§ Ms Christine Russell
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the funding and registration of political parties. 
§ Mr. Straw
The Government are committed to reforming the system of party funding. On 12 November 1997, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked the Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Lord Neill, to review issues in relation to the funding of political parties and recommend any changes in present arrangements. At that time, it was the Government's intention to legislate in this Session to deliver our manifesto commitment to ban foreign funding of political parties and to demand disclosure of donations above £5,000.
Since then, Lord Neill and the members of his Committee have reached the view that it would be preferable for the Government not to proceed with the funding aspects of proposed legislation at the same time. In a letter to me, dated 26 January, Lord Neill explained why he is particularly concerned about simultaneous consideration of these issues by Parliament and the Committee.
In response, I have therefore decided not to introduce legislation on the funding of political parties in this Session of Parliament. I have placed in the Library a copy of Lord Neill's letter, together with a copy of my reply.
Lord Neill has made it clear that the Committee is considering not whether the Government's two specific manifesto commitments should be fulfilled, but how best to do so. The Government remain firmly committed to legislate in this area and will bring forward proposals in the light of the recommendations of the Neill Committee. This will enable us to bring forward a comprehensive and effective package of measures.
The registration of political parties is necessary to enable the electoral systems proposed for the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly to function effectively and to deal with misleading descriptions on ballot papers. I intend to introduce the Bill on this subject later in this Session.