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Commons Chamber

Volume 227: debated on Tuesday 22 June 1993

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 22 June 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Allied Irish Banks Bill

Considered; to be read the Third time.

Unibank Bill Lords

Read a Second, time and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions


Helicopter Carrier


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the defence gains from the recent award of the contract for a helicopter carrier for the Royal Navy.

The new helicopter carrier will significantly enhance the Royal Navy's amphibious capabilities. It will give an amphibious task force the helicopter support needed to deploy or reinforce troops quickly.

The decision to award the contract is widely welcomed. Does my hon. Friend agree that the new helicopter platform ship will serve as a pad for the new EH101 helicopter when it comes into service? Will he encourage the Royal Air Force to follow the lead of the Royal Navy and place orders for the helicopter which will do so much to safeguard jobs in the defence industry in the south-west?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for paying tribute to the important order which will indeed enhance our defence capabilities for many years to come. What helicopters will fly from it must depend on the outcome of current studies into the support helicopter requirements. However, I am well aware of my hon. Friend's and many others' strong support and enthusiasm for the EH101. I very much hope that, if the price is right, it may turn out to be our choice, just as the Merlin version was our choice for the Royal Navy.

I welcome the Government's decision to place a contract for the new helicopter carrier with Vickers Shipbuilders and. Engineering Ltd. in my constituency, but will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm that, if the Royal Navy is to have a fully effective and operational amphibious capability, the Government will need to place further orders for the replacement for HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid? When will those orders be placed?

The hon. Gentleman is correct. If we are to have a proper amphibious warfare capability, we shall need additional amphibious shipping to go with the LPH in the longer term. I know that his constituents will be delighted that the LPH order has gone to VSEL in his constituency. As for the landing platform dock replacements, I can tell him that project definition studies into the replacements for HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid are being undertaken now. The timing of an order will be subject to the successful outcome of the project definition phase and the subsequent tender process.

Nuclear Weapons


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list those countries which possess nuclear weapons capable of being delivered to targets in the United Kingdom.

Such weapons are possessed by Russia, China, France and the United States. Some weapons are also possessed by Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, but these are controlled by the Commonwealth of Indpendent States.

Is the Minister aware that the list is growing ever longer, with the Ukraine selling missiles to whoever is prepared to pay for them? Does not that mean that this country's safety is threatened even more? Does he agree it is important that the Walworth road is protected because we want our children and grandchildren not only to read about the demise of socialism in libraries and schools but to be able to go down the Walworth road to see for themselves where the last of the Bolsheviks lived and worked? Does he agree that the Walworth road should be a nuclear-free zone because the safety of that lot is in our interests?

I am pleased to reassure my hon. Friend that all tactical nuclear weapons have been withdrawn from the Ukraine and, as I said, strategic weapons are not under its control. I am sure you will agree, Madam Speaker, that it is just possible that if we had four seagoing versions of my hon. Friend, we would probably need no other equipment. However, in the absence of three clones of my hon. Friend, I think we perhaps need to maintain our minimum deterrent.

Will the Minister now list all the countries in the world that can be hit by nuclear weapons? Does he accept that, if Britain argues that nuclear deterrence is essential for our defence, so can the Government of every other country in the world? Is not the logic of the Government's position that the entire world should now embark on a policy of nuclear expansion, because there is no other defence against countries that have nuclear weapons?

Updating our minimum deterrent is entirely consistent with our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Furthermore, I would say that we have adhered closely to our responsibilities. After all, in recent years, the United Kingdom has cut its RAF nuclear strike squadrons from 11 to eight; we have given up nuclear artillery and Lance missile roles; we have announced a reduction of more than half in the WE177 bomb stockpile; and on 15 June last year, we announced the elimination of our maritime tactical nuclear weapon capability—in that area, we have felt able to go further than other nuclear powers. I believe that our record is good, but, for the safety of the world, we need to maintain our minimum nuclear deterrent.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we also need a sub-strategic nuclear weapon? Does he not believe that for a deterrent to be effective, people such as Saddam Hussein have to believe that, if they use nuclear weapons, we have something with which to strike back?

My hon. Friend is right. The Government have been examining a range of options for providing the United Kingdom's long-term sub-strategic capability, and we expect to be in a position to make our intentions clear in the near future.

Does not the Minister accept that one of the surest ways to reduce the threat of any nuclear attack on Britain is to limit the number of countries that possess nuclear weapons by ensuring that the nonproliferation treaty is renewed? The Secretary of State acknowledged to me in a letter dated 14 June that various signatories to the non-proliferation treaty see a direct link between its renewal and progress on a comprehensive test ban treaty. Bearing that in mind, will Britain now join France, Russia and the United States in supporting a moratorium on nuclear testing?

The hon. Gentleman well knows why we believe that nuclear testing is possibly desirable: it maintains both our credibility and the safety of our nuclear stockpile. The matter is being discussed in the United States, perhaps at this very moment, and I believe that the President knows our views.

I have already said that we are fully signed up to the long-term aims of the non-proliferation treaty, and we have made great progress ourselves. We are therefore ensuring that our position of strength helps to encourage other countries not to possess nuclear weapons, and we are taking great pains to ensure that countries do not possess nuclear weapons of any sort.

Spending Levels


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received over the past decade regarding defence spending levels.

Over the past decade, my Department has received a number of representations on defence spending levels from hon. Members and from members of the public.

Bearing in mind the fact that many of those who, at the height of the cold war, urged us to abandon nuclear weapons as immoral and to slash defence spending have apparently come to the conclusion, now that the cold war is over, that we need nuclear weapons after all, that we must save every regiment and even bomb Serbia, and bearing in mind the fact that the leading politician who opposed Trident as militarily unacceptable is now lobbying for Trident refit work in his constituency, does my right hon. and learned Friend feel that that represents a genuine change of heart, or is it the usual unholy mixture of hyprocisy, opportunism, and pork-barrel politics?

It is certainly one of the lasting mysteries about the Opposition that they were unable to support our nuclear deterrent during the cold war, but that they claim that Trident will be safe in their hands now, when the Soviet Union no longer exists.

The Secretary of State is currently spending money completing three type 23 frigates at Swan Hunter on Tyneside. Will he now give an assurance that those three frigates will be finished on Tyneside by the work force at Swan Hunter, under the control of the existing management?

We have said that we very much hope that it will be possible to complete the frigates at Swan Hunter. I am cautiously optimistic that that will indeed prove possible, but the discussions that are taking place are not yet complete.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that all those people working in the defence industries and in our armed forces should be glad that the Conservative party won the election last year and not either of the rabbles opposite—one of which proposes a cut in spending of 6 per cent. and the other a cut of 50 per cent? Will he assure the many MOD and armed forces personnel working in North Yorkshire that, so long as this Government remain in power, our commitment to a strong defence of Britain remains totally in place?

My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that both the Labour party and the Liberal party are committed, by their party conferences, to massive reductions in defence expenditure. Indeed, I understand that the Liberal party is committed to reducing the size of our Army from 160,000 to approximately 70,000. That compares rather unfavourably with the view of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who seeks to oppose any amalgamations during the current exercise.



To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the latest situation regarding British forces in former Yugoslavia.

British forces continue to make an important contribution to the United Nations humanitarian relief effort in Bosnia, having successfully escorted over 42,000 tonnes of aid since operations began. The events of recent weeks in central Bosnia have demonstrated the dangerous conditions under which our troops are working, and, as I am sure the House will agree, they have reacted to circumstances with outstanding professionalism.

I agree with the' latter part of the Secretary of State's response: there is undoubtedly much admiration in the House and in the country for the way in which British forces have operated in the former Yugoslavia.

However, would there not be a case for the rules of. engagement to be changed—obviously that would have to be done by the Security Council—so that allied troops could assist civilians fleeing terror and destruction? Is it not the case—this is no reflection on the Secretary of State—that, to a large extent, even humanitarian relief often depends on Serbian and Croatian commanders, who are carrying out what can only be described as a murderous pogrom against the Muslim population in Bosnia?

We do not believe that the current rules of engagement need to be changed to assist the United Nations in its humanitarian efforts. Clearly, if a new mandate were to be considered for United Nations personnel, that would open up the question whether the rules of engagement were appropriate. However. it is crucial to emphasise that we do not consider it sensible or desirable that the United Nations should be asked to adopt a combat role in Bosnia. United Nations personnel are doing a superb job, saving many tens of thousands of lives at present. That in itself is justification for their presence.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend confident that the rules of engagement are sufficient to protect the safe havens which the United Nations has declared should be safe havens? Are they truly safe, or can they he made truly safe, for the civilian population?

The Secretary-General is at present seeking to put together a number of forces from various contributors who would be present within the safe havens. The United Kingdom has said that its contribution will be to continue to help deal with the situation in the Vitez area in central Bosnia, where there is tremendous tension between Croats and Muslims. We believe that the current rules of engagement are suitable for the task that British forces have been asked to do.

