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Having said all that, I am concerned that my party has been laxI might say far too laxin receiving donations from very rich individuals. I have had concerns and apprehensions about that for some time. No, I have not raised it on the Floor of the House, but I did mention it on one occasion at a private meeting of Labour MPs. I felt that those donors, with some
exceptions, wanted to be on the winning side in 1997, but they had no genuine commitment to what my party has always stood for. I understand that in all those circumstances, if they were willing to donate, the leadership of the party took the view, Why shouldnt we receive the money?
Mr. Swire: The hon. Gentleman is a veteran parliamentarian and he is suggesting that 1997year zerowas the first time that such benefactors came forward to assist the Labour party, but he will well remember the lavender list, Sir Eric Miller, Peachey Properties, Lord Kagan, Poulson and T. Dan Smith in the north-east, where Mr. Abrahams hails from. Is he going to whitewash everything that went before 1997, or is the Labour party, too, culpable in these matters?
Mr. Winnick: The hon. Gentleman will get his brownie points for making such party points. He has got it off his chest. I am aware of all those names. If he is asking me whether I am proud that such people were involvedthey go back to the 1970s and were few in numberof course I am not proud of it. I am ashamed. That goes for everyone in the Labour party, whether we are Labour Members of Parliament or not. All those who are active in our political movement and in the trade unions are ashamed of all those matters. We have never said otherwise.
Why do these very rich individuals want to contribute? In my view, with some exceptions, as I said, they want rewards. They want to end up in another place or get a knighthood. The hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) smiles. I have a list of the top 10 companies that donated to the Conservative party between 1979 and 1992United Biscuits, Hanson, Taylor Woodrow, George Weston Holdings and the rest. It is interesting that in eight of those 10 companies, every company executive or chair received some kind of reward: in the case of United Biscuits, that was one peerage and one knighthood; in the case of Hanson, two peerages; Taylor Woodrow, one peerage and one knighthood; P&Owe know about P&O, do we not?one peerage and three knighthoods, and Glaxo, two knighthoods. Of the two companies that did not receive anything, one, George Weston Holdings, was headed by a Canadian, and the other company had two directors, of whom one was a hereditary peer.
I have criticised my own party, but all the political parties should be far more reluctant to receive money from very rich individuals. I am suspicious of their motives for contributing and I have given an example. No doubt examples could be given of those who have contributed to my party and received awards in the past 10 years.
What are requiredwe will not get them today, but hopefully over timeare the common-sense solutions that the public want. The public are cynical about party funding. In our constituencies they probably say that we are all as bad as each other. What happened in the 1990s brought Parliament into disrepute. Anything that brings this institution into disrepute is a blow to parliamentary democracy. I hope that as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice suggested, in future talks in a calmer atmosphere, we can look at possible solutions, one of which is a cap on donations from private individuals; another is less money being spent in local and national campaigns.
Some of the money that is spent in general elections, referred to as the arms race, serves no purposefor example, the Tory posters in 1997 about Tony Blairs eyes. Was a single extra Tory vote gained as a result? Having criticised Tory posters, I should say that some of our own posters have not been all that brilliant. Finally, a limit on the money spent in constituencies between elections would do no harm at all.
I look forward to a period, hopefully during this Parliament, although I am not optimistic, when agreement can be reached between the parties on party funding. That is what the public want. We often say that we want to serve the public. I say without hesitation that the overwhelming majority of the public who take an interest in this matter would like us to find a solution, instead of the constant accusation and counter-accusation that is made on so many occasions. We need to clean up our act and we should do so as quickly as possible.
Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): The Prime Minister promised competence, but what he has given us is the first run on a British bank for over 100 years, half the adult populations personal details lost, and an election that never was.
We have not heard much in the debate about the conduct of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. I ask the Justice Secretary one straight question: does the Prime Minister have full confidence in the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions? Let me explain why I ask that question. Jon Mendelsohn, Labours chief fundraiser, gave the Secretary of State a £5,000 donation for his deputy leadership campaign, but the Secretary of States office and his aides were so incompetent that they did not bother to do one of the most basic thingsthat is, register it with the Electoral Commission. Yesterday, the Secretary of State admitted that further donations to his campaign were
not registered as they should have been.
