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Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): One of the pleasures of debates of this particular sort, in which there is broad agreement about what is being debated, is that, when one side is being rude

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about the other, it does so in a civilised manner. I thank the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), who made some allusions to my party in the early stages of his speech, for having maintained that very civilised tradition.

On 9 November 1998, when we debated the Neill committee proposals for the first time, the Home Secretary, for reasons I can only guess at, suggested that political excess was uniquely a feature of the previous 19 years. I animadverted on that later in the debate--there was an element of rewriting history in those remarks--but I am delighted that his speech today went back to the 1880s, although he regarded the events of 1880 as especially excessive, even after a series of anti-corruption measures had been passed. As I remarked in columns 96 and 97 of Hansard, the excesses of the 1880 election--16 separate petitions were argued, eight Members lost their seats and seven towns were disfranchised--gave rise to the 1883 anti-corruption legislation, which transformed the political landscape. The highly beneficial effect of that legislation, which I quoted that evening, was the academic verdict of the principal authority on those matters, which was that

Political corruption, I fear, does not go back only to the 1880s; it goes back to the 1780s as well. I was once the Paymaster General. The apogee of corruption in the Paymaster General's office--in the 18th century it was a profitable office to hold--came in 1781 when Lord North, fresh from losing the American colonies, instituted an investigation of that office for embezzlement: six Paymasters General were pursued beyond the grave and Lord North himself was found to owe a bob or two. Since nothing changes in our history, the great Edmund Burke was appointed Paymaster General in the capacity of Mr. Clean and took through the House in 1782 a Bill that said that the penalty for forging the Paymaster General's signature shall be death without benefit of clergy. That was amended 25 years later by the House, which is more lenient than the Executive, and the penalty was translated to 14 years in Australia. I am bound to say that I thought 14 years in Australia a heavy price to pay for forging my signature.

Mr. MacShane: Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that the former right hon. Member for Thanet, South, Mr. Jonathan Aitken, was once Paymaster General in his Government? Things never change in the House, do they?

Mr. Brooke: The hon. Gentleman runs the risk of being too clever. My former right hon. Friend, who represented Thanet, South, was never Paymaster General. If I may say so, it is a mistake for people in glass houses to throw stones.

The Bill, which I welcome, comes in a long tradition of such clean-up legislation, but I share the view of my right hon. Friends the Members for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) and for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) and the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) that, if we are to secure again the academic verdict that I quoted a moment ago, the tax encouragement of small

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donations is desirable. The argument of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), which he deployed on my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk, could be equally applied to tax encouragement for charities, but I do not imagine that he will be doing that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduces such proposals in the Budget.

Like the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk, I noticed the irony of the Chancellor taking his second bite of this particular charitable cherry in the context of taxation this very day, having taken his first bite in the pre-Budget statement late last year. I particularly noticed, too, his emphasis on civic virtues. The previous Government, in 1986 and thereafter, made changes to taxation in relation to charitable giving. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk was a Treasury Minister at the time, as I was, and we had some responsibility for that.

It is significant that one of the central features of the announcements that the Chancellor made today was the proposal to sweep away the limits on gift aid and to make gift aid possible at any level of gift. That is an irony. The Government are saying that it is too complicated and would be administratively impossible to introduce the tax encouragement of small donations for political parties at the very moment when they are earning the plaudits of the charitable lobby by changing the regulations on gift aid--or at least we assume that they will do so.

On corporate donations, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk and the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross will recall the Committee stage of the 1978 Companies Bill. My right hon. Friend was the Opposition Whip, and the right hon. Gentleman was one of the Ministers steering the Bill through the House. The late Ian Mikardo introduced amendments to that Bill that would have achieved the objectives of clause 128 of the Bill that we are considering tonight. I recall that either the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross or his colleague, the present Minister for the Environment, entertained Opposition Members by the skill with which they deflected Mr. Mikardo's amendments and argued that they should not be part of the Bill.

If we are to have clause 128, there is the hazard of a read-across to the issue that my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire raised about determining referendum expenditure via political parties, because that carries the potential for an internal vote within political parties to decide on which side that party's expenditure is to be expended in the referendum or in what proportions. Such a split in funding is commonplace in north America. When I lived there, great corporations quite cheerfully gave equal sums to both sides of the argument. It was up to them to decide in what way that served their shareholders' interests, but it was a feasible proposition.

Subsequent to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire, the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) concentrated on the timing of expenditure. The Government's present proposals at best resemble the useless advice to a man with cramp that he should have taken salt three days before, and at worst recall that bizarre episode in the 1920s when summertime was introduced. In the other place, an hereditary peer,

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whose descendant has perhaps survived the Government's axe in the past couple of months, argued that the wife of an hereditary peer, hitherto childless, could give birth to twins on either side of the midnight hour at which summertime either came in or went out, which would have affected the primogeniture. With that degree of relativity on the timing of expenditure, the Government's present proposals run the risk of taking them into the theatre of the absurd.

Mr. Maclennan: Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that interesting, historical account, it might be of interest to place on record the fact, which I freely admit, that the line that I took in debates on the 1978 Companies Bill on the late Mr. Mikardo's amendment was forced on me by the late Mr. John Smith, who was not satisfied that the unions would accept a straight no, which I would have preferred because it would have made my life a lot easier and enabled me to bring the matter to a conclusion quickly.

Mr. Brooke: It is a feature of these debates that, when we make these occasional forays down incidental byways, we pick up all sorts of interesting information from other travellers along the same road.

I want to refer to four final minutiae. First, I notice in clause 2(2)(b) that the Prime Minister's consistent practice of moving key Executive jobs from this House into the other place, where Ministers are not able to be cross-examined by elected Members of this House, may soon claim the scalp of the Home Secretary. It is conceivable that, under this legislation, the Home Secretary could find himself serving in the House of Lords.

Secondly, in 1989 I was involved in negotiating the first reforms on expenditure for by-elections and the trend towards realism. I wholly support the Government's proposals, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk. I support the Home Secretary's assertion that it was all different 40 years ago with the observation that, in the 1945-50 Parliament, the then Opposition did not win a single by-election yet they reduced the Government's majority from 150 to six at the general election in 1950. That is an index of how different by-elections were in those days.

Thirdly, although I was responsible for negotiating the 20-year rule with Lord Hattersley, and Walworth road, I agree--in this respect I am echoing an earlier exchange involving the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)--that, although it has been introduced in the Bill rather less than gloriously, the 10-year rule will make it much easier to verify the residential credentials of someone who has been abroad for some time.

Finally, I do not apologise to the hon. Member for Rotherham, because he has been playing an active part in the debate, and one of the consequences of that is that he may get caught in the crossfire. When he said of a particular European issue in the domain of the Bill that he hoped that the Government and the Neill committee would attend to it, I hope that it was a slip of the tongue and that what he meant was that the Neill committee and the Government would attend to it, for it is much better that these matters are dealt with by the Neill committee first.

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