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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Before the Minister commends the amendments to the Committee, perhaps he could respond to and clarify a few further points. I meant to ask him whether I understood the position correctly. I have written down here that,
Lord Carter: Can the noble Lord say which definition says that an independent Member of this Chamber is not a member of a political party? Some choose not to be a member of a party grouping in this House, but there is nothing which says that they cannot be ipso facto members of a political party.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I fully accept that there may be reasons for Members of the Cross Benches being members of a political party and yet not members of a party grouping in this Chamber, but I suspect that the majority of Members of the Cross Benches are not members of political parties. Therefore, my question still stands; namely, would they be able to be members of the commission, despite the fact that they are obviously Members of one of the Houses of Parliament?
My next point concerns donors to a political party. If someone is a large shareholder, or perhaps the chairman, of a company, and that company, not the individual, gives a donation to a political party, would that individual be eligible to be considered for appointment as a commissioner? Perhaps this is something we should consider further. However, if I heard the noble Lord aright when he responded to my question on whether a member of the commission's staff could be a member of a political party, I think he told me that everyone, including the chief executive,
The noble Lord may wish to contemplate the following proposition. Would he be content to discover that the person who is recruited to be the chief executive of the electoral commission is a member of the Conservative Party or of the Liberal Democrat Party? He might be quite content to find out that that person is a member of the Labour Party, but I wonder whether I or the noble Lord, Lord Harris, would be content about that. We may all wish to contemplate this matter further.
I take the point--my right honourable and honourable friends in the other place were keen to point this out--that the electoral commissioners should not be involved in political parties, although the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and the noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Rennard, put forward a good argument on this point. I believe that my right honourable and honourable friends are a little suspicious of the Prime Minister's powers of patronage. Perhaps I share that suspicion, but perish the thought that I should have a suspicious nature! The chief executive is a pretty important person, who will be doing much of the work. I suspect that he will go through the accounts with his accountancy staff. It will not be a case of the commissioners going through the accounts, but the staff. We ought to consider that point.
My final point is one that I should already have made. I refer to the Neill committee's recommendations on the membership of the electoral commission. The report states that the commission should not follow the path of the US Federal Election Commission. The report further states,
Lord Jopling: I wonder whether the Government Chief Whip put his foot in it by making the comments that he did from the Front Bench a few moments ago. He asserted that there were Members of the Cross Benches in this Chamber who were members of political parties. Within the past year or two I have heard it said that there has been a tendency for the Labour Party to introduce supporters of that party as new Members of this Chamber under the guise of Cross-Benchers. I always imagined that Members of the Cross Benches were not members of political parties. However, now the Chief Whip asserts that they may be. There is a convention in another place
Lord Carter: That is extremely unworthy of the noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, appears to assume that Members of the Cross Benches are not members of a political party outside the Chamber. I said that that did not follow. I should not be surprised to discover--I do not know what the position is--that some Members of the Cross Benches are members of political parties but choose not to join a party grouping in this Chamber. That was all I was saying. I understood the noble Lord to imply that Members of the Cross Benches are automatically not members of a political party. I do not think that is the case. I have not let any cats out of any bags; I am simply saying that we do not know what the position is. However, as I say, I should be surprised if there are not some members of some political parties on the Cross Benches. That is all I am saying.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shudder to consider that I should come between Members of this Chamber in a debate on whether Cross-Benchers do or do not receive a formal or informal party Whip or have a party political affiliation. I am interested in and amused by the debate but it is not one that I intend to be drawn into.
I shall try to respond to the point about donors and political levy payers. If I do not cover all aspects of the matter, I shall write to those who raised this issue. My understanding is that levy payers would not be affected by the measure we are discussing. Neither do I believe that low level donors would be affected in the way that has been suggested. I do not believe that they would necessarily be considered to be active in the political process. Many people are levy payers. They may not even realise that they are levy payers. That may be a matter of regret to some but it is the case. I believe that we can leave that matter on one side.
I have listened carefully to the debate which, as I said earlier, I believe has been useful. I am happy to continue to listen and to receive further representations on some of the important issues we have discussed. I shall endeavour to take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, with regard to the chief executive having a party affiliation. I take note of the noble Lord's concerns. However, I believe that in the real world many chief executives or leading civil servants may have undeclared party memberships; they are sleeping members, if you like. Who are we to say that they should cease to hold that party membership? Towards the end of the 1980s there was much discussion on this subject and members of the party opposite tried to prevent people who worked in local government having a party political affiliation.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I do not think that the noble Lord answered my point about the Neill committee's recommendation that appointments to the commission should be made with the agreement of the leaders of the main parties. I read out the recommendation in the report which stated that those appointments should be acceptable to the leaders of the main parties.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: As far as I am able to give an undertaking, it is an important recommendation and I shall give it further consideration; we have not ruled it out. I shall be happy to clarify the matter later if the noble Lord is content with that.
The amendments concern an important point of principle. The committee will find Schedule 1 to the Bill on page 98. Paragraph 3 of the Schedule deals with the term of office of the electoral commissioners, and paragraph 5 relates to their salaries and allowances. Sub-paragraph (5) of paragraph 3 states:
Referendums, elections and political parties are important matters, and this Bill covers both Houses. It is extraordinary that the Government would want to exclude your Lordships' House from having the opportunity for this order to be presented to it. In effect, the Bill states that your Lordships are not allowed to have a view on this issue; that it is purely a matter for the other place; that it is really nothing to do with this House.
We regard this matter with the utmost seriousness. I hope that the Minister will consider the issue carefully and give a favourable reply. I beg to move.
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