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Financial Assistance To Oppositionparties
27 November 1996
Volume 576

3.31 p.m.

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My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Motion relates, as your Lordships have already discovered, to financial assistance for opposition parties and seeks to establish in your Lordships' House a scheme similar to that which another place has enjoyed for some 20 years under the name of Short money, so-called because it was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara. Your Lordships will already have spotted that we specialise in illogicalities in this House.

It has been the practice for the opposition parties to make some contribution from their Short money to their colleagues in this House, but I believe that the time is now right to provide noble Lords opposite with some support, as of right, which does not depend on the generosity of their colleagues in another place.

In formulating the proposals, I should like to pay tribute to the advice and assistance which has been given to me by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in what I believe has been a happy co-operation in this matter. I should like to place on record my gratitude to him for that.

Paragraph (1) of the Motion establishes the principle of making financial support available to the opposition parties in carrying out their parliamentary business. Paragraph (2) specifies the maximum amounts that the parties may claim. What the Government propose is that in a full year the Official Opposition should be able to claim up to £100,000 and the second largest opposition party up to £30,000. Those amounts are to be uprated on 1st April each year by reference to the increase in the RPI. The commencement of the scheme is to be back-dated to 1st October this year. Accordingly, the Motion provides for half a full year's money for the six months from October this year to March next year, and for the full rate to apply with the appropriate RPI enhancement from the start of the next financial year.

Paragraph (3) imports into the scheme the tried and tested safeguards which are to be found in the Short money scheme itself. Any party claiming assistance will have to tell the Accounting Officer—that is to say, the Clerk of the Parliaments—on what it has spent the money and certify that the expenses have been incurred exclusively in relation to the party's parliamentary business. It will also have to have its accounts audited each year.

I should emphasise that payments will be made to parties not to individuals. It is not the purpose of this scheme to introduce by the back-door any system of payments for Front Bench spokesmen on the grounds that while the House is composed as it is, the central part of the character of your Lordships' House is that of an amateur assembly.

Paragraphs (4) and (5) make the necessary provision for a year in which a general election takes place. Paragraph (6) defines a number of expressions used in the Motion. I should like to make it clear that the establishment of this scheme will make no difference to the existing Short money scheme. If the parties which are eligible to claim Short money choose to allocate or to continue to allocate a proportion of it to their colleagues in this House, they are of course entirely free to do so. That is, as has always been the case, a matter for them. It is certainly not a matter for the Government.

The essential requirement is that any money claimed under the scheme, or under the Short money scheme, must be spent on carrying out the parties' parliamentary business. I should not wish to pretend to your Lordships that the figures contained in the Motion are the result of any precise mathematical calculations, particularly after this afternoon's performance of the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, and my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser. Unlike the calculation of Greenwich Mean Time, they are round figures. Modest though they are, I believe that the sums are large enough to meet the costs of a small research staff to support the work of the Front Benches opposite. I believe also, and hope that the House will agree, that we have struck a fair balance between the claims of the Official Opposition and those of the second largest opposition party.

I have to say, if noble Lords opposite do not find this remark too patronising—it is not proffered in that spirit—that I move the Motion with a degree of trepidation, because those of us on this side of the House fear greatly what will be the effect on the effectiveness of both opposition parties, which we feel to be quite effective enough as they are.

I invite your Lordships to support the measure, because it will assist in ensuring an even more efficient and well-informed opposition, and that is in the interests of your Lordships' House. It will enhance the value of our deliberations, and will, I hope, enable this House to make an even greater contribution to our parliamentary system.

Moved, That, in the opinion of this House, the provisions of this Resolution should have effect in relation to the giving of financial assistance to opposition parties in this House:
  • (1) Financial assistance shall be available to assist the Opposition and the second largest opposition party in carrying out their Parliamentary business.
  • (2) The maximum amounts of financial assistance which may be given to the Opposition and to the second largest opposition party respectively shall be—
  • (a) for the period beginning with 1st October 1996 and ending with 31st March 1997, £50,000 and L15,000;
  • (b) for the year beginning with 1st April 1997, f100,000 and £30,000, but increased in each case by the percentage (if any) by which the retail prices index for March 1997 has increased compared with the index for March 1996, and (if the resulting amount is not a whole number of pounds) rounded to the nearest pound; and
  • (c) for each subsequent year, the maximum amount for the previous year but increased by the percentage (if any) by which the retail prices index for the previous March has increased compared with the index for the March before that, and (if the resulting amount is not a whole number of pounds) rounded to the nearest pound.
  • (3) Any claims for financial assistance under this Resolution are to be made to the Accounting Officer of the House; and a party claiming such assistance shall—
  • (a) furnish that Officer with a statement of the facts on which the claim is based;
  • (b) certify to that Officer that the expenses in respect of which the assistance is claimed have been incurred exclusively in relation to the party's Parliamentary business; and
  • (c) as soon as practicable after each 31st March following the passing of this Resolution, furnish that Officer with the certificate of an independent professional auditor to the effect that all expenses in respect of which the party claimed financial assistance during the period ending with that day were incurred as mentioned in sub-paragraph (b) above.
  • (4) In the case of any year in which there is a General Election—
  • (a) the period ending immediately before the date of the Election and the period beginning with that date shall be treated as separate periods;
  • (b) the maximum amount which may be given to each party for each of those periods shall be a proportionate part (rounded to the nearest pound) of the maximum amount for the year in question; and
  • (c) in relation to the first such period, paragraph (3)(c) above shall have effect as if a reference to the last day of the period were substituted for the reference to 3Ist March.
  • (5) In the event of a General Election before 1st April 1997, the period beginning with 1st October 1996 and ending with 31st March 1997 shall be treated as a year for the purposes of paragraph (4) above.
  • (6) In this Resolution—
  • (a) "the Opposition" means the party in opposition to Her Majesty's Government having the greatest numerical strength in the House of Commons;
  • (b) "the second largest opposition party" means the party in opposition to Her Majesty's Government (other than the Opposition) with the greatest number of Members of this House amongst its members;
  • (c) "the retail prices index" means the general index of retail prices (for all items) published by the Office for National Statistics (or any index or figures published by that Office in place of that index); and
  • (d) "year" means a year beginning with 1st April.—(Viscount Cranborne.)
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    My Lords, I support the Leader of the House in his moving of this Resolution. Perhaps I may start by thanking him for the kind words he said about me, and echo them in relation to the part that he has played in arriving at this conclusion. I have little to say about the terms of the Resolution itself. The provisions relating to safeguards, audits and that type of provision are clear, well set out and sensible.

