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Financial Assistance to Opposition Parties and the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers

Volume 764: debated on Thursday 9 July 2015

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That, in the opinion of this House—

(a) with effect from 8 May 2015, the resolution of the House of 24 June 2010 (financial assistance to opposition parties) shall cease to have effect; and the resolution of the House of 30 July 2002 (financial assistance to opposition parties) shall have effect from 8 May 2015 as it would have done if the resolution of the House of 24 June 2010 had not been passed, and

(b) with effect from 1 April 2015 the resolution of the House of 30 July 2002 shall have effect as if paragraph (2)(a) provided for £87,761 to be the maximum amount of financial assistance which may be given to the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers for the year beginning with 1 April 2015; and paragraph (2)(b) of that resolution shall apply in relation to each subsequent year accordingly.

My Lords, it may be helpful if I explain the background to this Motion. As noble Lords will know, since 1996 this House has agreed to provide a sum of money to be set aside for the two main opposition parties in your Lordships’ House and, since 1999, has provided the same for the Convenor of the Cross Benches.

As your Lordships may also recall, in June 2010 we put into abeyance the funding available to the second-largest opposition party, because the Liberal Democrats formed part of the coalition Government following the general election. Now, the coalition Government are no more. The first limb of this Motion recognises that fact and returns us to the situation as it was before the 2010 Parliament, allowing the Liberal Democrat group to draw down funds to discharge its responsibilities as the second-largest opposition party in this House.

The effect of the second limb of the Motion is to adjust the amount of funding available to the Convenor of the Cross Benches to provide the resources needed for him to operate an office with two full-time members of staff. The Motion is silent on the funding available to the Official Opposition. I should say for clarity that that is because the funding arrangements for Her Majesty’s Official Opposition on the Labour Benches remain unchanged.

Overall, the two limbs of the Motion seek to allow this House to continue to undertake the important work that it is here to do, and I am pleased to have worked constructively with the leaders of both main opposition parties and the Convenor in bringing them forward. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have given the noble Baroness the Leader of the House notice of this intervention, which arises because I understand that this Motion, if we pass it, will give taxpayers’ money—Cranborne money, I think it is called—to the Liberal Democrats to help them to run their affairs in your Lordships’ House and perhaps elsewhere. If so, I suggest that your Lordships do not pass it until we have agreed an appropriate award of finance for my party, the UK Independence Party.

I ask this against the background of the admittedly unwise policy of the previous coalition Government, which I understand was inspired by the Liberal Democrats and to which I gather they still adhere. That committed the Prime Minister to recommend new Peers to Her Majesty in proportion to the votes cast in the previous general election. That policy would have given the Liberal Democrats some 43 Peers in your Lordships’ House, from their 8% share of the votes cast in May. In fact, they enjoy 102 Peers. Should this situation not be set against UKIP’s present three Peers, from our 13% share of that vote? Under the previous Liberal Democrat policy, we should have 69—so they have 59 more Peers than they should, whereas we have 66 fewer. I trust your Lordships will agree that we should have at least some Cranborne money to help us with our work here.

Noble Lords may be aware that I am in correspondence with the Prime Minister to adjust the present injustice by recommending a number of UKIP Peers to Her Majesty. I trust that we can revisit this matter, if and when that happens. I am not entirely confident that we will get a decent number of Peers, but surely masters cannot go on being so unfair to Molesworth for ever—or can they?

While I am at it, since 185 Peers joined us in the last Parliament, with none for UKIP, and we are already somewhat cramped for space, would not one sensible solution be for, say, 30 Liberal Democrat Peers to stand down? That would free up a share of Cranborne money for UKIP and give us all rather more space. Would not that kill two birds with one stone? I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, if I may, I will respond very briefly. I do not think that the matter relates to how many Liberal Democrats are here. The fact remains that there are almost 102 Liberal Democrats, which has been recognised by the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal in the resolution that she has put before us. The intention is that we would perform as the second largest opposition party in this Chamber and, accordingly, we welcome the contribution being given to us as part of the Cranborne money.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for giving me notice of his intention to contribute on this Motion. He makes his presence felt in your Lordships’ House, and he and his UKIP colleagues are an important part of the membership of this House. However, as I think he will know, the Cranborne money is provided for opposition parties in this House on a formula that is very different from the way in which Short money is provided in the House of Commons. It is very much based on the size of the opposition parties in this House and not reflective in any way of popular vote share or seats in another place. He may wish that matters were different in this House when it comes to numbers—I recognise that his view is widely shared; I made that point when responding to questions last week—but we have to deal with the situation that we find ourselves in. Following the appropriate discussions in the usual channels, this Motion returns the level of funding for the second-largest opposition party in this House to what it was, in proportionate terms, before 2010.

I am not going to comment on the noble Lord’s wish that there be more UKIP Members in this House. The Cranborne money is provided for the opposition parties to operate a Front Bench. I am not sure that the noble Lord, as effective as he is, is in a position to provide the range of posts that might lead UKIP to become a significant strength in terms of a shadow Front Bench in this House, but I am grateful to him for all that he does, even though his numbers are limited at this time.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. The answer to her last point is that that rather depends on how many UKIP Peers arrive in this place and who they are. I simply make the point that I do not think that it is right that only the first and second opposition parties should have some financial assistance here. So should the Greens, so should we all—maybe just a little; maybe just to pay for one tiny, little secretary. That would be very helpful.

As I have said, the point of Cranborne funding when it was set up was to enable the main opposition parties, both the Official Opposition and the second-largest opposition party, to operate a Front Bench. It is not based on numbers. The proportion provided to either of those parties is not affected by their electoral performance in different elections. After the 2005 election, when the Liberal Democrats—I am not sure whether they would like me to remind them of this—did better then than they did in 2015, their proportion was not affected. The Cross Bench receives a smaller allocation in order for it to have some secretarial support but, clearly, if we were to base it on numbers, we would see that the Cross Bench is larger than the Liberal Democrats. The way in which the money is divided shows the purpose behind it in the first place.

Motion agreed.