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In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, questioned whether it was necessary for political parties to produce both an invoice and a receipt as evidence of the payment of campaign expenditure. He described such a requirement as something "out of the dark ages". We hope that our electoral law has moved on somewhat since those times. Nonetheless, we are happy to concede, on reflection, that it would be sufficient to require the production of either an invoice or a receipt. The amendments make the appropriate changes to the relevant provisions of the Bill and to the Representation of the People Act 1983.
We have gone for the formula of "an invoice or a receipt" rather than simply an invoice because, for some relatively small transactions--for example, goods purchased over the counter--no invoice may be generated; all that will be available is a standard till receipt. We are grateful to noble Lords for raising the matter and for the tabling of these amendments. The amendments will ease the administrative burden on political parties. We support them and commend them to the House.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this is one of a simple group of amendments that seeks to raise from £100 to £200 the sum above which the production of bills from suppliers of goods would be required. In Committee, we debated what the figure should be. I believe the Minister said that the £100 requirement was based on the Representation of the People Act 1983. On reflection, we think it sensible to raise the figure to that above which a donation must be declared; namely, £200.
A figure of £100 will place a large burden not only on parties but on the electoral commission. Such a requirement will be very time-consuming because there will be a large number of small invoices. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, supported this amendment at an earlier stage and I hope that he will do so this evening, given his experience of running political parties. I beg to move.
Lord McNally: My Lords, it is not my experienced noble friend Lord Rennard who will give support to the amendment, but the inexperienced me! I merely want to add a point which applies not only to this amendment but to the previous one also. It is one that Ministers could well bear in mind before we reach Third Reading.
The Bill could still do with a good comb-through to make sure that, wherever possible, the responsibilities written into it reflect some of the reality of running a political party at the sharp end. During the passage of the Bill we have already heard the worrying idea that it has been written by skilled parliamentary draftsmen,
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful for the remarks just made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. He is quite right in what he says. This Bill has been the work of skilled draftsmen and bureaucrats. It has also been subject to the work of skilled politicians, both in this House and in the other place, whether of the experienced kind represented by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, or of the comparatively inexperienced kind such as the noble Lord who has just spoken. It is that mixture of the three skilled professions that will make this Bill a better one than it was originally. This is one of those examples where we believe that we have improved the Bill by accepting these amendments.
We went round this course in Committee, both in this House and in another place. We have argued that, for sound accounting practice, £100 would be an appropriate figure in respect of which an invoice or a receipt may be required. We believe that that may be right. However, within reasonable bounds, there is no right or wrong figure. There appears to be a consensus on the Benches opposite that a higher threshold is appropriate. We are content and happy to accept the amendments on that basis. Of course, if the figure proves to be too high, it will be open to the electoral commission to endorse our original proposals. As I said, we are happy and content to accept Amendment No. 146.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I knew that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was eloquent, but this proves that he is eloquent beyond even the heights that I had imagined. With his support we have managed to persuade the Government. I am duly grateful.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, my amendment relates to the maximum expenditure at a parliamentary general election, as covered by Schedule 9. It seeks to reduce the maximum amount expendable by a party in a general election to £20,000 per parliamentary seat contested, thereby reducing the maximum from approximately £19 million to about £13 million.
This Bill is about creating a balance. We referred earlier to the balance between the need for disclosure and the need for local democracy. However, there is at least one other balance to be struck; namely, that between the needs and wishes of a political party at the centre and the needs and wishes of local associations. I believe it is commonly agreed that politics is becoming more presidential and centralised. That tendency is, perhaps, emphasised by press reports and by radio and television programmes. Therefore there is a danger that parties nationally could become divorced from their roots.
I do not wish to divert too much, but that is why I, and I think some other noble Lords, were disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, could not accept the proposal with regard to independents and the five additional words that we discussed last night. The presence of some local independents constitutes a means of keeping national political parties politically honest, so to speak.
Large election spending reinforces the emphasis placed on the centre and the importance accorded to that. Large spending means poster campaigns, mass mailings and the "big picture" approach. It certainly lessens, perhaps removes, the need for parties centrally to galvanise local support and build up their local activist base. If you do not have the money, you have to use ingenuity. That ingenuity will consist primarily of persuading volunteers to work for the party at a local level to fill the gap which is otherwise made good by major spending. It is a critical part of our democracy to encourage that process as a general development. If restrictions were imposed on the amount of money they could spend centrally, parties would encourage volunteers locally to undertake the
If that is accepted, where do we set the right balance between the centre and local parties? Before the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, asks me how we arrived at the figure, I set out the following rough calculation. The allowable election expenses in a constituency at a parliamentary election consist of a lump sum. I think that that is just under £5,000. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, will put me right if I am wrong, but I think that it is £4,965, plus a sum per elector varying between 4.2p per elector in a borough constituency and 5.6p per elector in a county constituency. Based on an electorate of, say, 70,000, that would result in an additional £3,000 to £4,000 which could be spent locally. Under current regulations that would allow a party to spend between £8,000 and £9,000 locally. We have fought parliamentary elections at constituency level perfectly satisfactorily.
Of course there are legitimate funding needs for a party to fight an election effectively at the centre. I believe that it would be appropriate for the party nationally to be able to spend as much centrally as it is permitted to spend at constituency level, perhaps with a little more added on. Therefore, the £8,000 or £9,000 which is what a party would spend at local constituency level would, with a small addition, arrive at a nice round £20,000 per constituency contested, with some £10,000 or £11,000 available to the party to spend centrally.
This measure represents an attempt to strike a balance between these two important needs and to get away from the massive spending of both my party and, indeed, the Government at the previous two elections, much of which I consider did nothing to improve the quality of our democratic process. I beg to move.
Lord Rennard: My Lords, I support Amendment No. 149A. However, Amendment No. 150 is remarkably similar. In Committee I and my noble friend Lord McNally proposed that the limit per constituency be around £22,500. That would mean a total election expense limit for the parties nationally of around £15 million. We should try to agree within that ballpark area.
In Committee, the Minister said that if there were a consensus between the parties, the Government would have to fix the limit according to the party consensus. The Bill provides at present for a limit of approximately £20 million. The figure of £19.76 million for a party fighting every seat in Great Britain was put forward initially by the Neill committee. However, it was a compromise figure. There was no specific argument for £20 million; it was the best stab at a figure.
I remind noble Lords on the Government Benches that in evidence to the Neill committee in a document entitled, Transparency, Participation, Equality, the Labour Party argued powerfully for a limit of precisely £15 million. In another place Mr Martin Linton argued strongly that £15 million was the correct limit. The figure of Liberal Democrats and Labour Party members in another place who supported the £15 million limit was 70 per cent.
Amendments from the Conservative Benches in this House provide for a limit nationally of £14 million or £15 million. Over 90 per cent of the Members of another place now support a limit of £14 million or £15 million. Therefore there is a new consensus between the parties: on the Conservative Benches, in the Labour Party's evidence, and among the Liberal Democrats. It is a compelling argument: the Government should act upon that new consensus.
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