Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fourth Report

Annex 1: Note on Short Money

1. Financial assistance to Opposition parties is commonly known as 'Short Money' after Edward Short, the Leader of the House who introduced it in 1975. It was brought in under, and is governed by, Resolutions of the House of 1975, 1993 and 1999.

2. The purpose of Short Money payments is to assist a qualifying opposition party to carry out its parliamentary business. It has three main components: the general fund, mainly for research assistance for front-bench spokesmen and women and assistance in the relevant whips' offices; a travel allowance, currently of £129,000 a year divided between the qualifying parties, introduced in 1993 and designed to assist with the travelling expenses incurred by opposition parties' spokesmen and women on parliamentary business; and, since 1999, an allowance, currently £548,000 a year for running the Leader of the Opposition's Office. The allowances are increased annually in line with inflation.

3. With the exception of the travel allowance, for which claims must be put in, Short Money is paid automatically in arrears at the end of each month. Each party must have its accounts audited by an independent auditor; the accounts for each financial year must be submitted to the Accounting Officer (the Clerk of the House) by the end of December in the next financial year, and are examined by the National Audit Office.

4. None of the Short Money resolutions attempted to define 'parliamentary business'. In response, however, to difficulties experienced by the auditors for one of the parties in certifying that the money had been used on parliamentary business, the Department of Finance and Administration drafted a definition, sometimes called a description, of parliamentary business, which was agreed with the Official Opposition, the Accounting Officer and the National Audit Office. This reads: 'Parliamentary business for the purposes of providing financial assistance to opposition parties may be defined as research associated with front bench duties, developing and communicating alternative policies to those of the Government of the day, and shadowing the Government's front bench. It does not include political campaigning and similar partisan activities, political fund raising, membership campaigns or personal or private business of any kind'.

5. In March 2001, the Select Committee on Public Administration, having considered Short Money in the course of its report on special advisers, reported that it had concerns that a description of parliamentary business had been arrived at, without consideration by the House, which seemed to allow more latitude in how the money was spent. The report continued

In particular we are not clear how 'communicating alternative policies to the Government of the day' (which is permitted under the expanded description) is different from 'political campaigning' (which is not).

We believe that there is an urgent need for stricter regulation as to what Short money may be spent on and more transparency as to how it has been spent. We understand that it will be for the Leader of the House to bring forward an amended resolution for adoption by the House … We hope that the Leader of the House will take an early opportunity to table an amended resolution so that the House can agree more precisely on what Short Money may be spent and how it is to be accounted for.[321]

This recommendation has not been implemented.

February 2004  Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

321   Select Committee on Public Administration, Fourth Report of Session 2000-01 (HC 293), paras 50-51. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 29 March 2004