Does the Secretary of State recall that, on 14 January, when announcing the deployment of our naval task force in the Adriatic, he said that his overriding concern was for the safety of our forces, and added:—

"the provision of artillery in particular"—
in particular—
"will enable us to respond to attacks"?—[Offcial Report, 14 January 1993; Vol. 216, c. 1058.]
Will he now confirm that at, the very time when our troops in Bosnia are, in the Secretary of State's words, "facing the greatest risk", he has withdrawn the RFA Argus, which is loaded with the same artillery? Does he accept that his meek surrender to Treasury penny-pinching could well put our troops in Bosnia at risk?

The hon. Gentleman gets sillier as every day passes. As the decision to transfer the artillery back to the United Kingdom was taken on the advice of the Chief of the General Staff and not at the request of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he might have chosen to check his facts before making such a fool of himself.

Does my right hon. and learned. Friend agree that it is not only the soldiers escorting the convoys that come under shellfire and sniping but also the civilian truck drivers, who are sent out to Bosnia by the Crown Agents based in my constituency? Four truck drivers have now been awarded the MBE in the Queen's birthday honours. Would my right hon. and learned Friend extend to them the same tributes that we have extended to our soldiers?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the remarkable contribution that has been made not only by uniformed personnel but by many thousands of civilians—including many British citizens—who have done a superb job, often in the most dangerous and difficult circumstances, to provide food, medical aid and other forms of assistance to people who so desperately need them.



To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he has made any further review of Britain's defence commitments in the light of Britain's peacekeeping role in former Yugoslavia.

Britain's armed forces have a number of overseas commitments, which they are well placed to meet. We keep such commitments, and the forces required to meet them, under review.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the excellent role played by Britain's superb forces in the former Yugoslavia shows that Britain's future military role will increasingly be as part of a United Nations peacekeeping or even peacemaking force? In view of that, is it not time that the Government recognised that, in future, there will be little demand from the United Nations peacekeepers for crippling expensive submarines and nuclear weapons?

The hon. Gentleman would be very unwise to believe that Britain's future military requirements will be limited to some form of gendarmerie role on behalf of the United Nations. Of course our contribution to that role is important, but we must retain the capacity for high-intensity conflict, because, as we have seen twice in the past 12 years, there could be attacks on British interests which require a response not only with manpower but with sophisticated equipment. Submarines have played a very viable role for the United Kingdom over the years.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, during the past two years, Britain's slefence commitments have increased, not decreased, and that there is a good argument for a general review of Britain's defence commitments around the world to ensure a direct match of commitments and resources?

I accept the principle that my hon. Friend has enunciated, but I do not accept his description of what has happened over the past three years. The single biggest change over that period has been the reduction of our forces in Germany from 60,000 to about 30,000. That is a far greater reduction in our commitment than any relatively modest contribution we have made in Bosnia, Cambodia and one or two other territories elsewhere.

In the light of our experience in Bosnia, is there not a case for puttinǵ the United Nations interventionist role on a formal footing, with financial backing, in properly established headquarters? If so, who would be prepared to pay, given that the major contributing nations are in an adverse financial position?

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to. proper military headquarters in New York to ensure that the United Nations can properly co-ordinate and plan the substantially increased number of military operations for which it is responsible, he makes an important point. The large increase in United Nations activities means that the small staff at present responsible for those matters find it almost impossible to carry out their responsibilities in a proper and coherent fashion.

Bosnia (Ambush)


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress is being made in equipping AFVs deployed in Bosnia with state-of-the-art surveillance systems to counter threats of ambush; and if he will make a statement.

The armoured vehicles deployed in Bosnia are already fitted with sophisticated surveillance systems, but we keep the situation under review to ensure that the personnel deployed have the equipment most appropriate to their role and environmental conditions.

Is my hon. Friend aware that Pilkington Optronics in my constituency designed and fitted the thermal observation and gunnery sight—TOGS—to the Chieftain and Challenger tanks, which performed so well in the Gulf war? Is he further aware that Pilkington has offered to fit the TOGS system to the Scimitar AFV, which is currently deployed in Bosnia, at a very reasonable price?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; any saving is helpful. The TOGS proposal is one of the ideas considered as part of the life-extension programme for tracked combat reconnaissance vehicles. We already have very sophisticated equipment in them, including thermal image sights, which can be fitted on top of the commander's sight. Troops are also issued with image intensifying night vision goggles. The Scimitar family of vehicles will be upgraded in due course.

Trident Refit


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what examination he has made of the decision-taking process on the Trident refitting contract with a view to improving the consistency and orderliness of such processes.

The issues involved are complex, and involve significant sums of public money. A wide range of factors bear on the issues, and I am satisfied that the assessment is being properly conducted.

Is that not the most extraordinarily complacent reply? It is 13 months since the bids had to be in from the two yards. Before Christmas, the Minister of State told me from the Dispatch Box that the decision would be out in a matter of days, perhaps weeks. The loyal work forces at Rosyth and Devonport have waited patiently for months. They are on tenterhooks—their livelihoods are at stake and their families do not know what will happen. The whole economy of that area of Scotland and the south-west of England has been waiting for this hide-and-seek game to end.

I understand the points made by the hon. Gentleman, but I make no apology for the time that it is taking to reach the proper conclusion. That time has already resulted in savings to the taxpayer and the Royal Navy that are likely to be in excess of £250 million, compared to what the original cost of the nuclear refitting was expected to be. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Royal Navy will benefit substantially from those savings, so it is right and proper that we should address those matters in that way.

As someone who has always supported Trident, may I ask whether my right hon. and learned Friend is aware that the delay in awarding the contract is seriously undermining the morale of my constituents, and holding back the recovery that would otherwise be bursting forth in the south-west? Is he aware of what the people of Rosyth and Plymouth are going through while we await the decision? When will it be made?

I appreciate the points made by my hon. Friend. He will appreciate that the two companies involved—one in Plymouth and one in Rosyth—have, over the past six months, sent several refinements of their proposals, which inevitably have required time for consideration. Ministers are now considering the conclusions that should be reached, and I hope that an announcement can be made in the near future. It is important that the matters are properly addressed. I am anxious, as is my hon. Friend, to bring the uncertainty to an end.

The Secretary of State must realise that it is now over four months since he announced in a written answer that he planned to continue with two dockyards, but without saying how that would be achieved. As the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) rightly said, that is causing dismay and increasing division between Scotland and the south-west of England.

Can the Secretary of State at least say, first, that he will continue a submarine refitting capability at both yards and, secondly, that the yard that does not get the Trident refit will get at least 10 years' guarantee of submarine and surface refitting? It is in the strategic and employment interests of the United Kingdom to keep both yards fully operational.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman shares our desire to see a decision on this matter, which hopefully will be possible. I simply do not believe that it is. possible to continue nuclear submarine refitting at both yards. The cost of the Trident work is so substantial that the expenditure required to provide a nuclear submarine refitting capability at both yards would be a gross waste of public funds, and I cannot endorse the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm the wisdom of the last four Conservative Secretaries of State for Defence, who assured Rosyth's future based on the successful achievements in the refitting and servicing of Britain's nuclear deterrent fleet?

Both Rosyth's and Devonport's future are assured, because some time ago we said that, in the interests of ensuring competition and therefore the best benefit to the taxpayer, we proposed to continue with two royal dockyards. I know that that will give great pleasure not only to my hon. Friend but to those who are anxious to ensure that the taxpayer and the Royal Navy get the. most competitive bids not only for its submarine work but for its surface ship work.



To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects the development stage of the Eurofighter project to be completed.

The development stage of Eurofighter 2000 will largely be completed by 1995, when the production stage is due to begin. However, as is usual with new aircraft, some development activity will continue into the early years of production. It is expected that the final phase of the development stage will be completed in 2001.

Is the Minister aware of the consternation that was caused in the industry when he announced the delays in the programme on 25 February? Will he give the House an explanation of the escalation of the costs that was announced then? How much of that escalation was caused by his Department's late changes to the specification?

The hon. Gentleman is being somewhat unfair and churlish. The real increase in development costs since we committed ourselves to this phase in 1988 is a little more than 10 per cent. For the project as a whole, it is a little less than 10 per cent. Production costs are all hypothetical at this stage, but a 10 per cent. increase in a project of this complexity and magnitude, although not welcome, is by no means unusual. It is within the normal tolerances. As for the hon. Gentleman's points about delays, those are matters caused by some of the industrial decisions—not Government decisions. The Government could not have done more to support the project whole-heartedly and effectively.

Is not it a fact that 10 per cent. represents £250 million, which will have to come from somewhere else in the defence estimates? Yesterday, the Minister gave us an assurance that the Eurofighter would make its test flight this year. We welcome that. But he was vague on how the work would be shared out between the countries. It looks as if the Royal Air Force will place orders for 50 per cent. of the production. Does that mean that 50 per cent. of the work will be carried out in United Kingdom factories?

On the work-share point, the hon. Gentleman's questions are premature at this stage, because no decisions have yet been reached between the four partners on precisely which numbers will be used in the production phase. Development work-shares were agreed in 1988 and ours was 33 per cent. There is no suggestion that those should change, but, ultimately, they will depend on the final orders placed by each of the partners.

Raf Training Bases


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made in his Department's review of RAF training bases.

