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Political Parties (Funding)

4th December 2007

Jonathan Djanogly winds up the debate on behalf of the Conservatives and calls for a review of the system for monitoring political donations made by the unions.

6.39 pm

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): The Labour party funding scandals appear to be rolling out on an almost daily basis, with varying degrees of subterfuge and criminality involved. They have corroded public trust in democracy in Britain. The party that swore in opposition to be purer than pure is mired so deeply in the muck that it is in danger of drowning in it.

I agree with the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) that the debate should give no one pleasure. Certainly, we do not take a holier-than-thou approach, as the Lord Chancellor suggested. Today we have heard a story of abuse of the law and lack of ethical practice, which breaks the heart of our political governance. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) recognised, this is a tragedy of a Government drunk with complacency, power and disdain- a tragedy not only for the people of our country but, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said, for the very laws that they passed in their failed attempt to provide transparency for the funding of our democratic system.

The Lord Chancellor attempted to take the high ground when in fact he had no ground to stand on. At least the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) provided something that approached an apology. Will the Minister do the same in her closing remarks?

Police corruption investigations have started on individual cases and will follow their course. Many more, mainly unanswered questions have emerged from the debate today, not least those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, who said that the jury was out on whether we were considering incompetence or conspiracy. I tend to agree with that.

We must also concentrate on the system itself. The motion deals with the crafty rise in state funding for political ends organised by Labour, whether through Government special advisers and communications officers in Whitehall or the communications allowance in Parliament. The attempts by some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), the hon. Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), for Manchester, Central and for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), to argue that all parties are as bad as each other was pathetic in the context of the debate.

The Labour party's fascination with Lord Ashcroft's input as deputy chairman of the Conservative party is bizarre. As Lord Ashcroft recently noted, the candidates fund, which he chairs but does not control, mainly comes from donors other than him. At £2 million a year, it amounts to only around 15 per cent. of the party's total annual spending.

Let me tackle the core of the debate.

Stephen Pound: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Djanogly: I gave up a third of my time so that other hon. Members could speak, so I shall not give way.

The core of the debate is the relationship between Labour and the trade unions. I say "the core" because, last year, Labour received donations of £11.8 million, of which £8.6 million-or 73 per cent.-came from the trade unions.

Mr. Simon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Djanogly: What might the funding have delivered for the unions? Since Labour came to power-

Mr. Simon rose-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps we could conclude the debate in a slightly more civilised manner. The hon. Gentleman is not giving way at the moment.

Mr. Djanogly: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have given my reasons for not giving way.

Since Labour came to power, some 18 Acts and 200 statutory instruments dealing with employment legislation have been passed. That includes the introduction of the £10 million so-called union modernisation fund, which has so far handed out £5.8 million of taxpayers' cash to fund projects such as building links between the T and G and the Polish workers association, expanding ASLEF's website and-wait for it-supporting online discussion forums at the TUC. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds made a similar point. The Government constantly talk about their modernisation agenda, but when we talk about modernisation- [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. May I say to hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies that constant interventions from a sedentary position are not allowed. They simply disrupt the debate and have no sensible effect. If hon. Members wish to intervene, they must stand in the normal way and if the person on their feet does not want to give way, that is the end of it.

Mr. Djanogly: When we talk about modernising unions, the reaction in previous debates has been that the Conservatives did that 30 years ago and that the matter does not need further consideration. That was the extent of the Government's bias.

Then, under huge pressure, last weekend the Prime Minister at last conceded the connection between the political contribution that a union member makes as an individual and that money ending up in the Labour party's coffers. For those who think that that is stating the obvious, it is not. Indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham pointed out, some unions have made larger contributions than can be attributed to their political fund contributing members. If we also consider that some unions affiliate at regional and local level, and that other help, such as manpower, which the Lord Chancellor described as completely transparent, is unrecorded, existing transparency and reporting are nothing more than a joke. If the Prime Minister thinks that his paltry weekend rehash of existing proposals will be perceived as anything other than a smokescreen for his party's huge complacency and failings, he should think again.

The Prime Minister is unwilling to follow through the logic of accepting the individual position over the collective position of union members. The so-called openness of Labour and unions to changing their relationship, which the hon. Member for Manchester, Central described, is not the historic position. However, I hope that it is the position now. Yes, the Prime Minister said that the 30-year-old opt-out rights for union political contributions should now be clearly stated to members, but they have certainly not been to date.

Why, in this day and age, should an individual be assumed to want to contribute to a political party for which he probably did not vote? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham explained, we need to keep in mind the fact that most trade unionists are not Labour voters. The 2005 British election survey revealed that 54.3 per cent. of trade unionists voted for parties other than Labour. That is why there should be a specific opt-in to making political fund contributions. I opt in to paying my membership of the Conservative party, and so should someone who pays money to the Labour party. Union members who opt in to paying into the political fund should also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds noted, have the right to decide to which political cause their money goes.

The regulatory framework for unions, through the certification officer, is clearly in dire need of modernisation. We are especially concerned that there should be a review of the relationship between the certification officer and the Electoral Commission, not least as regards registering political donations. In July, a written question revealed that the Electoral Commission had no record of any meeting with the certification officer or his representatives. That is no way to run a system to monitor union contributions.

The Lord Chancellor appeared to be desperate to move on with funding talks, but flip-flopped about including unions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester spotted. We need to change the law and set funding limits but we also need to update the modernisation of unions. That clear message comes out of the debate.

We still have a problem that will not go away. No matter how many laws are passed, legislation is no substitute for integrity. We currently have laws that require timely disclosure of donations, which Labour has broken. We also have laws that require people to declare their indirect donations, which Labour has again broken. We could introduce more laws, and then Labour could flout them, too. If the Liberal Democrats or anyone else think that using state funding will improve the ethics of party funding, they should think again. Nothing shows that to be the case.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester said, the Conservative party has a problem. We could discuss new funding proposals with Labour and the Liberal Democrats for ever and a day, but are the Government capable of abiding by whatever rules we finally agree? Can Labour be trusted to deal with us fairly on funding? The great questions here, as matters stand, are: can Labour be trusted to deal with us fairly on funding and, more important, can it be trusted by the British people?

6.48 pm



Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why more union members are affiliated than actually pay the political subscription?

Mr. Straw: We accept that there are some defects in the system, and we have made that clear. That is why we were ready to sign up to these proposals. If the hon. Gentleman and his party were prepared to do so, we could agree. This is a comprehensive package, as set out in Sir Hayden Phillips's proposals at the end of August. A meeting was due on 3 September, of which all parties had good notice. It is a matter of record that the Conservative party cancelled that meeting at short notice and it then took eight weeks to resurrect it. As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) made clear, when we finally met on 30 October, the Conservative party walked away from the talks. I very much hope that the official Opposition will think again. We announced in the Gracious Speech that we would bring forward proposals in respect of party funding and regulation.

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