    It seems right to us that there should be provision for the support of opposition parties in this House as well as in the other place. It is right, too, that that support should be separate from the overall allocation of the Short money. This Resolution, having established that principle and set up that support, I am sure that, in accordance with well known precedent, will soon become known as Cranborne money. I shall forbear, out of my natural discretion, from commenting upon what I am sure is a pure coincidence of timing between the Government's acceptance of our much repeated plea for support for the opposition in this House and the approach of the general election which may provide a change of government.

    Serendipity, which my dictionary defines as "discovery by happy accident", is a wondrous thing, and I am delighted to see it operate so effectively on the Government Benches this afternoon.

    Perhaps I may make it clear that we support the Motion with the intention that it will last until the general election. As I think is well known, it is our view that the whole question of the financing of political parties is an issue which will require full and detailed examination. If therefore we become a government, and if we proceed to such an examination, inevitably the issue of Cranborne money will be one of those issues which may well fall to be reconsidered.

    I am grateful to the Leader of the House for what he said about my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench. It was kind of him to say what he did and we appreciate it. I commend this Motion to the House as a modest but much needed recognition of the extraordinary amount of work that my colleagues do, almost all of which is at present unpaid. I commend the Motion to the House.

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    My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard. We welcome the constructive discussions that we have had with the Government on this matter and the terms of the Motion. It is right that such money should be ring-fenced as regards financial support for Opposition parties. Money is to be made directly available to this House and we do not have to rely on our colleagues in the House of Commons.

    Like the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I consider that after the general election there will have to be a wider discussion of the financing of political parties. Subject to that, I welcome the Motion unreservedly.

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    My Lords, I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, puts a time factor on his support for the Motion. Is it right or is it wrong? If something better can be introduced, why must we wait until election time? If there is such an improvement, why was it not taken into account when the decision was made?

    As regards payment, continual changes to the system that we adopt are undesirable. Many of our traditions have been based upon the experience of undertaking parliamentary work. I should like to believe that this is not a temporary measure and I hope that the whole issue will not be turned upside down again "after the election", as the noble Lord mentioned.

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    My Lords, I had not intended to speak in the debate. Far be it from me, a humble Back-Bencher, to contribute to a matter which has already been agreed by all Members of the Front-Benches and the usual channels. However, I took slight exception to one of the phrases which the noble Viscount the Leader of the House used in his introduction. He described this House as an amateur House, which implies that it is unpaid. I believe that it would be more correct to say that we are a very badly paid House.

    It may be useful to speak for the record because there is a great deal of misunderstanding outside this House about remunerations or allowances for its Members. It is worth while pointing out that, apart from travelling, secretarial and overnight expenses, which might be considered to be legitimate expenses at a rate comparable to the other place, what we might describe as our pay—the out-of-pocket allowances of just £30 a day—equates to between £4,000 and £5,000 a year. If that is considered to be the rate for the job for Members of this House, I believe that it is rather low and I am sure that that view will find a resonance around the Chamber. It is useful that the wider public should be aware of that fact and I hope that the Leader of the House will take the opportunity to correct the misapprehension to which he may have contributed in his opening remarks.

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    My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken, in particular to the two Front-Bench spokesmen and to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. He embodies the proper suspicion of any Back-Bencher of any Motion on which the Front-Benchers agree. I can assume only that his natural reluctance to spend public money activates what he has to say.

    I say to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that I do not know who took the initiative, but I would be loath to claim that it was me—

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    My Lords, the noble Viscount got the money!

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    My Lords, if the noble Lord took the initiative, which I seem to remember he did—although, as he rightly points out, I got the money—I can assume only that, in view of his enthusiasm, it is he who expects to be occupying this seat instead of me after the next general election. I shall not interfere in any way with what, under the unlikely circumstances of the party opposite winning the next election, will be a delightful argument as to the proper way to finance political parties. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. However, I say to my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls that we must address the world as it is rather than as we would wish it to be, and I have attempted to do that in my response to noble Lords' representations.

    As regards expenses, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, that with the greatest respect I regard the word "amateur" as a compliment when addressed to your Lordships' House—

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    Hear, hear!

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    My Lords, I owe the House an interim report. In response to the inquiries of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I have made representations to the Senior Salaries Review Body. I hope that the beginning of a re-examination by Sir Michael Perry and his myrmidons will begin shortly.

    I believe that the basis of our expenses is no more than a genuine attempt to meet the realistic expenses of your Lordships' House and not, as the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, said, as a way of paying ourselves a small salary.

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    Hear, hear!

    On Question, Motion agreed to.