The RAF's flying training study is progressing satisfactorily. We are continuing to collate and assess the detailed information gathered from the seven flying training stations under study, and the study team expects to report by the end of the year as planned.

Is the Minister aware of the widespread anxiety that the review is causing in north Devon, where RAF Chivenor is a warmly regarded feature of the local community on which businesses, jobs, schools and other services are heavily dependent? Does he agree that RAF Chivenor is uniquely well suited to provide RAF training on account of its favourable geography, weather patterns and topography? Would it not be the economics of the madhouse to close a base at which £12 million has been spent on modernisation and which, because of its location, is not attractive for alternative commercial uses? On account of its technologically modern state, it could be maintained for years to come at minimal expense.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am well aware of those factors and, indeed, have discussed the matter with my predecessor. We are in the middle of the study. There is still a great deal of collation of information to come. But all seven of the flying training stations involved in the study are being assessed absolutely equally, taking into account a wide range of factors, including those to which the hon. Gentleman referred. However, of course, the main factors will be operations, tasking, facilities, costs, manning and meeting the needs of our Royal Air force for the future.

In his statement last Thursday, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State mentioned that there were significant changes to be implemented in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Naval Reserve. However, in that statement he made no observations about the future of the Maritime Headquarters Unit. No. I Maritime Headquarters Unit is located in my constituency at RAF Northolt and trains there. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the MHU and Royal Auxiliary Air Force have an assured and valued future?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As far as I am aware, we have no current plans to change the role of the facilities to which he refers.

As the question did not specify purely flying bases, may I ask the Minister to ensure that there is no further contraction of the RAF training capacity until the Government have ensured that contractors, especially those engaged in technological activity, make proper provision for the maintenance of adequate training so that the service is properly provided for in the future? Will he accept that to do otherwise would be to act in the most short-sighted manner, and we have seen quite enough of that in recent years?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that all factors are being taken into account, and I cannot add to that at this stage. The review is taking time because it is so comprehensive and, as I say, all factors are being taken into account. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes that.

Will my hon. Friend consider carefully, in addition to the advantages that the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) mentioned, the role that RAF Chivenor plays in very adverse, including snowy, winter conditions on Exmoor in my constituency rescuing sick people and animals? What implications, if any, will the review have for low-flying training, because my hon. Friend will be aware from the correspondence files in his Department that that has also caused certain problems?

I am aware of those matters and there is no doubt that RAF Chivenor provides an excellent service. I am also aware, I hasten to add, of a famous thing called the Chivenor gap, of which I had not heard previously but find fascinating. I am looking forward to studying that phenomenon. In other words, everything is being considered and we shall reach a result on the review by the end of the year.

Nato Nuclear Doctrine


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he next intends to meet the Secretary-General of NATO; and if he proposes to discuss with him NATO's nuclear doctrine.

I expect to meet the NATO Secretary-General at a regular meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in the autumn. As is usual on these occasions, a.wide range of Alliance issues will be discussed.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider that it may be time, in the interests of economy and security, to seek greater co-operation between ourselves, the French and the United States? Would it not be consistent with the doctrine of minimum nuclear deterrence to seek to achieve operational arrangements which, while providing a constant nuclear capability for NATO, may be provided at a lower level than at present?

There are many indications that the French Government are interested in closer dialogue with the United Kingdom on nuclear and other matters of mutual interest. It is right and proper that all the nuclear countries of the NATO alliance—the United States, France and ourselves—should co-operate to the maximum extent possible, and I believe that in the post-cold war situation, Paris is showing more interest in doing that than has perhaps been the case for a number of years.

When my right hon. and learned Friend next meets the Secretary-General of the United Nations, will he remind him of the excellent news today that Vickers has won more orders for the excellent Challenger tank, which is very good news indeed? Are we not the inventors of the world, with television having been born out of radar, a British design, and the jet engine, also a British design, having made the world smaller? Let us tell the world that when you buy British, you buy the best.

My hon. Friend is correct, and he might have added that our Prime Minister signed that deal with the Sultan of Oman on his visit. That was a great achievement for British sales and British industry.

Infantry Regiments (Manpower)


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to review the manpower of infantry regiments.

We continue to keep Army manpower under review. While we will make adjustments if necessary —as we did with the measures announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 3 February—we have no current plans for further changes.

May I belatedly congratulate the Minister on his appointment? This is the first opportunity that I have had to do that. He said in yesterday's debate that the time between emergency tours by the Army was 19 months. His statement to that effect appears at column 111 of the Official Report. That is not the figure given to me by members of the infantry battalions and others to whom I have spoken. Will he reconsider the matter, remembering that it has a great effect on the families and personnel involved?

Is the Minister aware of a further problem concerning in-service training because of a shortage of manpower? It seems that in-service training and similar activities are being delayed, so will he conduct an in-depth study into that matter, too?

I thank the hon. Gentleman warmly for his kind remarks. I confirm the figures that I gave last night in the debate. On the basis of current emergency tour commitments, the average emergency tour intervals for infantry are likely to meet the target of 24 months by 1995. The average emergency tour interval for the current year is 19 months. I stress that that is an average figure—some forces are able to be deployed while some are not; some are reorganising and re-roling, so are not available for use. We aim to reach the target of 24 months soon. With the withdrawal from Belize and the withdrawal of two battalions from Berlin, there will be more forces available for us.

I, too, belatedly congratulate my hon. Friend. Is he aware that there is concern among those who take a genuine interest in such matters that manpower constraints are making it difficult for Britain to meet its international obligations? Will my hon. Friend quietly consider in the weeks ahead rescinding the decision to merge my old regiment, the Gordon Highlanders with the Queen's Own Highlanders and, at a stroke, find a cost-effective solution to those constraints, as well as providing a future for two of the finest infantry regiments of the British Army?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Army is large enough to keep all its commitments following the reduction in threat due to the change in the strategic environment. As we often say, the post-"Options" Army will be smaller but fully manned, well equipped and properly supported. I believe that the House will be proud of the commitments that we shall continue to carry out throughout the world. However, those commitments must be balanced—we cannot, and should not, do everything. We should not put our men and women at unnecessary risk. I have looked at the issue in the past few weeks and believe that Scottish regiments were not treated unfairly in the restructuring process. It was not possible to exempt the Scottish regiments from the inescapable need for certain cuts. I realise that many people with Scottish regimental associations have strong feelings about the restructuring, but equal pain was felt by all regiments—whether Scottish, British, Welsh or Irish.

As the Minister embarks on his new portfolio, I plead with him that, if he will not take my advice, he should take the advice expressed. not only by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke), but the Minister's hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) and undertake a full defence review specifically to deal with the issues raised about the infantry.

The Minister may wish to ask his civil servants about the following issue. Since the beginning of the operation called "Options for Change", the Government have made a net increase in the number of battalion tasks of 10—an extra two in Northern Ireland, plus one in Bosnia, minus one in Belize, times five—but they have increased the number of infantry battalions by only two. Is it not clear to the Minister, as it is to the Opposition, that the tasks of the infantry cannot be increased by 10 and the numbers by two without creating a mismatch between resources and commitments? As he embarks on his new ministerial position, will the Minister do what his Front-Bench predecessors at the Ministry of Defence refused to do: carry out a genuine review so that we do not place burdens on our soldiers and service men which they cannot meet because they lack resources?

The hon. Gentleman is a friendly soul and I shall willingly take advice from him, except on this matter—for the simple reason that there is no need for a full defence review. I know that the hon. Gentleman will be sitting on the edge of his seat waiting for the White Paper to be published in the next few weeks. I think that even he will be so impressed with that document that he will feel that the need for the review has gone out of the window. We keep Army manpower closely under review—the increase in tasks for existing manpower shows the efficiency and effectiveness of our armed forces.

Is my hon. Friend aware that one third of all recruits to the armed forces are youngsters under the age of 18? Given the increasing complexity of modern warfare, is it any longer sensible to take on young people with only minimum basic education? Should we not in future consider recruiting only youngsters over the age of 18, thereby avoiding the current problem of sending them to difficult areas—as with, for example, those in my local regiment, the Staffordshires, serving in Bosnia?

My hon. Friend is right to say that some 35 per cent. of Army recruits are under the age of 18. It would put the Army under great stress if we were to restrict recruitment to those over the age of 18; we would lose many talented people to other walks of life. Those under the age of 18 should, with their parents' permission, be given the opportunity to serve in the British forces, one of the best jobs in the world.

With regard to the deployment of young people in the theatres of war, many of those who are under the age of 18 have trained within formed units and if they were not allowed to go with their units, it would not only break up that unit but would be a great disappointment to the young people concerned. However, we shall keep the matter under review.

Future Frigate Project


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the progress of the future frigate project.

Negotiations with France and Italy on the future frigate project are proceeding satisfactorily. I am pleased to announce plans to sign a memorandum of understanding establishing the joint project office in London this summer, subject to agreement being reached on the detailed arrangements for the development of the ship and its weapon systems.

Does the Minister accept that there should be more urgency about the project, which is the most important European project that we have for anti-air and anti-missile defence for our naval forces which need that protective condom above them in the sky? Does the Minister agree that there is an urgent need to get the design work for that important project into the work-starved design teams of British shipyards, such as those of Swan Hunter on the Tyne, at the earliest possible date?

