam Speaker, to say that there is no procedure available in such cases, used there not to be a convention that--at least as a courtesy to the House--Ministers who knew that controversial statements were due to be made placed them in the Library at two o'clock at the latest?

Madam Speaker: That is a decision for Ministers to make, not one for the Speaker.

Mr. Wilson rose--

Madam Speaker: Is it a different point of order?

Mr. Wilson: Yes, Madam Speaker. I used the word "subsequent" in a purely chronological sense.

The question on the Order Paper refers to a specific local authority. I was under the impression that, according to a convention of the House, any such specific reference should be made by an hon. Member representing the area concerned. The fact that the question was tabled by the hon. Member for Dover--

Madam Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order for me. I think that the House knows the answer to that one.


Protection of Privacy

Sir Patrick Cormack presented a Bill to make it an offence to sell or to buy tapes or transcripts of private conversations otherwise than with the consent of both parties; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 14 February and to be printed. [Bill 50.]

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Regulation of Funding of Political Parties

3.35 pm

Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West): I beg to move,

The Bill would require the disclosure of the source of donations, prohibit donations from overseas sources and require the publication of accounts.

Once again, the funding of political parties is on the agenda, put there by no less a person than the Prime Minister. Only last Thursday, at Prime Minister's Question Time, he raised the question of Labour party funding when he said:

He was quite right: we do all know.

The Prime Minister seems very keen to publicise the source of funding of the Labour party--and why not? It is no secret. Party accounts make it quite clear, and the law makes strict provision with regard to the operation of trade union political funds. Unfortunately, no such transparency applies to the funding of the Tory party. Shrouded in mystery and obscurity, a host of secretive companies and organisations were created after the war to funnel secret loot into the Tory party, and our Prime Minister seems to want to keep it that way. What a perfect example of saying one thing and doing another.

The Bill is a simple measure. It has three main aims--to prohibit donations from foreign nationals not normally resident in this country and from overseas companies and Governments; to ensure the recording and publication of donations above a certain limit--I am not tied to a particular figure, but the limit would probably be about £1,000; and to require political parties to publish full income and expenditure accounts in the same way as companies and trade unions.

The issue is so unremarkable that in 1949 the House passed a motion requiring parties to publish accounts. Unfortunately, it has not yet been properly activated by the Tory party. We know that the matter is of considerable concern not just to Opposition Members but to many members and supporters of the Tory party. It may also be of interest to those who do their business with the Royal Bank of Scotland, which seems to have allowed the Tory party a huge overdraft--at one stage hitting nearly £16 million. My Scottish colleagues may wonder whether small businesses that bank with the Royal Bank of Scotland receive such helpful treatment if they encounter cash-flow crises in their day-to-day affairs.

Publication might also help the Prime Minister, who was very confused about the sources of Tory funding a couple of years ago. He now ducks questions about the use of Downing street for Tory party functions. I have here an invitation to the winter ball in aid of Conservative party marginal seats, which states:

The Prime Minister has even less idea of what is going on around the country. When I raised the point with him at Question Time on 19 October 1993, he said that he must let me into a secret:

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One wonders how much wine and cheese the Tories stuffed into that fugitive from justice, Asil Nadir, who, as they have now admitted, donated more than £400,000. One wonders whether they will pay that money back to the unfortunate people who lost heavily in the crash of Polly Peck. One also wonders why they could not confirm the donation immediately, and why they were careless enough to dump the records of donations so that they were unable to provide the receiver with facts and figures. And one must wonder whether they will repay the money donated by ex-Nissan boss Octav Botnar, who is currently hiding in Switzerland to evade the attentions of the Inland Revenue. What about Mr. Virani--another heavy donator to Tory funds who ended up inside? Who are the real villains' friends here--Botnar, Virani and Nadir?

There might also be concern as to how much foreign business men, particularly Greek shipowners, have donated. We could then match the figure with the amount lost to the Treasury each year through the tax loophole that benefits them--foreign domicile tax status. It is an interesting provision and such an unusual arrangement that we are one of only four countries in western Europe to have it. The others are Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Channel Islands, which are all well-known tax havens.

It would also be instructive to find out how much money has come from Hong Kong. It appears that the Tories have still not shaken off that habit. Even this year, it is reported that the Foreign Secretary attended fund-raising meetings during his recent visit, even though one presumes that his trip to Hong Kong was funded by the British taxpayer. One wonders whether, following the deterioration of relations between China and Britain, Hong Kong business men were as generous with their donations as they have been, but that will not stop that lot trying to get money from them.

What is remarkable is that legislation forbidding foreign donations has been in place in the United States, Germany, Canada and other countries for some years and is accepted as normal. The British public have a right to know whether one of the main political parties is in hock to foreign business men, companies or, indeed, countries.

The publication of donations was introduced a number of years ago in the United States, which was followed by other countries, including Australia. It does not seem to provide any particular difficulties for them. Is not it surprising that the Conservatives are so keen to invoke the right to silence in this case? Of course, they might be following the precept that they chant regularly from the Dispatch Box that, "Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear." Perhaps they are concerned that people might detect--how can I put it delicately--a strong statistical correlation between donations to the Tory party and the provision of knighthoods, peerages, and now, places on quangos, let alone ministerial access for companies.

That highlights the problem that the Tories face. They are kept together only by their monopoly of patronage through honours, quangos and political favours. They are a narrow oligarchy clinging to central state power, propped up by a few high-spending companies and individuals and by foreign interests. More and more, their previous supporters in industry and construction are deserting them, as they realise the harm that is being done to their businesses by Government policy.

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Even Lord McAlpine, the previous treasurer of the Tory party, said only this week that the construction industry must

Even that industry is deserting in the face of the Government's actions. Frankly, the Conservative party is knackered.

It was most instructive to watch the programme on Tory wives the other month. Look at what happened when they held constituency functions. Nearly all the participants were pensioners. That graphically illustrated what has been reported in the press, particularly The Daily Telegraph--that the Tory party is an elderly and aging party with an average age of 60. New blood is not coming into the party. Lots of those who stay do so only to belong to Conservative clubs, which reputedly have the best snooker tables. The Young Conservatives, which was once the largest youth movement in Europe outside the Komsomol, is down to 5,000 members and half of them are barmy. That is why the Tory party has had to cancel its youth conference. Meanwhile, the young Labour movement is at 25,000 and roaring ahead.

At councillor and Member of the European Parliament levels, Tory representatives are becoming an endangered species. That is why the Tories have to seek out and cover up the supply of dodgy money. The Bill is aimed at cleaning up the financing of British politics and ensuring that British parties are not up for sale. It would be considered normal in our fellow democracies and will be considered common sense by the voters of this country and I commend it to the House.

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