» Thursday, June 8, 2006


The Leader was asked, in relation to the Electoral Administration Bill, if he was open to the idea of individual registration. He said the Government had accepted a significant change in relation to postal ballots, whereby voters would have to give individual identifiers. Decisions had yet to be made in respect of the amendments passed by the House of Lords in respect of individual identifiers for registration, including signatures. He said that, while it was argued that such a step could eliminate fraud, the argument against involved the difficulties which could face households, such as the practical issue of obtaining the signatures of absent students. One issue was whether the problems of doing so would lead to a drop in registration. Another issue overall was whether there would be a serious problem of personation at the polling stations. The Government accepted that there were difficulties over postal ballots. The question was whether there were sufficient difficulties over personal voting to justify such measures. He stressed that decisions had yet to be taken. The Government had to make a judgement about the Lords amendment. The major problem had been over postal ballots rather than personation in polling stations. The Government had to examine the evidence. Lord Falconer was leading on it.

Questioned about his comments in an interview with the Spectator, published today, Mr Straw said that he did not wish to add to what he and the Prime Minister had said on the issue of the leadership or the deputy leadership. He continued to resist further invitations to expand on his comments.

Asked whether the review of party funding had to await the outcome of a police investigation, the Leader declined to comment. He pointed out that Sir Hayden Phillips was undertaking a review and taking formal evidence and informal soundings. The report was due by Christmas. The Leader said he was also holding intensive discussions himself to see if there was a consensus. He thought that there was a broad consensus for extending the principle of caps on spending. The Leader pointed out that, at present, spending at a local level – both in local government and parliamentary elections outside the election period – was not the subject of controls. He was not saying that there was unanimity, but he detected an appreciation that controls should be complete on spending, although there was a query at what the level should be. He pointed out that the Neill committee on standards had looked at the issue of caps on party donations. Recommendations were implemented in the Act of 2000.

The Leader said he had always been at the cautious end of the spectrum on the issue of extending state funding, but personally he did not have a closed mind on it. He pointed out that membership of political parties had halved in the last 25 years, partly because of the transparency that had been introduced. There was also the need to have parties in the democratic process funded in some way. That was the problem. There was state funding at present, which he said should continue. The issue was how far it should continue. He did not have a sense that there was much of a consensus on that at present, but the position could change.

In response to a further question, the Leader said there was certainly a case for capping overall spending by political parties than it was at present – both the controlled spending and that which was not subject to control. There was a need to get agreement with other parties. Real terms increase in spending by parties had gone up by a factor of two or three in recent years.

Questioned about the timetable for completing further House of Lords reform, the Leader said that the joint committee chaired by Lord Cunningham was looking at the practicality of codifying the conventions. That was due to report by the end of July, but the committee wanted more time. The Leader said he was confidence the necessary resolutions would get through each Houses to implement the request to report by the end of the session, which would be late October or early November.

The Leader said he was also consulting the parties, plus the crossbench peers and bishops, formally and informally. He was quite clear that the Prime Minister would not have asked him to undertake the task if he did not believe there was a possibility of dealing with it once and for all. Mr Straw said that he thought most people considered the current position of the House of Lords to be unsustainable. They wanted a second chamber which continued the very important work of revising legislation and holding Ministers to account, but one which respected the primacy of the Commons. They wanted to see the issue sorted as well. He was aiming to achieve that and, with luck, there would be a consensus. If the issue was not settled in the next year or so, then the parties’ patience with it would probably be exhausted for five or ten years.

Asked if he wanted to see a fully-elected second chamber, he said that, in the end, it would be a matter for each House to decide on a free vote. It was too early to make an assessment of that outcome. He thought the Prime Minister’s approach was entirely right.

Briefing took place at 8:00 | Search for related news

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