I cannot join the hon. Gentleman in his colourful metaphors, but I agree that this is an important project. I am delighted to hear such robust sentiments from a member of the party which, at its conference, votes for swingeing cuts in defence. However, the hon. Gentleman should regard it as good news that the joint project office is to open later this summer.

Prime Minister



To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 22 June.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Tony Newton)

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been attending a European Council meeting in Copenhagen.

Will the Leader of the House explain why many people on invalidity benefit who have been assisting the very sick, poor and disabled and withdrawing from that voluntary work because of the fear that the Government will attack their benefits? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the most vulnerable in our society should not be made to pay for the failure of the Government's economic policy?

I know of no basis for the fear that the right hon. Gentleman describes. When I was Secretary of State for Social Security we went to some lengths-to try to prevent that difficulty arising and we improved the therapeutic earnings rule, with which the right hon. Gentleman will be familiar. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Social Security will be concerned to ensure that people on invalidity benefit who can do voluntary work while nevertheless fulfilling the legal requirements of the benefit are able and encouraged to do so.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate my constituents and all employees of the Jaguar car company, in particular the highly skilled development engineers who so outperformed their foreign counterparts that they won the Le Mans 24-hour, race? Will my right hon. Friend go further and tell people at large that there has been an improvement out of all recognition at Rover, Jaguar and all the other British car assemblers, and that there is now little excuse for buying a foreign car?

I very much agree with all my hon. Friend's points and I join him in paying tribute to Jaguar's achievement and the achievement of many other British car manufacturers in recent months in bringing about the large increase in car production which, had it gone the other way, we would have been hearing much about from the Opposition; we hear nothing when it goes up. With the British car market now growing, while continental markets are plunging into recession, our industry has revitalised itself and is set to win.

In view of the increasing and widespread public concern about large financial donations—[Interruption.]—about large financial donations from foreign sources to the Conservative party, will the Government now introduce legislation to make such foreign donations illegal?

On the assumption that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is riding on the back of the absurd story in The Guardian today, perhaps I should tell him that, within the past hour or so, the Saudi ambassador to the United States of America. whose name was mentioned in that story, has issued a statement to the effect that all the allegations in the article are untrue and totally without foundation, that the meeting that is referred to did not take place, and that neither he nor anyone else connected with the Saudi Arabian Government has made donations to the Conservative party or been asked for such donations. Indeed, he is taking legal advice about obtaining a full retraction. [Interruption.]

Does not the Leader of the House understand that the Conservative party's difficulties arise because the party will not declare the sums that it receives from other people? As we are seeing what money the Conservative party has received, may I take this opportunity to ask whether it received funds from Mr. John Latsis and Mr. Li Ka-Shing?

In the right hon. and learned Gentleman's immortal words, he has put something else aside, as I understand it. [Interruption.] Let me tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman what I shall do: I shall start listening to his lectures on this subject when he tells me that he will bring to an end the position in the Labour party in which votes at party conferences can be bought, in which votes in the selection of candidates can be bought, and in which votes even in his election as leader of the party can be bought. [Interruption.]

Order. The House is in a very bad mood. [Interruption.] Order—all of you.

Does not the Leader of the House understand—[interruption.] I know that the Conservative party wants to drown this issue out, but it will not succeed. Does not the Leader of the House understand that the public will have noticed that there has been no denial that Mr. John Latsis, Greek millionaire and supporter of the fascist military junta in Greece, gave money to the Conservative party? Does not he understand the simple and clear principle that it is wrong, and should be illegal, for a British political party to accept large sums of money from people who are not British citizens, do not live here, do not vote here, and are not part of our democracy? Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman understand that simple point?

What I understand—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—and believe—[interruption.]—to be a scandal is that a major financer of the Labour party can utter phrases like "No say, no pay." [Interruption.]

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's dealings with the trade unions makes "Jurassic Park" look like a tea party.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, with the coming of the summer solstice, the west country is bracing itself for an invasion of new age travellers? Will he ensure that the Conservative party puts on the statute book whatever measures are necessary to ensure that those who opt for an alternative life style do so at their own expense, and not at the expense of the hard-working taxpayer?

My hon. Friend will know of the plans that the Government have set out, and of our determination to implement them. She may be relieved to note that, at present, most of the new age travellers seem to be on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Seamus Mallon. [Interruption.] lithe House were a little quieter, hon. Members could hear when I called them.

Notwithstanding the importance of Volvo cars and inscribed watches, does the Leader of the House agree that the real moral test of any Government is their care for those in the dawn of life—the young; those in the twilight of life—the aged; and those in the shadows of life—the sick, the poor and the handicapped? Given the Government's predeliction for testing, would the right hon. Gentleman care to subject them to that test? Does he believe that it will show the abysmal failure that most people in the country perceive?

Given the improvements that have been made in the health service, in benefits for disabled people and in educational opportunities for young people, I think that the hon. Gentleman has a nerve to ask that question.

Has my right hon. Friend's busy schedule allowed him an opportunity to consider the announcement—

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to consider our right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary's recent announcement about trials of a side-handled baton for police officers? Does he agree that if the trials are successful, those who daily risk their lives on our streets will deserve our support? If the equipment proves good for the police, will the Government supply it?

I agree very strongly. As has been all too evident on some recent occasions, we ask our police to risk their lives for us every day, and they deserve the protection with which we can provide them. There is no doubt that the standard truncheon does not meet all the needs of modern times, and it is well known to us that police officers have been pressing for more effective alternatives. I know that they, like my hon. Friend, will welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement that a scientific evaluation of the expandable side-handled baton will be undertaken to test its suitability for trials on the streets.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 22 June.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

During his busy day, has the Lord President of the Council had an opportunity to purchase an early retirement present for the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates)? [Interruption.] If so, will he reveal the words that he has had inscribed on the back of it?

I am afraid that, because of the noise—I am not sure from which side of the House it came—I did not hear the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question. Given the reaction, however, I doubt whether I need bother to ask him to repeat it. As for the first part, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made his views on the matter clear some weeks ago, and I see no reason to depart from them this afternoon.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the successful management buy-out at Leyland DAF demonstrates that the Government—and, in particular, our right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade—were quite right to back a private solution to what was a problem? Does it not also illustrate good, common-sense Conservative policies, as opposed to socialist dogma?

Yes. The management buy-outs, first of the vans business in Birmingham and now of the truck business at Leyland, are very good news. They show what can be achieved by working for sound commercial solutions, rather than the preferred solution of Labour Members—offering open-ended subsidies. I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House, whatever their political views, wish the management buy-out people well for the future success of those companies.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 22 June.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

I half expected to receive a note this morning from the Leader of the House saying that he would link questions 2 and 3. I assume that before he did that, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) would also have to be in the frame.

Will the Leader of the House accept that although all hon. Members welcome the recent reduction in the unemployment figures, that should not hide from us the very high figures associated with structural unemployment in this country? Does he further agree that that high level of structural unemployment represents—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way"]—represents a reservoir of economic resources that this country should be using? If he does agree—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] If he does agree, will he accept that the Government should be introducing an economic and industrial strategy to create jobs, not instigating a further attack on the residual welfare state?

May I observe in passing that I am not aware of any practice of linking questions simply because the hon. Members asking them come from different bits of the same city?

Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself agreeing with much of what the hon. Gentleman started with, although not with his conclusions. The Government's view is that the right way forward to tackle that important problem is to put in place the proper training schemes, which we believe we have done, and to create the conditions in which British industry can compete and sell its goods, as we manifestly have with the motor industry, which is very important in the hon. Gentleman's part of the country.

M25 (Widening)

3.30 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you received any application from the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement about the future proposals for the widening of the M25? It seems that a decision may have been made in Cabinet based on information that the Conservative party may lose local election seats. It is time that we had a statement—

Order. I have heard the hon. Lady's point of order. If a statement was to have been made today, it would have been on the annunciator for us all to see.

Statutory Instruments, &C

With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to statutory instruments.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

British Nationality (Hong Kong)

That the draft British Nationality (Hong Kong) (Selection Scheme) (Amendment) Order 1993 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

That the draft Hong Kong (British Nationality) (Amendment) Order 1993 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.— [Mr. Conway.]

Question agreed to.

Deregulation (No 2)

3.32 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to empower the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food further to control the activities of self-financing regulatory authorities.
Last month I sought leave to introduce a Bill to repeal unnecessary rules and regulations which restrict the competitiveness of British industry. Not surprisingly, the Labour party—the guardian angels of red tape—voted me down. Although driven by the same distaste for regulations, this time I seek leave to introduce a Bill to strike a blow at a far more sinister development which not only chokes profitability, but will lead ultimately to economic paralysis.

I am referring, of course, to the emergence of SEFRAs—self-financing regulatory agencies—the most prominent of which are the National Rivers Authority and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. They make the quangos of the 1980s look like cuddly toys and have created an entirely new and additional layer of bureaucracy. For instance, the National Rivers Authority employs 7,500 staff—officials paid out of the public purse.

