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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for having put forward an amendment which deals with the point which I raised initially in Committee about the undesirability of forcing small groups which want to put up a slate in a parish council--I refer to my old friends the Ambridge ratepayers--to go through all the rigmarole of registering as a political party in order to be able to do so.

I am reluctant to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I wonder whether the amendment goes far enough. A candidate can currently stand in parish or community elections in the name of an unregistered party, such as the Ambridge Ratepayers. So why should any group wish to register as a minor party? It was suggested that that might give some copyright protection to the name. The only restriction that I can find in the Bill is that an unregistered party is not entitled to a party political broadcast. I hardly think that the Ambridge Ratepayers are likely to qualify for one anyway. I wonder whether it would not be simpler and better in this over-complicated Bill to go one step further and take out all references to minor parties. We could then get rid of the whole of Clause 32 and parts of many others. However, I am grateful for what the Government have offered. I am merely suggesting further tidying up.

We support the principle behind the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, but there is a risk of abuse as it is currently worded. The Conservative Party is clearly not going to field candidates under the name "Independent Conservative" in every constituency, but there are other risks. The amendment would have allowed the Referendum Party at the 1997 election to have avoided the restrictions in other parts of the Bill by standing under the title "Independents for the Referendum". Without prejudice to any decision that

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we might wish to take if the noble Lord were able to bring the amendment back in a form that did not lend itself to abuse, we feel unable to support him.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I understand the Government's argument about the need for descriptions to underpin the controls on donations and expenditure. It is right that the provision is to be relaxed for parish and community council elections. However, I am still anxious about the use of the word "independent", for completely different reasons from those put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay.

I understand the argument about political descriptions being used to expound a political position, but what is to prevent an independent from having his occupation as a means of identification? I asked what might have seemed a simple and stupid question in Committee about what would happen if somebody changed his name by deed poll to the name of another candidate. The Minister's answer was that the middle name would count. If I went to the trouble of changing my name by deed poll, I would make sure that I did it properly and took the other person's full name. The only way to identify me in those circumstances would be to have some other words added. It would be useful to look at the possibility of adding an occupational title to the word "independent". That would get round a rather stupid anomaly.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Mackay. We should be extremely grateful to the Government for their concessions. I wonder whether they could listen sympathetically to what my noble friend has said. For instance, if an independent were to stand in North Dorset for Dorset UDI--an increasingly worthy cause because it is Dorset soil, after all--and at the same time another independent were to stand for continued integration with the rest of the United Kingdom, however loopy those two positions might or might not be, if there were an independent willing to do that and another also standing, it would at least be convenient to know which of those two positions we were voting for if we were minded to vote for an independent.

I associate myself very much with what my noble friend has said. There is an extremely valuable tradition of independents standing for Parliament. I would greatly regret it if it were restricted in any way, particularly as the main political parties are becoming increasingly institutionalised, not least because of many of the provisions of this Bill. With all the powers that we are giving to this commission, would it not be possible to rely on its own judgment as to whether a party was trying to get around the rules by standing as independent but actually organising itself countrywide? I suspect that we would all recognise it when that happened. My noble friend has already given the example of the Referendum Party. I suspect that we all knew there was one financier for that party. It was extremely well organised during the course of the last general election. I am sure that it would have

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fallen foul of any independent judgment made by a neutral and Olympian commission. I wonder whether the Government's proposed amendment, although welcome in its way, does not in fact restrict the admirable tradition of independents standing for Parliament. Can we not look to the commission itself to address the very understandable objection that the Minister has put forward?

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, perhaps I may also add my request to the Minister to have another look at this matter. We had a long discussion about it at Committee stage. I do not wish to rehearse all those arguments again. There is the in-built advantage of major parties; the fact that there is real importance in keeping the roots of local democracy alive for people to be able to believe that they can air a local grievance by standing for Parliament. Such people are perhaps necessarily of modest means and modest experience. They need a descriptive nomenclature as part and parcel of their arrangements.

When we discussed this at Committee stage I asked the Minister whether or not this matter did not give an in-built advantage to major parties. He was kind enough to say that it did and that that was the price of modern democracy. I would like us to find a way to make sure that that was not the price we had to pay.

