HC Deb 16 December 2002 vol 396 cc528-9
29. Martin Linton (Battersea)

What discussions he has held with the Electoral Commission about (a) grants to political parties for training, for e-communications and for international work and (b) increased grants for policy development. [85598]

Mr. A. J. Beith (representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission)

The commission has told us of its intention to launch a project in spring next year to review the existing system for policy development grants. It will consider the case for extending the areas on which those funds can be spent.

Martin Linton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is now cross-party support for training, e-communications and international work, and that there was cross-party support for policy development grants during the passage of the Bill that became the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000? That gives us the first opportunity for a generation to proceed on a cross-party basis, and extend state funding to areas of party political activity that are generally agreed to be part of the functioning of our democracy.

Mr. Beith

Some of those matters are covered by the review, but others may extend beyond the Commission's present responsibilities into the area where, for instance, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy works with the support of grant-in-aid from the Foreign Office. All concerned, however, will have heard the hon. Gentleman's expression of support.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is huge support for the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which has supported democracy building in such places as Sierra Leone and the non-EU applicant countries in eastern Europe and elsewhere? Could the Commission examine ways in which we can maximise the benefit of public sector, voluntary sector and party funding to ensure that best practice here and in Europe is spread in other countries that are keen to learn from our experience?

Mr. Beith

I will draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the commission, which is of course aware of the role played by the foundation and the parties themselves in promoting democracy in many parts of the world. That is not the focus of the commission's own responsibilities, but there is obviously experience to be shared.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

If there is to be more public funding for the work of political parties, will the right hon. Gentleman discuss with the commission ways of ensuring that the money is well spent—not least because since 1997, Short money has been increased by 300 per cent. without any discernible improvement in the Tory party's performance?

Mr. Beith

I am sure that the commission's chairman is pleased that he does not have to rule on the performance of parties in receipt of Short money. Nor, on this occasion, do I.