Party donors may be forced into the open

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The Independent Online
Anonymous donations of more than pounds 1,000 to any political party could be banned under proposals being considered by Lord Neill's Committee on Standards of Conduct in Public Life.

The Prime Minister, who has commissioned the committee's investigation into party funding, has already proposed the public identification of all donors of more than pounds 5,000 - in line with Labour's current practice. But Lord Neill told BBC radio's In Committee programme last night: "I think there is room for debate as to what the starting figure should be."

While the Government had suggested pounds 5,000, Lord Neill said: "I am trying to keep an open mind until I have heard what everybody has to say, but my provisional feeling is that it is quite a high figure ... pounds 1,000 might be a more reasonable limit."

Illustrating the enormous political sensitivity of the issue, Lord Neill was later attacked by John MacGregor, a Conservative MP and new committee member, who said the matter had not even been discussed yet.

"If the situation is pre-judged without assessing any evidence it makes a mockery out of public hearings," the former Leader of the Commons said.

Lord Neill also endorsed the feeling inside Government, shared by both Tony Blair and Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, that a cap on party political spending during elections could well be necessary - a move that would help parties live within their means.