Let me explain what SEFRAs are and how they work. They were created with the best possible intention by the Government to improve the standards of health, safety, hygiene and pollution. Their detrimental impact cannot, for once, be blamed on Europe so much as on the over-zealousness of our officials in interpreting far beyond what Brussels intended. [Interruption.] I am having great difficulty, Madam Speaker, in hearing myself, so I do not know how my hon. Friends are managing.

I am terribly sorry. I can hear the hon. Gentleman very clearly and I am most interested in what he has to say. The rest of the House must come to order so that we may all hear.

I am delighted, Madam Speaker, that you are so interested in what I am saying.

The detrimental impact cannot, for once, be blamed on Europe so much as on the over-zealousness of our own officials in interpreting far beyond what Brussels ever intended. It makes one think that we may have a kind of bureaucratic fifth column in the heart of Westminster and Whitehall.

Most SEFRAs are rather modest and small to start with, often set up to carry out what local authorities used to do. But, once established, they grow fast, with a life force of their own. Many of the 2,945 statutory instruments passed in 1991 increased the powers of SEFRAs and their ability to issue licences, serve notices and demand compliance. Today they set targets, issue codes of practice and have become bodies which alone can grant legitimacy.

To do this, they employ armies of officials to make inspections, and only when satisfied will they grant licences. In fact, the modus vivendi of SEFRAs is to create rules and regulations, then employ officials to enforce them, charging the unfortunate victims for inspection and the issue of licences.

Some of the rules have helped us to clean up our act; others are simply an additional form of taxation, authorising individuals to do what they have done previously without charge. I will give some examples.

The National Rivers Authority insists on charging a householder in the Lake district a fee because she collects the water that runs down the side of a mountain. She puts the water in a tank and uses it in her house. She has never been charged before, but she is now charged for collecting the water, because the National Rivers Authority says that the water that she takes for her own use could be used by somebody else if she were not using it.

Then there is a case in Birmingham where a company has a building with a large corrugated roof on which water falls. The water runs off the roof, into a down pipe and into a stream. The National Rivers Authority charges the company for that because, it says, the water will erode the banks of the stream.

There is another example in my own constituency. The Harborn garage has a forecourt into which rain occasionally falls. The water goes down a little conduit under the road into a stream. Never before were the garage owners charged, but now they are charged £60 a year in case any of the water that falls on the forecourt should pollute the stream. It is shameful to charge a small garage in this way.

If individuals do not pay the charges that are heaped on them, they are pursued into the courts. Thousands of lives have been made miserable by the contagious nature of SEFRA-isation. Without licences, all organisations are trapped. They cannot trade, and they are branded as defaulters.

SEFRAs generate their own life force. They produce codes of practice, they enforce. Lifting standards is all very well if the organisations targeted have the resources to pay. During the recession most businesses have contracted, whereas SEFRAs have grown and grown, with more publicly paid staff, more rules, more regulations and more red tape.

The scrap metal industry is worth £3 billion a year and is pursuing environmental objectives, whereby it recycles 99 per cent. of the material that it handles, with 1 per cent. going to landfill. Its problem emanates from an emerging SEFRA—the waste regulation authority—which, in interpreting the Environmental Protection Act 1990, has muddled disposal of waste with recycling and forced on the scrap metal industry a raft of new regulations. Scrapyards have to pay £3,000 for a licence and £8,000 for an inspection. If they want to go out of business and surrender their licence, they have to pay another £3,000. Operators are quitting the business in droves. The result is that there will be more material to landfill and less will be recycled, resulting in additional pollution.

Apart from the ordinary household waste, all other waste is classified as controlled waste. To carry controlled waste, one must have a waste management licence: cost £95. To receive controlled waste, one needs another licence, a waste management licence, which costs £1,800. A brewery that for years has been sending barley mash, a by-product of the brewing process, to a local farm for pig fodder has been told that it is recycling waste. Under the new regulations, the brewer must pay £95 to transport the stuff to the farm whereas the farmer with his pigs is viewed as a receiver of waste and has to pay £1,800 to receive it. The House can guess the result: the pigs go hungry. Instead of the waste being put to good use, it goes down the drain and, no doubt, helps to pollute the local river.

The most vivid example of creeping SEFRA-isation is encapsulated in the Spanish coffins saga. Unfortunately, 200 to 300 Britons die in Spain each year. Naturally, they are shipped home in Spanish coffins. However, due to European environmental directive 84/360, coffins can be burnt in a crematorium in this country only if they do not contain certain banned substances, such as certain glues. Although Spain is a signatory to the directive, surprise, surprise, it has not got around to enforcing it. That means that when the body arrives at a British crematorium, it is decoffined, as the parlance goes, from the Spanish coffin and then recoffined in a British-made coffin which, surprise, surprise, conforms to EC regulations. The coffin can then be burnt at the crematorium in full compliance with the directive and with the Environmental Protection Act. Britain, as ever, has done its bit in conforming to the regulations. However, when one asks those working at the crematorium what happens to the Spanish coffins, one is told that they are taken out the back and burnt on a bonfire.

That story was related to me by one of the most famous SEFRA-hunters of all time, Christopher Booker of The Sunday Telegraph. It is such bureaucratic absurdities that have prompted me to seek leave to introduce a Bill to curb the creeping growth of SEFRAs and to rein back their power to introduce new and punitive regulations which are doing unnecessary and untold damage. That is apart from their appalling cost which has to be supported by the public purse and which, no doubt, contributes to the nation's £50 billion deficit. In short, our nation's enterprise is being inhibited. Any talk of lifting the burden will have a hollow ring unless something is done about the growth of SEFRAs. That is an important task and I ask the House to give me leave to do something about it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Anthony Steen, Sir Michael Grylls, Sir Michael Neubert, Sir Anthony Durant, Sir Donald Thompson, Sir Keith Speed, Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Mr. Dudley Fishburn, Mr. Quentin Davies, Mr. John Sykes, Mr. Bernard Jenkin and Mr. Roger Evans.

Deregulation (No 2)

Mr. Anthony Steen accordingly presented a Bill to empower the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food further to control the activities of self-financing regulatory authorities: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 2 July, and to be printed. [Bill 213.]

Orders Of The Day

Opposition Day


Political Parties (Funding)

I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister. I seek the co-operation of the House in the hope that hon. Members will exercise voluntary restraint on the length of their speeches so that I may call all hon. Members who seek to be called.

3.43 pm

I beg to move,

That this House records it concern at the revelation that Asil Nadir and his companies made nine separate donations totalling £440,000 to the Conservative Party, which were undeclared in his company accounts and undeclared by the Conservative Party itself; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to endorse the Charter for Party Political Funding published by the Labour Party, in particular its demand that all political parties should publish fully audited accounts which disclose the source of all large donations and should refuse any donations from individuals who are neither British residents nor British nationals, any donations from foreign Governments or their agents and any donations from foreign companies not registered in Britain; and urges Her Majesty's Government to commence proceedings against any company which has made a political donation without declaration under the Companies Act 1985 and to invite all parties to submit their list of company donors to the Department of Trade and Industry to assist in ensuring compliance with company law.
Britain today is a country in turmoil. Its people, perhaps slowly emerging from three long years of recession, feel anxious, beleaguered and insecure in their employment. All too many of them are insecure in the possession of their homes, conscious that there is no such thing as a safe job or a secure profession and increasingly fearful that there are all too few safe streets. The people of our country know that last April they were deceived and their confidence was betrayed by the Government and the party in which they placed their trust. As they gaze with dismay on the failures of the Government, their confidence is further eroded not only by the crass incompetence that they see the Government displaying but by the atmosphere of sleaze and the odour of corruption that they exude.

For years, Conservative Governments have listened to no one. For years, they have used the power and patronage of government, at least in part, for party political advantage. This is a Government who have ceased to be able to tell the difference between the country's interests and their own—perhaps they have even ceased to believe that one can be distinguished from the other. For years they steadily placed, honoured and promoted those who saw things in the same narrow compass, until it would appear that there is no one to blow the whistle, no one to see the line of proprieties being crossed and no one to call a halt.

There is a remarkable coincidence between the Government's placement of honours and donations to the Conservative party. The top ten corporate donors—[Interruption.]

Order. I should say at the outset that I cannot force right hon. and hon. Members to listen, but what I can enforce is that whoever has the floor during this debate will be heard, and I hope that my cautionary remarks will be taken on board by hon. Members in all parts of the House.

Since 1979, the top 10 corporate donors to the Conservative party are as follows. United Biscuits has given more than £1 million and the honours received were one peerage and one knighthood; Hanson, £852,000, two peerages; Taylor Woodrow, £837,362, which is remarkable precision, one peerage and one knighthood. British and Commonwealth gave about £823,000—I shall leave out the odd figures—and received one peerage; P and O gave £727,000 and received one peerage and three knighthoods; Glaxo gave £600,000 and received two knighthoods; Trafalgar House gave £590,000 and received one peerage and one knighthood. There is a remarkable coincidence in the placement of honours and the placement of money—

While the hon. Lady is giving us the figures, will she tell us how much the National and Local Government Officers Association spent on its misleading and grubby advertising campaign at the last general election?

