|Political Parties, Electionsm and Referendums Bill
Mr. Stunell: Will the Parliamentary Secretary consider two points? The hon. Member for North Dorset said that the independent cache could be an advantage on the ballot paper without any further description. I pointed out that an independent could have no pull on the electorate except his or her cause.
Mr. Tipping: The hon. Gentleman may be right, but it is clearly in the nature of politics that people stand for a cause and a purpose. In the example that he described, I am not sure whether a campaign for or against the bypass would be an advantage—one can never win in such situations. The clause contains no provision to stop people standing as independents or pursuing campaign aims for or against roads and seeing how much support they get. We want to ensure that people do not have the advantages of being in a political party without declaring it. I understand the sensitivities involved and I am aware of the strong desire to ensure that independents and the independent sector continue to strive. We accept the spirit of the amendment, but it would undermine the primary purpose of the Bill and I ask hon. Members to resist it if it is pressed to a Division.
Mr. Walter: I am grateful for the contributions made by hon. Members who oppose the Government. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) put his finger on another aspect of the clause. The Bill's purpose is to ensure financial propriety in the management of political affairs. The amendments seek to protect people who stand in elections not as representatives of political parties, but as independents, even if they are championing particular issues.
The hon. Member for Hazel Grove pointed out that people in Hazel Grove may wish to stand as candidates in favour of the bypass or against it. When the Conservatives were in government, we felt that the law should allow a candidate who is not standing as a representative of a political party to describe himself as being for or against even one issue. When electors are confronted with two or more candidates who describe themselves as independent, they may be confused about which one to vote for. That is why the Representation of the People Act 1983 allowed candidates to describe themselves as members of political parties.
I was intrigued by the Parliamentary Secretary's response to my intervention on when an independent group became a political party. If we accept his arguments against the amendment, I am concerned that an independent group could be a political party de facto. I referred in my opening remarks to the ``Wales on Sunday—Match Funding Now'' by-election candidate, who, according to this morning's Western Mail, does not propose to publish any literature or to campaign. None the less, the Bill would have ensured that merely putting his name on the ballot paper to make a political protest against the Government's inability to get match funding for west Wales and the valleys turned the Western Mail and Echo Ltd.—a newspaper publication company—into a political party. It would then be subject to the audit requirements of the Electoral Commission. That would be an entirely different ball game.
The proposal that the candidate could describe himself only as an independent would prevent that from happening, but it is a restriction on our political process. It would be a retrograde and disappointing step. I am sorry that the Minister is unwilling to accept our proposals. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Tipping: As has been established, the clause will require political parties to be registered if they are to field candidates at an election. Such a requirement is essential to the proposed controls on the income and expenditure of political parties. Under the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998, there is already a scheme for their registration, to which the hon. Member for Hazel Grove has referred. However, the scheme is voluntary.
The Bill includes a compulsory registration scheme. The clause will make binding the scheme set out in the remainder of Part II, requiring political parties wishing to field candidates at a relevant election to be registered. A person may stand at a relevant election, other than as an independent, only if a certificate authorising his candidature, which must be issued by the nominating officer of a registered party, accompanies his nomination paper. The requirement is similar to that in the 1998 Act.
In elections involving the use of lists, a party may be nominated only if it is registered. A person will be regarded as standing as an independent candidate only if he or she uses the description ``Independent'' or else uses no description. The Committee has had an extensive discussion of the matter, which is the first central issue to have been considered.
Mr. Walter: In discussing the amendment, we have obviously rehearsed our concerns about descriptions. The general registration requirements are consistent with the spirit of the Bill and with the Neill report, the implementation of which the Opposition support. Therefore, we do not wish to divide the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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