Lord Bach: My Lords, the Government, too, would like to find a way because we also value the independents in an election, whatever stance they take. It is a healthy sign of our democracy. Our problem is exactly as I stated it when I moved my amendment. We have sought ways of trying to prevent parties evading the rules, but we cannot find any. If noble Lords opposite can produce something that avoids destroying the scheme that underpins the Bill, we would be very grateful. It is this provision which prevents, for example, Independents against the Euro-Party from escaping the controls that everyone else has to observe. It is a pity that independents cannot describe themselves, but we believe it is necessary to underpin the Bill's scheme. If I am throwing the matter back to noble Lords, they will understand why I am doing so. It is done more in sorrow than in anger. We do not have a solution to this particular problem and I am not sure that there is one.

However, I do not believe that that would preclude the commission, once it is up and running, from looking at this matter if it should turn out to be a problem or if in practice it was unfair. I am sure that the commission will be robust in the way that it considers the procedures. We would certainly not be against that. However, we do not believe that we can move on this issue in the context of the Bill.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 50:

    Page 14, line 40, leave out subsection (3).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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[Amendment No. 51 not moved.]

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 52:

    Page 15, line 11, at end insert--

("(4A) Subsection (1) does not apply in relation to any parish or community election.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 23 [Office-holders to be registered]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 53:

    Page 17, line 1, leave out subsection (4) and insert--

("(4) The person registered as a party's treasurer shall be responsible for compliance on the part of the party--
(a) with the provisions of Parts III and IV (accounting requirements and control of donations), and
(b) unless a person is registered as the party's campaigns officer in accordance with section (Parties with campaigns officers), with the provisions of Parts V to VII (campaign expenditure, third party expenditure and referendums) as well.
(4A) In the case of a party with accounting units the person registered as the party's treasurer shall, in relation to the provisions of Part III, be responsible for compliance on the part of the party's central organisation (rather than of the party).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 53, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 55, 57, 64, 71, 73 to 79, 278 and 279. This group of amendments relates to the role of a party's registered treasurer. The government amendments respond to points raised in Committee by the noble Lords, Lord Mackay and Lord Rennard.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, argued that, in order to undertake the key role of compliance officer, it was not necessary for the person registered as the party's treasurer to have overall responsibility for the financial affairs of the party. Indeed, the noble Lord saw a positive advantage in separating the two roles. I would not go so far as that, but in Committee I indicated that I accepted that, for the purposes of the Bill, it was not essential for the two roles to be combined. Accordingly, Amendments Nos. 53 and 57 redefine the role of both a party's registered treasurer and the treasurer of an accounting unit in terms solely of his or her responsibility for compliance with the provisions of the Bill.

The other amendments address the long-standing concerns of the Liberal Democrats about the impact of the Bill on their federal party structure. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, indicated that his party's internal structures and lines of accountability could be better accommodated within the framework of the Bill if the person in charge of the party's day-to-day campaigning--namely, himself, as I understand it--instead of the registered treasurer were to be responsible for compliance with the provisions of Parts V to VII of the Bill. As I indicated in Committee, that would add a further complication to the Bill. However, arguably it would be a price worth paying if it helped to resolve the difficulties faced by one of the country's three main political parties.

The amendments provide that a party may elect to be a party with a campaigns officer. Where a party so elects, the party's registered treasurer will be

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responsible for compliance with the accounting requirements and the controls on donations under Parts III and IV, while the registered campaigns officer will be responsible for compliance with controls on election and referendum expenditure under Parts V to VII.

The new clause to be inserted by Amendment No. 55 makes further provision for parties with a campaigns officer. I draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, to subsection (1)(b) of the new clause. That would enable the person registered as a party's campaigns officer also to be registered as the party's leader or nominating officer, or both. I understand that the noble Lord is the Liberal Democrats' nominating officer and that it is his party's intention that he should also be the party's campaigns officer. That would be in order under the new clause and, therefore, that would be all right for the noble Lord, Lord Rennard.

The amendments to Clause 28 and to Schedules 4 and 23 provide for the submission to the electoral commission of the details of a party's registered campaigns officer and for those details to be kept up to date. The two amendments to Clause 32 make it clear that the provisions in respect of campaigns officers do not apply to minor parties. I beg to move.

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