Labour's call for spending cut

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BRITAIN'S two biggest parties should be forced to cut spending by half at the next general election, Labour told Lord Neill's inquiry into political funding yesterday. Advocating far more transparency, the party also called for the abolition of blind trusts by which it funded its own frontbench teams in opposition. A central plank of its proposals was an electoral commission to constantly review funding.

The party's submission to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life set a pounds 15m limit on national spending by parties at a general election, but did not say on what time-scale. Labour spent pounds 27m in the two and a half years before the 1997 election while the Tories spent pounds 28.3m in a year.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have pointed to the Tories as the worst offenders on secrecy and dubious donations. But there was Conservative anger last night over a proposal covering "third parties" which they said would allow unrestricted trade-union funding of Labour's election campaigns.

Labour's document also said foreign donations should not be allowed from individuals.

The Liberal Democrats proposed a pounds 50,000 limit on donations, publication of all donations of more than pounds 1,000 and a limit of pounds 4m during the run- up to elections. They also wanted state funding which would give each party pounds 2m per year. The Tories are expected to meet today's deadline for submissions.