Previous Section Index Home Page

That is a farce. Because of the subterfuge and the refusal to report any donations, it is impossible to discover a donation that has not been declared, which is the point of the complaint.

I even pointed the Electoral Commission to past donations to suggest a pattern of behaviour that should be examined. I pointed to a donation to Mr. Livingstone’s 2004 campaign from a property developer, Gerald Ronson, that had gone unreported. Again, the Electoral Commission refused to investigate or even to consider that that past transgression might suggest similar behaviour in this campaign. It said that the 2004 donation was of no interest:

The Electoral Commission has farcically allowed a situation in which no Londoner can have any idea who is funding the campaign for the incumbent candidate for the position of London Mayor. This is the second largest direct election in Europe, after that for the President of France, and 5 million electors deserve to know who is paying for all the glossy leaflets that come through their doors from the main candidates.

25 Apr 2008 : Column 1657

In 2004, Ken Livingstone also made no declarations, yet Londoners might well have decided differently, if they had been aware of the full facts on who was funding the candidates. My research at the office of the trades union certification officer has revealed that the largest donation to Mayor Livingstone in 2004 probably came from one of the hated tube unions, ASLEF, which made a specific donation in late 2003 to Ken Livingstone—there was no mention of the Labour party—for his campaign for re-election. The Labour party did not declare that donation, either. Londoners would have taken a dim view that Mr. Livingstone’s re-election was being financed by the same tube unions who were on strike on a number of occasions—strikes which the Mayor often pretended to condemn. I note from today’s Evening Standard that the same is reportedly happening now. Nobody knows who is funding Mr. Livingstone this time around, either, because of the poor application of the 2000 Act.

On donations from property developers, I have already mentioned Gerald Ronson, who made a payment to the Labour Mayor’s re-election campaign two years after he received planning permission for the Heron Tower development in the City. The 202 m skyscraper was opposed by English Heritage and the dean of St. Paul’s cathedral, because they said that it would damage the capital’s historic skyline. However, Mr. Livingstone said that it would “support London’s economic future”. The Ronson donation was made after planning permission was granted and shortly before Mr. Livingstone won the June 2004 London mayoral election. A spokeswoman for the developer told The Times last month:

Mr. Livingstone also took donations from another property developer, Irving Sellar. At the Mayor’s press conference two years after that election, on 21 March 2006, he said about his two donors:

There you have it—we not only have a Mayor who does not declare any donations, but one who welcomes what he calls “reasonable contributions” from property developers in meetings at his own office, where planning applications are being discussed.

The various donations from ASLEF, Gerald Ronson and Irving Sellar went unreported in the 2004 campaign and thereafter. Disgracefully, they have become known in the past two months, and still neither has been reported in any way to the Electoral Commission. I wonder whether that was what the Government had in mind when they trumpeted new transparency in political funding when introducing the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

Why does it matter that people know who is funding the London Mayor? Perhaps that is not obvious. I have given the example of Gerald Ronson and the suspicious
25 Apr 2008 : Column 1658
circumstances of the granting of planning permission, which was followed up by a donation to Mayor Livingstone’s re-election campaign. The Mayor has had significant planning powers since 2000, but they have been greatly strengthened by the Greater London Authority Act 2007, which, by a strange coincidence, was brought into force just this month. It gives the Mayor the power not only to refuse an application of strategic importance but to approve one. One can therefore begin to understand why property developers might become even more interested in donating. The Mayor can now countermand a London borough’s refusal to grant planning permission.

I was a member of the Public Bill Committee on that Act, and the extension of the Mayor’s planning powers was considerable. The Act and guidance outline a huge range of strategic planning decisions to be taken by the Mayor, including those on developments of more than 500 homes; developments in which more than 200 existing homes are to be demolished, even if replaced by more than 200 new homes; developments with more than 20,000 sq m of floor space; buildings more than 30 m high, or 25 m adjacent to the Thames; any development including an aircraft runway; a tube or rail station; a bus or coach station; a passenger pier on the Thames, and so on. Those are clearly very considerable planning powers.

What is more, true to the Mayor’s directly elected office, those decisions will be made by the one-man planning authority in private, unlike the decisions of a planning committee of a local authority. Unlike any other planning authority, the one-man authority has a separate duty to promote regeneration in London. It seems inevitable that, in his regeneration capacity, the London Mayor will have frequent interaction with property developers. The current incumbent already does, for example by visiting major developers’ conferences in exotic locations such as Cannes, in the south of France. Huge strategic decisions are being made in private, behind closed doors.

Thanks to the Electoral Commission’s interpretation of the 2000 Act, we will not know if any of those developers have made contributions to the Mayor’s campaign during an election or to his office in non-election years. We will have no idea whether there is any financial motivation behind the decisions made in private by the Mayor—not necessarily the current incumbent—as a one-person planning authority. That is an invitation to corruption and conflicts of interest on a massive scale in meetings taking place in secrecy. The Mayor is responsible for strategic planning decisions. Unlike, say, loft extensions, such decisions are likely to involve large developers. It is precisely such large developers who are likely to be making political donations to candidates for directly elected office.

There is even more need for directly elected persons to disclose their donations than for political parties to do so. That is especially true for directly elected persons who are also one-man planning authorities. We have seen how the current Mayor links planning permissions to undefined “contributions”. That sort of practice needs to be stamped out or, at the very least, we in the London electorate need to see what those contributions are.

Londoners, however, can see who is funding my hon. Friend the Member for Henley, as I said. As he is declaring his donations as a regulated donee, the Electoral
25 Apr 2008 : Column 1659
Commission website lists 58 donations made over the past nine months or so. There is a monthly update for any sum more than £1,000. In contrast, Ken Livingstone has not declared a penny for eight years.

