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Standards in Public Life

Volume 722: debated on Thursday 2 December 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will publish any evidence submitted to the Committee on Standards in Public Life on party political finance.

My Lords, the Government welcome the review of the Committee on Standards in Public Life into party funding. My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister discussed the issue with the committee at its annual open meeting in September, but the Government have not submitted any evidence to the committee. I understand that the major political parties have done so.

My Lords, I am sure that Members on all sides will be anxious that progress on this issue is made as quickly as possible, not least because there was a strong degree of consensus across the parties in the previous Parliament on donation caps and regulations on campaign spending between elections. However, that progress did not complete the process because, as the general election approached, it became clear that it was very difficult for the parties to make firm decisions. Can we be clear that the Government will be pressing the committee—and thereafter, whenever decisions are taken by Parliament—to try to deal with the issue of the 55 months before a general election, and that it will not be left to the very end of this Parliament as, at the bitter end, it is very difficult to reach agreement?

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister has made it clear that he gives high priority to party funding in what he has described as the second wave of constitutional reform that we are planning. Therefore, it has high priority. People in all political parties with experience of this matter have given me the same advice—that is, to deal with this matter early in a Parliament. That is what we intend to do.

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that, following the Hayden Phillips proposals, cross-party talks were proceeding well until the Conservative Party walked away from them? Now that he is in the comforting position of sitting with the Conservative Party, will he ensure that there is a future programme of cross-party talks to reach consensus?

As I have said in answer to other questions, I think that what happened in the past is best left to the memoirs, and I can tell noble Lords that mine will be very readable. But in the mean time, I take encouragement from what my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister said at the City and Islington College on 19 May. He said,

“David Cameron and I are determined to reform party funding”.

That is good enough for me.

How do we know that the Liberal Democratic element in this coalition will not simply roll over and allow the Conservative element of the coalition to dominate the debate?

My Lords, surely we have a very good method of dealing with party funding, and that is to nominate the donors to the House of Lords.

I am very pleased that the Labour Party is approaching this very serious issue with all the necessary objectivity. I do not mind the little bit of knockabout that occurs at such questions, but, seriously, I think that we have all learnt the hard way that to maintain the integrity of our politics it is imperative to get big money and big money donors out of our political system. The building blocks for an agreement are around. I pay tribute to the party opposite for taking some very significant steps during its time in office to help clean up our politics. I assure this House that this coalition is determined to carry on that work, and to do so with a sense of urgency.

Of course it includes the trades unions. Again, when we look back at the Hayden Phillips discussions, the Labour Party has a historic link with the trade unions. We must approach this in a way whereby all parties enter into this recognising our respective histories, and understanding the need to get a settlement which will be seen as fair. If we go for a settlement that looks like it is aimed at hurting one or other of the parties, it will be difficult to get a settlement. The Committee on Standards in Public Life is carrying out a study on this. I hope that it will report by early spring and, when it does, it will enable us to get our ducks in a row to make a proper and comprehensive system which will get big money in politics out of our system for good and all.

My Lords, I am very grateful for my noble friend’s statement, but does he recognise that this House has a particular interest in terms of its reputation, because in the past there has been a perceived connection between large donors and membership of this House?

Well, we all read the newspapers, so I cannot deny that. But as I said before, there is a real opportunity when the Committee for Standards in Public Life brings forward its report. Let us all—all the political parties—grab the opportunity that that offers with a real sense of urgency and a determination to succeed.