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Registration of Political Parties Bill

5.20 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [The register]:

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 10, at end insert--
("(3) The Secretary of State may by order transfer the functions of the registrar under this Act to such body established by statute or the holder of such office so established as the Secretary of State thinks appropriate.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, at this stage the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to use a cricketing analogy which has already been introduced from these Benches, is entitled to claim a tea interval and if not that, at least drinks being brought out by the 12th man. However, I fear that we must go on so I propose to do the best I can at this point, which is to bowl him a gentle long-hop.

12 Nov 1998 : Column 872

In Committee, I moved this amendment to make it clear that the Registrar of Companies is not the appropriate officer to carry out the functions of the registrar of political parties and that an alternative solution would need to be provided within a reasonably short time. I suggested that, in accordance with recommendation 82 of the Neill Committee report on the funding of political parties, it might be appropriate in due course to transfer the functions of the registration of political parties, and perhaps other functions as well such as the hearing of appeals from the decisions of returning officers to the election commission proposed by the Neill Committee.

The noble Lord said that he would look very carefully at the recommendations of the Neill Committee but went no further than that. Since then, there has been a debate on that report in another place. This is a probing amendment. I wonder whether the noble Lord is in a position to say anything further than what he said on the previous occasion. I beg to move.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I have also added my name to the amendment. I intervene merely to add my voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, is entitled to what the noble Lord described as the tea interval. I assure the noble Lord and the Deputy Chief Whip that we shall not take very long on this Bill. I imagine that it will be only a matter of minutes before the noble Lord can retire for his tea, or possibly something stronger.

With the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, I went to see the noble Lord, Lord Williams, last week and we were extremely grateful for the constructive nature in which he dealt with some of our queries about the Bill, with which we shall deal later. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, when I was offered tea, I wished that I could imitate Dame Edith Evans and say, "Tea!" because we may all want something rather better than that in a moment or two.

I was extremely grateful for the meeting with the noble Lords, Lord Henley and Lord Clement-Jones. It was originally the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and was taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. That was the precursor to the meeting.

I am happy to repeat what I said in Committee. The Government will give careful consideration to the Neill Committee's recommendations that the role of registrar of political parties should be transferred to the electoral commission.

Your Lordships will know that on Monday of this week there was a debate on the Neill Committee report in another place. The Home Secretary said in opening that debate that the case for an electoral commission had been made out and, accordingly, the legislation to implement the main findings of the Neill Report will provide for such a commission to be established.

He went on to say that we needed to give further consideration to the precise functions of the electoral commission. It may well make sense for the commission

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to take over the role of registrar. We have given our commitment, which I have reiterated now on the Home Secretary's behalf, to establish an electoral commission. I reiterate his commitment to publish the draft Bill before the Summer Recess. I hope that that is of assistance to your Lordships generally.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I welcome the statement which has just been made by the Minister. That takes the matter as far forward as it can reasonably be expected to be taken at this stage. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 [Applications for registration]:

Lord Henley 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 and a different emblem for each branch of the organisation.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to government Amendments Nos. 3 to 7, 11 and 13 and Amendment No. 8 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. The Minister will remember that in Committee we raised the concern that it was possible to register only one emblem for any particular party in the United Kingdom. That caused some concern to my noble friend Lord Mackay and myself in that, within the Conservative Party, the Scottish Conservatives have a separate emblem from that which is held by the party in England.

I raised that issue with the noble Lord, Lord Williams, when we saw him last week and, again, I was grateful for the fact that he took on board our concerns. Those concerns may apply to other parties in the future if they wish to give a distinctive emblem or logo to the party in other parts of the Kingdom.

The noble Lord very kindly came forward with government amendments which deal with the problem far better than my Amendment No. 2. Therefore, I shall not press that amendment when the time comes because it will obviously be better that we should follow the Government's route.

Since then, it has occurred to my noble friend Lord Mackay and myself, being a Scotsman and an Englishman respectively, that we had forgotten our colleagues in the Principality and that we have three different logos within our party--one for Wales, one for Scotland and one for the remainder of the party within England. I know that noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches have criticised our logo. They may not like it but we do and we have selected it. However, we also find it convenient to have separate logos in the distinct parts of the Kingdom.

Therefore, we are grateful that the Government have been prepared to move and have come forward with an amendment which allows us to have two separate emblems. However, we are keen to extend that to three emblems.

12 Nov 1998 : Column 874

The noble Lords, Lord McNally, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Goodhart, have tabled Amendment No. 8 which would allow three registered emblems to be used. I do not know whether their amendment is effective or whether further work needs to be done. In view of the fact that the Government have had to put forward a number of amendments, I understand that further amendments may be needed in addition to Amendment No. 8. I await the Minister's advice on that.

The Minister has bent over backwards to be generous to us in granting us an extra emblem. I wonder whether he will now look at this particular problem, particularly as he hails from the Principality. Therefore, he will understand the slight which we may be permitting if we were allowed only two emblems. I put it to the noble Lord that, if he could see his way to improving these government amendments still further in trying to deal with our question of a third emblem on Third Reading, we would be most grateful. In my absence, my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish certainly hopes to return to the matter at that stage. In the meantime, I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the Minister for the way in which he heard representations made to him during the course of the Committee stage and for the way in which he has accommodated us on these Benches as regards some of our concerns. It may appear to be slightly cheeky in a sense as this was an area about which we did not appear to be greatly concerned--that is, the matter of emblems and the number of them. Indeed, this matter has effectively arisen for us since that meeting. Nevertheless, it is of concern to us.

As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, pointed out, it was the Welsh dimension which we were not considering at the time. We believe that the Scots have been well catered for in regard to the amendments; indeed, they certainly fit the bill, so to speak. It is the ability of the Welsh to have the potential for their own logo. At present--and perhaps I should not say this--being a federal party officer I am glad to say that we have a corporate identity which holds across the federal party of the Liberal Democrats. It may not do so in the future. In a sense, we are trying to be a little precautionary in this respect.

For the purposes of fighting local elections for the assembly in Wales and for the parliament in Scotland, those parties may wish to adopt their own logo and their own distinctive style. That is certainly a strong possibility for the future. I should like to commend our amendment for three emblems as opposed to two. I can assure the Minister that we shall not return with requests for four, five or six in the future and that this is not one of those unravelling situations. However, there is a real need for this and a real hope that it can be accommodated.

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