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STRAW PUBLISHES PROPOSALS TO CLEAN UP BRITISH POLITICS

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Plans to make party funding more transparent, control spending on ...
Plans to make party funding more transparent, control spending on

elections and ensure the fair conduct of referendums have been published by home secretary Jack Straw.

The proposals are contained in a White Paper which sets out the

government's response to the Neill Committee Report and includes a

draft Bill.

The main features of the draft Political Parties, Elections and

Referendums Bill, are:

- A registration scheme to bring parties under the funding controls

set out in the draft Bill.

- A requirement on parties to disclose the source and amount of

donations above£5,000 in a quarterly donations report.

- To prohibit the acceptance of donations made from outside the

United Kingdom - donations must be from individuals registered in a

UK electoral register, registered companies incorporated in the EU

and which carry out business in the UK, registered political parties,

trade unions or unincorporated associations which carry on business

in the UK.

- National spending limits on political parties for elections

determined by the number of constituencies and /or regions contested

in the election. In the case of a Westminster general election a

party which had candidates in all 659 seats could spend up to£19.77

m.

- A framework for the conduct of referendums to ensure their fair

conduct. The Bill provides for the designation of campaign bodies

which will be entitled to particular forms of assistance, including a

grant of up to£600,000. It also provides for restrictions on the

publication and distribution of promotional material by central and

local government in the 28 days prior to the holding of a referendum.

- The establishment of an Electoral Commission which will supervise

the restrictions on spending by and donations to political parties,

oversee the fair conduct of referendums and report on elections and

referendums. It will have a broad responsibility for electoral law,

provide guidance in relation to party political broadcasts and

promote the understanding of electoral and political matters. It will

also take over the functions of the four parliamentary Boundary

Commissions and the Local Government Commission for England.

Mr Straw said:

'There has been widespread public concern about the way that

political parties are funded and the rules governing what they can

spend at elections. This government made a manifesto commitment to

clean up British politics and introduce more transparency into the

political scene.

'We are grateful to Lord Neill and his colleagues for their extensive

work on this issue which has given us a firm basis on which to draft

these proposals. These will ensure that political parties are

properly accountable to the people they seek to represent and that

politics in this country does not become a matter of who can spend

the most.

'We are publishing this legislation in a draft form to enable us to

improve the Bill before putting it up for legislative scrutiny. As I

said when the original recommendations were published, I intend to

legislate on this before the next election.'

NOTES

1. The Neill Committee's report, 'The Funding of Political Parties in

the United Kingdom' was published on 13 October 1998.

2. The draft Bill covers the majority of the material needed to give

effect to the government's responses to the Neill proposals. However,

there are some points on which the government intends to include

provisions in the legislation as introduced to parliament but which

are not included at this stage in the draft Bill. Details of these

proposals are set out in the White Paper.

The government also expects to include in the Bill for introduction:

a) Provisions for regulating the election expenditure of 'third

parties'

b) Further generic provision relating to the administration of

referendums, including the designation of counting officers

c) Further amendment to the Representation of the People Act 1983

with a view to removing some out of date provisions

d) Clarification of the law as to what items are covered in election

expenses

e) Amendments to the companies Act 1985 to require shareholder

approval for company donations to political parties

3. The consultation period ends on 15 October 1999.

Comments should be sent to:

Party Funding Unit

Home Office

Room 1077

50 Queen Anne's Gate

London SW1H 9AT

Fax: 0207 273 2045

4. The White Paper The Funding of Political Parties in the United

Kingdom is available from the Stationery Office, command paper number

4413.

5. The White Paper and draft Bill are available on the home office

website: http://homeoffice.gov.uk/

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