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Lord Bach: I am disappointed by that contribution from so expert and experienced a source as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. I believe that his view is much too pessimistic. There are many party activists in all three major parties. We are talking about parties with accounting units--not Bill Boakes's party, or his successor's party--which realise that the law as regards political parties must be, if I may use the word, "modernised" and regulated. On balance, they would much prefer to have a scheme like the one we propose than the haphazard methods previously employed. I do not believe that this would lead to such a shortage, any more than there is a shortage at present.

The noble Lord did not answer the point that I attempted to make in my response to the amendment. If it is to be any other officer of the accounting unit, is he suggesting that every officer of each unit should be registered through the electoral commission? Alternatively, is the noble Lord happy that it should be any other officer of an accounting unit, so that the commission would not even know who was responsible for the finances of, say, Cotswold or Stoke-on-Trent Central?

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I thank the Minister for those comments. The simple answer is

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that a period of time should be allocated during which that can happen. My noble friend's amendment does not mention a timescale but it would be perfectly possible to allocate a period of time during which a local party could nominate another officer and, failing that, it could approach the national treasurer. At least it would have a chance to sort itself out and make the necessary arrangements. If that is not the case, one becomes engaged in an enormous bureaucratic process and imposes on the national treasurer a range of duties that no sane man or woman would wish to take on.

Lord Bach: Who will be in charge between the time when the treasurer resigns and a new treasurer is appointed? Should it be the national treasurer with overall responsibility, or should it be some officer of the accounting unit whose name may not even be known to the electoral commission? That issue has not yet been properly addressed and therefore we cannot accept the amendment.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I say with respect that I do not believe that the noble Lord has addressed my next point. In regard to an intervening period before a new officer is appointed, has there been at constituency level or at accounting unit level the range of problems that the Bill seeks to tackle? Are we not taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut? I understand the concerns that have been expressed with regard to overseas funding. However, as regards the issue we are discussing at the moment, there have been relatively few difficulties for all parties at local constituency level.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: This has been a disappointing debate in that the scenario I painted seems to be the correct one and the paper trail I followed leads to the conclusion that I feared. The noble Lord has confirmed that. It would be much more comfortable to be able to say to the noble Lord that he has clearly never been involved in a political party at constituency level. However, I know that that is not the case. That makes it even stranger that he should live in Cloud-cuckoo-land with regard to political parties.

Lord Bach: For better or worse I was the treasurer of a constituency Labour Party for 15 years.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: That makes the position even worse. I should have thought that the noble Lord might have brought that experience to bear on the people who drafted the Bill who clearly know nothing about political parties or how they operate. As my noble friend said, it is preposterous to expect the national treasurer of a party suddenly to become responsible for the finances of a local party whose treasurer has died or who has not resigned at an AGM or a special general meeting when another treasurer could be appointed. If the noble Lord is not aware that these things happen, he must have lived in some fortunate constituencies. These things happen and treasurers are not easy to obtain. It will be a darned

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sight more difficult to obtain them once the Bill is enacted and they are told that they had better read it before they become local treasurers.

As I say, the noble Lord lives in Cloud-cuckoo-land if he does not appreciate that every week of every year treasurers of constituencies will, for whatever reason, no longer be in post. Therefore, I suggest that every week the poor old national treasurer will be responsible for at least one constituency funding. That is a ludicrous proposition. I cannot put it any higher than that. I should have thought that if the Government need to have another person nominated, we could devise an amendment which states that one of the other officers should be nominated pro tem. Simply to state that the duty will fall on the national treasurer is quite amazing.

I am amazed at the Government's response. My noble friend Lord Hodgson, who knows more about the matter than I, expressed his points well. I should have thought that the secretary's name or the chairman's name might suffice in these circumstances. As I say, the idea that the poor old national treasurer will have to take over the affairs of the local party is crazy. As my noble friend says, I wonder whether the measure is not a sledgehammer to crack a nut. What is the problem with constituency parties? Where is the corruption there? Does the noble Lord know of any? As far as I know, there has been none. If there has been corruption, that has involved electoral systems. However, I shall not go into that given where I live and what people do there on election day. I do not believe that there has been widespread misdeed as regards the funding of local constituency parties--and certainly not the kind of body which will have difficulty in finding a new treasurer. In addition to not having a new treasurer, such bodies do not have lots of money.

