Political Parties: Funding

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:18 pm on 20th March 2006.

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Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor 3:18 pm, 20th March 2006

My Lords, I am grateful for the unequivocal support of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for the proposals that I am making. I deeply regret that the noble Lord the Leader of the Conservative Opposition does not appear to see, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, that it is a problem for every political party in this country. The problem has arisen precisely for the reason that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, gave. The Committee on Standards in Public Life proposed the exception for loans on commercial terms. Everyone thought that it was perfectly sensible that the borrowing from the National Westminster Bank should not have to be disclosed. The consequences of that exception have been revealed over the past few weeks, and we need to do something about it to restore public confidence.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I deeply regret that individuals' names have been brought into the press in the way that they have. I have absolutely no reason to suppose that that came from No. 10, but I share the noble Lord's deep concern that people who have given to public life in the way that many on the list have done have had their names besmirched in this way.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that we also need to look at other issues, such as guarantees. There is a difference between what I am proposing now and what Sir Hayden Phillips will be looking at. As the chair of the Electoral Commission said in the Times this morning, we need to have political parties and they need to be funded. They need to be funded in a way that improves and impresses public confidence. That is a longer-term issue than that which can be dealt with by an amendment to the Electoral Administration Bill. But there is no need to delay introducing an amendment about transparency regarding loans. That is why I am making my announcement today.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is absolutely right that I spoke on the radio and television about this issue today. I apologise to the House for that. It was entirely my decision and responsibility. It was an issue of great public importance, so I thought it right that the public debate should continue. I hope that those on the Benches opposite will support the proposal for greater transparency.