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Lord Cope of Berkeley: I suppose that a little thought may have gone into this matter since February, but in any case I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 202A:

    Page 48, line 23, at end insert--

("(6) Where--
(a) at any time before the beginning of any relevant campaign period (within the meaning of section 75), any expenses within section 67(2)(a) are incurred by or on behalf of a registered party in respect of any property, services or facilities, but
(b) the property, services or facilities is or are made use of by or on behalf of the party during the relevant campaign period in circumstances such that, had any expenses been incurred in respect of that use during that period, they would by virtue of section 67(2)(a) have constituted campaign expenditure incurred by or on behalf of the party during that period,
the appropriate proportion of the expenses mentioned in paragraph (a) shall be treated for the purposes of this section, sections 75 to 78 and Schedule 8 as campaign expenditure incurred by or on behalf of the party during that period.
(7) For the purposes of subsection (6) the appropriate proportion of the expenses mentioned in paragraph (a) of that subsection is such proportion of those expenses as is reasonably attributable to the use made of the property, services or facilities as mentioned in paragraph (b).").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 74, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 8 [Limits on campaign expenditure]:

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 202B to 202K:

    Page 127, line 14, leave out ("registered party") and insert ("party registered in the Great Britain register").

    Page 127, line 15, leave out (", Wales and Northern Ireland") and insert ("and Wales").

    Page 127, line 17, leave out ("the United Kingdom") and insert ("Great Britain").

    Page 127, line 17, at end insert ("; and

(b) campaign expenditure incurred by or on behalf of a party registered in the Northern Ireland register shall be attributed solely to Northern Ireland.").

    Page 127, line 18, leave out sub-paragraph (2).

    Page 127, line 30, leave out ("the United Kingdom") and insert ("Great Britain").

    Page 127, line 36, leave out ("the United Kingdom") and insert ("Great Britain").

    Page 127, line 40, leave out ("the United Kingdom)") and insert ("Great Britain)").

    Page 128, leave out lines 4 to 8 and insert--

("(1) This paragraph imposes limits in relation to campaign expenditure incurred by or on behalf of a registered party which contests one or more constituencies at a parliamentary general election.
(2) Where a registered party contests one or more constituencies in England, Scotland or Wales, the limit applying to campaign expenditure which is incurred by or on behalf of the party in the relevant period in that part of Great Britain is--").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendments Nos. 202B to 202K which have already been spoken to.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Rennard moved Amendment No. 203:

    Page 128, line 9, leave out ("£30,000") and insert ("£22,500").

The noble Lord said: This amendment goes to the very heart of the Bill. The proposed national expenditure limit is probably the most significant proposal in the legislation and is at the heart of the

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proposals of the Neill committee. This amendment provides that the national limit for a Westminster general election should be about £15 million, not £20 million.

The Government will say that they propose the figure of £20 million because that is the total recommended by the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Neill. However, that is not an argument as to why it is the right limit. The Government have chosen to vary the committee's recommendations in relation to Northern Ireland, tax concessions for political donations, overseas voters and in many other ways. The recommendation of the Neill committee is merely a compromise figure within that committee, not one to which anyone outside it should feel bound.

I suggest that the prime purpose of the Bill is to curb the "arms race" on party spending in elections. At Second Reading, I illustrated the problem by looking at the growth in spending of the Conservative Party at successive general elections. In each of the 1974 general elections, it is calculated that the Conservative Party spent less than £100,000 on its national campaigns. By 1979, with the services for the first time of the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, in charge of advertising, it was estimated that the party spent £2 million on its national campaign. That figure grew to £4 million in 1983, to £9 million in 1987, to £11 million in 1992 and to a staggering £28 million in 1997.

I have heard some politicians argue that this money simply does not buy votes, but why else would the party seek to raise and spend such huge sums of money? It is not simply for fun. If we are to lessen the influence of money in buying an election and increase the power of the voter, there must be a national limit. A limit of £15 million seems more appropriate to me. It is almost 50 per cent higher than the sum of money spent by the Conservative Party in the last-but-one general election.

If £11 million was enough for John Major to win re-election in 1992, then £15 million should be a sufficient limit now. Of course I do not believe that any amount of money would result in the election of his successor; I simply do not think that more than £15 million should be wasted attempting it. I cannot believe that the Government need more than £15 million at the next general election to make their case adequately. If they do, then their case must be very weak indeed.

I am also concerned with the issue of the balance of constituency and national campaigning. If all the candidates for one party, standing in every seat, spent up to the last penny legally allowed in their constituencies, then they would be allowed to spend a total of only £5 million. The tight limit of around £8,000 within each constituency means that a candidate may not be, for example, able to afford advertisements in his or her local newspaper. But a candidate standing for a much richer rival party may benefit from the equivalent of up to £30,000 worth of advertising in his constituency in national newspapers or through poster billboards.

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That cannot mean a fair fight. Therefore, constituency expense limits should be increased so that the aggregate of constituency spending limits is far higher than about one quarter of the national spending limit.

As evidence of the appropriateness of this £15 million limit, I can do no better than draw the attention of Members of the Committee to the evidence of the Labour Party as submitted to the noble Lord, Lord Neill. In a document entitled Transparency, Participation, Equality the Labour Party argued for exactly this limit of £15 million. It stated that,

    "those who compete for political office should have a fair opportunity of doing so, and should not be placed at a disadvantage by inadequate financial resources relative to others".

That is exactly so. The £15 million limit is a figure for which Mr Martin Linton argued strongly in another place. He pointed out that most Members in the other place belonged to parties which argued for that limit. Indeed, more than 70 per cent of them belong to parties which supported a national limit of £15 million. Therefore, the £15 million limit proposed in the amendment would be more appropriate than the one proposed, more consistent with the aims of the Bill and in the best interests of our democracy. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: It will come as no surprise to the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, that we do not support these amendments. The issues were debated at length in Committee in another place on 3rd February. It will not be useful to go over those arguments again. I simply point out that this seems to be the limit which was recommended by the Neill committee. The Government are sensible to stick to the Neill committee's recommendations in this respect, as in most, but not quite all, others.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am in the peculiar position of barking against my own party on this occasion. I liked the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, about how much it might cost to elect William Hague. I actually think it might cost a good deal more.

The limit of £30,000 per constituency, set out in Schedule 8, is designed to produce an aggregate figure of £19.77 million for a party contesting every seat at a general election. Amendments Nos. 203 and 204 would reduce the limit per constituency to £22,500 and, as the noble Lord has explained, maximum total expenditure of a party to a little under £15 million.

The figure in the Bill is based on, and closely approximates to, the specific recommendation--as has been acknowledged--of the Neill committee. To be frank, the Labour Party, which has traditionally been outspent by the Conservative Party, suggested the lower figure. We would have been happier if the committee had recommended one. But a question of this kind is especially suitable for determination on a consensus basis by an independent committee. The Government are convinced that the best course--

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perhaps the only proper course--is to adopt the Neill figure. If presented with a fresh consensus in favour of a lower figure, we would be prepared to reconsider the matter, but it is not one to be pursued on a unilateral still less a partisan basis.

The Neill committee's figure is a substantial reduction on the £26 million to £28 million that the two largest parties spent at the last general election and offers a safeguard against any wild escalation of the political spending "arms race".

I am glad that the noble Lord has reminded the Committee of the case for lower limits, but I am quite sure that we should stick, at this stage, to the Neill committee's recommendation. It will be for the electoral commission to keep the level of the limit under review and it will be open to the commission to propose a reduction. But that is for the future. In these circumstances I trust that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

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