Whole-term limits on party funding desirable says Justice Secretary

May 6, 2009 at 12:03 pm Leave a comment

by James Easy

Political action on party funding hasn’t moved on a great deal since the report of senior civil servant Sir Hayden Phillips back in 2007, MPs were told yesterday.

Although the Government have introduced the Political Parties and Elections Bill (currently being amended in the House of Lords), the issue is still fairly static.

Danny Alexander (Lib Dem, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) asked Justice Secretary Jack Straw whether this was “another issue on which the Government have thrown away their moral compass?”

Mr Straw ignored the MP’s attempt to draw him into a “Punch and Judy” exchange, stating that “…it is important for us not to proceed without reaching a broad party consensus.”

He continued, “Otherwise, we would end up in the situation [existing] in Canada, where so-called “great reforms” in party funding, including state funding, have become partisan tools in the hands of the Government of the day”.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Lab, Southampton Test) asked whether Mr Straw “intends to pursue the issue of whole-term party funding limits in the immediate future.”

The Secretary replied, “Labour [MPs] are attracted to the idea of comprehensive funding limits that would continue throughout a Parliament, and I hope we can persuade the other parties in favour of that course.”

Julie Kirkbride (Con, Bromsgrove) brought up the “huge conundrum” of state funding for parties, something indeed recommended in Sir Hayden’s report: “The public want democracy, but they do not want to pay for it with their own taxes, and they do not want other people to pay for it with their hard-earned cash.”

Mr Straw replied: “…the British people would not take kindly to the proposition [that they should contribute through taxation], especially given the current state of the economy.”

Again using Canada as an example where such a measure has failed, he continued, “…the [Canadian] Government, decided to withdraw state funding as an economy measure, which caused a fundamental crisis in [the country’s] politics. That, I suggest is another reason not to introduce comprehensive state funding.”

Another issue at Justice Questions the provision of mental health services in prisons. More than 70 per cent of prisoners in the UK system have some sort of mental health problem.

Sandra Gidley (Lib Dem, Romsey) asked the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Mr. Shahid Malik, “What are the Government doing to ensure that prisoners with a mental problem receive real help, rather than being banged up as a first resort?”

He replied: “…Since 2006, responsibility for commissioning prison health services has moved from prisons themselves to the NHS…102 mental health teams have been established to provide assessment, treatment and support to offenders, and there is 360 extra staff.”

He pointed out that this was in stark contrast to the situation in 1997.

Sally Keeble (Lab, Northampton North) asked, in light of the NHS taking over the mental health responsibility, whether, as suggested by Lord Bradley’s review: “…discussions are taking place between the Dept. of Health and the NHS to ensure that the services improve?”

Mr Malik conceded that “there is much scope for improvement”, and revealed that directly in response to the Lord Bradley report that “we are about to establish a health and criminal justice national programme board, which will bring together the relevant departments covering health, social care and criminal justice for children and adults [followed by] a national delivery plan and a progress report within six months.”

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Con, Macclesfield) brought Mr. Malik back to the initial question: “Will the Minister address the fact that too many people are being sent to prison because of the absence of adequate mental facilities in the community?”

Mr Malik accepted Mr. Winterton’s contention: “Of course we could do more.” he said, before further stating the improvements already made by way of funding and changes to the system itself.


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