Political Parties and Elections Bill

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Mr. Djanogly: I had not wanted to take up the Committee’s time at this late stage, but the Minister will appreciate that even the Electoral Commission has said that we should not move ahead on e-voting projects at this time, until we generally have a handle on an electoral system that is not seen to be working as it should.
Mr. Wills: As I said, we are not currently conducting any pilots and we have no plans to do so. The whole point about the pilots that took place last year was that we are learning lessons from them.
Mr. Djanogly: They were a disaster.
Mr. Wills: The hon. Gentleman characterises the pilots in a rather misleading way. Their whole purpose was to learn lessons for the future. Never to try to learn lessons for improvement in techniques would be wrong. Other countries do it. We have just seen an extraordinary election in the United States.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The Minister is talking about learning lessons from innovations. What lessons did he learn from the Scottish parliamentary elections last year?
Mr. Wills: I am conscious of the clock. With regard to the extraordinary American election, some estimates suggest that 30 per cent. of people cast their votes early. That is a way to move forward with an electoral system that we can see produces benefits. It demonstrates the potential for modernising electoral processes. On the basis of what I have said, I hope that the hon. Member for Epping Forest will withdraw the new clause.
7.15 pm
Mrs. Laing: I appreciate that the Minister has been genuine in his explanation why he cannot support the new clauses. I am pleased that no pilots are in the pipeline at present. It is wrong to spend taxpayers’ money on gimmicks when we need to concentrate on real reform. Given the time and the will of the Committee, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8

Declaration as to source of donation
Mr. Wills: I beg to move amendment No. 153, in page 5, line 43, leave out ‘£200’ and insert
‘£5,000, or £1,000 where subsection (4A) of section 54A applies,’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 3, in page 5, line 43, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.
No. 135, in page 5, line 43, leave out ‘£200’ and insert
‘£5,000 donated to a registered party or £1,000 donated to an accounting unit of a registered party’.
Government amendments Nos. 154 and 155.
Amendment No. 4, in page 6, line 3, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.
Government amendment No. 156.
Amendment No. 5, in page 6, line 14, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.
Amendment No. 134, in page 6, line 14, leave out ‘£200’ and insert
‘£5,000 donated to a registered party or £1,000 donated to an accounting unit of a registered party’.
Government amendments Nos. 157 to 160.
Amendment No. 148, in schedule 3, page 34, line 7, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.
Government amendment No. 161.
No. 147, in page 34, line 12, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.
Government amendment No. 162.
Amendment No. 146, in page 34, line 25, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.
Government amendments Nos. 163 and 164.
Amendment No. 145, in page 36, line 2, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.
Government amendment No. 165.
Amendment No. 144, in page 36, line 7, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.
Government amendment No. 166.
Amendment No. 143, in page 36, line 20, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.
Government amendments Nos. 167 and 168.
Amendment No. 142, in page 37, line 30, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.
Government amendment No. 169.
Amendment No. 141, in page 37, line 35, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.
Government amendment No. 170.
Amendment No. 140, in page 38, line 6, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.
Government amendment No. 171.
Clause 8 stand part.
Mr. Wills: I am pleased that we have moved to this important group of amendments.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I beg to move, That the debate be now adjourned.
David Howarth: Objection.
The Chairman: Order. The Minister was speaking. He would have to sit down before I could ask the Government Whip to move the Question that he seeks to put to the Committee and to which I am now aware that there is an objection. Clearly, that Question is debatable. I suggest that the Committee do not debate it at great length, but that is entirely up to the Committee. Again, I can give only guidance, not advice. I ask the Minister to speak to the amendments. It is up to him how quickly he does so. Then I shall be happy to call the Government Whip.
Mr. Wills: Thank you, Sir Nicholas. I will be as brisk as I possibly can, but there are a great number of amendments, so forgive me if I conclude my remarks in full.
Clause 8 requires a person making a donation of more than £200 to a political party to make a declaration about the source of the funds. The declaration must say whether another person or body has given more than £200 with a view to, or otherwise in connection with, the making of that donation. If that is the case, the declaration must go on to state whether sections 54(4) or (6) apply to the donation: that is, whether the donations have been made by the donor acting—[Interruption.]
The Chairman: Order. The Minister has the floor. Minister, please continue your remarks.
Mr. Wills: Thank you, Sir Nicholas. If that is the case, the declaration must go on to state whether section 54(4) or (6) apply to the donation: that is, whether the donations have been made by the donor acting as principal donor for a group of other donors or as agent for another donor. If they have, the 2000 Act separately requires the details of the true underlying donor to be disclosed. If the declaration says that the sections do not apply, the declaration must state why not.
