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House of Lords

Monday, 16th March 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Ely.

The Earl of Dartmouth--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

Party Political Fundraising

Lord Harris of Greenwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action has been taken following the letter on party political fundraising from the Secretary of State for the Home Department, referred to by Lord Williams of Mostyn on 12th February (HL Deb, cols. 1258-9).

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, my right honourable friend has now received a reply from the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party. This said that any donation which was shown to have come from illegal sources or otherwise breached the rules of the Conservative Party would be returned. There was no comment on my right honourable friend's suggestion that a donation, said to be of £1 million, to the Conservative Party from Mr. C. K. Ma should be donated to anti-drug charities, nor indeed on any other specific question put by my right honourable friend.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does he accept that the one thing about which we all probably agree is the threat posed to the lives of many thousands of young people in this country as a result of trafficking in cocaine and heroin? That being so, does the noble Lord agree that it is quite an extraordinary situation that a British political party should accept a donation of £1 million from a family deeply involved in the drugs business in South East Asia?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the questions to which specific replies came there none included the following: "Why did Mr. Ma give the money to the Tory Party? Was he promised that in return for his donation, charges against Ma for drug trafficking would be dropped? Is he now saying he wants his money back because explicit expectations associated with the gift have not been made? Were you or your party aware of the Ma family's alleged links with drug trafficking?" It was in response to those questions that the answer came from the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party:

    "I am afraid I can give you no further help with your questions".

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, given the lack of interest from the Opposition Front Bench in this

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Question, does the noble Lord agree that the most satisfactory outcome of this problem would be if this £1 million were donated to a charity which has the responsibility of looking after the interests of those young people whose lives have been seriously damaged as a result of the drugs business in this country?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that was the suggestion made by the Home Secretary as long ago as 21st January of this year. Indeed, I can say to your Lordships that the Home Secretary and I have been all agog waiting for the reply. But then it got into the category of Billy Bunter's postal order, or possibly the dog had eaten it.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, who has asked the Question, will be very specific in the allegations he has made about particular people who cannot answer for themselves in this place. My party has agreed to co-operate fully with the committee which will ask all these questions and my party will address them fully in its answers. Therefore, will the Minister answer the questions which have been asked many times in this place about the details of the blind trusts--

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Blind trusts have been held and closed without anything publicly being declared about the detail, and blind trusts are still running.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I wonder whether I am alone in seeing a qualitative moral difference between blind trusts, which are available as a matter of public record, and a simple question which was put by the Home Secretary, echoed on a number of occasions by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, as to whether it is appropriate to take £1 million from a family, the father of which presently resides in Taiwan--there is no extradition between Taiwan and Hong Kong--and whose nickname apparently is "White Powder Ma".

Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is quite extraordinary to listen to the words from the noble Baroness on the Opposition Front Bench regarding blind trusts when our understanding is that the evidence that the Conservative Party has put to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neill, with regard to the proposals for alterations to the law and procedures on political fundraising contains a suggestion from the Tory Party that, contrary to what it has said in the past, it should be permitted for donations to be given anonymously to a body that will be set up by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neill, and his committee, and that body will then pass on those donations to the party of choice of the donor? Does the Minister agree that that is somewhat inconsistent with the rather pejorative comments made by the noble Baroness regarding blind trusts?

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord may well have a point there. I looked up the representations made by the Conservative Party. Perhaps it will be helpful if I read them out as sometimes these things are overlooked. "Blind trusts" is the rubric, and this is the Conservative Party's proposition:

    "We believe there is an argument in favour of a form of blind trust that should be examined by the committee".

Viscount Davidson: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that my father knew Lloyd George?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am sure that is right because it is a matter of public record.

Lord Newby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the only sensible and easy way to deal with these kinds of questions is simply to have a law requiring people giving substantial amounts of money to political parties to declare it openly?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I believe that the sensible, proper and appropriate way is to wait until the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neill, brings forth his recommendations so that we can discuss them in a spirit of amity in your Lordships' House.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, does the noble Lord know who it was who asked the questions of the Conservative Party--which I support?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the questions were put to the present leader of the Conservative Party by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, as I indicated when I answered a Question a few weeks ago. The reply did not come from Mr. Hague.

Prisons: Educational Provision

2.44 p.m.

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to enhance the provision of education and training for inmates of HM prisons and young offender institutions.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the Prison Service has a number of initiatives for enhancing education and training in prisons and young offender institutions. They include piloting welfare-to-work programmes; incorporating "key skills" into the curriculum; a model curriculum for juveniles; a nationally-accredited preparation-for-work course; delivering basic skills training; developing family literacy projects and literacy mentoring; and screening for dyslexia.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that encouraging reply. Is it not the case that, although the 65,000 inmates of Her Majesty's institutions are but a very small fraction of our population, they are a seriously skewed fraction, being

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not only disproportionately prone to creating fear and misery, but disproportionately young, disproportionately male, disproportionately from unhappy homes and--to my point--disproportionately ill-educated? Should we not be making a special effort to remedy at least that last deficit, given that in apparently more optimistic times the institutions concerned were known as "houses of correction"? Can there be any possible justification for the priority shown in the most recent annual report of the Prison Service for 1995-96 that, of the £25,000 per annum cost per inmate, in that year only 2 per cent. was devoted to education and training? A fortiori, how can we justify perversely reducing the amount allotted to education and training over the past two years, given that in those two years the prison population has vastly increased?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord has a point about the disproportionate numbers in the categories that he identified. The prison spend on education in 1996-97 was £34,481,000. In 1997-98 it is estimated at £36 million, so there will be that degree of increase. We are concerned to echo the noble Lord's comments. Welfare-to-work is very important and I entirely agree with what the noble Lord proposes. We now have 11 pilot schemes in different establishments. As regards preparation for work and work skills, initial evaluations will take place after six months and a full evaluation after one year. The trial itself is being taken seriously and £1.5 million is being devoted to it.

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