Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 71:

("( ) The Commission shall, in relation to any scheme under this section, give guidance in the form of a "model scheme" for the use of political parties and the Commission shall be entitled to--
(a) modify any such "model scheme" from time to time as it thinks fit; or
(b) request additional information from each party registering, or registered, in respect of its financial structure.").

The noble Lord said: I shall be brief because I suspect that in part Amendment No. 71 has been overtaken by some rather complicated events. My concern in this amendment is that political parties must submit their scheme to the commission. The commission may play about with it and the matter may go to and fro until there is a form of agreement. I believe that to be unnecessarily cumbersome. The amendment proposes that the commission should bring forward a model scheme for the use of all political parties. That would be particularly helpful to the smaller ones. It may be that the three great parties would not have much trouble. However, some of the smaller parties--for example the Green Party--might face difficulties. It would be far more sensible to have a model scheme by the commission which indicated what it would like, especially as the Government want to introduce a good deal of this material quickly.

I am aware that political parties have recently been sent provisional guidance. I suspect that the Minister will tell me that that is enough. All I say is that the size of the provisional guidance underlines the enormity of the bureaucracy which the Bill imposes on political parties. It is far better for the commission to be asked to send a model scheme to the parties. If so, they would all know what they were aiming for. I beg to move.

Lord Bach: Clause 23 requires as a condition of registration that each political party submits a scheme for the commission's approval setting out the party's structure for the purposes of regulating its financial affairs under the Bill. Clearly, the preparation and approval of such schemes is central to the effective operation of the controls set out in the Bill. We entirely share the noble Lord's view that it is desirable for the commission to offer advice and guidance to the political parties as to the content and presentation of such a scheme. We have no doubt that it will do so; and advice on these matters has already been issued to existing registered parties.

10 Oct 2000 : Column 288

Clause 9(3) specifically empowers the commission to provide advice and assistance to registered parties. The commission will wish to see the arrangements for the adoption of schemes work smoothly. It has nothing to gain from repeatedly having to request further information and will wish to avoid disputes about whether a particular scheme adequately describes a party's structure. However, we are not persuaded that we should seek to prescribe on the face of the Bill just how the commission should go about providing such guidance. Nor do we believe that Amendment No. 71 proposes the best practicable means of doing so. The proposal is that the commission should devise a model scheme upon which, presumably, parties may hang their own particular arrangements.

However, the very purpose of Clause 23 is to meet the point that political parties in this country are so diverse in their structure--we have had hints of that in the debates this evening--that any attempt to shoe-horn them into some kind of preconceived model of a political party is futile. We believe that the idea of a model scheme that is applicable to all registered parties is open to the same objection. However, the electoral commission project team in the Home Office is consulting on a draft model scheme that may fit the circumstances of the smallest registered parties which do not have accounting units. Paragraph (b) of the proposed amendment demonstrates the difficulties of a one-size-fits-all approach. The paragraph appears to suggest that the development of a model scheme would be dependent upon the receipt of information from the political parties about their financial structures. It may be that we begin to go round in circles.

We are sympathetic to the idea that the commission should provide guidance, and we have no doubt that it will. I hope the noble Lord is persuaded that his amendment may be more of a hindrance than a help to the commission and will accordingly withdraw it.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the Minister for his sympathetic response. I hear what he says and appreciate that, on that basis, it would certainly be easier for the Labour Party, Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats to cope with these issues. I am pleased to hear that the unit in the Home Office is looking at the problem as it affects the smaller parties. On that hopeful note, I am content to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: moved Amendment No. 72:

    Page 15, line 15, at end insert (", with the exception of any organisation that--

(i) has paid an affiliation fee to a registered party, or
(ii) has a direct input into policy formation within a registered party, or
(iii) has a direct input into the selection of candidates for political office within a registered party").

