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I shall not go on at length because I believe that both the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson have more experience of the organisation of political parties than I do, and I hope that the Minister is listening to them. However, it seems to me that, by and large before this Bill started, the nominating officers were responsible for elections. That came under the Registration of Political Parties Act. Treasurers were a different breed of people.
However, suddenly the matter becomes much more complicated and the treasurer may well have to carry out duties which are different from those that he is used to. My amendment would simply take out the words,
As my noble friend Lord Hodgson said, the person who collects and spends the money should not be the same as the person who ensures that all the regulations--and there are many in this piece of legislation--are complied with. It seems to me that we need to look at a way of separating the roles and that we should accept that all the political parties, including the Labour Party, have a huge amount of work to do. The treasurer plays a very important role within political parties. All our parties need cash and it is not an easy task to raise it. Frankly, I believe that it is piling far too much on one person to ask the treasurer to carry out other tasks.
I hope that the Minister will give some thought to the matter when he responds to the brief speeches from the four Members who have spoken on this side of the Chamber, if not on this side of the political divide. I am quite sure that we shall be able to find some common ground and common words on which we can all agree either on Report or at Third Reading.
Under the Bill, registered political parties are required to account for their income and expenditure. If the requirements are to be properly observed, it is essential that a party official is identified as having responsibility for ensuring compliance with those provisions and that consequently he can be held to account for a failure to do so. For that reason, I cannot accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Norton.
In our view, whether a compliance officer (if I may refer to him or her as such) also needs to have overall responsibility for the financial affairs of the party is a moot point. Certainly I would expect a person who had overall responsibility for a party's financial affairs to be able to fulfil the role of compliance officer. However, I accept that there is an argument that the two roles do not necessarily have to be combined. But it is essential that the compliance officer has sufficient authority within the party as a whole to ensure compliance with the controls on donations and the restrictions on campaign expenditure. That will necessarily involve, among other things, conferring on the compliance officer the authority to determine how much any particular part of the party may spend during the course of an election campaign.
If the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will agree to withdraw his amendment, I undertake to reflect further upon what he has said on this matter and see what we can do. That is the most helpful way in which to proceed.
The amendments in the name of the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Rennard, raise similar issues but they have a slightly different approach. We have had a number of discussions with the Liberal Democrats about the impact of the Bill on their federal party structure. As I understand it, their state parties--that is the Liberal Democrat parties in England, Scotland and Wales--have a considerable degree of autonomy from the federal party. Historically, the treasurer of the federal party has had
We are not unsympathetic to the Liberal Democrats' difficulties. Indeed, we have been wrestling with that problem and a number of other similar conundrums for some time. I understand that splitting the responsibilities of the registered treasurer would go some way to assisting the Liberal Democrats to reconcile the requirements of the Bill with their present structures. In principle, I see no reason why that cannot be done without upsetting the arrangements in the Bill. Such a split would, of course, add a further complication but arguably this would be a small price to pay.
The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, has suggested in his Amendment No. 64A that responsibility for compliance with the requirements in Parts V and VII should pass to the nominating officer. I know that as the nominating officer for the Liberal Democrats, he has overall responsibility for the party's national election campaigns. But while that may be true of the Liberal Democrats, it is not a model we should force on other parties. A preferable course might be to enable a party--it would not be obligatory--to register a person as treasurer with responsibilities for compliance with Parts III and IV and a second officer as the person responsible for compliance with Parts V and VII. As now, it would be open to a party to combine in one person the roles of registered leader, nominating officer, treasurer and responsible officer, or any combination of those.
If the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, would also agree to withdraw his amendments, I will similarly reflect carefully on the points he has raised with a view to bringing forward government amendments on this matter at Report. Therefore, that would help the Conservatives with the Ashcroft problem and help the Liberal Democrats with the federal problem.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Before the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, decides what to do with this amendment and ignoring the Minister's last point, I should tell him that I am grateful for his acceptance that the way the Bill is drafted imposes a very onerous duty on treasurers, and that will include the treasurer of his own party who, I suspect, is equally unhappy with the load that she will have to take on if and when this Bill becomes an Act.
Lord Rennard: I thank the Minister for his helpful reply. It is not our intention to impose our structures on any other party. But we hope it is possible for the Bill to reflect that different parties organise matters
These amendments are primarily designed to ensure that the register of political parties is kept up to date, both to assist the electoral commission in discharging its functions and for the benefit of the public generally.
Among the information included in a party's entry in the register will be the name and headquarters address of the party; the names of the party's registered leader, registered nominating officer, registered treasurer and deputy treasurers; and the name of each accounting unit and the name and address of its treasurer. It is clearly important that this information remains accurate and that the commission is notified by a party of any changes as soon as practicable after they occur.
As the Bill stands, there is no obligation on a party to alert the electoral commission to changes to the party's registered particulars as and when they occur. Clause 27 provides that a party may notify the commission of changes to the register, but there is no obligation on the party to do so. Indeed, a party is only required to confirm the accuracy of its registered particulars, or otherwise notify the commission of changes once a year under the provisions of Clause 28. That is not an adequate arrangement if the electoral commission is to have ready access to up-to-date particulars of any given registered parties.
The effect of these perhaps minor amendments, and in particular of the new clause to be inserted by Amendment No. 90, is to place a duty on the registered treasurer of a party to notify the electoral commission of changes to the party's registered particulars as soon as possible after they occur. Where the change arises from the death or resignation of one of a party's registered office holders, the new clause requires the registered treasurer to notify the commission of the appointment of a successor within 14 days of the death or resignation, as the case may be. In any other case, a registered treasurer has 28 days to notify the commission of changes to the party's registered particulars.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has tabled three amendments to our Amendment No. 90. Perhaps I may briefly speak to those now. The effect of the amendments is to transfer responsibility for notifying the commission of changes to a party's registered particulars from the registered treasurer to any registered officer of the party or a person authorised by such an officer. The amendments also extend the deadlines for notifying the commission of changes to the registered particulars.
On the first point, it is entirely appropriate that responsibility for notifying the commission of changes in a party's registered particulars should rest with a senior officer of the party. Of course, the registered treasurer can look to his or her staff for support. But by requiring the treasurer to sign off a notification in person, both the electoral commission and the party itself can be assured that changes to the party's registered entry are made by someone of sufficient authority and standing within the party.
As regards whether notification should be made within one or three months instead of 14 or 28 days, the issue is really one of the accuracy of the register. Is it really acceptable that a party's registered particulars should be up to three months out of date? We have recently legislated for a rolling electoral register which will enable people to re-register within six weeks of changing address. Against that background, we do not think that the time limits set out in the new clause would pose a serious problem for registered parties, particularly where they make use of an electronic link to the commission.
Amendments Nos. 69 and 198 deal with a separate point. Clauses 22 and 69 already provide that a person may not be registered as a party's treasurer or deputy treasurer if he has been convicted in the past five years of an offence under the Bill or in any other enactment relating to elections. Clearly, if it is wrong for someone with a recent conviction for such an offence to be appointed as a registered treasurer, it is equally inappropriate for someone to continue to serve in such a role after his or her conviction. These two amendments accordingly provide for the automatic termination of the appointment of a registered treasurer or deputy treasurer on conviction of a relevant offence. In the event that such a conviction is overturned on appeal it would be open to a party to reappoint the person concerned to his former post.
Finally, Amendment No. 92A to Clause 29 provides that where a party ceases to be registered, it will remain liable for the controls set out in Parts III, IV and V of the Bill until the end of the financial year of the party following its removal from the register. That will ensure that deregistration is not used by a party as a tactic to avoid the controls set out in the Bill. I beg to move.
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