HL Deb 28 January 1998 vol 585 cc42-3WA
Lord Gladwin of Clee

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will comment on the funding and registration of political parties. [HL358]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

The Government are committed to reforming the system of party funding. On 12 November 1997, my right honourable 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 my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, dated 26 January Lord Neil explained why he is particularly concerned about simultaneous consideration of these issues by Parliament and the Committee.

In response, my right honourable friend has therefore decided not to introduce legislation on the funding of political parties in this session of Parliament. He has placed in the Library a copy of Lord Neill's letter, together with a copy of his reply.

Lord Neill has made clear that the Committee is not considering 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. My right honourable friend intends to introduce the Bill on this subject later in this session.