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Trade Unions (Party Funding)

Volume 566: debated on Tuesday 9 July 2013

5. What recent representations he has received on the role of trade unions in the funding of political parties. (163793)

The cross-party funding talks during 2012 and 2013 included discussions on reform of donations, spending, and how to deal with affiliate bodies such as trade unions. In my written statement to the House last Thursday I expressed my disappointment that, as on previous occasions, the talks were not able to reach agreement on beginning party funding reform in this Parliament.

I welcome the Damascene conversion of the Leader of the Opposition to the merits of trade union members opting in to the political levy, but does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that it is way past time for trade union members to be able to decide to which political party they donate?

I agree with my hon. Friend and think that, as on so many other matters, the vast majority of the British people would also agree with him rather than the Labour party. If Labour Members want to turn their leader’s words today into action, we are prepared to work with them and use the forthcoming party funding Bill—[Interruption.] That is a serious suggestion and offer to turn the principle of an opt-in on the political levy into law, and indeed to give trade union members the right to support other parties, if that is what they wish. I hope Labour Members will take that opportunity, because it is time to turn words into actions.

Would not the Deputy Prime Minister speak with more credibility about political funding if his party returned the £2.5 million given to it by a convicted criminal, Michael Brown? That money was stolen. Why not return it?

I know that things must be difficult for the hon. Gentleman at this time and that he wants to spread mud around the place, but the fact is that the issue in British politics today is how on earth it is possible that the Labour party—a so-called progressive party—is funded to the tune of £11 million by Unite, which hand-picks its parliamentary questions and its parliamentary candidates. That is why I repeat my sincere offer to use forthcoming legislation to turn the promises being made by his leader into action.

Given the scandal engulfing the Labour party, is it not time that my right hon. Friend offered the Leader of the Opposition a helping hand and introduced a £50,000 cap on donations to political parties, which would stop big-money trade unions buying parliamentary seats?

I should point out to my hon. Friend that the donation cap did not find favour among various parties in the recent cross-party talks. The issue of the day is: are parties in this House free of vested interests—yes or no? I do not think it healthy for the Labour party or, for that matter, the trade unions to have this dysfunctional relationship. I welcome what the leader of the Labour party is saying today and offer legislation on behalf of the coalition Government to turn his words into action.

On the funding of political parties, in recent years donations to the Conservative party from hedge fund managers, bankers and others associated with the City of London have doubled to nearly £43 million. They obviously like the half-baked regulatory measures being introduced by this Government. What measures does the Deputy Prime Minister plan to take to ensure full transparency, so that these donations, to use his own words, are not allowed to distort the political process?

All parties in this House, if we are candid with each other, have had problems with the way in which big money circulates in politics. That is why I remain a keen advocate of a cross-party approach to getting big money out of political donations and why I am disappointed that the recent cross-party talks did not lead to fruition. We can make progress, which is why we are about to table a Bill on third party funding to limit the influence of non-political parties in the democratic process. I repeat what I said earlier: given that the Labour party finally seems to have had a change of heart over the way in which it organises its dysfunctional relationship with its financial backers, I hope that it will work with us to reflect that in law.