Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tory sleaze?

There's been a little controversy beginning to bloom with regard to Conservative use of Flying Lion flights. It's probably time to calm some of the more excitable among us down rather. I'll try and do this by looking at the allegations as they've come up. Warning, this might not be especially interesting to, well, anyone.

1. Flying Lion are registered overseas. They're not permissible donors!

Well, they are registered overseas, and the relevant Act (Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000) does give a list (s.54(2)) of who is a permissible donor - broadly a UK registered entity, whether an actual person or a legal person. BUT s.55(3)(a) [sorry] has this to say:
3) Any donation received by a registered party shall (if it would not otherwise fall to be so regarded) be regarded as a donation received by the party from a permissible donor if and to the extent that—

(a) the purpose of the donation is to meet qualifying costs incurred or to be incurred in connection with a visit by any member or officer of the party to a country or territory outside the United Kingdom, and

(b) the amount of the donation does not exceed a reasonable amount in respect of such costs.
Which is pretty clear. Even if a donor would not normally be permissible (by being registered overseas for example) he will be considered permissible if the donations are for the purposes of international travel - provided the costs are not wholly disproportionate. Unity seems to think that the reasonableness is related to the purpose of the travel - Is it reasonable to be swanning around Africa in a private jet? Well morally he may well have a point. Legally I don't think he does. The insertion of a requirement that the costs be reasonable looks very like a way of ensuring that the travel bit's not a front for a general donation - or for a political party to leach off money to a friend. It's not a requirement that the travel be reasonable - only that the costs be so.
2. The costs of flights look way too low - there must be something fishy going on!
There might be an argument here - people have dug around and provided comparative flights that are more expensive than those registered by Tory MPs for Flying Lion. It's not a smoking gun though - for one thing 'market value' isn't defined, and for a second thing I suspect that the price of commercially hired planes is rather more flexible than suggested. All of which is rendered moot by the Electoral Commission Guidance that states:
In cases where MPs do not receive a cash donation to meet the cost of a visit because the costs are met by the host organisation or individual, MPs should calculate the notional value of the trip, based on the equivalent commercial travel and accommodation costs.
So, does this apply here? Arguably yes - Flying Lion aren't invoicing MPs and then covering the invoice, but providing a service as a donation. The closest rule to this approach is the one above. So MPs should calculate 'equivalent commercial travel costs' and declare those. I get an increasing feeling that there's very much less to this than meets the eye.
If anyone has any more allegations about this, please add them and I'll try and update...

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Blogger Unity said...

I've found the Electoral Commission's guidance and it does state that donations that might otherwise be impermissible are kosher when made for overseas travel/subsistence.

That said, the wording of the clause is a complete dog's breakfast and looks very much like a classic 'ooh shit, hadn't thought of that' last minute addition. Not to mention, of course, unclear and appears to be open to abuse inasmuch as the wording would seem to allow overseas trips to be funded by anonymous donations, which is entirely against the spirit of the Act, if not the letter.

Anyone remember when we had a legislature that could produce well written, clear and considered, legislation?

12:21 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

It's poor even by modern standards I agree - and the wording does seem to allow, um, shady donations for overseas trips. Which, one would have thought, would be one of the more obvious dodgy 'perks' that the Act was designed to avoid.

4:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unity asks: "Anyone remember when we had a legislature that could produce well written, clear and considered, legislation?"

As a lawyer, who regularly has to update himself on legislative acts, may I say that it has been some time ... I was called to the Bar in 1997. The Dangerous Dogs Act (previous Government) was badly drafted and notorious as such ... today, we seem to find most acts contain sections that are impenetrable, confused and confusing. It's great for lawyers, but not much fun for clients or the public at large.

1:47 pm  

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