Lord Paul Tyler writes: Party funding is back on the political agenda

On 18th May the 2016-17 Parliamentary session officially started with a somewhat thread-bare Queens Speech. It was well noted by Lord Fowler (Conservative) in the first day of debate that;

The most significant words in the Queen’s Speech yesterday were that, ‘other measures will be laid before you

These are often the most important part of the “Gracious Speech”. One of the GREAT omissions from the gracious Speech is of course the issue of Party Funding. Fortunately for Ministers I am happy to provide them with some private enterprise assistance in this matter. As many of you will remember I sat on the House of Lords Committee on the Trade Union Bill, which focused on the party funding issue across the board.

The recommendations, which were almost all unanimously agreed by the cross-party Committee, were also universally welcomed in the House of Lords. Indeed Ministers in both Houses lauded the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the rest of us, praising our conclusions. Indeed, the Government backed down when faced with amendments to their Trade Union Bill based on those recommendations. However they have yet to fulfil the most vitally important recommendation of all- to “take a decisive lead” on party funding reform.

I am therefore hopeful that the Government will welcome my Private Members Bill, not least because it would fulfil their own 2015 manifesto promise. There are several advantages in terms of transparency and public engagement if we start that process in the House of Lords. That is why I decided to give the Government a helping hand, hence the Political Parties (Funding and Expenditure) Bill. This Bill is firmly based on the cross-party draft I prepared and published in 2013, together with prominent Conservative and Labour MPs.

The Bill would provide:

  • Phased introduction of caps on donations.
  • Fair funding of parties, incentivising membership and local activity.
  • Changes to the rules on nominations at elections.
  • Provision for between-election limits on parties’ expenditure.
  • Conferring powers on the Electoral Commission, including investigation of constituency-level breaches of the law, which is presently and preposterously left to the police.

My Bill is a modest offering to the Government to enable them to keep their manifesto promise; just as in the Coalition it seems that the Conservatives still needs the Liberal Democrats to tidy up their legislative mess.

So if anything comes out of this rather limited new sessional programme let’s hope it’s a fairer, more democratic and well balanced party funding system. After all we all know that money talks, but I think it’s time for it to be silenced.

* Lord Tyler is the Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Political and Constitutional Reform.

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2 Comments

  • I don’t know what was proposed on changes to the nomination process for elections but I suggest that collecting signatures on a piece of paper proves absolutely nothing. The signatories do not have to support the candidate or the party. They can vote for who ever they wish especially if they sign on the basis that the democratic system is better served by having a wide variety of candidates. A proposer and seconder should be adequate.

    The proposal to empower the Electoral Commission to investigate breaches of the law may be a good one but the police need to take day-to-day breaches during an election much more seriously than they tend to and move faster when they get reports of malpractice.

  • A very important point for moving constituency-level investigations to the Electoral Commission (and giving them the requisite oomph to do so) is that having party political Police and Crime Commissioners makes it very difficult for police investigations into such matters to be done fairly and impartially.

    Of course, PCCs are a whole other kettle of fish, but moving the rest of the legal furniture in light of their existence is wholly sensible and to be encouraged.

    Thank you for writing this, Paul; I hope your bill enjoys every success.

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