Although the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions might not be very good at making declarations of contributions, he managed a declaration of extreme regret, adding that he was preparing a full declaration to the Commission.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has belatedly said that he is reviewing all donations during the campaign this year. Why cannot he or his aides fill us in today on the source of the donations, how many there were, or the total value? Keeping such records should not be difficult. Is it because the donations went through a convoluted route? Can the Minister tell us today?
If the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions cannot understand the electoral law on a matter relating to his own campaign, what confidence can the British public have in his grasp of something infinitely more complicated in his Department, such as the social security system, the Pension Service or the Child Support Agency, for which he is personally responsible? I imagine that benefit fraudsters throughout Britain are having a laugh at his palpable failure to adhere to strict legal rules. When their pension credit is miscalculated yet again, pensioners will not be so amused by the Secretary of States behaviour, and single parents struggling with the Child Support Agency are unlikely to have their confidence in that organisation boosted by what is happening at the top.
Stephen Pound: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you guide the House on the appropriateness or otherwise of an attack of such intemperate nature being made upon a right hon. Member who is not present?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) is addressing the House. He is relating his remarks to the subject of the debate. If he were not in order, I would have stopped him.
The heat has been taken off the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) by the game refusal of Ms Wendy Alexander, the Labour leader in the Scottish Parliament, to resign. She is, of course, a friend and ally of the Prime Minister. Although we quite accept that she would not deliberately have tried to commit a criminal offence for the lowly sum of £950, we have to ask what she could have been thinking of, given that the Jersey-based donor, Mr. Paul Green, said today on Scottish radio:
This has to be gross mismanagement...I cannot understand why they
continue to maintain that the donation had come through a UK company when I had a letter from Wendy Alexander thanking me personally.
May I ask the Minister whether the Prime Minister has full confidence in Ms Wendy Alexander and her competence? The fact is that she is the Prime Ministers lightning rodif she were to resign, it could lead to a domino effect of further resignations, starting with that of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), deputy leader of the Labour party, in relation to whom the Prime Minister said:
The money was not lawfully declared.
Although the British public are not much impressed by the rank incompetence that I have described, there is something that they dislike more: Labours self-serving attitude. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has famously proposed for all parties a cap on donationswhether given by businessmen, individuals or trade unionsto reduce dependency on large donors. We heard about it in detail from my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie). Shamefully, the Labour party has blocked the proposal, asserting that union affiliation fees should be exempt from any cap on donations. Yet those fees are decided by union bosses; they are not the result of the active decisions of individual union members to donate to the Labour party. We are asked to believe that a donation from a trade unionist is independent while a block donation from a trade union is not. The Labour party national executive committee has pledged on the record vigorously to oppose plans for capping. It has said:
the Labour Party cannot accept a statutory uniform donation cap...it would undermine the Labour Party federal structure.
a limit on donations need not in my view challenge the Partys constitutional relationship with the trade unions.
Is it a coincidence that the Labour Government are moving ahead with more than 60 concessions to the trade union movement under the banner of the 2004 Warwick agreement? That deal included a £10 million taxpayer-funded modernisation fund for the unions, the weakening of anti-strike legislation and the shelving of plans to align the retirement age for public sector workers with that for private sector workersa disgrace.
Labours logicI hope the House will forgive the exaggerationis flawed and self-serving. Last summer, the Prime Minister promised to take crime off the streets; we did not know that he was going to shove it into Labour HQ.
Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): It was the Secretary of State for Health who said that this had been a lousy week for the Labour party, but it has been a depressing and dismal week for all who have an interest in democratic politics. To be fair to it, the Labour party has admitted that it is culpable in respect of the stories of the past few weeks. However, the consequences are shared across the whole of politics; it all feeds into the cynicism with which many people regard politics today. At a time of falling participation, it is in all our interests to clean up politics, as the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said. I hope that we can all get behind that.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Not for the first time, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) has pursued an attempted intervention when it has been clear that the Member addressing the House is not going to give way.
