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Mr. Paterson: Following my intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), I shall make a brief contribution and clarify my point.

If there are artificial limits as set out in schedule 13, the whip hand is the Government's. A recent example, which affected people near my constituency, was the Welsh referendum, in which there was a staggering increase in expenditure by the Welsh Office on what is called "extra publicity".

The figures are simple. Total publicity spending by the Welsh Office since May 1997 was £5,285,750. Of that, the amount spent on extra publicity was an incredible £2,724,812.5. The rest of that sum, which is slightly less than half, went on opinion poll research, media advertising, direct mail publicity, press releases and websites.

That shows that if an artificial limit is imposed through schedule 13, those who do not support the Government's cause will be capped. The Government will have access to all the tricks that we witnessed in the Welsh referendum. They will be able to dip into the public purse. Effectively, unlimited spending will be available to finance the Government's cause. That is wrong, which is why I strongly support amendment No. 151.

Sir Patrick Cormack: My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes)--what a wonderful constituency name that is--and my hon. Friends the Members for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) and for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) made short but pithy speeches which were extremely convincing. It would be remiss of the Under-Secretary not to take account of the point that my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire made. The result of the Welsh referendum was desperately close. Those of us who watched with increasing amazement the extraordinary development of the Welsh Assembly and its dramatis personae, and who remember that the flimsiest majority landed us with that Assembly, stress to the Government that my hon. Friend has made a powerful point.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), who introduced this brief debate, spoke with his customary eloquence and impeccable logic. I hope that the Under-Secretary will respond properly to my right hon. Friend's trenchant observations.

I want to concentrate briefly on clause 122. The Under-Secretary was all sweetness, reasonableness and light. He claimed that it was simply an administrative matter, which did not count, that we should not worry about it and that we could trust him. I can probably trust the Under-Secretary and we can probably trust several--not all--Ministers not to get up to truly appalling tricks. However, the clause is open ended. It flies in the face of the Under-Secretary's comments earlier in our proceedings.

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At the beginning of our proceedings, the Minister promised that the measure would be

I do not know what that means. On Second Reading, he promised that the Government would table amendments on the nuts and bolts of organising the poll and the count. We therefore expected some nuts and bolts. However, the nuts have produced no bolts. We are considering a Henry VIII clause, whereby the Home Secretary is able to take absolute power to decide all the rules and regulations for referendums, and to create criminal offences in connection with the rules that he sets. That is inimical to true democratic Government. Such a provision should not be in the Bill.

For all the Minister's personable plausibility and good intentions, he is trying to introduce a wholly unacceptable provision. I was glad that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) said that he would again support our argument.

Clause 122 is not good enough. I am sure that those in another place will not believe that it is good enough. We intend to press the amendment to a Division. If the Under-Secretary does not listen to us tonight, I hope that he will listen to the other place. I have no doubt that it will find the provision as unacceptable as we do. Unless the Under-Secretary gives a categorical assurance that the clause will be withdrawn, we shall do our best to delete it this evening.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: First, I shall deal with the issue that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) raised on paragraph 2(b) of schedule 7. The provision is intended to exclude from the ambit of election expenditure unsolicited newsletters and other communications that are sent from, for example, Millbank to Labour party members. Such material is not used to influence the unaffiliated; it is, in a sense, an internal party matter.

However, referendum campaign bodies are likely to be more ad hoc, with no formal individual membership. It would therefore be almost impossible to decide who constituted a supporter. The equivalent provision in schedule 12 does not fit the circumstances, and is best deleted, as the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) proposed in Committee.

Paragraph 2(b) of schedule 12 refers to supporters. That term is potentially far wider than "members", which is used in schedule 7. However, I shall reconsider the point, and ascertain whether we need to do anything about it. I do not currently believe that I need to make any amendment.

The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) rightly pointed out that I owed him a letter. We have not forgotten that. He will receive a letter; I shall endeavour to send him it in a week. I ask him to chase me if that does not happen; I am sure that he will.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) asked about nuts and bolts. Clause 122 contains the order-making power, which will apply to the Representation of the People Act 2000 and the attendant regulations. We are including some of the apparatus for proper control of referendum campaigns in the Bill. Provisions under the Representation of the People Act 2000 will also apply because of the way in which the measure

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affects the organisation of polling stations and the whole paraphernalia of referendums. Many of the nuts and bolts are already in place because of recent legislation. For example, the Representation of the People Act 2000 authorises different ways of providing postal ballots. The nuts and bolts will therefore be introduced to a referendum campaign in different ways.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Again, I do not doubt the Under-Secretary's sincerity, but why cannot those nuts and bolts be included in a detailed schedule to the Bill?

Mr. O'Brien: The operation of the order-making powers is clear. We have said what we intend to do. I do not need to take that further, although I am happy to do so if the hon. Gentleman has another specific point to make. I have made the position as clear I can. There is normally no great problem with the administration of referendums. The contentious matters are those that involve political issues and whether we should cap expenditure.

Let us consider capping expenditure and the arguments made by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire. He repeated the points that he has made on previous occasions. He claims that the Neill committee said that capping was not practical and that our proposals are not perfect. The Neill committee did not object in principle; there was no great intellectual case against it. We are discussing the practicalities of whether that can be done. We take the view that it can, hence we are doing it. I cannot take the matter much further than that.

8.30 pm

The right hon. Gentleman says that the proposal is not perfectly fair. It is not perfect perhaps, but in our view it represents a broad fairness--a balance between the umbrella groups, with some restrictions on the political parties--that is about as fair as possible in terms of the votes received at the general election. If anything, it gives a little more credit to the Conservative party. It would be very regrettable if any millionaire or multi-billionaire--a Paul Sykes, or anyone richer who opposes him on those issues--sought to buy the outcome of a referendum. We say: let the people decide in any referendum after hearing the arguments presented in a fair and balanced way. The issue should be voter choice, not who has the deepest pocket.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 106

Restriction on incurring referendum expenses

Amendment made: No. 65, in page 67, line 1, after "if", insert ", without reasonable excuse,".--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

Clause 107

Restriction on payments in respect of referendum expenses

Amendments made: No. 66, in page 67, line 19, after "if", insert ", without reasonable excuse,".
No. 67, in page 67, line 21, leave out "without reasonable excuse,".--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

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Clause 108

Restriction on making claims in respect of referendum expenses

Amendment made: No. 68, in page 67, line 31, after "if", insert ", without reasonable excuse,".--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

Clause 111

Special restrictions on referendum expenses by permitted participants

Amendment proposed: No. 182, in page 69, line 11, leave out clause 111.--[Sir G. Young.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 139, Noes 315.

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