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Policy Development Grants

Oral Answers to Questions — Electoral Commission Committee – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 4th February 2016.

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Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords) 9:30 am, 4th February 2016

What assessment the Electoral Commission has made of the effect of the level of policy development grants on the operation of political parties.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

The Electoral Commission has recently written to the Government setting out its recommended approach to implementing the reduction of policy development grants, which the Government announced in the spending review and autumn statement of 2015. A copy of the Electoral Commission’s letter will be placed in the House Library.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords)

Policy development grants allow political parties to develop considered, costed policies to the benefit of the people living in the UK. As the hon. Gentleman said, the grants are to suffer a cut, which will save the Treasury a very small amount of money relatively but have a big impact on political parties. Does he agree that there could not be a less appropriate time for such a cut?

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

The important thing is how the money is allocated among the various parties. The hon. Lady will know that the Electoral Commission has consulted the smaller parties. It has written to the Government recommending that those parties should be disproportionately protected—that is, they should get a smaller cut than the larger ones. The Electoral Commission is waiting for the Government to respond to that advice.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

Is this issue not a real worry? In a healthy democracy we need parties to be able to develop policy. What is going on in the House of Lords and in this Chamber is penalising the Opposition in terms of the Short money and the policy development grant they get. That cannot be good for democracy, can it?

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

The hon. Gentleman always speaks very clearly and powerfully on these issues. Unfortunately, the issue he raises is a matter for the Government, not the Electoral Commission. It is for the Government to decide the size of the grant; the Electoral Commission will advise the Government on how the grant should be allocated.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

This mean, despicable cut will hamper the power of Oppositions—the Conservative party will be in opposition in the future, as they were in the past—to reduce the democratic accountability of this place. Would it not be a great improvement, if the Government wish to improve the quality of our democracy, to cut the number of hereditary chieftains who sit in the House of Lords and the number of people in the House of Lords who buy their places by making donations to political parties?

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Once again, a very powerful outburst from the hon. Gentleman, but I am afraid these issues have absolutely nothing to do with the Electoral Commission.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons

That has never stopped the hon. Gentleman before. [Interruption.] I have never accused the hon. Member of indulging in an outburst—more a spontaneous articulation of strongly held opinions.