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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will be well aware of the convention in the House that, when new Members make their maiden speech, it is customary to hear those speeches in silence. Perhaps a similar convention could be observed for the large number of Members who wish to make their valedictory speeches before their retirement. Many of our colleagues are at that interesting age, poised on the cusp between the recent arrival of wisdom and the future onset of senile dementia, and may therefore have a number of things to get off their chest under the privilege of silence. If you could rule that such a convention be observed, I am sure that it would benefit the collective wisdom of the House.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. [Hon. Members: "Senile dementia."] A long time ahead yet. May I assure you, Madam Speaker, that most of us in the House who believe in speech-making and interruptions will not accept silence in our valedictory speeches. The more we are heckled and interrupted, the more the House and the Members will enjoy it.

Madam Speaker: May I respond to the original point of order. If I could distinguish between the voluntary and the involuntary valedictory speeches, I might go along with the suggestion.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the rather personal nature of Question 21, involving Mr. Perry Miller and Mr. John Kennedy and the book "Sleaze", has the Foreign Secretary made any request that his Ministers should answer the question, in order to clarify the rather difficult statements that are made in the book?

Madam Speaker: I fear that the hon. Gentleman is trying to extend Foreign Office Questions. I noticed the question that he had tabled on the matter, but I have not been informed that the Foreign Secretary has given any instructions about answering the question, unless of course it had been reached today, as I hoped that it might have been.

While I am on my feet, may I say that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is extremely good at handling questions. We tend to deal with a lot of its questions--more than any other Department. Had it been a little faster today, Mr. Dalyell's question would have been answered.

12 Feb 1997 : Column 340

Political Fundraising

3.34 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): I beg to move,

The Bill proposes to regulate the method of political funding. The present system is most unsatisfactory, and reform is urgently needed.

I should like to see four changes made. First, I want an appropriate authority, be it the Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Lord Nolan, or a new body, to be responsible for looking into how political parties raise funds, and for political parties to submit financial reports annually to such a body.

When Lord Nolan's committee was set up, Opposition Members, both Back-Bench and Front-Bench, wanted it to look into party finances. We remain dissatisfied with how the Tory party collects its funds, and the Tory party says that it is not happy with how we collect ours. That is a strong argument in favour of Lord Nolan's committee looking into the matter.

The Prime Minister, however, was adamant and said that under no circumstances would the matter be referred to the Nolan committee. I can only conclude that the Conservative party has much to hide when it comes to how it collects its money. I do not believe that the Tory-dominated Home Affairs Select Committee is the best body to look into the issue of party financing. An outside body, certainly not made up of parliamentarians, would be far better. I hope that that reform will be carried out.

The second reform I want is that all those who donate more than a certain amount to a political party should be identified. Some say that there should be secrecy in those matters, but I cannot see the argument for that. It may be argued, for what it is worth, that those who donate small sums should not be identified, but there is every reason to identify those who donate thousands of pounds and more. If I were asked what limit I would place on identification, I would say that the source of any sum above £5,000 donated to a political party should be identified accordingly.

Tory Members have recently made a great deal of fuss about the Leader of the Opposition's funding--[Interruption.] I see that they are responding as one would expect. They say that they are unhappy about it. I understand that Sir Gordon Downey has approved the method by which the Leader of the Opposition's office has collected funds, and it is in the Register of Members' Interests. If Tory Members are not satisfied about how the Labour party is funded, that is all the more reason for approving these reforms. We should let the whole matter go before the Nolan committee or a new body.

The third change I propose is that all overseas donations to political parties should be banned, with one exception. If an individual living abroad is a full United Kingdom citizen who has the right to vote in this country and has lived here for most of his or her life, it would be wrong to take away that individual's right to donate money. In the past few years, Hong Kong billionaires have been helping to finance the Tory party, and that scandal must come to an end.

12 Feb 1997 : Column 341

There is a further change that I want to see. For more than 100 years, the amount that could be spent on behalf of a parliamentary candidate--indeed, a local government candidate for that matter--has been limited. The sleaze that occurred more than a century ago was tackled. There is no longer any controversy over the matter. All parties in the House agree that it would be wrong to try to buy votes in one's constituency, and that there should be a limit on the amount that is spent on our behalf. That sum is updated in line with inflation. I have not heard any controversy in the House about that issue. There is an Order in Council following discussions between the political parties.

If that is right, and obviously it is, what sense is there in having a situation whereby nationally a party can spend as much as it likes? It is a contradiction to the limit on candidates in our constituencies. I believe that a change is required.

These are all modest, long-overdue reforms. There are those, however, on the Government Benches who believe in secrecy. For example, the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), who is in his place at the moment, was quoted in The Times in June 1993 as saying:

his party, of course--

    "is too open about its affairs as things are. I don't want more openness".

Those are the hon. Gentleman's views.

Lord McAlpine has some experience in Tory party financing. He should do, because he was its treasurer for some 15 years. He said that when he was treasurer he believed in secrecy, that it was right and proper that no information other than what the party wanted to disclose should be given. He has changed his mind--he has changed his party. He now argues that the time has come to end such secrecy. He also said--I do not know whether his tongue was in his cheek--that it would help the Conservative party if it was more open.

Many people in the Tory party--perhaps not on the Tory Benches, but reformists, such as Eric Chalker and the rest--have long argued that there should be more democracy, more openness, more detailed financial accounts in their party. I hope that, if they hear about my modest Bill, they will support it.

I mentioned Hong Kong billionaires. It is said that they have given more than £11 million in the past few years to the Tory party.

Then there is Asil Nadir. Of all the money that he contributed to the Tory party, nearly £500,000 was stolen money. The Home Secretary is in his place. He says at every opportunity that he believes in law and order.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard) indicated assent.

Mr. Winnick: He nods his head in agreement. But one aspect of law and order is to see that his party returns stolen money. I believe that the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General have a duty, a responsibility in government, to see to it that that is so. Unless the Home Secretary does so, it is total hypocrisy on the part of Ministers.

12 Feb 1997 : Column 342

It is said that the Tory party is not concerned with people who seek honours. Sixty-five per cent. of honours to industry under Lady Thatcher, and 68 per cent. under the present Prime Minister, went to those who contributed to Tory party funds. That may be pure coincidence. On the other hand, those who are more cynical will take the view that honours were given to those people because they contributed substantial sums to the Tory party. If Lord Nolan's committee or an appropriate body did the job that I propose in my Bill, it would investigate that, just as it would investigate any aspect of Labour party matters about which the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) would be concerned.

I accept, because I am a realist, that my Bill will not become law in a Tory-dominated House of Commons, but I hope that when a Labour Government are elected later this year, one of the first reforms that we will introduce will be on party financing. The reforms and changes that my hon. Friends and I want to see will, I am sure, be very much on the agenda of that Labour Government. I want to see change and reform to undermine the sleaze, and the furtive, underhand way in which the Conservative party collects its money.

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