The money that NALGO spent on its election campaign—or in the campaign that it ran at the time—[Interruption ] I am quoting the hon. Member for Plymouth Sutton (Mr. Streeter). It was his description, not mine. That money will be found declared in NALGO's accounts, which is more than can be said for many of the donations to the Conservative party.

As I was saying, given the placement of people and the award of honours, there seems to be no one who will tell the Conservative party when to call a halt.

Not for the moment.

How else can we explain the Treasury's extraordinary decision to pay the then Chancellor of the Exchequer's legal fees in a private lawsuit? How else could the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—since promoted to be Secretary of State for the Environment—have thought it uncontroversial to allow a major company to pay to have his grounds improved? How else can we have reached the position where it is so widely believed as to be no longer a matter of much remark that, as the list that I quoted shows, honours given in the name of the Crown are regularly assumed to be purchased by financial contributions to the Conservative party? How else can it ever have been thought—

Order. Hon. Members should not persist. The right hon. Lady is making it clear that for the moment she is not willing to give way.

How else can it ever have been thought acceptable that the party of government publishes no proper, independently audited accounts, acknowledges that more than half its funds come from sources it is not prepared to reveal and now admits under pressure that a large part of its campaign to secure the election was funded from overseas?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving way. Does the Labour party ever accept money with strings attached—yes or no?

No, certainly not. [Interruption.] I have given the answer.

How else can it be thought acceptable for the party of government to react as it did for months, with complete indifference, to the discovery that it was paid almost £500,000 in a fashion which breached company law by someone now a fugitive from British justice?

In his evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs the other day, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler)—I am pleased to see him here today because I hope that he will answer the questions that he did not answer in that Committee—said:
"I am not in the business of looking for ways round the laws of the country",
as, of course,Mr. Nadir did in the donations he made to the Conservative party. However, perhaps I can draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention and that of the House to a story that appeared in Scotland a year or so ago.

James Sneddon, the former director of the Conservative Board of Finance Scotland, who is no doubt well known to Conservative Members, said:
"The attraction of the British United Industrialists arrangement"—
this is for the payment of donations to an organisation outside the Conservative party—
"is the exclusion of any disclosure of such a payment as a political donation in the statutory accounts of your company."
That is the advice that the gentleman gave to those whom he hoped to seduce into giving money to the Conservative party through that indirect route, a way around the law. It was advice being given by the Conservative party about the way around the law.

Will the right hon. Lady please tell me why a man who took £750,000 of Maxwell pensioners' money without any real work being done in exchange is given the honour of sitting on the Labour Front Bench in another place?

The hon. Gentleman has made a serious allegation about the circumstances in which someone was employed. I am not responsible for the employment of someone in a company in which, as I understand it, he did work for which he properly received remuneration. The hon. Gentleman cannot show that the Labour party received money illegally from companies, as we now know that the Conservative party has.

In a moment; I want to say a little more about British United Industrialists. I do not want to leave the point before I have made the matter clear.

Advice was given by the Conservative party that it was a means of companies paying money to the party without shareholders being told. I hear some Conservative Back Benchers saying that the organisation does not exist. I understand that it may have been wound up but, for many years, Conservative Members asserted that donations made in that way were nothing to do with them. Indeed, in a debate in another place not so very long ago—in 1989, I believe—the then treasurer of the Conservative party implied, and may even have stated, that such an organisation was not a means of channelling money into the Conservative party.

Just a moment; I am about to give the hon. Gentleman some information that I know he wants.

Despite the denial by the Conservative party in the House of Lords and for many years outside, when talking of indirect means the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) said:
"British United Industrialists has been mentioned—everyone understands the role of the recipient and realises that a large proportion of the funds paid to it are passed to the Conservative party. There is complete openness and accountability."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 16 May 1989; c. 7.]
Conservative Members may say that that organisation did not exist, but it did, and it was a means of channelling money to the Conservative party.

I shall say a little more about breaches of the law rather than about the implications.

Other breaches of the law occur among those who support and give money to the Conservative party.

Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his intervention. I understand that he will seek to catch my eye later, so he might do one of two things for which I asked earlier: he might at least listen.

The Financial Times revealed that in 1990 a company called Sovereign Leasing made a donation of £100,000 to the Conservative party. It failed to declare the payment in its accounts, thus breaching the law. The donation came to light only because the company was taken over by the Bank of Austria, which presumably had slightly higher standards.

There is also on record a company called Hartley Investment Trust. In the run-up to the 1987 general election that company gave £167,000 to the Conservative party, which was the largest corporate donation to the Conservative party ever recorded—so far, at any rate. That company is breaking the law. It should have filed accounts for the year ending March 1991 by the end of April 1992, and for the year ending March 1992 by the end of April 1993. It has failed to do so. That company is chaired by Alan Lewis, and the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox)—the chairman of the 1922 Committee and a member of the Conservative party's board of finance—is a non-executive director. So let us hear less from the Conservative party about the people who legally give money to the Labour party and declare their donations.

The background to the way in which the Conservative party receives its money is the reason why we have proposed a charter for political party funding, to apply to all political parties in this country. However the issue may have arisen, we believe that it is right that such a charter should now be introduced, but from the evidence so far it appears singularly unlikely that the Government have either the will or the guts to do that.

The presence on the Government Front Bench of the Secretary of State for Employment is a clear sign of how the Government propose to handle the debate—and on how they have handled the matter from the beginning, when it was first revealed that the Conservative party had taken money illegally, in secret and from overseas. The Conservatives say nothing about the way in which they are funded—

All they do is talk about the relationship between the Labour party and the trade unions.

The suggestion has been made, Madam Speaker, that Conservative Members of Parliament have acted illegally. That is a most dreadful slur on Conservative Members, and the fact is—[Interruption.]

Order. A number of Members may not be listening as carefully as I am listening. I have been listening most carefully, and the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) is talking about the corporate structure of the Conservative party. I ask hon. Members at least to give a hearing to the Front-Bench speakers from both sides. Indeed, I insist that they do so. If hon. Members listened a little more carefully, they might hear a little more clearly what is going on.

Not for a minute.

Conservative Members will respond as they respond to every criticism or concern, no matter how well founded or by whom expressed. First, they bluster that it is an outrage that they should be criticised at all. Then they say that all the comment is misplaced and results from ignorance or malice. Finally, they assert, as they are asserting today, that no matter how flimsy or non-existent the evidence, their critics are not merely as bad as they but far worse, and hence should say nothing at all.

The trouble is that Conservative Members probably believe that. It was said of the inhabitants of the Nixon White House at the time of Watergate that part of their problem was that they had become so out of touch with general expectations about standards of behaviour and what was acceptable in political life that they thought that everyone was behaving in the same way as they were but was just not being honest about it.

My suspicion that that is the attitude of the Conservative party is reinforced by some information that came my way on Sunday courtesy of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). At the end of last week, I am told, the companies division of the Department of Trade and Industry sent a request to Companies house for the civil servants there to go through the files of 12 of the late Robert Maxwell's companies to see whether they could unearth any undeclared donations to the Labour party. I hope that that means that we will at least be spared in this debate the dubious proposition advanced by the chairman of the Conservative party that it is no concern of the Government whether or not companies obey company law.

I must tell the Secretary of State that I find it a somewhat doubtful manoeuvre that civil servants should be asked to do the Conservative party's dirty work. The Conservatives have every right to seek information from Companies house, but why do they not send along someone from the Conservative party and pay a search fee like everyone else?

The Labour party's position is simple and clear: every year we publish independently audited accounts. They are reported and debated in full at our annual conference.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to hear this.

Much of our funding comes, as the world knows, from the trade unions affiliated to our party. Indeed, that is so well known that the Conservative party in government has made repeated attempts over the past 14 years to reduce the funds and remove, if it could and at the very least restrict, the Labour party's access to those funds. In my opinion, that in itself is a rather dangerous use of political power for partisan, party political advantage. That is the kind of thing at which we raise our eyebrows when it happens in third world countries.

Our relationship with the trade unions is known, public and voluntary. It is governed by the Labour party's rules and constitution and by those of the affiliated trade unions. It is also rigidly controlled by law and supervised by a special officer of the courts. There is no question of a casual disregard for trade union law as there evidently is for company law.

Six million trade unionists voluntarily pay political levies and 4·5 million of them belong to unions affiliated and contributing to the Labour party. Incidentally, they are British—

Order. It is pretty obvious, even to someone as thick-skinned as me, that the right hon. Lady is not giving way. Therefore, hon. Members should not persist when that is made clear.

Those trade unionists live here and vote here and their interests are bound up with the future and well-being of Britain. They have no other axe to grind and no other interests to serve.

As it happens, the income that we receive from the trade unions is today a declining share of the Labour party's income. Taking the position overall, in 1991 they contributed just over 50 per cent. of the Labour party's income. By a remarkable, although unfortunate coincidence, more than 50 per cent. of the income of the Conservative party in election year came from undeclared sources.

The trade unions contributed just over £7 million to our general election campaign" 68 per cent. of those funds. The Conservative party apparently received £7 milli on in overseas donations alone for its election campaign—that is the heart of the matter. I say "apparently" because, although the former director of the Conservative party's board of finance, Major-General Wyldbore-Smith, has admitted as much, and its former treasurer, Lord McAlpine, has said on the record that money was paid to the Conservative party through "tons" of offshore and overseas accounts, none of this information is properly in the public domain.

