some default text...

Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Clement-Jones moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 4, line 12, at end insert--
("(2) A party whose application under section 3, 5, 6 or 18 is refused may appeal to the committee against the decision of the registrar.
(3) A registered party may appeal to the committee against a decision of the registrar under section 3, 5 or 6 in respect of another party.").

The noble Lord said: I return to the question of the transparency of the process involved in registration and appeal against it. Many of the same principles debated earlier apply here since we have doubts about the width of the discretion that is available to the registrar. Given that currently there is discretion purely in the hands of the registrar as to whether to refer a particular matter to the Speaker's committee, in those circumstances only judicial review is available to an aggrieved would-be registrant. One is aware that judicial review may involve some extremely eminent lawyers but it is a very blunt instrument particularly in cases such as this where effectively political judgments need to be made. Obviously, it will not be the full appeal process on the merits of a particular case.

It is important to have an appeal that is presided over by people with some political understanding of the process. For that reason we believe that the choice of the Speaker's committee is appropriate. Obviously, it is left to the Speaker's discretion as to who should be appointed to that task. But we believe that that body would be appropriate to carry out the task. For that

5 Nov 1998 : Column 417

reason we prefer the choice of the Speaker's committee pure and simple rather than the registration appeals committee referred to in the Conservative Party's amendment which specifically provides that a majority shall not be members of any political party.

This may well be a political process and perhaps fine political judgments will have to be made by the Speaker's committee. We believe that an appeal process is necessary. It would be a quick and effective process, the right people would be involved, and there would be the minimum of legal argument. I beg to move.

Lord Henley: Our amendment is grouped with this amendment and it attacks the problem from a slightly different angle. I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, does not like our amendment. I believe that it is somewhat superior, but then, "I would, wouldn't I?". Furthermore, I suspect that my noble friend Lord Peyton would not welcome our amendment in that it seems to offer yet greater powers to the Secretary of State to establish a committee. My noble friend is not keen on offering any further powers to the Secretary of State. So be it; I shall have to live without his support.

If Members of the Committee cast their mind back to Second Reading they will remember that almost every speaker commented on the desirability of having some kind of appeals process built into the Bill. From that point of view, I am at one with the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. It may be that we shall have to return to the matter at a later stage. Perhaps on that occasion the Liberal Democrats will allow me to add my name to their amendment. I appreciate that on most occasions they want to exclude me; indeed, it was only by quick footwork that I was able to attach my name to one of their amendments today. However, I live in hope that occasionally we might work together. I believe that on Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, spoke of the desirability of an appeals process. We might come together and table an all-party amendment which the Minister will have to address with even greater weight than is required for an amendment tabled by myself and my noble friend Lord Mackay.

Our amendment empowers the Secretary of State to set up a committee which, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, made clear, will not be dominated by party political people. This is one of those occasions when I suspect that it would be better to keep party politics out of the process. I understood the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, in favour of involving politicians, but we can discuss that further at a later stage. For the moment, I would welcome the Minister's view and I shall listen carefully to what he has to say. I give an assurance that I and others will wish to return to the matter at a later stage.

Lord Borrie: Without wishing to prolong the matter, and before hearing what must be an important and interesting statement by the Minister, I wish to explain that the reason why on Second Reading a number of us felt that some kind of appeal process was necessary was because, among other things, the registrar, without any initial experience and appointed by the Department of

5 Nov 1998 : Column 418

Trade and Industry rather than by the Home Office, and with experience of a world which is different from that of political parties, was being given enormous power, the results of which would last for a considerable period of time. To a large degree, it would be a one-off series of decisions by the registrar taken during a fairly short period. It would be unsatisfactory if those decisions were unappealable.

Earlier today, I said that I preferred the Conservative rather than the Liberal Democrat amendment. On this occasion, I dislike less the Conservative amendment. I do not believe that either is satisfactory. The Liberal Democrat amendment is not satisfactory because it gives a tremendous degree of power to an appeal committee which, unless Mr. Martin Bell is a member, will comprise only party politicians, all of whom, in different ways, will have an interest in the application for the registration of political parties.

There is somewhat more appeal--I did not mean to make a pun--in the Conservative amendment. However, if the appointment is by the Speaker and no guidance is given, it will presumably be made up at least in part of party politicians who are Members of the House of Commons. Who the other members will be is unstated. I believe that further thought should be given to the matter. I do not wish to support either amendment at this stage, but I, too, will be fascinated to hear the Minister's response on the principle of an appeal.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I understand the basis behind the arguments put forward by your Lordships. I believe that the framework we have set out in the Bill provides sufficient safeguards. I suggest that it is important to bear in mind that Clause 10 specifically provides that before the registrar decides any question arising under Sections 3, 5, 6 or 18--they are the relevant sections spoken to in the amendments--he may seek advice from a committee of Members of the House of Commons appointed by the Speaker for the purpose.

Amendment No. 18 provides for a right of appeal to the Speaker's committee. But we are getting rather circuitous because, bearing in mind Clause 12, in any difficult or contentious case the registrar is likely to refer the application for advice to the Speaker's committee. One would expect in those circumstances that the registrar would act on the advice. Therefore, there would be no point in having an appeal to the Speaker's Committee because it would be reviewing its own decisions.

Amendment No. 19 offers an alternative appeal mechanism to the registration appeals committee. The new clause is a shade short on detail. It makes no provision for parliamentary control. We were looking for a framework which would be fair, straightforward and simple to operate. There is the remedy of judicial review. If the registrar misapplies the law, misdirects himself or herself, or acts unreasonably, the remedy already exists; namely, judicial review. We believe that we have got the balance about right and I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Henley: The noble Lord is saying that the only remedy shall be judicial review. He will accept that

5 Nov 1998 : Column 419

judicial review would be both expensive and time consuming. There will be occasions when, whatever appeal is made, it must be dealt with speedily. Will he not reconsider the whole matter and at least agree to discussions about whether it might be possible to include some formal appeals procedure by whatever means so that such matters can be dealt with without the expense of going to the courts and without the time consuming nature of doing so?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: That is what we have provided. We have provided an informal mechanism, to use the noble Lord's phrase, because it specifically allows that the registrar may take advice by virtue of Clause 10. We have struck exactly the balance of efficiency, speed, lack of expense and informality. It is said that the courts are very slow but, without commenting on the merits of the issue, the Lord Chief Justice heard Senator Pinochet's original application very quickly and the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House is hearing it at the moment. One could not be quicker than that. The informality and advice is well provided for in Clause 10.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked for informal talks? Would that not be a good idea? The Minister did not respond to the request. I believe that the measure is largely agreed and that it would be sensible if the Minister were able to agree to such discussions.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I may have misunderstood what the noble Lord was saying because I took his reference to "informal advice" to be in relation to the provision in Clause 10.

I am always willing to listen but I am sure that noble Lords will bear in mind the timetable of this Bill and the very tight schedule to which we are working bearing in mind that the first elections are as early as May of next year. I cannot say more than that I shall listen. I should not like to give a hint that we shall change our minds. However, as always, I shall listen to anything which noble Lords wish to say.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page