The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): The 2005 fast-stream recruitment report was published on-line at http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk today. It summarises the results of the civil service fast-stream recruitment competitions completed in the year ending November 2005, and also describes some significant developments in the fast-stream selection process during the same period.
The fast-stream selection process itself is subject to continuous review, and the results are monitored in detail to ensure no adverse impact on any particular groups of applicants. We shall continue to work to improve fast-stream recruitment from the point of view of both applicants and employing departments.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) has made the following written ministerial statement today.
"In my statement of 20 March 2006 to the House I announced that the Government intended to amend the Electoral Administration Bill, currently before this House, to make it compulsory for political parties to disclose any loans that they receive. Yesterday I tabled amendments for that purpose.
The amendments provide for loans to political parties to be governed by a similar regime of transparency and permissibility to that set out for donations to parties in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA). The amendments of course take account of the differences that exist between donations and loans. The amendments take the form of a new Part 4A of and Schedule 6A to PPERA.
4. Details of all loans existing at the time that the provisions come into force will have to be reported to ensure full transparency, but loans existing at that date would not be subject to the permissibility requirements.
The amendment provides for the provisions to be brought into force by order. The Government consider it important that the new regime should be brought into force as soon as possible and will seek to take steps to ensure that that is the case.
The regime will not differentiate between loans taken out on commercial terms and those on non-commercial terms. The latter would currently be required to be treated as donations. In future, however, all loans will fall within the loans regime, thus avoiding double reporting.
The regime will apply to loans of money, not things. Transactions for property, services and facilities on commercial terms will not have to be reported. It would be unduly burdensome to require a political party to report any significant commercial transaction into which it entered. However, where such transactions are at less than commercial terms, they will still be regarded, as they are at present, as reportable donations.
Trade credit, that is where a supplier permits deferred payment to be made in respect of goods or services, is not included in the definition of a regulated transaction. Trade credit can only be offered by a person or company that is in a position to supply to a political party the particular goods or services it needs at a particular time. It is to be distinguished from the flexibility provided by a loan of money, which provides the party with the means to acquire whatever it needs at any point in time. Trade credit is a commonplace feature of commercial transactions, and there is no evidence to suppose that a problem exists with the provision of trade credit. Where trade credit is being offered on terms which go beyond the commercial norm, such a transaction is and will continue to be treated as involving the making of a donation.
The amendments provide that a party must not enter into a regulated transaction with anyone other than an "authorised participant", these being the same individuals and organisations that are already defined in PPERA as permissible donors. In sum, these are individuals on the electoral roll or organisations with a sufficient connection to the United Kingdom. A company, in addition to satisfying other requirements, must actually carry on business in the United Kingdom before it will be an authorised participant. The permissibility requirements will not apply to loans existing at the time that these provisions come into force.
The amendments provide for the enforcement of the permissibility requirements principally by creating criminal offences which may be committed by the party and the party's treasurer where the party enters into regulated transactions with unauthorised participants. The political party is also required to pay back any moneys it might receive from an unauthorised participant as soon as is practicable. As an ultimate fallback, the Electoral Commission may apply to the court to make such an order as it thinks fit to restore (so far as is possible) the parties to the transaction (that is, the political party and the lender) to the position they would have been in if the transaction had not been entered into.
The transaction report must be delivered to the Commission within 30 days beginning with the end of the reporting period to which it relates. During a general election period (that is, from dissolution of Parliament to polling day) reports are to be required to be submitted at weekly intervals. The duties relating to these reports will be the responsibility of the party's treasurer.
A relevant loan will have to be recorded in a report where the overall value of the loan is more than £5,000 or if, when it is added to any other relevant loan, the aggregate amount of the loans is more than £5,000. Thereafter loans from the same authorised participant must be reported when a threshold of £1,000 is exceeded. The same is the case for other regulated transactions.
The Electoral Commission will be required to take receipt of the reports and maintain a register of the loans, which is to be required to be made available to the public. It is the Commission's current practice to make the donations registers available on their website. There will be a number of criminal offences relating to the late filing of reports, and the provision in them of inaccurate information, replicating those in relation to the reporting of donations.
Regulated transactions can of course be varied after they have been initially agreed (for example, the parties could agree to reduce the interest payable on a loan). To take account of this, a continuing reporting requirement is imposed on political parties. Where any of the details initially required to be reported to the Electoral Commission change, the political party is obliged to make a further report in respect of the transaction. The political party is also required to report when the transaction comes to an end (for example, when a loan is paid off). However, parties are not required to make a report each time they make a repayment of part of a loan in accordance with the terms of the loan.
The value of the transaction to be recorded is, in the case of a loan, the value of the capital advanced; in the case of a credit facility, the maximum amount that may be advanced under the facility; and, in the case of a security agreement, the maximum contingent liability assumed by the person who gives the security. The interest to be paid on any capital advanced will not need to be included in the process of valuation".
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