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Party fundraising Wednesday, 14 October, 1998, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
Hague ups ante on funding reforms
Mr Hague has written to the prime minister about the Neill report
Party Fundraising
Conservative leader William Hague has raised the stakes in the battle over the Neill report on party funding.

He has written to the prime minister, saying that the powers of the Election Commission - to be set up under the report - to deal with referendums should be extended beyond the Neill recommendations.

He said: "We believe its remit should be extended to include the wording of the question, the timing of the referendum and any thresholds which would give the result legitimacy and credibility."

Referendum campaign spending should also be capped if general election spending was to be limited as Neill proposed.

Mr Hague said: "I challenge Tony Blair to indicate urgently that he will agree to these proposals. If he does not, then we will seek an early opportunity to introduce a Bill of our own to give effect to them."

'No cherry-picking'

Mr Hague has asked for confirmation the government will not engage in 'cherry picking' but will treat the recommendations contained in the report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life as a package.

The Tory leader has particularly expressed support for the report's recommendations governments should take a neutral position in referendums.

Referendum reforms

The Conservatives believe guidelines set out in the report could be crucial to the outcome of future referendums on the subjects of electoral reform and Europe.

The report recommends funds should be provided for both sides of any issue subject to a referendum, and the government must remain neutral throughout the campaign.

Lord Neill
Lord Neill wants governments to be neutral in referendums
Mr Hague's letter warns the government against 'foot dragging' and offers a member of the shadow cabinet to work with a government minister to implement the report.

Mr Hague said if the government did not introduce legislation on referendums, the Tories would do it themselves.

He told BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme: "There is a role for referendums sometimes in the British constitution but I think they are being used by the government.

"I think the government is now seeing the consequences of that. If they are going to use them willy-nilly in this fashion we need clear rules on how they should be conducted.

"I think everyone should be able to agree on that if the government are not prepared to put these things into legislation in their own response, we shall introduce a bill into the House of Lords and start them going through parliament ourselves."

Rules 'need to be followed'

The Neill committee had produced a good, well-balanced report and the government should accept it, he said.

Mr Hague said he would accept the recommendations on election spending and suggested there should be a limit on referendum spending.

Mr Hague told the programme: "If the government is planning a whole series of referendums we do need rules.

"We do need to ensure that both sides of the argument are heard by the public."

Home Secretary Jack Straw has expressed doubt over the recommendations, saying it is unrealistic to expect the government to act neutrally in a referendum if the issue is part of its policy.

Political ploy

He said: "There's a difference between a referendum and an election.

"I accept the government has got to be very careful indeed about using its power and money to unfairly influence the results of a referendum.

"It is unrealistic to expect government not to do anything given the fact that it is government that has initiated the referendum."

Mr Hague said he had yet to receive a response to his letter to the prime minister.

The government's Commons majority means it hardly needs the opposition's help to implement Lord Neill's recommendations, which were published on Tuesday.

Ministers may see Mr Hague's offer of assistance as a ploy to take some of the credit for cleaning the political funding system.

BBC News
BBC Political Correspondent Emma Udwin: The Tories are anxious the government accepts all the recommendations
BBC News
Lord Neill explains his recommendations on referendums
BBC News
William Hague tells BBC Radio 4's The World At One programme: We will introduce legislation
BBC News
Jack Straw: Unrealistic for government to remain neutral
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