Politics: Limit poll fund to pounds 2m says Bell

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The Independent Online
ELECTION spending by each political party should be limited to pounds 2m - about a tenth of what Labour and the Tories spent last year - the independent MP Martin Bell said yesterday, writes Fran Abrams.

Mr Bell told the Neill inquiry into political funding that donations should be limited to pounds 20,000 to end an "arms race" of political spending.

"I trust that the necessary reforms will take account of the little platoons as well as the big battalions," said the MP, who defeated the former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton at Tatton last May.

Mr Bell said small donations helped to enhance the democratic process by getting people involved, while large donors were often trying to buy access to the decision-making process.

In his own campaign he had limited donations to pounds 100 each, he said, and in some cases he had to return larger payments.

"On the first day I received two cheques for pounds 4,300 addressed to me personally. I could have gone off to the Bahamas there and then. But I sent them back and later received two cheques for pounds 100," he said.

"I got a contribution of pounds 1 from a nine-year-old boy. That boy was putting his faith in me, and I think that's very helpful to the democratic process," he said.

There was no difficulty in raising the pounds 8,000 election expenses. "People were sending me money and I didn't want it. We put it in a separate account and at the end of my term it will be distributed to local charities."

After the election, it was revealed that Mr Bell's legal expenses of pounds 9,400 had been paid by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. He said he had assumed the advice was given free, but when the payment became public he paid the bill himself.

The committee also heard claims by the BBC journalist Michael Crick that Labour might have spent as much as pounds 250,000 in winning last year's Wirral South by-election.