Opposition Parties (Assistance) (Hansard, 2 March 1987)
HC Deb 02 March 1987 vol 111 cc586-7
29. Mr. Peter Bruinvels

asked the Lord Privy Seal, pursuant to his answer to the hon. Member for Leicester, East of 9 February, Official Report, columns 59–60, if he has any plans to review the arrangements under which financial assistance is provided to Opposition parties within the House; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Biffen

As I told the House, I expect that, following past practice, these arrangements are likely to be reviewed later this year or next.

Mr. Bruinvels

I welcome my right hon. Friend"s statement that there will be a review, especially since £630,000 was allocated to Opposition parties in 1986. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Official Unionists receive £20,397, that the year before they received £19,889 and that they have one Member fewer than they did a year ago? The Democratic Unionists receive £6,788.75. With one right honourable exception, Unionist Members are not taking part in Northern Ireland business—which I can understand — or in any other parliamentary business. It is strange that they are claiming this money, especially as they voted against it. Could it not be interpreted that they are using the money to campaign against the Anglo-Irish agreement?

Mr. Biffen

I was aware of the figures because I supplied them to my hon. Friend. He should remember that each qualifying party is required to certify to the Accounting Officer of the House that the expenses for which reimbursement is claimed have been expended exclusively in relation to that party's parliamentary business. Therefore, the claims have been made on the authority of the party concerned. If my hon. Friend thinks that the arrangement is unsatisfactory, he should make that point when the matter is next before the House.

Mr. Alton

Will the Lord Privy Seal also consider the allocation of civil servants to Whips' offices other than those of the official Opposition, especially as four are provided to the Labour Opposition entirely at taxpayers' expense and Short money—something about which the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) will be concerned — has been frozen at the levels established during the lifetime of this Parliament? Will he confirm that Opposition funding will be increased in the aftermath of the general election?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman will be the first to concede that the Civil Service arrangements to which he refers predated the advent of Short money and were not absorbed by the existence of Short money, but those arrangements can, of course, be considered when they come up for renewal.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Will my right hon. Friend consider increasing the support available to the Liberal party in view of a recent report by that party claiming that, for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mr. Roberts) had failed to vote against the Government on one occasion? It would be helpful if the Liberal party had enough resources to discover that my hon. Friend is a Minister.

Mr. Biffen

Education that is self-financed is much more likely to be taken to heart than that which is publicly financed.

Mr. Bermingham

Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that if a democracy is to survive the Opposition should be properly funded so that the right and proper questions can be asked of the Government, thus probing Government policies in the interests of democracy?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that there was a sharp division about whether such public funding should be provided, and that the opposition to it was split across the conventional divisions in the House. However, I happen to agree with the hon. Gentleman.

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