HC Deb 13 January 2004 vol 416 cc662-3
22. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD)

What plans he has to amend the law relating to party funding. [147117]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

The current law on party funding is fully in line with the recommendations made by the Neill Committee in 1998. The Electoral Commission is undertaking a review of all aspects of party funding. It is due to conclude its considerations this summer, and we will consider its recommendations carefully.

Norman Baker

The Minister may recall the Prime Minister telling "Newsnight" in 2002: If I could get shot of ever raising a single penny for the Labour party ever again, would I not do it? Absolutely, of course I would. Will the Minister help the Prime Minister in this difficult matter by bringing in a clear system of state party funding so that he does not have to rely on dubious business men for his money?[Interruption.]

Mr. Leslie

There is not yet a consensus on state funding, as we heard from the reaction to the hon. Gentleman—although he usually gets that reaction. Given that the state already funds the Conservative party to the tune of £4.3 million and the Liberal Democrats to the tune of almost £2 million, a considerable amount of public resources already go to the hon. Gentleman's party and others. It is important, however, that we continue to talk about such matters, and consider the recommendations of the Electoral Commission when it reports this summer.

John Cryer (Hornchurch) (Lab)

Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to rule out any consideration of state funding for parties, despite the pleas of Liberal Democrat Members—and does he agree that this is a question of rights? I contribute to the Labour party because I choose to do so; I do not want to pay through my taxes for the campaign of the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), or of any other Opposition Member.

Mr. Leslie

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course it is good for any party to be a volunteer party—that is, for fund-raising to be by choice. Judging by the amount of expenditure at the last general election, there was no shortage of money available. Additional scope for funding already exists in the form of parliamentary allowances, policy development grants from the Electoral Commission, Short money and so forth. The Electoral Commission is aware of the situation and will report on it.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con)

What the hon. Gentleman says is all very well—we accept that there is a degree of indirect state funding in that regard. Does he accept, however, that the hon. Member for Hornchurch (John Cryer) spoke for many Members on both sides of the House when he urged that it should not be increased? We do not want our ordinary party political activities to be funded by the state, and I hope that the Minister and the Government will turn their face against any such ridiculous suggestion.

Mr. Leslie

The hon. Gentleman reflects the views of many hon. Members on both sides of the House. The Electoral Commission—the independent expert in this field—will no doubt make its recommendations, which we will consider very carefully. I do not want to have a closed mind on the subject at this stage.