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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, what is the position where, as Liberal Democrats, we have Scottish and Welsh parties which are separate, unincorporated associations although they are also component parts of the Liberal Democrat party as a whole? Would the Scottish Liberal Democrat party, for example, be entitled to register under that name concurrently with the party in Britain as a whole being entitled to register itself as the Liberal Democrats?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, obviously, I am not determining these issues and I have to be cautious. I think the answer to that question is no, for the purposes of registration, but for the purposes of description on the nomination and ballot paper it seems to me that there would be no prohibition against someone in Scotland who was a member of the Liberal Democratic Party--and, it may be, as the noble Lord says, the Scottish Liberal Democratic Party--so describing himself. In other words, registration and the content of the ballot paper are quite different. One of the reasons for that is that if parties were allowed to register as a regional variance we could run into the alter-ego party scenario mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. I shall spend a few moments on that because we have trod this particular ground quite vigorously, if not fruitfully, over the years.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I seem to remember that there was some years ago a separate party set up which called itself the Scottish Labour Party although it was not part of the Labour Party. If so, would it be possible for the Labour Party to object to registration, and, if not, would that not cause difficulty for, let us say, a Labour Party candidate in Scotland who wished to emphasise his Scottishness by describing himself as Scottish Labour?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for that question and suggestion. It seems to me that those are exactly the points one is giving to the registrar to come to his determination upon. That is why we have the two-stage system. He has to take into account recent political history. It seems to me that if there were a completely independent organisation trying to call itself the Scottish Labour Party, it might well not succeed in being registered and when it came to a ballot paper the returning officer might well come to the conclusion that that was capable of misleading or, to use the phrase in
I do not see why someone, subject to the safeguards of the statutory regimes which we provide, should not seek to call himself "Independent Labour", "Independent" or "Unofficial Conservative". He will not be able to have, without registration, the official logo. It is a matter then for the returning officer to scrutinise the particular form of ballot and description to see whether it is likely to mislead.
One will have problems at the edges: there are no two ways about it. I do not know of any system that will be perfect. What I am respectfully suggesting is that this is a significant advance on what we presently have.
I am grateful for the general welcome that has been given to the Bill. If there are improvements that can be sensibly made consistent with the scheme of it, I would wish to give them every consideration. For present purposes I commend the Bill to the House.
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