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Political Parties: Donations

Volume 547: debated on Friday 9 July 1993

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11.10 a.m.

Whether they still see no reason for political parties to say from where their donations have come.

My Lords, where individuals make donations for political purposes, they are entitled to the right of privacy if that is their wish.

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that Answer. It is on the same lines as what I received on 15th November 1990 from his noble friend Lord Ferrers. However, in view of intervening events, the Government may want to weigh the right of privacy for individual donors—I accept that on its merits for the moment—against the greater public interest of informing people who is donating finance to the party which provides the government of this country. If the noble Viscount finds it difficult to accept that comment from the Opposition, will he listen to the voices of his own party? I refer to the Charter Movement for democracy within the Conservative Party, and to the noble Lords, Lord McAlpine and Lord Parkinson. all of them voices speaking out for the declaration of donations.

My Lords, we believe, as do the Liberal and Labour parties, that it is wrong to comment on past individual donations. If people want to make public their donations to any political party or charity, it is entirely up to them.

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that he could have defused part of the coming attack if he had said that future political donations would be made public? is he willing to say that now? Can he name any other body concerned in public life which is not required to publish its accounts on an annual basis?

My Lords, it would be an unreasonable intrusion into the privacy of an individual. We believe in voluntary parties in this country which receive voluntary contributions from people who wish to support them. Seventy per cent. of all Conservative Party income is raised in the constituencies.

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that all the charities in this land respect the wish of a donor's anonymity?

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Elton makes an important point. It is entirely for the donor of any money to any political party to decide whether or not he or she wishes to make that fact public. If a company gives money to a political party, that fact must be included in the annual audited accounts.

My Lords, it is not, but often it looks as if the Liberal Party might be.

My Lords, is it not a fact that some time ago the Conservative Government altered the rules about trade union donations so that trade unionists now have to opt in to the political levy? Why are not shareholders given a similar privilege? Why should Members on these Benches have to contribute, whether they like it or not, through companies in which they hold shares to the miserable party opposite? Is not this refusal to face the desire, which has been put many times by many people, that donations to political parties should be made public vindictive to their opponents, devious towards the public and contemptible to any fair-minded man?

My Lords, any company has the right to give money to any political party that it so wishes. if the sum is more than £200 that has to appear in the annual accounts. In the Labour Party the trade unions fund nearly two-thirds of the income which buys them 70 per cent. of the block vote at the conference which decides party policy, 40 per cent. of the votes in the Labour leadership election and 40 per cent. of the vote in selecting Labour candidates.

My Lords, in the position just referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, where shareholders might have the right to opt in, would it not be even worse if public support was demanded and taxpayers had no say about supporting all political parties whether they wished to or not? I know that that is one of the suggestions put forward.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. There are much better and more important things to do than spend taxpayers' money on funding political party antics.

My Lords, we understand why the noble Viscount is bound to be rather defensive in his answers. However, does he not feel that it is rather unfair to the constituency parties and the ordinary members of the Conservative Party, who, we understand, make jam and run wine and cheese parties, and who raise 70 per cent. of the funds, that they should be implicated with these shady international financiers who seem to provide the other 30 per cent.?

My Lords, they are not in any way implicated. What is more, when this evening I go to a Conservative Party fund raising event the people I shall meet there will be proud that the money that they raise by selling jam is being used in a worthwhile cause.

My Lords, has the Minister analysed the motives of the donors wanting privacy? Is it because of modesty or because of shame?

Modesty, my Lords. I do not think that the Liberal Party publicises the amount that it receives from individual donations and the names of the donors unless those donors wish their names to be publicised.

My Lords, will the noble Viscount be a little careful when mentioning the sale of jam? He may fall foul of the European Commission.

My Lords, the noble Lord always shows to your Lordships that there is no Question in this House on which he is not able to bring in the European element.

My Lords, will the Minister be good enough to answer my quite clear earlier question? Can he name any other body in public life which does not publish its accounts on a yearly basis?

My Lords, that is an entirely different question from the Question on the Order Paper. I am saying that it is up to individuals who give money to political parties, whatever that political party may be, to decide whether they wish to publicise their donations. We feel that in this country people have a right of privacy if they wish to give money to any cause, whether it be the Labour Party, the Conservative Party or indeed any charity.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are few of us at all events on these Back Benches who agree with what he has said?

My Lords, does the Minister accept that he has demeaned political life in this country by describing political parties as indulging in antics? Is he including Her Majesty's Government's activities in the definition of "antics"? Does he also accept that there is a qualitative difference between giving to charities and giving to political parties which exercise power? It is therefore a corruption of public life in this country if those who exercise power are not willing to publish accounts showing from where they receive their funds.

My Lords, of course there is a difference between charities and political parties, but I think it perfectly proper that any person should have the freedom to decide how he wishes to spend his money.