Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 5, line 18, at end insert (", or
(ii) represented by a Member of Parliament, an elected member of a local authority, an elected Member of the European Parliament, or an elected member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 23, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, kindly pointed out, is slightly contradictory of Amendment No. 22. I rather regret the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, because by means of this amendment I want to take your Lordships back to the Maastricht Treaty of some years ago. I note the look of enthusiasm on the face of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn!

I should like to refer him to Article 138A of the Maastricht Treaty, with which I imagine the noble Lord will be most familiar. It reads as follows:

I think it is important that this Bill contributes towards that process to which we signed up in the Maastricht Treaty. The purpose of my amendment, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, explained, it would also allow people such as the Monster Raving Loony Party to register in the first stage, was to bring in such bodies as the Greens or, for that matter, European parties represented in the European Parliament but not in our own Parliament. I appreciate that obviously they can register at the second stage. However, it seems to me that when we have signed up to the Maastricht Treaty, whatever the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and others might think of the process, this Bill ought to go along with the spirit of that treaty. To exclude the Greens, a party represented in the German Government, seems to me somewhat odd at this stage. I wonder, therefore, whether the noble Lord would be able to give us some assurance of his willingness to accept some changes on these lines to allow us to comply with the Maastricht Treaty and the obligations we signed up to there. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I think we are compliant with our treaty obligations, not least with Article 138A. I take it this is simply a probing amendment, as the earlier contradictory amendment was.

The first transitional phase for registration applies to parties represented in the House of Commons and we think that is reasonable, but to extend it to include the

5 Nov 1998 : Column 424

Northern Ireland Assembly, and in particular local authorities, would greatly increase the number of parties to be registered in the first transitional phase, which is only a six week period, and would put intolerable pressure on the registrar at that time. After all, a party which registers at the second stage, if it uses a name by which it has become known, is likely to be able to register that name and continue to use it, even if it is similar to a name used by a party represented in the House of Commons. On an earlier occasion I gave the illustration that people will be able to distinguish as voters between the Labour Party and Mr. Scargill's Socialist Labour Party.

We think we have got this about right. To extend it as widely as the noble Lord's amendment suggests would place an intolerable burden on the registrar for a fairly short period of time for these first elections, which are due in May of next year.

Lord Henley: I accept the arguments which have been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. My knowledge and understanding of the Maastricht Treaty is not as great as some people's, but it may be that I should ask the Minister's noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington to have a further look at that treaty between now and the next stage to see whether it is a matter to which we could return.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I beseech the noble Lord not to do that!

Lord Henley: I just offer it as a suggestion in the interests of your Lordships, and I have noted the noble Lord's reaction. I have my copy of the Maastricht Treaty here and I will study it a little further myself, and possibly seek a little advice from the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Transitional ground for refusal to register]:

[Amendment No. 24 not moved.]

Clause 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Orders and regulations]:

[Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 not moved.]

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clauses 21 to 26 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Applications for Registration]:

[Amendments Nos. 27 to 37 not moved.]

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Amendments of the Parliamentary Elections Rules]:

[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]

5 Nov 1998 : Column 425

Lord Clement-Jones moved Amendment No. 39:

Page 9, line 17, at end insert--
("(1A) A nomination paper may not refer to a candidate by a name which has been adopted by that candidate in substitution for a name previously used by him and which is likely to lead voters to confuse the candidate with a candidate representing a registered political party.").

The noble Lord said: This provision seeks to amend the election rules to ensure that the mischief that we have seen on a number of occasions is firmly put to rights. It is not perhaps on the scale of Calais, but on Liberal Democrat hearts is firmly engraved the experience that we had--as we heard on Second Reading from both myself and my noble friend Lord Goodhart--at the Hillhead by-election when Roy Harold Jenkins stood against the former leader of my party in this House, Roy Harris Jenkins. That caused enormous problems, but because it was a by-election we were able to throw our full weight behind the noble Lord--now my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead--and get across the message to the electorate in all kinds of outlandish and perhaps not so outlandish ways. Again, we heard about some of those ways at Second Reading.

