» Thursday, December 14, 2006

Party funding/Sir Hayden Phillips

The Leader said that Sir Hayden was continuing his deliberations, which were now on the penultimate if not the last lap. Sir Hayden had produced two indications – not proposals – of some of the key issues involved. Mr Straw said that, relating to caps on donations, the issue had been around for a long time. They were used in the US, where there were no caps on spending. However, in some other countries such as Canada, there were caps on both donations and spending. The Leader noted that the parties were now involved in debate with Sir Hayden about the appropriate balance. The crucial thing – as he (Mr Straw) had said publicly – was that all parties worked towards ending the "arms race" on spending. The Leader said it had been thought that this goal had been achieved with the Neill Committee, which formed part of previous legislation, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

All the parties had agreed, but it had turned out that there were loopholes, which was one of the reasons for Sir Hayden’s inquiry. Mr Straw said that, when he was Home Secretary, he had sought to implement the report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which at that staged had been chaired by Patrick Neill QC. He had published a White Paper in 1998 and also a draft Bill, which was the subject of great all-party discussion. Everyone had worked hard on the legislation. However, regulation of political parties, as with any institution, was complicated. The aim to ensure more comprehensive limits on spending at a national level for the first time had turned out not to have been fully met. That was one of the reasons why the "arms race" between the parties on spending, which the public wished to be dealt with, had continued.

The Leader pointed out that changes had been made in the Electoral Administration Act, which became law earlier this year. That had dealt with one loophole in respect of the disclosure of loans.

Pressed further about reported "indications" of Sir Hayden, the Leader said that what he was seeking to do was to test the extent to which a decent consensus was achievable between the parties on the issue of party funding. He was doing so by a combination of questions and "positions", directed at the parties. The Leader pointed out that Labour had set out its position in a submission to Sir Hayden. Mr Straw then commented further in response to questions about a party meeting on these issues earlier this week, which he had attended.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

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