10 Oct 2000 : Column 289

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 73 and 74. The amendments are directed to Clause 23. In order to show the enormity of what the Government are trying to do, I shall read out the important parts of Clause 23. Subsection (8) states:

    "For the purposes of this section"--

for example, financial structures of registered parties--

    "none of the following shall be taken to be a constituent or affiliated organisation in relation to a party--(a) a trade union within the meaning of the Trade Union and Labour relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 or the Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1992".

Therefore, a trade union affiliated to the Labour Party is not to be taken as an affiliated trade union. Subsection (8) then does the same for friendly societies and for,

    "any other organisation of a description prescribed by order".

I should be interested to hear what the noble Lord is considering under paragraph (c)--"any other organisation". I do not think many friendly societies are involved. It is Clause 23(3)(a) which concerns me. It is standing fact on its head. How one can possibly accept that the trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party--I have no problem with them being affiliated to the Labour Party--are somehow for the purposes of the Bill not affiliated to the Labour Party? That beggars belief.

The Committee should not accept my word that the trade unions are affiliated to the Labour Party. I could read out the evidence of the Labour Party to the commission. I shall not because it is late at night. There were submissions from political parties and at page 228 there is one from the Labour Party. I shall quote parts of it. It states:

    "The Labour Party is a federation of affiliated organisations, of which trade unions are the largest".

They are the largest affiliated organisation in the Labour Party, yet the Bill says they are not to be considered as affiliated to the Labour Party. The Labour Party's evidence continues:

    "The principle of affiliated membership is a reflection of the fact that in the British political system, as in others, there is no single or one-dimensional view of how a political party should be organised or structured, whether in terms of composition or manner of internal government. In the British system we have accepted a plurality of forms of political party, and have accepted the principle that the members of political parties may properly include both individuals and organisations acting on behalf of their members."

It further states:

    "The rights vested in members of affiliated trade unions include, either under the constitution of the party or as a matter of practice, the right to vote for the leader and deputy leader of the party; and the right to vote on the election manifesto of the party".

We know that. That is not disputed. The affiliated trade unions are fully part of the Labour Party. I am not complaining about that; that is what they are. But I complain about this almost sleight of hand that simply says "but for the purpose of the Bill they will not be affiliated". Noble Lords may wonder why a government will allow such a piece of legislation which is so clearly a sleight of hand. The simple reason is that

10 Oct 2000 : Column 290

if the Bill is enacted the trades unions will be able, as they do, to contribute to the funds of the Labour Party. I see from today's paper that the Prime Minister wants them to contribute even more to the party. The Daily Mail states:

    "Blair begs the union barons for £20 million".

He will not need more money from anywhere else because that is as much as he can spend on the general election. But there he is turning to them as major backers of the Labour Party. We all know they are. There is no problem with that. If they continue to do that they should be open and above board about the amount of money they contribute.

But it is open and above board. I believe everyone knows what they contribute. So why do the Government need to put this provision in the Bill? They want to have their cake and eat it. They want the affiliated trade unions not only to be fully paid-up members of the Labour Party, taking part in everything the Labour Party does and paying money to the Labour Party; they also want the trade unions to be considered separate from the Labour Party so that they can be considered as third parties when it comes to electioneering. Each of them will be able to spend jolly nearly £1 million on electioneering if they have any money left after Mr Blair takes away the money he wants from them.

I do not know how many trade unions are affiliated to the Labour Party. I fully accept that not all of them could afford to spend just under £1 million. If there are 18, they could together spend jolly nearly £18 million, plus the £20 million spent by the Labour Party. That is not just a small coach and horses through the principles of the Bill--we heard so much about the principles of the Bill when we were talking about Northern Ireland--it is an enormous coach and horses. The Government have a cheek to come forward with a proposal as blatant as this one. It is amazing that they have the brass neck to come forward with this amazing proposal, especially as, by their own evidence, the trade unions are the most important affiliated part of the Labour Party. Then, suddenly, we have all to pretend--it is like Alice in Wonderland--that they are not really affiliated to the Labour Party. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page