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Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000

Chapter II (Sections 54 to 61) : Restrictions on donations to registered parties
Section 54 : Permissible donors

113.This section introduces the concept of a “permissible donor”, as a means of prohibiting the foreign funding of political parties. Subsection (1) provides that a party may accept a donation only from a permissible donor and where the identity of the donor is known. The latter requirement is intended to cover not only cases where a donation is made anonymously but also where an identity has been given but is clearly fictional (and it is therefore impossible to establish that the donor is a permissible donor).

114.Subsection (2) specifies those sources of funding which are to be regarded as permissible. They include individuals registered in an electoral register; a company registered in the United Kingdom and incorporated in a member state of the European Union and which carries on business in the United Kingdom; a registered political party; a trade union; a building society; a limited liability partnership; a friendly society or industrial and provident society and any other unincorporated association which is carrying on business or other activities, and has its main office, in the United Kingdom. Where a donation is in the form of a bequest it is sufficient that the deceased was on the electoral register at any time in the last five years prior to his death (subsection (3)).

115.Subsections (4) and (5) provide that where a person (“the principal donor”) makes a donation on behalf of two or more other persons the individual contribution of each will be treated as a separate donation for the purposes of controls on donations under this Part. The recipient party will therefore need to establish the identity of each separate donor (and to this end the principal donor will be under a duty to provide such information) and whether each constitutes a permissible source.

Section 55 : Payments etc. which are (or are not) to be treated as donations by permissible donors.

116.Section 55 makes special provision in respect of donations from certain specified sources. By virtue of subsection (2) any payment to a party out of public funds (other than one of the payments listed in section 52(1)(a) and (b), which do not constitute donations) is to be regarded as a donation from a permissible donor. Such payments will include the financial assistance paid to opposition parties in the House of Commons (‘Short money’) and House of Lords (‘Cranborne money’). Subsections (3) and (4) provides that where a party receives a donation to meet the reasonable travel and subsistence expenses of a member or officer of the party for the purpose of undertaking an overseas visit, such a donation is to be regarded as being from a permissible donor, irrespective of whether the donor is one of those listed in section 54(2). By virtue of subsection (5) an “exempt trust donation” is to be regarded as a donation from a permissible source; the term is defined in section 162. Subsection (6) provides that a donation by a trustee, acting in his capacity as such, is to be regarded as a donation from an impermissible source unless the donation satisfies one of the criteria set out in the subsection. The inclusion of the reference to an unincorporated association, in subsection (6)(b)(ii), reflects the fact that such an association cannot hold property in its own right, so its assets are commonly held in and disbursed from a trust.

Sections 56 and 57: Acceptance or return of donations

117.Upon receipt of a donation it will be incumbent upon the party to take all reasonable steps to identify the donor and determine whether the donor constitutes a permissible source (section 56(1)). This may require that the party makes some enquiries and it is perfectly possible that a donation will remain in a party’s account while those enquiries are carried out. The Act therefore distinguishes between the receipt and the acceptance of a donation and makes provision for a period of 30 days during which the status of the donation may be determined and appropriate action taken before the party is to be regarded as having accepted the donation. Sections 56(2) and 57(1) provide for the return of a donation to its source where that source is an impermissible donor or where it proves impossible to ascertain the donor’s identity. In the latter instance, if it is not possible to return the donation to its source, it is to be surrendered to the Electoral Commission for payment into the Consolidated Fund.

Sections 58 to 60 : Forfeiture of certain donations

118.Sections 58 to 60 apply sanctions to the acceptance of donations from an impermissible source, or where the identity of the donor is not known. These provisions should be read in conjunction with section 66 which requires the treasurer of a party to declare (and makes it an offence falsely to declare) that the party has not accepted any donations from an impermissible source.

119.Section 58 enables the Electoral Commission to apply to a court to order the forfeiture of a donation which a party has accepted from a source which is either impermissible or not known. Section 59 provides for appeals against such an order. Section 60 enables rules of court to be made in respect of applications or appeals under sections 58 and 59. It also provides that any sums forfeited under these provisions shall be paid into the Consolidated Fund. Subsection (5) of section 60 specifies that, where a registered party is not a body corporate, forfeiture proceedings will be brought against the party in its own name and not in that of any of its members and that any sums forfeited will be paid out of the funds of the party.

Section 61 : Offences concerned with evasion of restrictions on donations

120.In addition to a party’s civil liability under section 58, section 61 makes it a criminal offence for any person knowingly to participate in an arrangement or to withhold information, or supply false information, so as to evade the restrictions on the sources of donations. The bringing of criminal proceedings does not preclude the Commission from also applying for forfeiture of the donation in question (see section 58(4)).

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