The Government need to talk with the Electoral Commission urgently to ensure that the PPERA is properly administered and enforced. While researching for the debate, I started with the premise that the law might need changing. I now do not think that that is the case. It seems to me that all we need is for the law to be properly enforced.

I have chosen to focus almost entirely on London, which was perhaps inevitable, as I am a London Member, but the same observations would apply to most, if not all, directly elected mayors and officials in this country. I happen to agree with the strong, directly elected mayor model, but it will not work if we cannot see all the reasons why people behave as they do, and especially without full transparency in donations. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and her proposals for change and the proper enforcement of the PPERA so that we can have proper transparency in the funding of directly elected office holders.

2.51 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): When the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) began his speech, he said—I hope not out of a sense of naivety or innocence, although perhaps there was a bit of naivety and innocence on my part—that he did not intend to make this a party political issue, but wanted to examine the matter in the round. He seems to have come to the House on the pretence of being concerned about propriety, ethics and regulations governing election expenses, yet he has spent the best part—two thirds—of the time for the debate making scurrilous attacks on the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, who is the Labour party candidate in next Thursday’s election, and on the Labour party in London and as a whole. If I may say so, he does not come to this with clean hands—I mean no pun.

The hon. Gentleman repeated serious, groundless allegations against one of the candidates just six days before the poll and, frankly, he wastes the resources of the House by so doing. I will talk about the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 in a moment, but first I will deal with the complaints that the hon. Gentleman made to the Electoral Commission. Given that he also attacked the commission, I remind him that it was set up under the Act as an independent organisation to oversee and regulate party funding and the behaviour of candidates and parties in this area.

The hon. Gentleman lodged a complaint with the commission that Ken Livingstone had failed to register donations in the 2008 campaign. The commission investigated his complaint and decided—I think that it reported this to the relevant Select Committee only a month or so ago, although I might not be right—that the PPERA rules had not been broken because all the money was given to the Labour party in London as a whole, rather than to Mr. Livingstone directly. A spokesman for the commission said that it had met the Labour party and Ken Livingstone’s election agent and that it was satisfied that there was no evidence of a
25 Apr 2008 : Column 1660
breach. When the independent Electoral Commission says that there is no evidence of a breach, it is not right for the hon. Gentleman to use the facilities of the House, under the cloak of parliamentary privilege, to try to resurrect such scurrilous and unfounded allegations.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), but of course Henley is not in London. As a Member of this House, the hon. Member for Henley has to make declarations in the Register of Members’ Interests, so he is in a slightly different position; he has to ensure that he complies with the rules of the House, as well as the rules of the Electoral Commission. As far as I can see, neither the Labour party candidate, the Liberal Democrat candidate nor any other candidate has reported individual donations. I assume that that is because they, like the Labour party candidate, have had donations made to their party, rather than to themselves as a regulated donee.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham made a good attempt at throwing the dirt around. It is pretty low politics—dirty politics, to borrow from the title of the book by his good and helpful friend, Lord Ashcroft, whom I understand donated a sizeable amount of money—£44,000—to the hon. Gentleman’s 2005 general election campaign.

Mr. Hands: The Minister is quite right in her facts, but does she not agree that what she says rather bears out the fact that donations should be visible and transparent? She is able to make her correct assertion about the funding that I received for the last general election because the donations are visible on the Electoral Commission’s website. The fact is that there are no donations visible for the Mayor of London since his first election in 2000, eight years ago.

Bridget Prentice: I have already answered the point about the Mayor of London; donations to his campaign are made to the Labour party, and are used by the Labour party to fund the campaign. Many of us are concerned about the fact that an individual can throw cash at marginal seats around the country, and be subject to no serious accountability at all. I hope that that is one of the issues that we will address when we deal with party funding shortly. I have to say that we would have addressed the issue far more quickly if the hon. Gentleman’s party had decided to work with us, and with the other parties in the House, on coming to a consensus on the issue. Unfortunately, his party decided not to do that, and we can only speculate on why that is.

The debate seems to be a smokescreen to hide the fact that the Conservative candidate for the mayoral election does not want to have to talk about his muddled policies and the risk that he poses to the prosperity of Londoners. I want to wake up on Friday morning knowing that we have elected a Mayor who puts London at the heart—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Lady, but she is moving a little way away from the central point of the debate.

Bridget Prentice: I accept your admonition, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

25 Apr 2008 : Column 1661

The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 introduced positive changes and implemented the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. As I said, those changes were made on the basis of broad consensus, to which we remain committed. I hope that the Conservative party will bear that in mind as we move to examine changes to party funding in further detail in future.

The Electoral Commission is responsible for monitoring whether the Act is properly observed and it is important to apply it so that the public can have confidence in the funding of political parties. It is important for all individual members of political parties and the parties themselves to work with the Electoral Commission to ensure that transparency.

It worries me deeply, as a democrat, when someone such as the hon. Gentleman can come to the House and
25 Apr 2008 : Column 1662
make such allegations knowing that the Electoral Commission has found no fault. Doing that undermines the democratic process and makes people lack confidence in our system. We have moved far on transparency and we will go further, with support and consensus in the House. However, I often fear for democracy when undefined allegations, which lack evidence, are thrown around in the heat of an election campaign, thus undermining the whole process.

If the hon. Gentleman genuinely believes that he has a serious point to make, I hope that he is prepared to do it outside, in the public domain, without the cloak of parliamentary privilege to protect him. Otherwise, he undermines not only his position but that of his party and, more important, democracy itself.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Three o’clock.

    Index Home Page