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Session 2007 - 08
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General Committee Debates
Political Parites and Elections

Political Parties and Elections Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Joe Benton, †Frank Cook, Sir Nicholas Winterton
Ainger, Nick (Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire) (Lab)
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan (Huntingdon) (Con)
Duddridge, James (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con)
Grogan, Mr. John (Selby) (Lab)
Hesford, Stephen (Wirral, West) (Lab)
Howarth, David (Cambridge) (LD)
Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor (Epping Forest) (Con)
Linton, Martin (Battersea) (Lab)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester, Central) (Lab)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) (Lab)
Reid, Mr. Alan (Argyll and Bute) (LD)
Sharma, Mr. Virendra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
Turner, Mr. Andrew (Isle of Wight) (Con)
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew (Chichester) (Con)
Whitehead, Dr. Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
Wills, Mr. Michael (Minister of State, Ministry of Justice)
Wishart, Pete (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP)
Chris Shaw, Chris Stanton, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee


Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
Rt Hon Michael Wills MP, Minister of State, Ministry of Justice
Mark Sweeney, Ministry of Justice
Ruth Sloan, Ministry of Justice
Matthew Smith, Ministry of Justice
Sir Hayden Phillips, GCB, Chair of Inter-party Talks on the Funding of Political Parties
Sir Christopher Kelly, KCB, Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 4 November 2008

[Frank Cook in the Chair]