The British public had no idea, when they cast their votes just over a year ago, that the money for all the seductive and untruthful advertisements attacking the Labour party came, in secret, from outside these islands.

The Labour party's accounts for 1991 show an entry of £228,000 accredited to high-value donor activity. Would the right hon. lady tell us who the donors were and how much each paid?

The hon. Gentleman can find that information, as he said, in the Labour party's published accounts for 1991. That is the sum total of high-value donations that the Labour party received; it is half of what the Conservative party received from one man alone.

The hon. Gentleman should take on board the fact that we are not going to accept the total double standards of the Conservative party in this matter. Almost every penny of the money that the Labour party receives is identified by organisation—because most of it comes from organisations and fund raising. We do not give the name of every pensioner who sends us a tenner, or the name of the school caretaker who writes to me every month and donates the tiny sums that he raises for the Labour party. If the Conservative party tells us who pays even half of the funds it receives, we will certainly publish the names of our contributors.

It is because of all this that we have proposed and published a charter for party political funding. One of our main proposals is that every political party should publish properly audited accounts, refuse donations from people who are neither British residents nor British nationals, and decline ever to take money from foreign Governments or their agents.

I understand that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield told the Select Committee on Home Affairs that the Conservative party has a rule that it does not take money from foreign Governments, despite the many, many rumours to the contrary. It is not clear to me, however, from the reports that I have received of the right hon. Gentleman's evidence when exactly that rule came into force.

Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman will seek to catch my eye later in the debate. He ought to contain himself for the moment because it seems to me that the right hon. Lady is not prepared to give way to him.

I am happy to give way to enable the right hon. Gentleman to make a clear statement on this matter.

I shall give way in just a second.

I understand that the right hon. Gentleman's evidence to the Select Committee was that such a rule now exists. It is not clear to me that he said clearly to the Select Committee when it came into force. Will he tell us, now, when it came into force?

It has always existed; it exists now and has always existed. Will the right hon. Lady, now that she has raised this question, dissociate herself from the comments that she made this morning about this totally unsubstantiated story about the Saudi Arabian royal family? She has slurred that family. Will she now withdraw her comments?

Order. The right hon. Lady is at the Dispatch Box. I want to hear what she has to say—whether the House wants to or not.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield should re-read his copy of The Guardian. I see no cause for, and I do not have the slightest intention of, withdrawing what I said. What I said was clear and specific.

Serious allegations have been made—not by me—that the Conservative party took money from agents on behalf of foreign potentates. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, other allegations have been made that the Conservative party took money from agents of foreign Governments. Those allegations are important and serious and should be discussed. I said that they should be denied if they were untrue. The right hon. Gentleman has denied them, so what is he complaining about?

Does the right hon. Lady accept that the allegations made in The Guardian this morning are totally untrue and that her comments, like much of her speech so far, are simply rumourmongering on her part?

There has conspicuously been no answer to other questions put to the right hon. Gentleman by people such as John Latsis and others, and I shall come to that in a moment. The reason why the rumours exist and the stories are—[Interruption.] I will not withdraw.

The reason why the allegations have been made goes to the heart of the debate. The Conservative party will not tell the people of the United Kingdom where it got the money. When Conservative Members tell us that, there will be no need, no cause and, presumably, no further rumours.

Before the last general election, when the Prime Minister was, as he puts it, "batting for Britain" on a two-day visit to Hong Kong at the expense of the British taxpayer, he devoted a large chunk of his time to batting for the Conservative party, attending a dinner at which large sums were raised for his election campaign. One of those said to have been present is Li Ka-Shing, who is a close associate of the Chinese Government. Many of those said to have been present are reported to have contributed substantially to Tory party funds on that occasion and others. That must, self evidently, have been at least without the disapproval of the Chinese Government and it has been alleged that it was at least partly with money to which they gave their consent. [Interruption.]

My hon. Friends are concerned that information has been passed from the Box on what they regard as a party political matter.

It has been said that one of those present is a large contributor to Conservative party funds. I find it a rich irony that money was given to the Conservative party certainly without the disapproval of the Chinese Government.

The Labour party has frequently been accused without there being the slightest word of truth in it. I hear Conservative Back Benchers making such comments today, although I notice that they do not have the guts to stand up and say it. The Labour party has often been accused of benefiting from what used to be called Moscow gold.

The right hon. Lady said that she wanted to come clean about trade union contributions to the Labour party. Would she kindly tell the House about the massive contributions that the trade unions make to marginal constituencies in which trade union officials work full time during election campaigns? How much did that cost and is it fully declared?

The problems of Conservative Members are, first, that they assume, as I said earlier, that what they are doing must be what everyone else is doing and, secondly, that they do not understand how the structure of the Labour party works—[Interruption.] There are strict rules about how much funding and support can be given by trade unionists to any constituency and any constituency party.

No. I am in the middle of a passage. As I was saying, the suggestion that the Labour party receives money from overseas has always been described in thrilling accents as Moscow gold. The notion that Chinese communists give consent to funding of the Tory election campaign would be hilarious if it were not serious.

Of course, the Prime Minister's much reported visit to Hong Kong is not an isolated example. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) obtained through parliamentary questions—[Interruption.]—therefore, the information was extracted with difficulty from the Government—has shown that between 1988 and 1991 there were no fewer than 35 ministerial visits at taxpayers' expense to Hong Kong, of which 16 certainly involved party political activity by the Ministers in question, and a further three probably did.


Apart from the Prime Minister's visit and the money that was raised from Hong Kong, other allegations have repeatedly been made about a variety of donations, some suggest from Dubai and others suggest from Saudi Arabia and so on.

But I say again that the heart of the matter is that such allegations are made and they can be made because of the secrecy that surrounds the source of the Tory party's funds. In election year it spent £26 million.

I notice that Conservative Members always rise to their feet bellowing when we mention the word "secrecy". I wonder why.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. He has risen about a dozen times. If the right hon. Lady does not wish to give way, he must resume his seat. Does the right hon. Lady wish to give way? No.

As I was saying—I am anxious for the House to hear it—in election year the Conservative party spent £26 million. Of that, £15 million was from sources unknown. The Government's case is that none of this matters because those who give such large sums secretly to the Tory party do so without reward or even the expectation of reward, out of the sheer kindness of their hearts.

It must be a touching scene. Picture, for example, the famous meal in Hong Kong or the lunch held in Downing street just before the election. The talk turns to the shocking state of Britain. So poor, it cannot fund the Conservative party to run a decent election campaign. I wonder whether the Prime Minister allowed a small, brave, manly sob to cross his lips; a friendly arm round his shoulders, "My dear boy, don't say another word. What is a million pounds here or there to me?"

There is no doubt that Conservative Members will have to eat all those harsh words that they have said over the years about do-gooders. There they are exposed in the ranks of their own friends doing good for the sake of it and, in classic fashion, doing it by stealth.

What is truly remarkable about the Government's version of events is that it is the overseas contributors in particular who understand that they will receive no reward except in heaven for their noble gesture. That is remarkable because we know that it has not always been so clearly understood by some nearer to home, who should in theory be more familiar with the way in which these things work.

Lord King is often described as the ultimate insider. He is the man who successfully persuaded the Government to privatise British Airways, from which he, it would be fair to say, has profited enormously. One would think that he must have understood the delicacy of the relationship between donations to Tory party funds and political decision making. But after all those years of close association, he understood so little that he actually withdrew funding a year or so ago, linking that withdrawal explicitly and publicly to a disagreement over Government policy as it affected British Airways.

Indeed, one almost gets the impression from a report in The Guardian on Monday of a reported conversation between the Prime Minister and Mr. Gorbachev that the Prime Minister forgot for a sheer microsecond, because he is said to have mentioned to Mr. Gorbachev that he was raising the matter because he had promised Lord King that he would. even though British Airways did not give money to the Tory party any more. Of course, as the Prime Minister and his colleagues have explained, that has no relevance as it does not make any difference whether or not money is given to the Tory party.

The right hon. Lady will recall the explosive issue of routes to Tokyo and slots at Heathrow, when British Airways did not get what it wanted despite the money it paid to the Tory party—[Interruption]—which surely proves that one cannot buy influence. Does she agree that that proves that influence cannot be bought from the Tory party?

I am not sure that I heard the concluding words of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but what I heard of his remarks was well worth hearing.

The Prime Minister said last week that companies donated money to the Tory party because British business
"believes that our policies are right for British business, the British future and British jobs"—[Official Report, 17 June 1993; Vol. 226, c. 990.]
Again, those who might be expected to be aware that that was the only reason for giving money to the Conservative party do not always seem to realise it.