Adam Price: This is not a Westminster village story alone. A Jersey businessman has given a donation to the Scottish Labour leader that turned out to be illegal, and a businessman from the north-east of England has given illegal proxy donations. As we heard, another donation, in respect of a dinner in Wales connected to the Secretary of State for Wales, should have been registered but was not put into the public domain.
Ian Lucas: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for one hon. Member to attack the conduct of another when the hon. Member making the attack has been found by a Committee of the House to have broken the rules of the House, but has not apologised to the House? Will the hon. Member concerned, who is here now, take this opportunity to apologise for his misconduct?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I shall deal with the hon. Gentlemans point of order as I dealt with the earlier one. I am in charge of the debate this afternoon, and had the hon. Gentleman been out of order, I would have reminded him of that fact.
Adam Price: I say to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) that simply saying, They are as bad as us, is not a positive message to send to the public. [Hon. Members: Say sorry!] I expressed my regret to the Committee in question [Interruption.] I did, in actual fact. The hon. Gentleman will be able to see the speck in my partys eye if he admits the mote in his own. We all have an interest in cleaning up politics, and that is what we should be debating.
Part of the problem is not only the original crime but the lack of candour that follows it. We have seen that in Scotland recently. We were told that Wendy Alexander did not know anything about the donation, but subsequently a letter that thanked the donor in question came to light. The letter said:
Scottish Labour will reform, renew and reconnect with the Scottish people. We will earn their trust again.
That is no way to earn the trust of the people of Scotland or any other part of the United Kingdom. Subsequently, we heard about the Cardiff dinner in April, in respect of which a donation that should have been declared by the Secretary of State for Wales was not. I do not know what it is about the Labour party and dinners in April; we have heard about the other dinner between Jon Mendelson and David Abrahams. We must have clarity on the issue. The Secretary of State for Wales has admitted that there were other unregistered donations. Will the Minister tell us how many unregistered donations there have been and whether any other Labour politicians gave money to
the campaign of the Secretary of State for Wales? Were any ministerial meetings discussed or held as a result of that fundraising dinner?
The Secretary of State for Wales broke not only Electoral Commission rules, but Labour party ones. He should have given 15 per cent. of all moneys raised to the Labour party. He broke his own partys rules as well as those on donations that the Government made law. There is simply no excuse for that. We all lose as a result of such behaviour; that, unfortunately, is the reality.
As many hon. Members have said, we need a cap on donations, but we also need a level playing field. The people will not understand if the Labour party produces a Bill that is seen as one-sidedwith a cap on one side of the equation, but no reform of trade union funding on the other. Senior members of Plaid Cymru received election ballots on the Labour party deputy leadership campaign. They never ticked the box relating to the affiliated political fund, yet they were counted as funders of the Labour party. That is because, unfortunately, it appears that a small number of individuals within trade unions abuse the system. Unless we get clarity on that, we will not have a level playing field on party funding. Let us all get behind a proper party funding Bill that will finally take out of British politics that kind of sleaze, which ultimately undermines all politics for all political parties.
Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): The Labour party funding scandals appear to be rolling out on an almost daily basis, with varying degrees of subterfuge and criminality involved. They have corroded public trust in democracy in Britain. The party that swore in opposition to be purer than pure is mired so deeply in the muck that it is in danger of drowning in it.
I agree with the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) that the debate should give no one pleasure. Certainly, we do not take a holier-than-thou approach, as the Lord Chancellor suggested. Today we have heard a story of abuse of the law and lack of ethical practice, which breaks the heart of our political governance. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) recognised, this is a tragedy of a Government drunk with complacency, power and disdain a tragedy not only for the people of our country but, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said, for the very laws that they passed in their failed attempt to provide transparency for the funding of our democratic system.
The Lord Chancellor attempted to take the high ground when in fact he had no ground to stand on. At least the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) provided something that approached an apology. Will the Minister do the same in her closing remarks?
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