Similarly, at the last general election candidates were intervening in elections--for instance, against Sir Nicholas Lyell in Bedfordshire North East, Mr. Rod Richards in Clwyd West and Miss Alice Mahon in Halifax. On those occasions they were able to rely on the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, in particular Section 115(2)(b) which provides, that,

    "A person shall be guilty of undue influence [and thereby of corrupt practice] if ... by any fraudulent device or contrivance, he impedes or prevents the free exercise of the franchise of an elector".
That seems to be somewhat serendipitous. In the case of my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead the court did not decide in his favour. But a different court and a different set of judges, perhaps by coincidence, agreed on each of the three occasions I mentioned at the last general election and granted injunctions.

We believe that it is almost as important that there should be no ambiguity about the candidates as it is that there should be no ambiguity about the political party for which people are voting. We cannot see why an amendment such as this to the election rules should not be added to the Bill in a fairly painless way. This is something which, in a sense, goes hand in glove with the registration of political parties. It means that in future there would be no ambiguity whatever for a member of the electorate voting for candidate and party. That must be desirable. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I understand the noble Lord's point but this is not the way to deal with it. In fact, I do not see how this test could work in practice. Mischievous officials have given me a brief to read out, which I do without comment: how will the returning officer know whether the candidate calling himself, for example, Gareth Williams, has always used that name or adopted it only recently?

5 Nov 1998 : Column 426

The answer derives from the discussion we had to which the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, earlier contributed. The real safeguard here is the party registered name together with the emblem. That will provide the safeguards required.

In response to the noble Lord's specific point concerning Sir Nicholas Lyell, he will recall that Sir Nicholas Lyell was able to obtain speedy relief from the court and the false Sir Nicholas Lyell was not allowed to stand under the bogus name.

The emblem therefore and the registered party name offer a decent safeguard. That is one reason why an emblem is important. On the basis of that explanation I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Clement-Jones: I thank the Minister for that reply. It does not go any part of the way towards accepting my case. But I understand why he would not wish to accept the case, and accept that the drafting of the amendment may not be perfect. However, the principle involved--as regards seeking to make sure that the electorate is not confused and, in a sense, firing the second barrel of a specific solution to electoral confusion--is desirable. We may well come back with some rather more tightly drafted provision at a later stage, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 9, line 24, at end insert--
("6B. No nomination of a candidate which purports to be made on behalf of a registered party shall be accepted as valid unless the relevant nomination paper is accompanied by a certificate signed by the party's registered nominating officer to the effect that the candidate is entitled to use a description identifying him with the party.
6C. The party's registered nominating officer shall not refuse the nomination of a candidate who has been selected in the manner set out in the party's constitution.
6D. A copy of each party's constitution shall be deposited with the registrar."").

The noble Lord said: We come now to the last group of amendments. I see the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, coming in ready to continue with her debate the minute we conclude our deliberations at Committee stage.

At Second Reading I expressed some concerns in relation to Schedule 2 in that it concentrated all the power of the party machinery in central hands. It could mean that an individual, or the individual described in Schedule 2--the registered nominating officer--could refuse to register people of whom he did not approve.

The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, did not accept my fears and said that these matters could be dealt with by the internal constitution of the political party; and I accept that point. However, my amendment seeks to deliver safeguards by including the constitution, and making sure that a copy of each party's constitution shall be deposited with the registrar. New rules 6C and 6D indicate that, first, the party's registered nominating officer will not be able to refuse the nomination of a candidate who has been selected in the manner set out

5 Nov 1998 : Column 427

in the party's constitution. I hope that will deal with the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. New rule 6D makes clear that,

    "A copy of each party's constitution shall be deposited with the registrar".
It makes it clear to the registrar that the rules have been complied with.

This is a genuine concern. A number of people are worried that too much power is concentrated in the hands of the party machinery by means of a Bill of this sort; and the same is true of the extension that we are seeing, in one way or another, into proportional representation. By its nature that increases the power of the party machinery. Schedule 2, and in particular new rule 6A in paragraph 2, is a strong example of that. It requires a degree of amendment to deal with the concerns that I put forward. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page