During the Guinness dispute with Distillers, Ernest Saunders got quite the wrong end of the stick. As he said on television:
"One of them, a very senior figure … said he noticed we did not contribute to the Conservative Party and when were we going to … I think there were three occasions during the period … when it … came up, not in any way as a threat. But it came up sufficiently for me to realise that if we were going to go on rolling, I would have to put this matter to the board and our policy would have to be re-thought."
The interviewer asked Mr. Saunders what he thought the comment had meant and he replied—[interruption] I am sure that Conservative Members want to hear the reply, which was:
"I took it … to indicate that if one was going to need political access at the highest level, and political support, then an ongoing … relationship which involved contributions, would have to be part of the agenda."
We now know that he was just being reminded of the wonderful opportunities for charitable giving. It all makes a truly amazing story, some might even say an incredible one. Of course, that is just what it is—incredible, literally beyond belief. It is no longer tolerable that the party of government should take such large sums of money secretly and refuse to reveal to the British people whence they come.

Is it not significant that the two cases where the evidence is at its clearest—Sovereign Leasing and Asil Nadir—came about through extraneous circumstances, that is, the receivership and the take-over of the company? So is it not likely that there are bodies buried all over the place? Surely it is right in a democracy that the governing party should come clean and show us where those bodies are.

My hon. Friend is entirely correct in his observation that most of the matters of which we know have emerged only incidentally and the Conservative party has not revealed the source of the money.

What is infinitely more serious than the award of honours—itself a minor scandal to which I have referred—is the influence that such secret donations buy on the policy of the British Goverment. In 1990 and in 1991, when debating the Finance Bill, we raised the issue of the generous tax treatment of offshore trusts. We said that the costs to the British taxpayers of such measures were estimated to be between £1 billion and £2 billion, and sought to persuade the Government to make a change of policy. First, the Government poured scorn on the figures. They then refused to make a change. Finally, they claimed in 1991 to have completely resolved the matter. That case was not accepted by independent commentators and accountants.

I wonder whether it would have been so readily accepted by the British press if it had known that it was through such trusts and accounts that money, which at the time the Tories desperately needed, was being channelled into Tory party funds from overseas. Similarly, the tax treatment of investors not domiciled in Britain makes this country, together with countries such as Luxembourg and Switzerland, one of the most generous in the world to the seriously rich.

Ministers boast of Britain being a tax haven. This year's Finance Bill further loosened the law on tax avoidance for those with available accommodation in the United Kingdom who may not now need to be taxed as residents. Meanwhile, the Government's utterly incompetent management of our economy has left us in debt up to our ears, and Ministers are attacking the unemployed, those with disabilities and pensioners. Those who give the Conservative party money are benefiting at the expense of those who have only votes to give.

Other questions about the effects of the process on Government policy are bound to arise. Why do we not ban tobacco advertising, as all medical advice suggests that we should? Is it because of the money that tobacco companies give to the Tory party—and at what cost to the British taxpayer through the health service? Why does the British taxpayer pay for an army training facility in Dubai when swingeing cuts are being made in defence expenditure? Is it, as has been alleged, as a quid pro quo because the Sultan of Dubai donates to Tory party funds?

Yes, it is sleaze.

Why have the Government so singularly failed to police the Companies Acts? Even more outrageous, why does the Tory party advise companies on how to get round the existing legislative curbs and make donations to the Tory party by the back door so that their shareholders are kept in ignorance of what is being done? We know that it has recently done so.

The policies of Britain's Government should be decided by what is in the interests of the people of Britain and should never be subjugated to what is in the interests of the Tory party. If that is not happening, what do the Government have to hide? Why do they not publish full accounts? Why do they not adopt our charter proposals, which are simple and straightforward? I think that Conservative Members have forgotten that this is not the first time that the Government have had the opportunity to clean up their act.

In January 1989 the House of Lords carried an amendment to put the treatment of donations by companies on much the same footing as the treatment of donations by trade unions to the Labour party. That amendment was rejected in the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield—who has made a lot of noise today, but all from a sedentary position—was the man who moved to reject the amendment. He said that the issue would have to be placed on an annual general meeting agenda, would be a nuisance and shareholders could get rid of directors if they chose. He said in Committee:
"That is why I believe that it would be wrong in principle to clutter the agenda of annual general meetings in this way"—[Official Report, Standing Committee, 16 May 1989; c. 8.]
What an important consideration—a major and terribly worrying matter—that it would be wrong in principle for shareholders to be bothered with the little matter of whether their company gives hundreds of thousands of pounds of their money to the Conservative party, with or without their knowledge!

The suspicion unquestionably exists that, if the Conservative party will not reveal from where it obtains more than 50 per cent. of its money—[HON. MEMBERS: "The Labour party does not."] We reveal from where we obtain almost every single penny that we receive. More than 50 per cent. is undeclared, secret, large parts of it from overseas. If the Conservative party refuses to make that declaration, the suspicion must arise that the damage that would be done to the Conservative party by the British people finding out from where it obtains its money is even worse than the damage that is being done today by secrecy.

The call for reform comes not only from the Government's political opponents, but from within the ranks of the Conservative party itself. The Conservative party's organisation, the Charter Movement, says:
"The Conservative party should not be financed from abroad. It should not be financed by or on behalf of foreign governments. It should not be financed by those who have no vote in United Kingdom elections. It should not be financed in a furtive way."
Those are the words of the constituents and members of the Conservative party and they would be ashamed if they saw the way in which their representatives are behaving in the House of Commons today.

Lord McAlpine said on British television the other evening that he did not know that Asil Nadir was, as he put it, a crook. But if his donations had been publicly declared from the beginning, it is highly probable that word would have got back about the questions being asked.

There is in all this a terrible danger for the health and well-being of democracy in Britain, a danger of which Conservative Members have no inkling or understanding. If the British people come to believe that the very processes of democracy are being insidiously suborned, to their existing disillusion with the blatant casual betrayal of all the promises that the Government made them at the election might be added that deep corrosive cynicism that, wherever it is found, saps public confidence in democracy and creates profound public unease.

This is a shabby Government, a deceitful Government, a Government unworthy of the trust that the British people placed in them last year. Their weaknesses and deceits permeate and disfigure the very fabric of British life. It is time that they went.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is not it an ancient tradition in the House and in the country that the civil service is non-political and apolitical? During the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), eight civil servants sitting in the Box have been passing notes to the Minister on political points. Is not that an example of the stinking corruption of the Government and do not you, Madam Speaker, have the power to remove civil servants who are being tainted by such an example?

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to give credibility to what he has just said. We must bear in mind the fact that those to whom he refers cannot answer for themselves.

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand perfectly that those who serve the Government cannot answer for themselves. That is all the more reason why they themselves should make it clear that they are not associated with the Government's political fortunes. If you, Madam Speaker, have no power to remove them and if the Government do not have the decency to remove those civil servants from temptation, might not it be better if the civil servants took their own action to protect their own order?

4.35 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

'believes that the principle of voluntary funding underpins the strength of democratic political parties in this country; records its concern at the purchase by trade unions of votes in the election of the Labour Party leadership, the selection of candidates and of votes on policy at Labour's Party Conference sufficient to secure binding commitments; and calls upon the Labour Party to end the control over its policy, organisation and leadership wielded by a small number of trade union leaders.'.
I have been in this House for about 17 years, but I do not believe that I have ever heard such a shabby, irresponsible, miserable speech. What a waste of an Opposition day this is. Gone suddenly are the demands by the right hon. Lady for debates on public expenditure, Bosnia and unemployment. It is amazing what a little good news will do. The right hon. Lady calls herself the deputy Leader of the Labour party. I believe that she will grow to be quite ashamed of her speech, which was riddled with rumour, innuendo and smear. She referred to an atmosphere of sleaze. The only atmosphere of sleaze that exists after her speech is to be found among Opposition Members.

Why are we debating political funding today? I know the answer. From the depths of Walworth road has come some rather bad news. The general election defeat has left the Labour party with the most serious financial crisis in its history. I hear someone say that that is not true. I have here the report of the national executive committee of the Labour party, which says:
"The general election defeat has left the Labour party with probably the most serious financial crisis in its history."
Now we know why we are having this debate. The Labour party wants to get its paws on the public purse. It wants the taxpayer to bail out its sinking ship. Enough of the pretence. That is really what this debate is all about. It is about the Labour party's desire to have state funding of political parties. But the confidence trick is exposed for what it really is—just a ruse by that party to get its hands on taxpayers' money. That is the party's secret agenda.

The saddest aspect of this debate so far is the willingness of the main Opposition party to strike at the heart of our political system and our democracy. They are trying, by a series of slurs and innuendos, to bring our democracy into disrepute. In recent years they have not only opposed the Conservative Government but sought to undermine the very foundations of our political system. In doing so, they destroy their own credibility. They now attack everything. They do not have policies any more; they just manufacture political smears.

Let me give some examples. Despite the words of the Lord President at Prime Minister's Question Time today, the right hon. Lady maintained the allegation contained in The Guardian of this morning, which is now being exposed as a slur. The allegation has been shown to be completely without foundation. A statement issued earlier today, which was referred to by the Lord President, made it clear not only that no such meeting as had been alleged took place but that neither Prince Bandar Bin Sultan nor anyone connected with the Saudi Arabian Government has made donations to the Conservative party, directly or indirectly, or has been asked for such donations. Why, then, did not the right hon. Lady withdraw that disgraceful imputation?

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours