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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I suspect that the donor would not be a permissible donor. However, he might also be a scoundrel who was a permissible donor. I do not know. I still think that this is a serious problem.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I, too, must have a mischievous mind because I had thought of that scenario. Perhaps I may return to the refrain of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, throughout these debates; namely, that it is best to rely on transparency. I suspect that the full glare of publicity would flush this ruse out.
Nevertheless, the noble Lord has made a valid point and one certainly worthy of reflection. However, the purpose of the weekly donations reporting process is to provide a high level of transparency and integrity to the system. Neill relied on it very strongly and we, too, think that it is the right principle to adopt.
To respond to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I have made it plain that we do not intend to place burdens on individuals merely for the sake of it. A genuine purpose lies behind the measure. The way in which the weekly reporting and accounting will work should not unduly affect local organisations. It will focus on national accounting units. Quite understandably, from a political point of view as regards his organisation I doubt whether the problem will be as great as he first thought. Having said that, I shall think further on it.
Lord McNally: I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has made a very sound point. No doubt all these regulations have a purpose, but do they match the size of the problem? The Government have asked the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, to look at red tape and the burdens imposed on business. Perhaps it would be a good idea to let him run his expert eye over some of the burdens being imposed on politics, in particular the burdens being imposed at the local sharp end.
Lord Norton of Louth: I should like to reinforce my point and to respond to what was said by the Minister. There is no compelling justification in terms of transparency. My point is that it is not transparency of full information in any case and therefore it is potentially misleading. It does not in any way conflict with the point I made earlier. As an academic, I was keen to ensure that I was being consistent.
I believe that there is a problem in terms of what is apparent; namely, that the perception could be misleading. If one is aiming for transparency, one must aim for transparency of full information. Here I return to the point just highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord McNally--there has to be a compelling justification. I have not heard the Minister provide one.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Before the Minister replies, we all agree that there should be transparency for accepted donations, but we are talking about offered donations. There is a difference. I am attracted by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, could come to your Lordships' House and join the Committee to discuss whether these regulations are necessary.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Very good. I enjoyed that one. I think the compelling argument relates to the politics of what happens during a general election period. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, made an important point. It would be much more desirable if there were fuller information surrounding the register of donations reported on a weekly basis.
("( ) For the purposes of subsections (4) to (7) as they apply in relation to any year--
(a) each payment to which section 50(2) applies and which is accepted by the party during that year shall be treated as a relevant donation in relation to that year, and
(a) each payment to which section 50(3) applies and which is received from a particular donor and accepted by the party during that year shall be treated as a relevant donation in relation to the donor and that year;
and the donation reports for the year shall accordingly comply with subsections (4) to (7) so far as they operate, by virtue of paragraph (a) or (b) above, to require any relevant donation falling within that paragraph to be recorded in a donation report.").
Page 112, line 14, leave out ("or weekly").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Page 112, line 30, after ("company") insert ("falling within section 49(2)(b)").
Page 112, line 42, at end insert--
("( ) In the case of a building society within the meaning of the Building Societies Act 1986, the report must give--
(a) the name of the society; and
(b) the address of its principal office.
( ) In the case of a limited liability partnership falling within section 49(2)(db), the report must give--
(a) the partnership's registered name; and
(b) the address of its registered office.").
Page 113, line 5, at end insert--
Page 113, line 44, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 45.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Page 40, line 2, leave out ("after consulting") and insert ("on the recommendation of").
The noble Lord said: I should not like the Government Chief Whip to think that we are making progress too quickly through the amendments, so we shall stop and have a look at Amendment No. 174, which is very short.
"The Secretary of State may, after consulting the Commission, by order make provision"--
to vary some of the sections we have been discussing. As the Committee will appreciate, the problem is that the Government may consult the electoral commission but decide to ignore its advice and go their own way. I want to firm up the provision. The electoral commission will be the referee of our systems, and that will include the reporting systems. All things considered, I would rather depend on the electoral commission's views of these matters than on the views of whatever government are the government of the day.
"The Secretary of State may, on the recommendation of".
In other words, the orders that the Secretary of State makes will come from the electoral commission; they will not come from the Secretary of State or from the department. This is not a very big amendment, but it is important to make sure that when we set up the electoral commission it is the body that is actually calling the shots on this matter, and not the Government. I beg to move.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Amendment No. 175 is absolutely unnecessary, because once I had worked my way through the labyrinthine passages of the Bill, I found out that an affirmative order was already in place. My only defence is to say that if the Government look at the number of amendments that they have withdrawn, they will see that they are nothing like the one that I have just withdrawn!
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