Political Parties and Elections Bill

10 am
The Chairman: Before we begin, I have a few points to make. Members may, if they wish, remove their jackets during the sittings. Will they ensure that their mobile phones and pagers are turned off or at least switched to silent running during our proceedings? I would hate interruptions. I will have enough difficulty concentrating on the detail myself, without there being distractions. I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution in connection with the Bill, copies of which are available in the room. Adequate notice should be given of amendments and, to be eligible for selection at a Tuesday sitting, they must be tabled by the rise of the House on the previous Thursday. To be eligible for selection at a Thursday sitting, they must be tabled by the previous Monday. As a general rule, I and my fellow Chairmen do not intend to call starred amendments.
Not everyone is familiar with the process of taking oral evidence in Public Bill Committees, so it might help if I explain briefly what is proposed so that we can all be clear about it, especially me. The Committee will be asked first to consider the programme motion on the amendment paper for which debate is limited to half an hour. We shall then consider a motion to report written evidence, followed by a motion to permit the Committee to deliberate in private in advance of the oral evidence sessions, which I hope that we can take formally to save time.
Assuming that the second motion has been agreed, the Committee will then move into private session. After it has deliberated, witnesses and members of the public will be invited back into the room and our oral evidence session will commence. That should be at about 10.30. We shall not be starting the evidence session before then. If the Committee agrees to the programme motion, it will hear oral evidence today and on Thursday, and revert to the more familiar proceedings of clause-by-clause scrutiny next week. I call the Minister to move the programme motion.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.00 a.m. on Tuesday 4th November) meet—
(a) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 6th November;
(b) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday 11th November;
(c) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 13th November;
(d) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday 18th November;
(e) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 20th November;
(2) the Committee shall hear evidence in accordance with the following Table;
Tuesday 4th November
Until no later than 12.00 p.m.
Ministry of Justice
Tuesday 4th November
Until no later than 1.00 p.m.
Sir Hayden Phillips; Sir Christopher Kelly
Thursday 6th November
Until no later than 10.25 a.m.
Electoral Commission
Thursday 6th November
Until no later than 2.00 p.m.
Professor Keith Ewing, King’s College London; Professor Justin Fisher, Brunel University; Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky
Thursday 6th November
Until no later than 3.00 p.m.
Representatives of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, and the Liberal Democrats
(3) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 4 to 7; new Clauses relating to Electoral Commisioners etc; new Schedules relating to Electoral Commissioners etc; Clauses 1 and 2; Schedule 1; Clause 3; Schedule 2; new Clauses relating to functions of Electoral Commission; new Schedules relating to functions of Electoral Commission; Clauses 12 and 13; new Clauses relating to elections and electoral registration; new Schedules relating to elections and electoral registration; Clause 8; Schedule 3; Clauses 9 to 11; new Clauses relating to political donations and expenditure; new Schedules relating to political donations and expenditure; Clauses 14 and 15; Schedules 4 and 5; Clauses 16 to 20; remaining new Clauses; remaining new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;
(4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 4.00 p.m. on Thursday 20th November. —[Mr. Wills.]
Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I wish to say a few words about the programme motion. The sub-committee’s deliberations were a somewhat tortuous affair. We appreciate that a number of difficulties and irregularities involved in the process made it complicated and, as you will appreciate, Mr. Cook, we put our various protests on the record. We have lingering doubts about the timetable, even though we do not intend to oppose the motion. We are worried whether there will be adequate time for the tabling of amendments. I accept that there will be several hours after the close of the final evidence session on Thursday before the rise of the House, as you said in your opening remarks, when we shall have time to table amendments. Having said that, we would have preferred a longer period in which to contemplate amendments, rather than just a few hours following the end of the evidential process. On that basis, we are reserving our position on the timetable to some extent and hope, as discussed in a sub-committee, that the Government will be open-minded if it seems that more time is required.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I welcome you to the Chair this morning, Mr. Cook. I have one point about the programme motion, echoing what has just been said. If, following the evidence sitting on the Thursday, we have only a few hours or, if the House rises early, no time at all to submit amendments, I ask you and your fellow Chairs, Mr. Cook, to take cognisance of that and perhaps accept starred amendments, if they arise as a result of evidence that we take on the Thursday and they ought to be debated on the following Tuesday.
The Chairman: We shall bear that in mind.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): I shall respond briefly to those comments. As reference has been made to the informal proceedings, in keeping with the spirit in which the Government approached the informal proceedings setting the programme motion, we were determined to do everything we possibly could to accommodate the timetable of Opposition spokespeople. They had a certain amount of confusion about their diaries and we did everything that we could to accommodate them. We shall continue in that spirit. If there is a need to find further time, we shall do everything possible. The subject is important and we want to debate it properly. We would not want the Opposition to be constrained by a lack of time for tabling amendments, if we can possibly avoid it.
The Chairman: Thank you. I am sure that is helpful.
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): I did not participate in the informal sub-committee, so I am not privy to any of those alleged confusions, difficulties or complexities, but it strikes me that the crucial issue, if we are to make sense of the evidence sittings, is to be given enough time to think through how to translate the evidence that we have had into amendments. I am grateful, Mr. Cook, that you will bear starred amendments in mind. It would be hugely helpful if you could give us a feel later in our proceedings, but before Thursday, what your attitude will be on the specific issue of amendments derived from evidence that may have been collected only in the hours prior to what at the moment is the deadline.
The Chairman: Like you, Mr. Tyrie, I was not able to attend the pre-meeting, but I am reliably informed that matters have been discussed in considerable detail. It is a matter for the usual channels to sort out on the way through. There is nothing cast in stone or iron here. I am sure that, with the Government’s intention to be extremely reasonable and rational, as we heard, everyone will have every chance.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Cook. May I ask, through you, who was invited to the sub-committee last week? How are the invitations delivered? Who from the Committee qualifies to be part of that sub-group?
The Chairman: Those who are thought necessary to conduct the proceedings are invited specifically by Mr. Speaker. I am not in a position to question Mr. Speaker from this lowly seat.
Question put and agreed to.
That, subject to the discretion of the Chairman, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—[Mr. Wills.]
The Chairman: Copies of any memoranda received by the Committee will be made available in the Committee Room.
That, at this and any subsequent meeting at which oral evidence is to be heard, the Committee shall sit in private until the witnesses are admitted.—[Mr. Wills.]
10.10 am
The Committee deliberated in private.
10.21 am
On resuming—
The Chairman: We shall now hear the oral evidence from Ministers and officials from the Ministry of Justice. Good morning, I welcome you all here today. For the record, perhaps it would be useful if you would each introduce yourselves to the Committee.
Mr. Straw: Thank you, Mr. Cook. I am the Secretary of State for Justice, for these purposes. On my left is Michael Wills, the Minister of State who is handling the Bill. On his left is Mark Sweeney, the director running the division in the Ministry which covers electoral law. Matthew Smith is the lawyer on the Bill. Ruth Sloan, on my right, is the Bill principal.
The Chairman: Thank you. Before calling the first Member to ask a question, I should like to remind all members of the Committee that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill. I call Jonathan Djanogly.
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