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Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I am sorry to say that the noble Lord has done nothing of the kind. I am deeply disappointed. On the other hand I am grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench. I recognise that on this occasion I have done nothing to deserve his support, and I am therefore the more grateful for his gallantry in giving it. He has a generous spirit, as we all know and I wish to acknowledge that.

The Minister's reply is disappointing. If particular words must be avoided, the statute should say so. Why on earth should we endow the Secretary of State with these extra powers? I find this sort of thing vaguely inconvenient. It is distasteful to me; I do not like it. I do not care to give Secretaries of State that kind of power. I should have said as much with the same firmness had the provision related to a Secretary of State in the previous administration.

However, in view of the noble Lord's remarks I shall withdraw the amendment at this stage. I have tabled other amendments which I contemplate not moving for the present. I shall leave them until a later stage so that I can examine the Minister's remarks in the Official Report to see whether there is any chance of a little "give". So far, the noble Lord has taken everything that I have offered and given me nothing in return. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 2, line 13, at end insert--
("( ) The registrar shall refuse an application by a party under section 2 if he believes, irrespective of the party's proposed registered name, that the party is substantially the same as a registered party, having regard to the applicant party's objectives, membership, officers or geographical base.").

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 15. Perhaps I may say to the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that this amendment addresses a problem that I have raised in relation to both the Welsh and Scottish Bills. Although I detect a few Members of the Committee present today who have not been present for the Welsh and Scottish legislation, I know that the Minister has been present, and for his sake if not my own. I shall truncate the problem and come to the solution.

The problem relates to a suggestion made by a lecturer from Aberdeen University, taken up by a Labour MP in the city of Glasgow. I shall give the example that was provided, so I am not picking on the governing party. It is this. In Glasgow the Labour Party, at least to date, has dominated the first-past-the-post elections. When it comes to the top-up seats in the Scottish parliament--this discussion could also relate to most of the Welsh seats--the Labour Party will not gain many because of its dominant share of first-past-the-post seats. The idea was advanced that instead of the Labour Party standing in the second ballot, it would allow the Co-operative Party to stand in Scotland, and, I suspect, in Wales. The public are well aware that the words "Labour" and "Co-operative" go together rather like "gin and tonic" or whatever else your Lordships may care to think about; therefore it would not be difficult for the public to understand what the Labour Party was up to. If that were to happen, and Labour voters were to vote Co-operative in the second ballot and the Labour Party did not stand at all, then, because the Co-operative Party would have no seats on first-past-the-post, it would gain a generous harvest of top-up seats. Therefore, when members of the party appeared at Holyrood or in Cardiff following the election, their numbers would be much higher than if the Co-operative Party had not stood in the second ballot but the Labour Party had. That is essentially the problem.

I have not made this up from my own fevered imagination, as is sometimes said of one or two amendments I propose. The problem was put forward seriously and was discussed in another place. The Glasgow Labour MP made no pretence that it was not an idea he thought well worth considering. In fairness it has to be said that in this House--I am not sure about the other place--the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and myself gave assurances that we would never play a game like that. However, I pointed out to the Labour Benches that that did not bind the Scottish National Party were it ever to be in a position where it might be a good trick or wheeze for it to play. I believe that this is potentially a way in which parties could abuse the electoral system. I came forward with a number of suggestions on both the Government of Wales Bill and the Scotland Bill, none of which met

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with the Government's approval. Indeed, I do not believe that they met with the approval of the Liberal Democrat Party. However, it was indicated to me--certainly from the Liberal Democrat Benches--that this was the correct Bill on which to seek a way to deal with the problem, and Amendments Nos. 7 and 15 attempt to do that.

Amendment No. 7 provides that, if the registrar of political parties has grounds to believe that a party which applies for registration is to all intents and purposes the same party as one already on the register and is clearly registering in order to take advantage of the top-up system in the way I have outlined, he would be able to refuse registration.

Amendment No. 15 provides that, if the registrar had granted an application for registration to a party which it transpired was to all intents and purposes the same party as one standing in first-past-the-post, he would be able to withdraw the registration.

I believe that the amendments are reasonably well drafted. I did not draft them myself; that was done by someone who knows about these things. I believe that they tackle the problem. I know from our discussions on the Government of Wales Bill that the Minister does not think that the problem is likely to occur. However, it has been discussed. I gather from the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who shared the workplace of Aberdeen University with the gentleman who raised the matter that he is reputable. His suggestion was given fairly wide coverage in Scotland, as was the backing it received from the Labour MP. It is not a totally ridiculous position to theorise over. It could happen and certainly would bring considerable rewards in some circumstances. Although the Labour Party has clearly said--and I believe it--that it would not do so, the attraction of stopping the Scottish nationalists obtaining a lot of top-up seats and creating difficulty for the Scottish parliament will certainly exist for the Labour Party. Indeed those of us who do not want to see the Scottish Nationalist Party obtain enough seats in the Scottish parliament to upset the Union might be tempted to think that it was a good wheeze. However, I do not think it is a good wheeze; it would be wrong and an abuse of the system.

I hope that the Minister will look sympathetically at these two amendments, which seek to deal with the problem. When the matter was raised on the Government of Wales Bill and the Scotland Bill, it was accepted that it could be a problem although the Minister did not think that it would arise. However, noble Lords indicated that this was the Bill in which the matter should be dealt with. I therefore propose these amendments to deal with what I fear could, one day in the future, be a serious abuse of the two-vote top-up system to be used in Scotland and Wales. I beg to move.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: Having listened to the noble Lord who moved the amendment, I am coming more and more to the conclusion that the Bill is an absolute mess. When giving examples of words which would not be used, my noble friend on the Front Bench produced a string of words about the Monarchy. That is

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not what I would have thought of. I would have thought of a group of people filled with malice, deliberately setting out to mess up the system. Even earlier my noble friend said that there were several important groups of elections coming up and we could therefore see how the system works. What a basis on which to go forward!

I believe that the amendment indicates further problems ahead. When discussing the Bill we have assumed that people will be filled with good will. When those who are filled with malice, who do not like this country, its open system and democratic traditions, get to work, I believe that the Bill could become a vehicle by which they could do serious damage to the way we proceed.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: I have a good deal of sympathy for the view of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. It seems to me that, at least in theory, there is a problem, and it is not difficult to see what that problem is. I have some concern about the drafting of the amendments. I do not believe that they block all the ways in which the problem could arise. For instance, looking back at the history of my own party, it would have been possible for the SDP and the Liberal Party to have one party fighting all the first-past-the-post seats and another putting up all the candidates for the list. I am sure that we would not have done that, but it would have been a possibility. It would not have been met by this amendment because the two parties had different memberships, different offices and not wholly identical objectives. That is not the only example where that kind of problem could have arisen. It could also have arisen 50 or 60 years ago with the Conservative Party and the National Liberal Party, which were, at least for a period, separate parties.

The problem arises only in connection with AMS elections, but it nevertheless needs to be considered. While I cannot support the amendments, for the reasons I have given, I wonder whether the Minister would be prepared to give the matter further consideration and see whether some alternative can be devised.

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