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Tuesday, April 21, 1998 Published at 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK

UK: Politics

Row over party spending caps

Lord Neill: investigating how to clean up politics

Labour says it wants a £15m limit on party spending during a General Election.

And parties that deliberately overspend could be banned from making television broadcasts for five years, under Labour's proposals to the committee investigating political funding.

But former Conservative treasurer Lord McAlpine says spending caps will not work.

"They will just find ways round it," he told the committee.

Ban on foreign donations

Labour's adviser, Professor Keith Ewing, told Lord Neill's Committee on Standards in Public Life that courts should have a range of sanctions to punish parties that broke spending limits.

But he stopped short of suggesting an election result could be overturned. "I cannot think of circumstances when it would be a proportionate response," he said.

Labour also wants to ban foreign donations and make parties declare gifts of £5,000 or more.

The party's General Secretary, Tom Sawyer, added: "To achieve fairness between political parties we need to eliminate the 'arms races' which currently exist in electoral spending.

"The consequence of 'arms races' is that they will be won only by those who can afford to buy the 'arms'. We do not believe this is healthy for British democracy."

But other groups not directly contesting seats, like trade unions, would be allowed to spend up to £1.5m on campaigning - proposals attacked by the Tories.

Former Conservative Cabinet minister John MacGregor said unions spent up to £8m helping Labour during last year's General Election.
[ image: Lord McAlpine:
Lord McAlpine: "Spending caps will be a charade"

Lord McAlpine also attacked spending caps. He said: "There will be organisations that set themselves up and put out the same message as the parties. It will be a charade."

Margaret Thatcher's treasurer, who later left the Tories to join the Referendum Party, also said defining foreign donations would be hard. Big businesses had shareholders of different nationalities, for example.

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