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With permission Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on party funding.
As set out in the Coalition Government’s programme, party funding in Britain needs to be reformed.
The last major attempt at reform came in the cross-party talks between 2006 and 2008, chaired by Sir Hayden Phillips, which I led for the Conservative Party. The origin of those talks was a genuine desire in the part of my RHF the PM, Tony Blair and the Rt. Hon member for North East Fife to resolve these issues that were disfiguring the face of British politics. The expectation was that there could be some increase in state funding if there were a cap on donations, but crucially applying to donations from all sources. Those talks came agonisingly close to securing agreement for long term reform, but in the event agreement proved impossible.
This was a serious missed opportunity. Since then, the need for change has become more not less pressing. Accordingly at the last election all three main parties promised in their manifestos to make progress.
This Government has an explicit commitment in the Coalition Agreement “to pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics”. It was helpful when, in the early months of the Coalition Government, the Committee on Standards in Public Life launched a major review. That Committee, chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly, reported last November.
My RHF the Deputy Prime Minister, with support from the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, leads for the Government and in this capacity responded to that report. He welcomed the recommendations and confirmed that the report contained a useful guide to the principles and areas that are essential for party funding agreement.
However the Government could not see a case at this time of austerity for additional state funding for political parties. The Committee’s view that an increase in state funding was required meant its recommendations could not be adopted in full.
Instead, the DPM, as he told the House last month, wrote to party leaders asking for nominations to take part in cross-party discussions. Nominations have been received from all three parties. With Lord Feldman, I will lead for the Conservative Party. The Leader of the Opposition has nominated the RHM for Southampton Itchen and Lord Collins for Labour. My RHF the DPM has nominated the RHM for Yeovil and Tim Gordon, the Liberal Democrat Chief Executive.
These talks will begin shortly. Events over the last weekend have demonstrated the importance of making progress.
Mr Speaker, what Peter Cruddas said was completely unacceptable and wrong, and much of what he said was simply not true, as he himself has since stated.
As the House will know, all donations to any party headquarters above £7,500 must be declared to the Electoral Commission and comply with detailed electoral law. These requirements are rightly extremely detailed and demanding, and should be meticulously complied with by all parties.
This government has already gone much further than any previous government in revealing details of ministers’ meeting with outside organisations and individuals. My rhf the PM has set out this morning that the Conservative Party will now go much further. I hope that all other parties will make the same commitment.
What we are doing now builds on the major improvements to transparency in public life this Government has introduced.
We are the first Government to tackle the problem of lobbying, with our proposals for a statutory register of lobbyists currently out to consultation.
We have published more data than any other Government in history about the activities of Ministers and Government departments.
Let me finish by returning to the forthcoming party funding talks.
There is a way of solving this problem. Across the House we know broadly the issues we need to address.
We must look at donations and how to limit them. We must look at affiliate bodies.
The Prime Minister has once again said he is ready to cap donations if it is agreed the cap applies to all donations, whatever the source. We could also look at how to boost small donations and broaden the support base for support for parties, at the way in which existing state funding works, and at how we might further increase transparency around fundraising activities.
Mr Speaker, the challenge for us all across the House is to make this process work, and reach agreement across all sides, to deal with the problem of party funding once and for all. I look forward to the enthusiastic support of all parties for this course.