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Political Party Funding

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 5 July 2011

The Government are committed to work to reform party funding. The Committee on Standards in Public Life is conducting a review and the Government will consider its recommendations, alongside other relevant evidence before taking this forward.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Does he agree that the unseemly spectacle last week of union leaders criticising the Labour leadership for not overtly supporting the strikes while the Labour leadership looked uncomfortably at the floor shows exactly why we need to get big money out of party funding and why we need real reform?

I agree that it cannot be healthy in a democracy if any political party is over-reliant on one source of funding to the exclusion of others. [Hon. Members: “Michael Brown!”] It is worth saying that the current situation is unsustainable and has done damage to all political parties, which is why it is something that we should look to reform on a cross-party basis.

If reforms to party funding are to have any meaningful effect they need to come into force at least 18 months before the next general election. Does the Deputy Prime Minister recognise that if his timetable cannot deliver, it might be overtaken by one that simply commands the support of a majority of the House?

We are first waiting to see the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life to consider whether they might kick-start a process of discussions between the parties, so that we can finally move beyond the shadow of the party funding scandals that have blighted all the political parties, and so that we can put the arrangements on a much more sustainable and transparent footing.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister recognise the difference between 1 million trade union members donating £1 each to a political party and a wealthy individual writing out a cheque for a million quid?

As I said, I think that it is unhealthy if any political party is over-reliant on particular organisations, individuals or vested interests for their financial survival, and that is why I hope that all of us—given that all political parties have been affected by this in one way or another—can work together after the Committee on Standards in Public Life has produced its recommendations so that we can find a solution.

The Deputy Prime Minister is right that all three major political parties entered the election with a commitment to reform the way in which political parties are funded. Will he confirm that he will follow convention and seek cross-party agreement on the way forward? Will he also outline the timeline he has in mind? There has obviously been a delay in relation to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. When does he think we will be able to start the discussions to resolve this issue?

I agree that we should always seek to deal with this issue on a cross-party basis where possible. However, I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman a precise timetable because it is not within the gift of the Government to decide when Sir Christopher Kelly produces his committee’s report. As soon as he does, I hope that we can consider the recommendations together to see whether they provide a basis for cross-party discussions.