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Lord Monson: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may put a point to him. He and his party are justly entitled to object to misleading names such as Literal Democrat. That designation was
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I sometimes think that all of us in this party are independent Liberal Democrats! Yes, I can object because I do not think of someone standing under that label in an election but of someone registering a party under that name. It would not be correct to allow any party to be registered as "independent" coupled with the name of a political party. After all, in practice, "independent" tends to be used to describe an individual who for some reason or another decided to leave his party and wished to stand as an independent candidate. That may be legitimate. Indeed, I am aware that, for example, a Member of the other place calls himself an independent Labour Member of Parliament. However, it would not be appropriate for him to start a new party called the Independent Labour Party. That would be misleading.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, this has been an interesting short debate. The House will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Onslow for tabling the Motion. I shall try to avoid making a bureaucratic point in response.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said that his party more than others had suffered from confusing labels. Perhaps I may respectfully suggest that if it wished to avoid that it should avoid changing its name so frequently. That might make life easier for it.
The debate has shown the difficulty of trying to lay down statutory rules for defining political parties. Indeed, the difficulty is so great that it demonstrates the folly of the Government, by the use of a particular type of proportional representation, in putting themselves and the country into a position where definitions are essential. But having gone that far, definitions are essential. My noble friends and others have concentrated on the use of the word "independent" when allied to the name of an existing political party. We all understand that candidates can stand as individuals--independent Conservative, Labour, or whatever--provided that they can persuade the returning officer that the designation is not misleading. Indeed, there have been independent candidates from all parties. However, a group will no longer be allowed to register itself as a political party using the word "independent"; in particular Independent Labour Party.
It is astonishing that a Labour Party should seek to abolish the words "Independent Labour Party", given its history. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was right to say that the Labour Party did not exist when the Independent Labour Party was founded in 1893 by Keir Hardie, the year after he was first elected to Parliament as an independent. But it was one of the precursors to the Independent Labour Party of 1900 which subsequently evolved into the Labour Party. The Independent Labour Party continued to fight elections under that name right
The present Government are New Labour, which, we are constantly told, is different from Labour. Today, New Labour is rejecting its past in making illegal the words "Independent Labour Party". A government who do not value the lessons of their own history do not value the wider lessons of history. However, I understand why the Labour Party are putting the order before us. I have seen the pamphlet from Ken Coates, the Member of the European Parliament, and his colleagues. Of course, under the new system, we are all having trouble with unselected Members of the European Parliament.
It is a surprising order to come before us, particularly at a time when so much encouragement is being given from the highest level to a so-called realignment of British politics. It is through independent individuals and independent parties that realignments come about. There is no doubt that this order is intended to inhibit realignments in its specific way. So it is a sorry day for independent spirits, but perhaps a good day for control freaks.
The order is a little complicated and so perhaps it will help if I explain briefly how it will work. There are opportunities for people to stand--as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said--under various individual designations if the returning officer accepts them under the criterion of the Act passed by your Lordships. For instance, there is no reason why someone who is presently a Member for Yeovil should not stand as the Liberal Democrat (Retired) Party or something of that sort. Indeed, there are prohibitions in the Act itself.
The noble Earl pointed out his horror at an order being tabled in these terms, particularly under the rubric of a prohibited words and expressions order. However, one sees in Section 3 that the registrar may grant an application unless the designation of the registered party is obscene or offensive. So, if it were to be a case of the Earl of Onslow Independent Party, it would certainly not be obscene, but I am sure the noble Earl would be the first to agree that it might well be extremely offensive--at least when its manifesto was produced because that is one of the characteristics of the noble Earl that we all love and relish so much.
I must acknowledge that even for "anoraks" in this field, the order is not an easy read. That is partly because Section 3(2) of the Act provides that this order "may" except a word or an expression from the prohibition in certain circumstances. The order therefore restricts the circumstances in which certain words or expressions may be used, but it does not completely prohibit them.
I turn briefly to look at the groups of words. Perhaps I should look at them distinctly, though the focus has been on one aspect only. Part I relates to royal words. We do not believe it to be right for parties to adopt names which would imply a connection with royalty where no such connection exists. But Article 2(2)(a) makes it possible to have an organisation registered, for instance, as the "King's Road Residents' Association" or "Friends of the Royal Marsden Hospital". There is therefore flexibility within the order to deal with that sort of situation.
Part II goes to a number of listed geographical words. That is because we know that in different parts of the United Kingdom candidates from different parties often want to describe themselves, for instance, as the "Scottish Labour" candidate, "Welsh Liberal Democrat" and so forth. That would not be possible if another party had already applied to register as the "Scottish Labour Party" and the Registrar had accepted that application. So the purpose of Part II, taken with Article 2(2)(b) is to prevent that application being accepted. However, it would allow, for instance, the "Welsh Farmers' Party" to register. The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru have already been included on the register.
I turn to Part III, which has been the focus of this debate. It is simply there to prevent the words "independent", "official" or "unofficial" being registered on their own or in conjunction with the name of a party which is already registered. We know that individual non-party candidates choose to describe themselves as "Independent", "Independent Labour" and "Unofficial Conservative". Candidates from registered parties may, on the other hand, want to include the word "Official" in their descriptions. If a party had already registered itself as the "Independent Party", the "Independent Labour Party", the "Unofficial Conservative Party" or the "Official Liberal Democrat Party" and the registrar had accepted those applications, then there would be a limit on individuals standing in the cause of independence which is so dear to the heart of the noble Earl who criticised this matter.
Therefore Part III prevents those applications being accepted. Prevention of registration of those words has the beneficial consequence that they remain available for the individual candidates. What we have done in this apparatchik approach to politics is to retain the possibility for individual candidates who want to stand as "Independent", "Independent Labour" or "Unofficial Conservative" to have that designation on the ballot paper. That is a completely different concept from the registration of the party. We have therefore safeguarded the individual's opportunity to stand as an "Independent", "Independent Labour" or "Unofficial Conservative".
For completeness, Part IV ensures that certain generic words or phrases cannot be registered by a single party. One cannot register as the "Ratepayers' Party" but one could, for instance, register as the "East Ham Residents' Association".
Far from being a conspiracy of those in power to prevent the usurpation of that power through the ballot box, we have protected the individual. Following that explanation I am sure that all noble Lords will be abundantly and comprehensively satisfied.
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