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Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that assurance, which gives me 90 per cent. of what I wanted. Will the Minister go just that little bit further and say that it is his understanding that this principle will be extended to parties gathered out of the body of the original political tribes in future? Take, for example, those who in local elections are now describing themselves as Real Labour: would they be allowed to register themselves under that name?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, this is the third lesson that the noble Lords who have just made their maiden speeches need to bear in mind. When the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is at his most seductive you know perfectly well that he is about to lead you into a
It is quite a different activity qualitatively, and that is why the test is different. One or two questions have been raised which have nothing to do with this particular matter but which are nevertheless of importance and I ought to deal with them. First, is this a cloak for further centralisation of bureaucracy within the existing parties? No. This has no bearing on that at all. There is the fact that two designated officers will be required by an established political party if they wish to have the benefits of registration--and that is voluntary. They must have two officers, in that case, to carry out their statutory functions. However, the choice of those officers is entirely a matter for the political party in question.
It may well be that Plaid Cymru or the SNP have different internal constitutional arrangements from, for instance, the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party or the Conservative Party. One example is that the Conservative Party has recently been altering its internal arrangements and constitutional relationships, as has the Labour Party. However, those matters have nothing at all to do with this Bill and this is not a plot or a collusion to safeguard the larger political parties. I think it was suggested that this was some sort of conspiracy-- I believe that was the general thrust of the earlier part of the observations of my noble friend Lord Cocks--and that it was to prevent unfair competition vis-a-vis the larger parties. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What we want are fair elections, and this has nothing to do with competition between the larger parties. It is to ensure that the electorate themselves are dealt with fairly and properly and are not being misled. I personally always welcomed the candidacy of people like Screaming Lord Sutch of the Monster Raving Loony Party. In fact, almost single-handedly he brought about the demise of the SDP, because your Lordships will not have overlooked the fact that it was just immediately after Screaming Lord Sutch beat the SDP in a by-election that the SDP thought it might be time to hang up their boots while they still had a pair capable of being worn.
I remember another marvellous example of someone who put himself forward as the leader of the Alternative Elvis Party and his manifesto only had one platform plank. It was--I commend it to your Lordships--that
We are all capable of enjoying these things--they are all fun--as long as they do not mislead, but it is very important--and I entirely take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Freeman--that, if one wants people to stand for office in public life by the route of public election, they should be satisfied that their efforts will be fairly treated. If one has the Literal Democrat, there is a strong argument for saying that the electorate will not be fairly treated: nor will the candidates.
A number of your Lordships have given examples, which I will not repeat, of attempts to mislead by means of bogus names which are either identical or very similar to the name of a more prominently known candidate like Sir Nicholas Lyell. The law dealt with all those things perfectly adequately. There was an injunction in the Lyell case and also in the Alice Mahon case. We do not need any provisions here, on the basis that if it is not broke it is not always necessary to fix it: in fact quite the opposite.
The question of appeals has been raised. We do not want a legalistic, over-formalistic regime. We are giving a discretion to the registrar in Clause 3 to reach his conclusion. In any difficult or contentious case or case of delicacy, particularly in the early stages, we would expect that he would feel it a sensible obligation upon him--not statutory but in his own discretion--to go to the Speaker's committee. I am certain that the registrar would welcome the assistance that such a committee can give.
It is extremely important--and this may echo a theme put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman--that one should have a full and proper regard for the democratic chamber. Its members have a democratic validity which we do not have. It seems to me that the Speaker's committee is quite a thoughtful advance on something which might otherwise be too legalistic.
The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, asked why there was a different test in Clause 3 and Schedule 2. I have answered that. He made the valid point, if I may say so without presumption, which was made also by other noble Lords, that one should take great care about the guidelines which I mentioned in introducing this matter, giving the indicative timetable of February/March of next year. I am extremely grateful for what your Lordships have said about the nature of the guidelines which may be published. I do not guarantee your Lordships even 90 per cent. satisfaction but I assure noble Lords that all those observations will be borne carefully in mind.
My noble friend Lady Gould also asked a question about race hatred. It seems to me to be undoubted that if there were a matter which was likely to engender race hatred or incitement to race hatred, it would not be proper for the registrar to grant an application, because Clause 3(1)(c) requires him to refuse an application by a party if any of the material is offensive or obscene.
I was asked when the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, is going to report; whether he is going to say anything about an electoral commission and, if the answer to either of those questions were "within a couple of weeks or so" and "yes"or "no" to an electoral commission, how I could support any of those propositions? I shall leave those questions for the appropriate day when we have sight, which I do not have now, of what are the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, and whether or not they include an electoral commission. It is outside the ambit of what we are dealing with this evening.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, raised a specific question about where one could find the legal basis for charging any fee of any sort. I indicated that the thinking was that there should be an initial registration fee of £150, a confirmation fee of £25--that is, the annual confirmation fee--and, if a change were sought again, that a charge would be made in the order of £25. One finds the fee-levying power in Schedule 1, which states:
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am not an expert in drafting but, in terms of trying to produce something that is easy for people to understand, it seems to me most odd that the powers given to the Secretary of State for charging fees for alterations or the annual re-registration should be in the main part of the Bill and the power for the first and most important fee should be contained in the schedule. I do not know whether there is any explanation for that. If there is, perhaps the noble Lord will let me know.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the first question that the noble Lord put to me was that he could not find the power in the Bill at all. It is there and it is put there conveniently because there are many details and descriptions which are traditionally, and I think appropriately, found in schedules rather than in the body of the Bill. There is nothing in my experience that is novel about that.
There was a specific question raised about the line of responsibility between the registrar, because, of course, he acts as a Companies House registrar, and whether or not the Companies House complaints system would bite upon his work in that area. No, that is a separate
There was a question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, about regional parties. A party will only be able to register one name and one emblem but it seems to me that if there was a Liberal Democrat standing in Scotland, he would be able to apply to describe himself as the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate. I see no difficulty about that.
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