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Lord Borrie: We discussed this to some extent at Second Reading, but of course we did not then have the benefit of the Neill Report. Now we do have that benefit, it is natural that one should think of an electoral commission, which may well be set up to deal with the funding of political parties and other matters, as being suitable for this purpose. In so far as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, wants to put a provision in the Bill making that a possibility it seems to me to make quite a lot of sense.

I have, from the beginning, been somewhat concerned that it may not be suitable to appoint the Registrar of Companies to deal with what over the years to come may well be a very major job. It seems as though the Government, quite properly, were casting around for some appropriate existing body rather than setting up a new one. That is quite understandable, but if in due course, when they have considered the Neill Report and find they have to set up a new body--the electoral commission would seem to be suitable--this amendment would make it possible for the Government to do that.

When I looked at the Neill Report--and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, will not mind my saying this although he was a member of the committee--there seemed to me to be a lot of loose ends left in relation to its appointment. I feel some uncertainty as to whether it is appropriate that all members of the electoral commission will be part time and so forth. However, leaving that aside, in my view there is quite a lot in what the noble Lord has said.

In relation to Amendment No. 43, I believe that there are quite different considerations and concerns that any sort of appeal from the returning officer during the very brief period of an election may not be suitable. In so far as I am speaking favourably of the main amendment, Amendment No. 1, that does not mean that I am very keen, and it is slightly odd that Amendment No. 43 should be linked with it.

Lord Goodhart: I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, would accept that at present the decision of the returning officer can be subject to judicial review. Indeed, there have been a number of cases. What is proposed here is actually a quicker procedure than would be involved in a judicial review.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I shall speak very briefly, and as one who is far from being an enthusiast for the Bill and therefore for the appointment of a registrar. My other reluctance is to confer upon Secretaries of State--any of them--powers which they do not presently need. I see little point in establishing, as this Bill does, a registrar and then tipping him upside down and

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emptying out all his functions. I think it would be much better to wait until it is clear what the Government want to do. I am very much in favour of rejecting the amendment, as I hope the noble Lord, the Minister, will.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am very grateful for the contributions of Members of the Committee. It is a fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, indicated, that following our earlier discussions the Neill Committee reported. It is useful to bear its view in mind. It set out the question of registration being handled by Companies House in paragraph 11.25. In next paragraph 11.26, it said:

    "This is clearly a pragmatic interim measure, but we believe that registration should be brought together with other aspects of regulation under the aegis of the Election Commission."

Since this is a regime which is to be valid across the whole of the United Kingdom we thought it was sensible to have the registrar dealing with it on a UK-wide basis. It is true, of course, that recommendation 82 of the Neill Report was that the election commission should assume the role of registrar of political parties. We are giving careful consideration, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, to all the recommendations of the Neill Committee. If an election commission or a similar body is established, it may well make sense for it to take over the role of registrar.

At the moment, as your Lordships know, we need registration urgently for the elections to be held next year. They will be in May for the Scottish parliament and the Welsh national assembly and in June for the European Parliament, so time is quite tight.

To repeat what the Neill Committee said, this Bill takes a pragmatic approach and places the task on the registrar. I say again that we may well want to change this in the future. Your Lordships may think that the appropriate vehicle for such a step is not this Bill--and here I respectfully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil,--but a Bill dealing with party funding. We have already committed ourselves to that, and I repeat that we are committed to publishing in draft form the Bill on party funding before next year's summer Recess.

I do not deal with the consequential matters, which, as the noble Lord said, are matters of detail. Similarly, as regards Amendment No. 43, at the moment the returning officers make a decision and there is no appeal against that decision, in the sense that an appeal is normally understood. There are only 11 working days between the last day for delivery of nomination papers and polling day. I do not dismiss the observations made by the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Borrie, about appeals. We will look very carefully at what the Neill Committee has had to say. I hope that the indications I have given, although not promises or commitments, give a pretty clear indication of what we have in mind and that they will satisfy the noble Lords who raised these questions.

Lord Goodhart: I am most grateful to the Minister for his reply. I accept that what he has said is not a commitment in any formal sense, but it is an answer that

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I find of considerable assistance. For that reason, as well as for the one I gave earlier, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Applications for registration]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 17, at end insert--
("( ) Where the constitution of a party establishes a devolved or federal structure, the party may apply for several entries in the register to reflect these arrangements.
( ) Any such entry may specify a different name for each branch of the organisation.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 2 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 8 in my name and Amendment No. 3 in the names of the Liberal Democrat Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will not be surprised to hear me say that I am fundamentally opposed and suspicious of a proposition for the state to register political parties. It suggests that the state may not register those political parties it does not like. As I have said before, if I were setting up as a dictator in the United Kingdom, one of the first steps I should take would be to register political parties.

I understand that we need some measure like the Bill to deal with the various forms of proportional representation foisted upon us by the Government. But the reason I tabled these amendments goes back to a report in the Independent on Sunday of 27th September which said that the Government were bringing forward, under a later part of Clause 3 of the Bill, an order whereby certain words would be banned. Among those words to be banned is, for example, the word "independent". In the words of the report the Government believe that it gives the impression of "partisan politicians". I am not sure what that means.

Under the regulations, which will not apply to existing names, titles such as the Scottish National Party, the National Front and the British National Party would be illegal. The report lists some of the words that would be banned--Ireland, Irish, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish, Scotland, Scottish and, nearer to home for the noble Lord, Lord Williams, Wales and the Welsh. The Scottish press are slow to pick up on these matters but by 11th October Joanne Robertson in the Scottish edition of the Sunday Times was writing an article headed,

    "Only one party can call itself Scottish at polls".
To explain my amendment it is worth reading out what she had to say:

    "Only one party in Scotland will be allowed to call itself Scottish for the Holyrood elections next May--the Scottish National party. A new law going through the House of Lords will force all parties to register only one name and logo throughout Britain. This means Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will be barred from using 'Scottish' ... north of the border".
The same article could have been written for Wales. She went on to say,

    "The SNP was delighted last night. Mike Russell, the party's chief executive, said: 'Next May the truth about the British parties will be revealed for all to see on the ballot paper'".

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There is perhaps on this occasion a community of interest between the Liberal Democrats and myself and, indeed, between us and the Labour Party. The last thing we wish in Scotland or Wales is to see the national parties in both those countries being able to take unto themselves and themselves alone the words "Scottish" and "Welsh".

Therefore I tabled these amendments. Amendment No. 8 was a clumsy and early version. Amendment No. 2 is a better way of dealing with it. My noble friend Lord Henley has just handed me a draft statutory instrument which is the one spoken about by Rachel Sylvester. It has taken since 27th September until now to appear. She obviously had a quick insight into it. When I asked the Library on 13th October, it could not find it but perhaps I have not been keeping my eye on this ball because there have been other balls in place.

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