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Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I tend to be consistent. When noble Lords on all sides of the House agree with me, I think I am right; when noble Lords on all sides of the House disagree with me, I still think I am right.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, asked one or two questions. She asked why I took a figure of £50,000. I am inclined to put the question back and ask why £5,000? Or, indeed, why £4,999? There has to be an arbitrary figure. If the noble Baroness prefers £25,000, I should be quite happy to support that.

As to the second point about quarterly reports, if an election took place at the beginning of the period, yes, the report would come out 12 weeks after the event. I take that point. My argument, essentially, was that the report would come out eventually, and the knowledge that it would come out would have a deterrent effect. The important point is that the report will come out. I take the point about delay; I addressed that in my earlier comments.

Amendment No. 108A seeks to make what I regard as a bad Bill less bad. I start from the point that this is, as the Minister conceded, a complex and bureaucratic Bill. It creates regulation where I am not sure regulation to such an extent is now necessary. The Bill addresses a problem which the parties have addressed already; they have got their acts together. I am extremely sceptical about the Bill. That is where I was coming from with the amendment, which, as I said, seeks to make a bad Bill less bad.

However, having said that, I have an inkling that were I to press the amendment I would not get the overwhelming support of the House. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 109 to 110A not moved.]

Schedule 6 [Details to be given in donation reports]:

21 Nov 2000 : Column 746

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 111 to 113:

    Page 145, line 16, leave out ("and (12)") and insert (", (12) and (13)").

    Page 145, line 27, leave out sub-paragraph (3) and insert--

("(3) Sub-paragraph (2) does not apply in the case of a donation in the form of a bequest, and in such a case the report must state that the donation was received in pursuance of a bequest and give--
(a) the full name of the person who made the bequest; and
(b) his address at the time of his death or, if he was not then registered in an electoral register (within the meaning of section 52) at that address, the last address at which he was so registered during the period of five years ending with the date of his death.").

    Page 146, line 16, at end insert--

("(13) In the case of a donation to which section 53(5) applies, the report must state that the donation was received from a trustee, and--
(a) in the case of a donation falling within section (Interpretation: exempt trust donations)(2), give--
(i) the date on which the trust was created, and
(ii) the full name of the person who created the trust and of every other person by whom, or under whose will, property was transferred to the trust before 27th July 1999, and
(b) in the case of a donation falling within section (Interpretation: exempt trust donations)(3), give in respect of--
(i) the person who created the trust and,
(ii) every other person by whom, or under whose will, property has been transferred to the trust,
the information which is required by any of sub-paragraphs (2) to (10) to be given in respect of the donor of a recordable donation.
(14) In this Act or the Representation of the People Act 1983 any reference (however expressed) to information about the donor of a donation which is framed by reference to this paragraph is, in relation to such a donation as is mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of sub-paragraph (13), a reference to information about every person specified in paragraph (a) or (b) of that sub-paragraph.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 114:

    Page 147, line 1, leave out ("not less") and insert ("more").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 65 [Weekly donation reports in connection with elections other than general elections]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 115:

    Page 49, line 2, after ("Commission") insert ("and all registered parties").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 115, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 116.

The amendment refers to Clause 65, which gives the Secretary of State power to extend the weekly donation reports in connection with elections other than general elections. The current wording states:

    "The Secretary of State may, after consulting the Commission, by order make provision".

I am suggesting that the Secretary of State should also consult all registered political parties.

21 Nov 2000 : Column 747

I should be happy if the Minister will accept that, but I have gone a step further with Amendment No. 116 which seeks to tie the Secretary of State to,

    "having regard to the Commission's views".

I am really saying that if the commission does not think the weekly donation reports should be extended, the Secretary of State should not extend them.

They are two simple amendments. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply. I should be grateful if the Government accepted the amendments, especially Amendment No. 115. I beg to move.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Bach: My Lords, we can accept the first but not the second amendment. I do not think that the noble Lord will be surprised by that. Amendment No. 115 would require the Secretary of State also to consult the registered political parties. It seems reasonable to provide that the political parties should have some input into the extension of these provisions to other elections, particularly as any consultation is likely to be held in the light of their experiences in complying with these provisions during the next general election.

