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Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, 16:47 GMT
Party spending limits

Up to and including the 1997 general election there were no restrictions on spending by parties at national level and the richer parties obviously spent more.

The Neill Committee calculated that in the 1997 election campaign, the Conservatives spent 28m, Labour 26m and the Liberal Democrats only 2.3m.

However, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 has introduced important changes to national campaign spending.


This legislation imposes limits on spending by parties in the 12 months prior to a general election.

On 30 January, 2001, Home Office minister Mike O'Brien announced that limits on campaign spending specified in the act would come into force on 16 February, 2001.

Transitional arrangements

The maximum amount a party may spend is determined by the number of constituencies it contests.

Normally a party will be allowed 30,000 expenditure for every seat it fights, subject to a minimum threshold.

So, if a party fights all 659 UK seats, the limit on its national campaign expenditure for the 365 days leading up to polling day would be 19.77m.


However, the act includes transitional arrangements with lower limits that "will apply if the next general election is held less than 356 days after 16 February, 2001".

Therefore, if the election were held within three months of 16 February - up until 16 May - the allocation per seat would be 22,500 rather than the full 30,000.

On that basis, a party fighting all 659 UK seats would have a limit of 14.8m.

No party stood everywhere

In the 1997 election, the Conservatives fought 648 seats, Labour and the Liberal Democrats 639 each rather than the maximum 659.

This was because none of them contested the Speaker's seat - which though held by the originally-Labour Betty Boothroyd is meant to be politically neutral - and only the Tories fought in Northern Ireland, contesting eight seats there.

In addition neither Labour nor the Lib Dems stood in Tatton, withdrawing in favour of Independent Martin Bell.

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