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Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord raises a reasonable and intelligent point. Clearly we shall have to give considerable publicity to the effects of the legislation. We might do so through the local authority. We might hope that that approach would be supported by local political parties. It would be open to the electoral commission to advertise its existence--I am sure that it will want to do so--and to promote some of the factors in the scheme which require compliance by the parties and, on this occasion, by a donor.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: It has been an unsatisfactory debate. The Minister's reference to an advertising campaign makes me wonder what it will say. Will it say, "If you donate to a political party you may be committing a criminal offence"? I believe that the clause is wholly unreasonable. The noble Lord is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: In the noble Lord's opening comments, he went through the Neill proposals which covered this area. Perhaps he will rehearse again his preferred way of dealing with the situation. I thought that he had acknowledged that there was a problem. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, accepted that there was a real problem which requires to be dealt with. If not, there will be adequate scope for mischievous circumventing of the intention behind the measure.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I was going to go away and think about whether there was a real problem. If someone is making dribble donations to the headquarters of a party, presumably the party will check up. When a dribble of donations comes in from the same quarter, something is bound to click in one of their computers and they will start to wonder whether they are exceeding the £5,000 limit. If someone goes
I am much more attracted to the Neill committee suggestion that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, mentioned--that is, that if someone is found out and it can be proved that he was trying to get round the rules, we might make that an offence. I shall not proceed with the issue any further at this stage, although we may come back to it later when we have had a chance to think about it. We should not put the obligation on the donor and threaten to make him a criminal if he makes a mistake. No doubt some of your Lordships have connections with three or four constituencies, all of which will be looking for money at election time or at other times. It is easy for someone to forget how generous he has already been to another constituency party.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I suspect that the Minister may be wrong. Some of his colleagues will have fought two or three seats before they got to the House of Commons and will live in another constituency now that they have retired from the
Joking apart, we should give some thought to finding another way of dealing with the problem. If I can tempt the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart to put his legal mind to the issue, I should certainly be interested in an amendment along the lines that he suggested. That would be a better solution than the blanket provision in Clause 63. In any case, I shall let it go this evening.
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