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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I rise to express my support for my noble friend's amendment. As was the case with the amendment of my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, it seems to me that the logic behind this amendment is self-evident in terms of what the Bill contains, as outlined in Clauses 3 and 11. Equally, there is quite an important principle at stake here that the Government seem to have acknowledged in both those clauses. After all, we are told that the whole basis of the Good Friday agreement has been to recognise a government assumption--a heroic one perhaps but, nevertheless, one which the Government have made--that terrorist parties that have been allowed to participate in the new arrangements as a result of the agreement have given up the Armalite in favour of the ballot box. As the noble Lord knows, I am highly sceptical about whether that assumption is justified. However, let us assume that it is; indeed, we all hope that it is.

It seems logical, therefore, that we should not give comfort in this clause, any more than we do in other clauses, to parties that have not agreed to the rules to which the rest of us in parliamentary government have subscribed. Indeed, unless everyone plays by those rules, those who resort to violence, bombs and the Armalite tend to have an advantage which is denied to the rest of us and which destroys the body politic in the polity in which we live.

A commission whose accumulated political wisdom is the reason for its existence should be a body that represents parties that subscribe wholly to the rules to which the rest of us are subject. If the Government do not subscribe to the sentiments expressed in my noble friend's amendment, the logic of that will be even less easy to follow than the logic originally put forward by the noble Lord in his justification--initially at least--for rejecting Amendment No. 14A.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, asked me a question at the

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beginning of his remarks. I always try to provide him with a straight answer. If I do not always do so on the first occasion, I sometimes do so on the second; but I certainly do so on the third occasion. The noble Lord asked why the treasurer should be the person to make the nomination. If one considers the scheme of things in the Bill, it will be seen that the treasurer is the central player. I have no doubt--indeed, I believe that it is beyond question--that the treasurer of the party would want to consult the "registered leader". That is how I believe the process will work. Indeed, that is how most people expect it to work, and I have no doubt that that is how it will work.

I turn to the matter of substance before us, as outlined in Amendment No. 15. I indicated earlier what had led us not to include the restriction contained in this amendment. I believe that our line was and is valid. As it stands, the government amendment is what we intended to commend to the House. The reason behind that is the fact that the panel is not a government body but one belonging, quite properly, to the parties. They will have to work together to make the panel work.

However, I have listened to what noble Lords opposite have said. I believe that the panel has a very important task to complete and that it must work. Noble Lords have made the point that the Government's amendment would add a degree of inconsistency to the Bill. For those reasons, and bearing in mind the fact that this matter needs to be approached both sensitively and practically, I am prepared to accept the noble Lord's amendment as drafted. It is certainly correct as drafted. I am happy to acknowledge that point this evening and to concede on this issue. That is the position of the Government.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I was a little concerned earlier that my noble friend Lord Astor would be the only person this evening to receive a concession from the Government--that is to say, to be fair, other than the many concessions contained in the Government's amendments to the Bill, which are concessions or re-thinks arising from the Committee stage. However, I am delighted to see that I, too, have actually scored a concession. Indeed, as the noble Lord pointed out, if consistency is what we are about, if he is prepared to be consistent with me on the Parliamentary Oaths Act, I must be prepared to be consistent with him on the treasurer point. Therefore, I accept the noble Lord's point in that respect. I am delighted to accept his acceptance of my amendment.

On Question, Amendment No. 15, as an amendment to Amendment No. 14, agreed to.

On Question, Amendment No. 14, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5 [Reviews of electoral and political matters]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 16:

    Page 4, line 8, after ("17(1)") insert (", 18(1)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Lord Norton of Louth moved Amendment No. 16A:

    Page 4, line 20, leave out ("whether or not").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment seeks to limit the powers of the Secretary of State. As drafted, Clause 5 lists the matters that the commission,

    "shall keep under review, and from time to time submit reports to the Secretary of State on".

Subsection (2) stipulates that the commission shall review and submit a report on,

    "such matter or matters (whether or not falling within subsection (1)) as the Secretary of State may specify".

I have no problem with the Secretary of State being empowered to require a report on any matter listed in subsection (1). The matters listed there are all within the competence of the commission. Indeed, as far as I can see, the list is comprehensive in encompassing those matters within the competence of the commission. Paragraphs (a) to (g) within subsection (1) are couched in broad terms. Why, therefore, should the Secretary of State be empowered to require the commission to review and report on matters not falling within subsection (1)?

Apart from the matters specified in subsection (3), the Secretary of State may require a report on any matter that he chooses, regardless of whether or not it is strictly within the competence of the commission. Indeed, he could require a report on any topic that does not fall within the competence of the commission at all. That would be clearly perverse but, as the clause is presently drawn, the Secretary of State would be perfectly entitled to do so.

I am wary of conferring broad powers on Ministers, especially where there is no clear, and certainly no compelling, case to do so. I cannot see a compelling case for the broad power conferred by subsection (2). Under my amendment the Secretary of State would be empowered to require the commission to review and report on any matter or matters listed in subsection (1). That in itself is a considerable power but I think a perfectly acceptable one. I cannot see a case for going beyond that; hence my amendment. I beg to move.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment. The commission appears to have an extremely broad power under Clause 5(1)(a)--which I think is right--to report on,

    "such matters relating to elections to which this section applies as the Commission may determine from time to time".

As I say, the commission has an incredibly broad remit in this regard; it is not fettered in any way. Therefore the concept of giving the Secretary of State power to go beyond that seems to be perverse because one cannot imagine in what circumstances the Secretary of State would need that power, unless he were in dispute with the commission over its powers and role. If that were the case, should he have the power we are discussing? That is the matter that the Minister needs to address.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I suspect that too much is being read into the wording here. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for the

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explanation of his amendment. I reassure the noble Lord that there is nothing sinister in the words "whether or not" in subsection (2) of Clause 5. The Home Secretary will not ask the commission to review a matter that is wholly outside its sphere of operations. However, there may be matters which we have not thought of to list in subsection (1) which, in time, might perfectly properly be matters that could be put to the commission to examine. It would be a loss to the Bill to take out these words and thereby prevent Ministers tapping into the knowledge and experience that the electoral commission could bring to bear on a particular issue. I hope that with that assurance the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I hope that he will explain something to the House, or rather to me as I have not understood it. This is perhaps a relatively minor matter, but is he not advocating something of a Henry VIII power here if a power is added, perhaps by ministerial order, and therefore amends something which is embodied in primary legislation?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not think that we are advocating a Henry VIII power here. We are providing no more and no less than some necessary flexibility. It is certainly not my intention to introduce a Henry VIII power here; that would be wrong and improper. However, we may not have listed fully all the kinds of matters that might properly fall to the commission to consider. The wording in the Bill provides some small measure of flexibility which should enable that position to be covered. It is no more and no less than that.

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