If a donation of more than £200 is not accompanied by a declaration, it cannot be accepted by the party. Furthermore, the party must take reasonable steps to verify that the declaration is accurate and include a statement to the effect that it has done so in its donation report. Schedule 3 replicates the proposal in respect of regulated donees— including MPs—recognised third parties and permitted participants in referendums.
Concerns have been expressed that the £200 threshold is too low and that the requirement to take reasonable steps is unduly onerous. I have listened to those concerns and am keen to ensure that the provisions, while being useful, do not impose an unnecessary burden on donors, parties and volunteer workers. With that in mind, I have moved the accompanying Government amendments. As they are technical, I hope that the Committee will be content if I explain the combined effect of some of the amendments rather than taking each individually, which might prove unnecessarily complex and time-consuming.
The combined effect of Government amendments Nos. 153 and 155 to 157 is as follows. The size of donation that must be accompanied by a declaration will be raised from the current threshold in the Bill of more than £200 to the level at which a central party is required to declare a donation to the Electoral Commission, that is £5,000. Where the donation is to a local accounting unit of such a party, the requirement is for a declaration to accompany donations of more than £1,000. In addition, where such a donation is made to a party’s central organisation, a declaration will have to say whether an amount of more than £5,000 has been provided to the donor with a view to, or otherwise in connection with, that donation. Again, the relevant figure is a donation of more than £1,000 if the donation relates to a local accounting unit. If an amount of less than those sums has been provided, the further requirements relating to making a declaration about the impact of sections 54(4) and (6) will fall away.
In addition, Government amendments Nos. 160, 161, 162, 164, 165, 166, 168, 169 and 170 seek to achieve the same effect for the declaration requirement in schedule 3 with respect to donations to individuals and members’ associations, recognised third parties and permitted participants.
Government amendment No. 158 removes the requirement for a registered party to take all reasonable steps forthwith by, or on behalf of, the party to verify it. Government amendments Nos. 163, 167 and 171 remove this requirement with respect to declarations received by the individuals and organisations covered by schedule 3, which I have already mentioned. It is worth noting that removing this provision will not reduce the obligations that parties are already under by way of section 56 to ensure that they take reasonable steps to verify the identity and permissibility of donors. So, even where a declaration is made under these arrangements, if a party suspects for any reason that the details given are not right, section 56 may require them to make further checks. These amendments will substantially reduce concerns about overburdening central and local parties and donors, while ensuring that the biggest donations are subject to an improved level of transparency. That said, if hon. Members have residual concerns, about the level at which these requirements have effect for example, I will, of course, be willing to listen to them and consider them further.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I beg to move, That the debate be now adjourned.
It would be an outrage if this Committee were to be denied the opportunity to debate those issues which, for my party, and for many members of the public, are central to our consideration. We would also be unable to discuss clause 10, which is where the triggering proposal comes before the Committee. We spent hours in the first part of the Committee taking evidence from numerous experts on the question of triggering. There has been wide debate, both inside and outside the House, on whether triggering works. It would be farcical, having done all of that, not even to reach that question in Committee. My proposal is that we do not adjourn the debate now, that you, Sir Nicholas, suspend the sitting for an appropriate time for us to have something to eat, and that we come back after about an hour and carry on consideration so that we at least get far enough tonight so that on Thursday we shall be in a position to give full consideration to those important matters.
Mr. Djanogly: There is a longer-term timing issue and a shorter-term timing issue. In the longer-term context, we have some sympathy with what the hon. Member for Cambridge has just said. We have maintained consistently that not enough time has been given, such as the single weekend between the evidence sessions and the following Committee sittings. We are still suffering from the lack of time to consult properly as we move through the Bill—that has been a consistent problem for us. Given that the later stages of the Bill will be in the next Session anyway, we have no idea what the rush has been with Committee. The overall time could have been longer and, to that extent, we have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman.
However, in the short-term context, we wish to delay discussion of clause 8 until Thursday. Let me explain why. On Second Reading, the Government implied and consistently after that said that we would get amendments to clause 8. First, they spoke about providing a new clause, then amendments. We received those amendments, such as they are—I agree that they are pretty poor—only yesterday. We filed our amendments, based on the Government amendments, yesterday evening. It is not as if we had a week to look at what the Government came up with. We had a handful of hours and we put in our amendments yesterday evening, which means that, today, they came in starred, so we cannot debate our amendments until Thursday. That is why I say to the hon. Gentleman that I am very sorry, but he should not look to us. The Government did not allow us time to debate our amendments, which is why we think it fit and proper to adjourn now until Thursday, and that is why we shall be voting to adjourn.
I listened carefully to the remarks of the hon. Member for Huntingdon, but I have to say to him that the Conservatives have been less than helpful in making sure that we try to reach those amendments. I was looking forward to the Conservative amendments on such crucial issues, but they have not been forthcoming—they have not happened.
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