I am sorry the noble Lord has been so negative. We shall read carefully what he said and consider whether we can bring forward an amendment which addresses his concerns, although they are totally false, and relieve the national treasurer of the obligation of having one constituency association after another landing in his lap. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 24, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 25 [Registration of parties]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 77:

    Page 16, line 2, leave out subsection (1) and insert--

("(1) A party may apply to be registered under this Part by sending to the Commission an application which--
(a) complies with the requirements of Part I of Schedule 3, and
(b) is accompanied by a declaration falling within subsection (1A).
(1A) The declarations falling within this subsection are--
(a) a declaration that the party--
(i) intends to contest one or more relevant elections in Great Britain and one or more such elections in Northern Ireland, and

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(ii) is accordingly applying to be registered (as two such separate parties as are mentioned in section (The new registers)(4)) in both the Great Britain register and the Northern Ireland register;
(b) a declaration that the party--
(i) intends to contest one or more relevant elections (which will not be confined to one or more parish or community elections) in Great Britain only, and
(ii) is accordingly applying to be registered in the Great Britain register only;
(c) a declaration that the party--
(i) intends to contest one or more relevant elections in Northern Ireland only, and
(ii) is accordingly applying to be registered in the Northern Ireland register only;
(d) a declaration that the party--
(i) intends only to contest one or more parish or community elections, and
(ii) is accordingly applying to be registered in the Great Britain register only.
(1B) A declaration falling within paragraph (a), (b) or (d) of subsection (1A) must specify the part or parts of Great Britain in respect of which the party is applying to be registered in the Great Britain register.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment has already been spoken to. I beg to move.

[Amendments Nos. 77A to 77G, as amendments to Amendment No. 77, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 77 agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos. 78 to 80:

    Page 16, line 9, leave out ("The Commission shall grant such an application by a party") and insert ("Where a party sends an application to the Commission in accordance with subsection (1), the Commission shall grant the application").

    Page 16, line 11, after ("would") insert ("either--

(i) be the same as that of a party which is already registered in the register in which that party is applying to be registered, or
Page 16, line 12, at end insert ("in respect of the relevant part of the United Kingdom").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Norton of Louth moved Amendment No. 80A:

    Page 16, line 13, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Lord said: This subsection stipulates the grounds on which the commission shall refuse an application to register the name of a particular party. Under paragraph (b) the commission must refuse an application from a party whose name comprises more than six words. That limit derives from the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1969 covering the candidate's description on nomination and ballot papers. It is maintained in the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998. Indeed this, and the subsequent two clauses, re-enact with modifications provisions of the 1998 Act.

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I raise the point as one of principle. A six word limit appears unduly restrictive. Perhaps the newly formed party would like to use seven or eight words in its title. That may not be sensible; it may not appeal to voters. On the other hand, it may help to convey what the party stands for. A description in excess of six words may be desirable, especially for parties with a territorial base which may wish to embody that in the title.

When the Registration of Political Parties Bill was debated at Second Reading in your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, commented on the imagination employed by some minor parties in keeping within the six word limit. I am sure that that is so. One has only to consider some of the titles used. But is it necessary now to force parties to keep within such a tight limit?

I appreciate that the counter-argument is the practical argument that there is only a limited space on ballot papers. That is the reason for the restriction. However, I am not sure that the title needs to be so limited as to confine a party's name to six words. I am not sure that the names of parties should be determined to such a degree by the amount of space available on a piece of paper.

I appreciate that there is a case for some limit, not only for reasons of space but also to prevent abuse. However, I raise the question as to whether the limit is set at the right level. The limit was not questioned by noble Lords when the Registration of Political Parties Bill was before the House and I thought it appropriate to raise the issue now. It is important for the parties and--to revert to a point made earlier--it may be to the benefit of electors that parties have greater latitude when describing themselves.

I appreciate that this is not the most crucial amendment that we shall debate but I do not regard it as wholly marginal either. I beg to move.

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