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The hon. Lady is wrong to say that I am talking out of my hat because if I did, Sir Edward, I would be out of order and you would therefore not allow it to take place. Third parties that merely donate to other political organisations are not third parties under the terms of the Bill. To be a third party under the terms of the Bill one needs to be campaigning in such a way that one is advancing the campaign of an individual in a particular constituency or a political party across a number of constituencies. Under the terms of the Bill, giving £10,000 to the Conservative party does not require registration with the Electoral Commission as a third party. All it requires is for someone to register their donation and be a legitimate British company, as covered by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The Bill is limited in scope. It cuts the amount that third parties may spend, and my amendment would ensure that people receiving Government funding do not become third parties. That seems not only reasonable but something that the Opposition in particular should support.
People may think that the Government are benign and particularly kind and well-disposed towards them, but it is not impossible to imagine a Government who were more cynical or less honest in their approach, and who saw that they could give funds from the many billions they spend. The Government spend more than £700 billion a year, and parties in election year spend £20 million—£20 million to £700 billion: there is a huge amount of money in the Government trough, and to extract a little of that to fund those they like but not those they do not like, or to get support from friends who can use it in an election campaign, is an impropriety that a Government more cynical than this one might be tempted to use. That is why Oppositions should be nervous—rather than uninterested—at the prospect of public funding being used to support third-party campaigns in general elections.
Let me return to my original point: we in this country have decided that parties will be funded privately from sources of funding that are not dependent on the state. Having made that decision, it is illogical to say that third parties can come in, interfere in our general elections, spend money in seats spread across the country, and support particular parties with money they have received directly from the state. That would be an abuse, but it is an abuse currently allowed under the law.