Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Twenty-Ninth Report


30 July 1998

By the Select Committee appointed to report whether the provisions of any bill inappropriately delegate legislative power, or whether they subject the exercise of legislative power to an inappropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny; to report on documents laid before Parliament under section 3(3) of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and on draft orders laid under section 1(4) of that Act; and to perform, in respect of such documents and orders, the functions performed in respect of other instruments by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.




  1.  This Bill makes provision for about the registration of political parties, including the creation of a register of political parties and provision for a registrar to maintain it (Clause 1).

  2.  The Home Office memorandum explains the need for the powers in the Bill to make subordinate legislation, and argues that the Bill is right in making the powers subject to negative procedure (except for the commencement power in clause 25 which is, as usual, not subject to Parliamentary control).


  3.  There are powers to prescribe fees and procedures in clauses 6(7), 7(3)(c), and 11 and in paragraphs 1(b) and 7 of Schedule 1. The Committee considers that the negative procedure provided by the Bill is clearly appropriate for these powers.

  4.  Clause 3 requires the registrar to grant an application for inclusion in the register unless the proposed registered name would be likely to result in the party being confused by voters with a party which is already registered or contravenes other specified conditions. Although clause 16(1) provides that the registrar shall not make any entry during an initial six week period, and clause 16(4)(b) limits first stage applications to those made by a party to which at least one Member of the House of Commons belongs at the time when the application is made, there is clearly a risk that the name of one of the well-established political parties might be registered by a small group which is not well-established. The onus will be on the established political parties to ensure that they register their names promptly.

  5.  There is one power which the Committee wishes to draw to the attention of the House. That is in clause 3(1)(f) under which the Secretary of State can prohibit the use of any word or expression in the registered name of a political party. The memorandum states that it is proposed to exercise this power to prohibit the use of words such as "Royal" in the registered names of political parties and to prohibit the use of "Independent" by itself. There is no requirement to register and no prohibition on the use of an unregistered party description. However the unauthorised use of a description which could be confused for a registered name will not be allowed by the returning officer.

  6.  The Committee accepts that there is a need for the discretion inherent in clause 3(1)(f) (as expanded by clause 3(2)). In some cases there would be little or no controversy about the choice of party descriptions, and clause 3(1)(c) of the Bill precludes the registration of a name which is obscene or offensive. Nevertheless there could be considerable controversy over whether to allow the use of certain words in party descriptions. The Committee does not have a firm view as to the precise degree of parliamentary control which should be provided for this new and significant power, but highlights the issue as one which the House may wish to consider in debate.


  7.  The Committee invites the House to consider the degree of parliamentary control which should be provided for the power in clause 3(1)(f). There is nothing else in the Bill which the Committee wishes to draw to the attention of the House.

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