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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 12 June, 2002, 19:53 GMT 20:53 UK
Cook urges state party funding
Formula 1
F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone's donation caused an uproar
Political parties should have the courage to recognise that cash from the state is the only source of funding that is not open to "misconstruction", Commons leader Robin Cook has said.

"If the electorate want a healthy parliament and independent political parties, then they must be prepared to fund them from the public purse," he told journalists at Westminster.


The only possible source of funding that is not open to misconstruction is the electorate itself

Robin Cook
Mr Cook made the plea in the wake of a string of negative headlines for Labour over controversial donations to the party by businessmen.

But he fully endorsed Labour Chairman Charles Clarke's claims that there was no real evidence of serious misconduct in relation to business donations.

He stressed: "All political parties must summon up the courage to recognise that the present funding of political parties is damaging the credibility of parliament.

Support not widespread

"The only possible source of funding that is not open to misconstruction is the electorate itself."

Mr Cook backed the view of other senior cabinet members, including Home Secretary David Blunkett, who has indicated that state funding of UK political parties was inevitable.

But Tory chairman David Davis said his party would not back such a move.

Bernie Ecclestone
Tony Blair insisted he acted properly over Mr Ecclestone's 1m donation to Labour
He told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "We don't see why Labour voters should pay for the Conservative Party or Tory voters should pay for the Labour Party."

'Complex'

Last month a substantial majority of people polled for the BBC said they did not want their taxes to be used to fund political parties.

But the survey, conducted by ICM for Radio 4's Today programme, also found that eight out of ten people think the way political parties currently raise their finances makes people "suspicious of politicians".

A spokesman for Tony Blair has stated that the funding issue was "complex" and required a cross-party consensus before progress could be made.

Robin Cook
Cook: Funding is damaging the credibility of Parliament
Labour has been dogged by sleaze allegations since, amid public pressure, it decided to return a 1m donation from Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, after motor racing gained a stay of excecution from a ban on tobacco advertising.

In his speech to the Commons Press Gallery, Mr Cook also argued that Parliament needed a House of Lords with a "serious democratic mandate".

"We need a second chamber that can be a partner in restoring public respect for Parliament," he said.

He took a good-humoured swipe at MPs, urging them to make briefer speeches and for there to be more and shorter debates.

'Institutionalised'

Parliament's day needs "to get started earlier". Mr Cook said there was more chance of getting Parliament into newspapers "if there is something to report before 2.30pm".

He called for more ministerial statements and stressed that his calls were not for the convenience of MPs, but for the efficiency of Parliament.

"Personally, I am so institutionalised that I am happy to hang around here for as long as there is a proceeding to attend," he quipped.

Parliament needed to give more time to better scrutiny of bills and do "a more thorough job", he added.

See also:

16 Apr 02 | UK Politics
19 Feb 02 | UK
23 Feb 02 | Scotland
29 Jan 02 | UK Politics
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