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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 04/98: Party fundraising  
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EDITIONS
Party fundraising Tuesday, 13 October, 1998, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
All-powerful Election Commission
A powerful independent commission should be set up to oversee the conduct of elections and referendums, the Neill Committee has proposed.

The Election Commission would be a permanent body able to investigate the funding of political parties and their campaign conduct.

Within six months of every major election or referendum, the commission would produce a report into its conduct and administration.

It would also monitor electoral law to ensure it is kept up to date, and the government should always consult it prior to proposing any changes to electoral law and administration.

The five-strong commission proposed by Lord Neill's committee would be responsible for implementing many of its 100 recommendations.

This would include it taking charge of registering third parties planning to campaign in elections and referendums, receiving the audited accounts of political parties, and publishing the details of big donations to them and to third parties that pass the cash on.

The commission would also decide which organisations are eligible for core funding in referendum campaigns.

Although its members should be "acceptable" to the leaders of the main political parties, they should be "chosen on a non-partisan basis and by means of a non-partisan procedure".

In other words, they should not be appointed by politicians. The committee suggests a senior civil servant should oversee the appointment procedure.

Neither should the commission members be people who have been previously involved "in any substantial way" with party politics.

In order to preserve the commission's impartiality and independence it should have receive a sufficient budget set by a body such as the National Audit Office , and members should be appointed "for a considerable period of years" and "enjoy substantial security of tenure".

The Neill Report suggests a two-thirds vote in both Houses of Parliament would be required before any commissioner could be removed before the end of their term of office.

The commission would also play a sleaze watchdog role, with parties and individual politicians able to ask it for informal advice on specific matters - similar to the manner in which they are presently able to consult the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Gordon Downey.

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