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Company Donations

Volume 84: debated on Wednesday 23 October 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will now encourage companies to ballot their shareholders and employees before making donations for political purposes.

This is something for company directors to decide in the light of circumstances and their priorities.

Now that union members have demonstrated clearly their wish to continue with the political fund, why is it that the Government refuse to legislate for, or even to encourage companies to have, such balloting before contributions are made for political causes? What does the Minister, especially the Secretary of State, say to all those fair-minded individuals who say, "If unions are forced to have political fund ballots every 10 years, why are companies not subject to the same provision?" Is the answer that companies donate to the Tory party?

Companies are not subject to the same provisions, for a simple reason which I would have thought would be apparent to the hon. Gentleman. Shareholders are free to buy or sell their shares, and very often trade union members do not have the freedom to choose the union to which they will belong.

Why has the Labour party such a fixation about these donations? Have representatives of the Labour party never been able to attend annual general meetings? Have they never had the privilege of reading an annual report in which political donations are declared? If they take such a view about political donations, should they not attend annual general meetings to try to vote down the proposition that such donations be made? Surely each company shareholder is entitled to support or dismiss a political donation as it comes before him.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He and the House may be interested to know that within the workings of the Labour party there are some proposals afoot which suggest that the Labour party might approach companies to see whether donations might be forthcoming.

Should not companies such as Silentnight be forced to hold ballots for their shareholders before they break agreements that have been reached with trade unions and before they dismiss workers who balloted under trade union legislation?