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Lord Henley: I am extremely grateful for the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. It may be useful for members of my party and members of the noble Lord's party to have some informal discussions. From the Minister's answers, I suspect that he is not prepared to move on this matter. It is an issue on which virtually every noble Lord expressed concerns at Second Reading. That includes noble Lords sitting behind the Minister as well as those sitting opposite. It was thought that there should be an appeals procedure.

The noble Lord referred to Clause 10 and said that the registrar may seek advice on any question arising under Clauses 3, 5, 6 or 18 from the commission appointed by the Speaker of another place. That really does not go far enough. That is merely offering advice to the registrar. It does not provide an appeals process,

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whether informal or otherwise, to other people who may be affected. It simply offers the provision of advice to the registrar.

I do not know what line the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, wants to take about his amendment but it is certainly a matter to which I shall wish to return at a later stage.

Lord Clement-Jones: Certainly we feel strongly about this principle. We are not wedded to the precise form of words of the amendment. I was going to say that there was no chink of daylight shown by the Minister but there may have been a smidgen of a hint in terms of being prepared at least to listen, if not to agree.

I can give some encouragement to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and tell him that this is a matter about which we feel extremely strongly. We may be able to bring forward a cross-party amendment on Report which may attract the support of some Labour Back-Benchers. The matter has been understood but not enough sympathy has been shown to the principle. At the end of the day, we believe that problems may arise unless there is a proper appeals mechanism. We shall withdraw the amendment at this stage but reserve our right to return to the matter on Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 not moved.]

Clauses 11 to 13 agreed to.

Lord Clement-Jones moved Amendment No. 21:

After Clause 13, insert the following new clause--

Nomination papers: guidance for returning officers

(" .--(1) The Secretary of State shall, from time to time, issue guidance to returning officers on the exercise of their powers under rule 6A (nomination papers: name of registered political party) of Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983 ("the 1983 Act"), as inserted by paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to this Act.
(2) Before issuing any guidance under subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall take into account information, which he shall cause to be collected from time to time for the purposes of this subsection, about the extent to which returning officers are applying their discretion under rule 6A of Schedule 1 to the 1983 Act in a manner which is consistent both over time and between different areas of the United Kingdom.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is very similar to one tabled by the Conservative Party in Committee in another place. I hope that Members of the Committee on the Conservative Benches may support this amendment.

It seems to us--and certainly it is the view taken by electoral officers who will be responsible for running the elections--that guidance is needed from the Home Office for returning officers in those circumstances. Considerable discretion is being exercised by them and we cannot see why there should not be specific provision for such guidelines to be provided to them. In many respects, this will be new territory for them. The electoral officers association pointed out a number of flaws in the rules. Without wishing to become involved in the minutiae of the detail, it is clear that there will be interpretation issues which returning officers will wish to test.

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It seems to me that many problems would be obviated for the future if the Home Office produced suitable guidelines for those returning officers. I beg to move.

Lord Henley: I offer my support for this amendment. This is the only occasion on which the Liberal Democrats have allowed me to join with them in adding my name to an amendment. It may be that because my name has been misspelt, it has slipped under their guard. It may be that they mistook me for my late father, a Liberal of some standing. I do not know. The simple fact is that they have allowed me in, and I am very grateful for that.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: We believe that Amendment No. 21 is unnecessary. The Secretary of State is able to issue guidance without any need for statutory authority. The new clause is a shade confused but that is perhaps not the heart of what I can say, which may be of benefit.

I can tell the noble Lord that we have been discussing with representatives of returning officers what information it would be appropriate to make available to assist returning officers to make their decisions under new rule 6A; how to collate the information; how to promulgate it; and when and how often to do so. Therefore, we have been having those discussions. I hope that that is genuinely helpful to the Committee. Copies of any guidance which my right honourable friend issues to returning officers on this matter will be placed in the Library. Therefore, I hope that I have met the purpose which the noble Lord's amendment sought to achieve.

Lord Clement-Jones: I thank the Minister for that reply. On the basis that he is saying that guidelines will be issued, I shall withdraw the amendment. That is what I understood him to be saying and if that is so, I shall withdraw the amendment and look forward to seeing those guidelines.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 14 and 15 agreed to.

Clause 16 [First transitional stage]:

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 5, line 17, leave out from ("least") to ("at") in line 18 and insert ("two Members of the House of Commons who have taken their seats in that House belong").

The noble Lord said: Again, this is a probing amendment but I may wish to take the matter further depending on the response that I receive from the Minister.

At present, as I understand it, only parties with at least one Member of the House of Commons will be eligible to register during the transitional period. First, that excludes parties which are not there--and I shall deal with them on Amendment No. 23. However, as regards Amendment No. 22, I seek only to pose two questions.

First, does it mean that Mr. Martin Bell, an independent Member, could register himself as a party, should he have the one other friend that he needs, as I understand it from an earlier response? Secondly, what is the position of Members of the House of Commons

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who have not taken their seats? I refer to Sinn Fein which has two elected Members of the Westminster Parliament but because they do not recognise its authority, they have never taken their seats. Will it be possible for them to register in the earlier phase or do they have to be Members of the House of Commons who have taken their seats in that House as our amendment sets out? I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart: On Amendment No. 22, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, seems to be following the opposite course from that which he proposes in Amendment No. 23. The effect of Amendment No. 22 would be to exclude members of Sinn Fein on the grounds that they have not taken their seats and to exclude--I think it is called--the United Kingdom Unionist Party and Mr. Robert McCartney who is undoubtedly the representative of a party but is its only representative in another place.

On the other hand, Amendment No. 23 would let in everybody including, as I understand it, the Monster Raving Loony Party, who has at least one elected representative on one council somewhere. Indeed, it would let in people on parish councils for the first stage registration process. It seems to me that in saying you have to have one MP to qualify for the first stage registration process the Government have got it about right.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: There are three individual Members without a major party label who would be excluded from registration: Martin Bell, the Independent Member for Tatton; Tommy Graham, the Member for West Renfrewshire, who has been expelled from the parliamentary Labour Party; and Robert McCartney, the United Kingdom Unionist, who is the Member in the other place for North Down. Martin Bell can register at the moment, and if he wishes to stand again for another Parliament--as he said he did not--then he ought to be able to register, or so it seems to us.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, is quite right, because his amendment would not only extend the number from one to two or more Members but it also includes the words:

    "who have taken their seats ...".
That would mean that Sinn Fein would not be able to register if this amendment were accepted; nor would Robert McCartney. Whether or not one agrees with Robert McCartney in all his views, it seems to me that it would be unjust to exclude him by increasing the number from one to two. We see no virtue in excluding those two parties from the first stage. In fact Robert McCartney, if I may speak personally, makes an interesting and individualistic contribution to the affairs not only of Northern Ireland but of Westminster generally.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Henley: I am very grateful for that explanation from the noble Lord. Perhaps I might explain to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that there a number of occasions when one puts down contradictory

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amendments. There is nothing odd about that. One is simply probing, and it is a useful device to seek from the Government the appropriate responses. I quite accept that Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 attack the issue from rather different points of view. However, in a moment I shall be withdrawing Amendment No. 22 and moving on to Amendment No. 23, and I hope to explain to the Committee the ideas that lie behind that amendment. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 22.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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