Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I cannot recall that the then opposition supported us on the poll tax. However, I put that to one side. The noble Lord has not addressed the matter of the excuse that was given for delaying the establishment of the Appointments Commission. There are differences here as regards the kind of work that is undertaken before Royal Assent is given to a Bill. To appoint an electoral commission is a major step. With all due respect, I do not think that is quite the same thing as the detailed work departments sometimes undertake as Bills proceed through Parliament.

As I say, if I heard the Minister aright, one of the reasons he wants to see the measures established as quickly as possible is that the Government want the provisions of the Bill to be in place in time for the general election they intend to call at the beginning of May next year. As I understand the position, that means that the control on expenditure will cover only a period of three months. Have the Government given any indication of what they think the pro rata expenditure will be in a three-month period?

12 Oct 2000 : Column 519

The Committee knows that I do not approve of registration of political parties because that rather implies that at some stage a political party will be refused registration and that seems to me profoundly anti-democratic. Will the electoral commission write to all the parties which have already registered under the existing legislation to ensure that none of them thinks that it has already registered and therefore it does not need to go through the process again? Will the electoral commission write to those parties to ensure that they all realise that they must reregister in a short period of time? I am not talking about the parties represented in this Chamber because they all know what is happening.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I do not have a ready prepared answer to the noble Lord's final point. I should have thought that we shall want to ensure that good practice is adopted and that it would be sensible to adopt the procedure he mentioned. However, that is a matter for the electoral commission. I shall seek further clarification on that point.

We shall also want to consult the main parties before coming to a view on the appropriate expenditure limits that will apply during any truncated relevant period prior to the next election. I should have thought that we are probably talking of a fraction in terms of the number of days in that truncated relevant period. However, that is another matter that we can clarify later.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I certainly hope that it will not be a proportionate fraction. If a three-month period were involved, as opposed to a 12-month period, it would be unrealistic to say that the relevant figure should be only a quarter. Even the simplest person who follows these matters knows that the bulk of expenditure on election campaigns is incurred not even in the final few months of campaigning but in the final few weeks. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord does not really mean a proportionate fraction.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I knew that I should not have tangled with a mathematician! However, I understand the point perfectly well.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 32, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 33 agreed to.

Clause 34 [Amendment of parliamentary elections rules]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos. 111 and 112:

    Page 21, line 1, at end insert ("or, where the candidate is the Speaker of the House of Commons seeking re-election, the words "The Speaker seeking re-election" ").

    Page 21, line 2, leave out subsection (3) and insert--

("(3) In rule 6A (nomination papers: name of registered political party)--
(a) in paragraph (1), after "unless" there shall be inserted "the party is a qualifying party in relation to the constituency and"; and
(b) for paragraph (3) there shall be substituted--

12 Oct 2000 : Column 520

"(3) For the purposes of the application of this rule in relation to an election--
(a) "registered political party" means a party which was registered under Part II of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 at the time by which the notice of the election is required to be published by virtue of rule 1 ("the relevant time");
(b) a registered political party is a qualifying party in relation to a constituency if--
(i) the constituency is in England, Scotland or Wales and the party was at the relevant time registered in respect of that part of Great Britain in the Great Britain register maintained under that Part of that Act, or
(ii) the constituency is in Northern Ireland and the party was at the relevant time registered in the Northern Ireland register maintained under that Part of that Act." ").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 34, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 35 agreed to.

Clause 36 [Interpretation and application of Part II]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos. 113 to 117:

    Page 21, line 14, leave out ("21") and insert ("(The new registers)").

    Page 21, line 16, at end insert--

(" "parish or community election" means an election of councillors for a parish in England or a community in Wales;").
Page 21, leave out lines 18 and 19 and insert--

(" "the register" shall be construed in accordance with section 25(5);
"registered" (unless the context otherwise requires) means registered under this Part (whether in the Great Britain or the Northern Ireland register), and other references to registration shall be construed accordingly;
"the registrar of companies" means the registrar or other officer who performs the duty of registering companies under the Companies Act 1985;").
Page 21, line 20, at end insert--

("( ) For the purposes of this Part a registered party contests an election--
(a) by one or more candidates standing for election in the party's name at the election, or
(b) by the party itself standing nominated at the election.").
Page 21, line 21, leave out subsection (2).

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 36, as amended, agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Skelmersdale): In calling Amendment No. 118, I inform the Committee that if this is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 119.

Clause 37 [Duty to keep accounting records]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 118:

    Page 22, line 15, leave out from ("period") to end of line 19 and insert ("as may be determined by the Commission under subsection (7), whether in relation to--

(a) registered parties generally,
(b) any description of registered parties which includes the party, or
(c) the party itself.

12 Oct 2000 : Column 521

(7) The Commission may determine that the period which is to be a financial year of a registered party shall be--
(a) a period of twelve months specified by the Commission, or
(b) a shorter period specified by them for any transitional purposes;
and different determinations may be made under this subsection in respect of financial years beginning on different dates.
(8) The Commission shall notify registered parties of any determination under subsection (7) which affects them.").

The noble Lord said: Clause 37(6) gives effect to the Neill committee's recommendation that the electoral commission should have the power to prescribe a common accounting year for all political parties. It will be for the commission to decide whether it sees real advantage in moving to a common financial year. It is possible that the commission may decide that this is not a priority for it. In such circumstances the commission's powers in this area will need to be sufficiently flexible to enable parties to continue using their existing financial year. In due course I shall inform the Committee which financial year each of the major parties has at the present time. Subsection (6)(b) therefore provides that the commission may specify different periods in relation to different parties. Amendment No. 119, which the noble Lord opposite will address in due course, would remove that flexibility. I hope that on reflection the noble Lord will see the advantage of retaining it.

In preparing for the establishment of the electoral commission, we have discovered that subsection (6) as drafted does not cater for all eventualities. As it stands, the commission may specify a period shorter than 12 months only for a party's first financial year. But one possibility is that the commission may decide after consultation with registered parties to move to a common accounting year with effect, say, from 1st January 2005. In such circumstances, there would need to be transitional arrangements for any party that had a financial year which commenced on any date other than 1st January. For example, where a party had a financial year commencing 1st October the commission would need to be able to specify that during the transitional phase that party would have the financial year 1st October to 31st December 2004. As Clause 37(6) stands, the commission would not be able to do this. That is why I move Amendment No. 118, to make good this omission and thereby ensure that the commission is not compelled to adopt a common financial year as soon as Part III comes into force.

It is as well to put on record that in the event that the commission decides to specify a common accounting year it will necessarily mean changes for one group of parties or another. Of the parties represented in another place, four--namely, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the UUP--use the calendar year. The Conservative Party and Plaid Cymru have accounting years which run from 1st April; and the SDLP uses the year commencing 1st October. We have no information about the DUP.

On the basis of going with the majority, the commission might opt--I emphasise "might"--for a calendar year. As I have said, that will be a decision for

12 Oct 2000 : Column 522

it, as will the decision on the priority of taking that course. However, whatever it decides, there would need to be a lead-in time to enable parties to make the necessary adjustment. I hope that the noble Lord may be persuaded not to move Amendment No. 119. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page