Amendment No. 116 requires the Secretary of State, having consulted the commission, to have regard to its views. The amendment is unnecessary as that is implicit in the requirement to consult the commission. If any such views are simply put to one side and ignored, there is always the remedy of judicial review. So we are happy to accept Amendment No. 115; I ask the noble Lord not to move Amendment No. 116.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, does he understand the amendment to mean "all relevant registered parties"? There might be a registered party that has nothing to do with a particular election.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting point. I can see, for example, that in regard to a Welsh election the Secretary of State might not want to consult the Scottish National Party. If, on consideration, the Government think the point reasonable, they can come forward with a tidying-up amendment at Third Reading.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for accepting Amendment No. 115. I think it is sensible. I was not too surprised, as he had perhaps worked out, about Amendment No. 116. I have been in his position, with members of his party asking for similar words to be included, and my answer bore a striking resemblance to what I have just heard.

Lord Bach: My Lords, perhaps I may take this opportunity to tell my noble friend Lord Wedderburn that "all registered parties" means all of them--in other words, all 130 or so.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

21 Nov 2000 : Column 748

[Amendment No. 116 not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 117:

    After Clause 65, insert the following new clause--

("Deliberate evasion of reporting requirements

. Where any person, knowingly and with the intent of evading the reporting requirements in this Part, makes multiple donations of not less than £200 to a registered party whose aggregate value is not less than £5,000 in any one year, that person is guilty of an offence.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to the other amendments in the group. The amendments seek to further the debate in Committee on 12th October about the clause imposing an obligation on donors. On that occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said that a provision for sanctions against donors was essential. I shall not read out what the Neill committee says; all noble Lords present know that the committee's recommendations were quite the opposite. The committee said that there should be no comeback on the donor, and that it should be entirely the responsibility of political parties.

I was rather amused at the weekend to see that some of the Government's spin doctors were saying that the House of Lords was being naughty on this Bill and that we were going against the recommendations of the Neill committee. I do not think that the House of Lords has yet done that. The Government are inviting your Lordships to go against the committee's recommendations by including this clause.

We shall no doubt hear from the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, shortly. He, too, had concerns but was unable to support my amendment. The Government are concerned that there is a danger that a donor might split up his donations and give £200 to every constituency party. That would be considerably more than ought properly to have been reported. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, suggested that it could be made an offence to split up donations in that way in order to evade the reporting restrictions. My amendment has been drafted with that in mind. It would change the criteria to include deliberate, knowing, intentional evasion, rather than an accidental failure to report. It is possible that such an offence might be difficult to prove in practice. However, if someone were giving £200 to every constituency party, it would not be terribly difficult to prove. Indeed, it would not be impossible.

At present on the face of the Bill, people who give donations to a political party could be viewed as committing a criminal act just because they either forgot to report or did not realise that this clause was in the Bill. I do not expect this clause to receive widespread publicity. Therefore, it seems to me that many people may find themselves in this position. Indeed, their monthly standing order may bring them

21 Nov 2000 : Column 749

into conflict with the Bill and turn them into criminals. That is the situation that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Norton seeks to address.

I shall not continue with this point, but I feel most strongly about it as far as concerns donors. I believe that we all want people to be active in the political process; we want them to give donations. We are not talking about big donations here, nor, indeed, about small donations; we are talking about modest donations. I suggest that we do not want to criminalise donors. Neill was also very clear that he did not want to criminalise them. Therefore, the Government should listen to their own spin-doctors and abide by Neill. They should not tempt your Lordships' House by refusing these amendments or by saying that they will come forward with others on Third Reading. I am not vain enough to think that every amendment that I draft is absolutely perfect. But we should not be tempted into going against the Neill committee and receiving the ire of the Government's spin-doctors in next weekend's press reports. I beg to move.

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