Examination of Witness (Questions 440
TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 2001
440. I see. Would the written answer include
something like whether the Electoral Commission is going to decide
the fairness of the question on whether or not we should enter
(Mr Raynsford) Our objective is the Electoral Commission
as an independent body should determine the wording of referenda
441. Of all referenda questions?
(Mr Raynsford) Of referenda relating to national government
and, therefore, the European issue.
442. That would include whether or not we should
enter the euro?
(Mr Raynsford) Yes.
443. Thank you. The new Funding Limits introduced
at the last election, did they make a lot of different to the
amount of money spent by political parties?
(Mr Raynsford) At this stage I could not give you
a firm answer on that.
444. You do not want to reduce the amount of
party spending on electoral campaigns?
(Mr Raynsford) We want to ensure there is a framework
in place that does ensure that parties can fulfill their obligations
in a fair way and that funds are raised in a way which does not
bring political parties or the government into disrepute.
445. You would look at the situation where the
rise in cost almost inevitably means that political parties are
more and more dependent on large donors?
(Mr Raynsford) This is a matter the Electoral Commission
will be looking into and we will obviously look closely at their
446. Will you look at the provision to ensure
that individuals makes absolutely clear that their names and address
on electoral registers are not sold on?
(Mr Raynsford) There has been a recent judgment in
the Robertson case which obviously has a considerable impact
on that process. We are considering the judgment and will be responding
appropriately in the near future.
447. We can expect some clear guidelines. We
can expect some thought as to how the costs of elections are reduced
and we can certainly expect that government will have given considerable
thought to the implication of changes that were made?
(Mr Raynsford) As far as the sale of election registers
are concerned we were planning to issue regulations with effect
from the compilation of the next register, however the Robertson
judgment does impact on that and we want to consider the judgment
fully before we announce our intentions.
448. I see. At some point in the not too far
distant future somebody will tell us what is going to happen?
(Mr Raynsford) Yes.
449. When are you going to reduce the number
of Scottish constituencies?
(Mr Raynsford) That is not part of my remit.
450. Who will take that decision?
(Mr Raynsford) That would not be a matter for me as
an English minister.
451. It will be the United Kingdom Parliament,
presumably Britain is still part of the United Kingdom and you
would have some view on that matter and would express some view
on behalf of the English constituency?
(Mr Raynsford) I obviously will on behalf of the English
constituency as and when any proposals are put forward, but I
would not see it as my role to initiate that.
452. I see. The Sex Discrimination Election
Candidate Bill started its passage through Parliament, are you
introducing legislation to redress an ethnic balance?
(Mr Raynsford) We do not plan to introduce legislation,
not because we do not regard the issue as important, we regard
it as very important, but because there is not the same relatively
easy response as there is in the case of gender imbalance, where
one can see very clearly if there is an imbalance. Measuring whether
there is appropriate representation of sub-sections of the population
in particular areas is more complex. What we are trying to do
is encourage local authorities to ensure that they are, wherever
possible, responding to the needs of different communities and
giving opportunities to representatives of different communities
to stand and be elected as councillors.
453. I see. You are not concerned that the new
Sex Discrimination Bill is going to change United Kingdom law,
although you are still not at all clear as to whether we are enabled
under EC legislation to put forward a policy of positive discrimination?
(Mr Raynsford) We are very satisfied that the proposals
contained in the legislation will allow political parties to introduce
positive action measures in the United Kingdom that will help
to redress the gender imbalance. It will be for the political
parties themselves to satisfy themselves that the particular mechanism
they adopt is appropriate. We obviously expect them to take legal
advice, a point I made frequently during the parliamentary passage.
454. You are going to take the decision in principle
and let everyone else work out the detail.
(Mr Raynsford) It is permissive legislation which
does not require political parties to do anything, it gives them
the opportunity to do so. We, obviously being prudent, suggest
that they should consider carefully whether the remedy they are
proposing is proportionate to the problem and, therefore, whether
it is likely to withstand any potential legal challenge.
455. Presumably your department gave very careful
consideration to the European legislation on something so massively
(Mr Raynsford) Yes, indeed
456. What was your advice?
(Mr Raynsford) Our conclusion was that the framework
we put in place in that legislation was likely to be successful
in allowing political parties to ensure the selection of more
women candidates without the risk of legal challenge.
457. "Likely", obviously it would
be open to challenge. That is an interpretation.
(Mr Raynsford) The world is a litigious place and
I cannot guarantee the likelihood of there not being a challenge
to a specific proposal coming from a political party.
Mrs Dunwoody: Do you remember the time we used
to produce legislation which we assumed was not going to be open
to challenge? Never mind, that is a rhetorical question.
458. There is a problem with the formula and
the way that it is currently drafted as regards social services.
If I can take North Yorkshire as an example, at the moment the
expenditure on social services, particularly for the elderly,
is estimated for those living in the county who are destined to
reach retirement age of 65 having lived in the county all their
lives, my understanding is that the formula does not have regard
to those who move into counties like North Yorkshire at retirement
age. Why is there particularly a shortfall in certain councils
on social services spend on the elderly? Is that something that
your department is looking at?
(Mr Raynsford) There are a number of specific issues
relating to the social services budget which have been raised
and these are all being considered very carefully as part of the
review that will continue through until next year and will form
the basis of our proposals for the new social services formula
as part of the new framework for grant distribution.
459. Can you not tell us how much money is spent
on local government modernisation?
(Mr Raynsford) I can write and let you have the full