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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it is most important to note that the countries themselves are addressing this issue. In the case of Germany, the Parliament president has already levied a fine on the Christian Democratic Union and I understand that further action may follow. Many noble Lords will know that the extent of the fine is 43 million deutschmarks. It is obviously important that political parties behave appropriately. Your Lordships will be aware that the Government take that matter seriously. Later this year we shall introduce appropriate legislation in relation to it.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is particularly praiseworthy that the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, has raised the question of political donations? Will she consult her noble and learned friend the Attorney-General on the exchange of correspondence between the Home Secretary and Conservative Central Office about what happened to Mr Asil Nadir's substantial contribution to the Conservative Party, which there is every reason to believe was stolen money?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am happy to tell the noble Lord that we still have not had an adequate response on that. We await with interest the various other revelations that doubtless the party opposite will be anxious to disclose, bearing in mind its long history of non-disclosure in this regard.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is it true that European Union governments are not considered as being foreign countries for the purpose of foreign donations to political parties? If that is so, does that mean that shady money, money from the European Union Commission or money from foreign governments could be used to finance British political parties?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the position is clear so far as concerns the United Kingdom. As I said, we shall bring to this House the political parties and referendums Bill, in which we seek to put such matters on clear lines. Our party has made it absolutely clear that it does not accept donations from foreign governments or others. That is a position which we hope will be shared. When the Bill arrives in this House and in the other place, I am confident that all noble Lords--particularly those opposite--will give it their full and unreserved support.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, what is the Government's attitude towards contributions to British political parties from residents of the European Union? Is it the Government's view that there is something more meritorious in such contributions than in contributions to British political parties from residents of Commonwealth countries?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we do not take that view. It is surprising to hear such comments coming from the Benches opposite. We know that the party opposite has received a number of contributions from individuals who are resident elsewhere.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, the noble Baroness has not answered the question. Will she please do so? Do the Government view differently contributions to British political parties from residents of the European Union as compared to contributions to British political parties from residents of Commonwealth countries?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we take the same approach in all cases. We have clearly stated that all contributions made to political parties should be transparent, wheresoever they come from.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I hope that I may pursue this matter a little further. Does the Minister's reply mean that when the Bill is brought forward the same rules will apply to contributions from citizens of European Union countries as to contributions from countries outside the European Union?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the theme remains the same--transparency, transparency, transparency and proper recording. I am delighted, as always, to provide your Lordships with entertainment in this regard, but I should remind your Lordships that the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, is a matter for the Foreign Office, and we are now straying a little outside that realm.
Lord Brookman: My Lords, we should avoid the shadow boxing emanating from the Opposition Benches. The allegation against Chancellor Kohl is that he took very large political donations from foreign and other sources which he did not list in his party's public accounts. Does the Minister agree that the Conservative Party has been doing that for as long as I can remember? Does she further agree that the difference is that in this country we do not have the laws, as yet, to stop it?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I respectfully agree with my noble friend. I emphasise the words "not yet". I remind your Lordships, yet again, that there will be an opportunity to regularise that position later this year. I am sure that all noble Lords now await that moment with bated breath.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, returning to the question of European Union funding, I am puzzled by the answers given by the Minister to the questions of my noble friends Lord Waddington and Lord Cranborne. If I am not wrong, citizens of the European Union are eligible to come to this country and to be on the electoral register. Surely, therefore, citizens of the European Union are quite entitled to give donations to British political parties? That was the question that was asked. Is the answer yes or no, because the noble Baroness did not seem to know?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, anyone resident in this country will be able to make a contribution. But there remains the question of transparency. The noble Lord knows that, in relation to contributions to our party, any contribution over £5,000 is declared in order that it should be transparent. I invite the party of noble Lords opposite to emulate that if it dares.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, there are mixed views on whether there would be a significant safety benefit from requiring newly qualified drivers to display what are commonly described as probationary, or P-plates. We believe that, in improving new driver safety, the priority should be to encourage learners to get more experience before they take the test rather than placing restrictions on them after they have qualified. However, we are actively considering a package of measures to improve new driver safety. The question of probationary plates will be addressed in the road safety strategy, which is soon to be announced.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of the effectiveness of the provisional licence under the New South Wales road transport driver licensing regulations, which impose particular vehicle speed restrictions on drivers for the first 12 months after passing their tests? Such licences can be cancelled immediately if the holder is convicted of a road traffic offence or has to pay a penalty for certain breaches of road traffic regulations during those 12 months. Should not the Government be giving serious consideration to such a provision?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am aware of the New South Wales scheme. There are similar schemes in other Australian states, although the details vary. A research project is being conducted by TRL which is looking at all such schemes for what, effectively, become phased or graduated licences. It will report later this year. Also, the Northern Ireland experience is rather inconclusive as to whether or not such schemes bring safety benefits. Some of our provisional conclusions on this issue will be contained in the road safety strategy.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Among the package of measures which the Government are considering to ensure that drivers are better qualified, are they looking at the concept of a log book which an intending driver would present at the time of the test to demonstrate that he had the requisite experience to be worthy of passing?
Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords, the Government are concerned to ensure that by the time someone comes forward to take a test--well over half fail at present--the quality of his training has the breadth, scope and period of experience that could be recorded in a log book. That is certainly one of the options that will be considered and contained in our road safety strategy.
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