The government has once again voted down a House of Lords amendment that would have introduced checks on donations to political parties to ensure that they are not disguised payments from foreign powers.
In a House of Commons vote late last night, a motion to disagree with the amendment was passed by 289 votes to 199. Two Conservatives rebelled against the motion: Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) chair Sir Julian Lewis and Sir Jeremy Wright, another member of the ISC. Sir Julian Lewis said in debate that the government “was inexplicably rejecting the opportunity significantly to improve the transparency and accountability of our political system.”
This is the second time that the government has whipped its MPs to vote down similar Lords amendments to the National Security Bill. The amendments were tabled by Lord Carlile, a former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, with the support of Lord Evans, the former head of MI5 and chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, among others.
The bill now returns to the Lords but Parliamentary precedent suggests that it is unlikely that the unelected second chamber will attempt to defeat the government for a third time.
Dr Susan Hawley, Executive Director of Spotlight on Corruption, said:
“There is clear evidence from Parliament’s own Intelligence and Security Committee, and from statements by the security services, that hostile foreign powers, such as Russia and China, have sought to influence UK elections and government policy through donations and building political relationships. There’s every reason to expect foreign states, whether hostile or not, to continue to do so in the future.
“Both the Electoral Commission and the Committee on Standards in Public Life have called for reforms to address loopholes which allow potential donations from abroad and provide a route for foreign influence. The government’s refusal to accept that political parties must play a more proactive and robust role in doing checks on donations is very alarming.
“Given that the government won’t act on this, we urge political parties to voluntarily sign up to a ‘know your donor’ policy that would introduce a practical approach to examining potentially suspect donations ahead of the forthcoming general election.”
Spotlight on Corruption is currently consulting with the Royal United Services Institute and experts in electoral law to devise a draft ‘know your donor’ policy that parties could adopt voluntarily.