HC Deb 13 May 2002 vol 385 cc498-9
32. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

What recent discussions he has had with the Electoral Commission on state funding of political parties. [53993]

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

Mr. Speaker, your Committee has approved the commission's corporate plan for the next five years. It includes provision for making policy development grants to political parties under section 12 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. It also includes a commitment to conduct a review of the case for a cap on political donations and the related issue of state funding of political parties.

Kevin Brennan

Given that Short money is state funding of party political activity and that it has increased by 300 per cent. since 1997, is not it time to consider extending the scope of state funding of political parties, especially to overcome the sort of smears made by the Opposition over the weekend? Is not it worth reminding the public that we do not know the source of Conservative party money when it was in office because the information is locked away in files in Smith square, unless it has had Andersen in to shred it?

Mr. Beith

The commission monitors the system whereby political donations are recorded and publicised. It continues that work. The hon. Gentleman's wider points recognise that the system has been extended to include policy development funding and incorporate the fact that the commission will look into the matter.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)

When we asked the previous Government whether they would refer funding of political parties to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, they routinely refused. When we came to office, we referred the matter to the Committee and we believed that its recommendations, for which we have legislated, provided the transparency that would solve the problem. Transparency has clearly not solved it, and the funding problem remains. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Electoral Commission gets stuck in and that we have a proper, comprehensive review of funding of political parties?

Mr. Beith