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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: While at first sight Amendment No. 90 may seem innocuous, in fact it begins a trail which leads to some of the worst bureaucracy to be found in the Bill--and that is saying something.
I speak, first, to my Amendments Nos. 90A, 90B and 90C. These amendments seek to lighten the burden. The government amendment as drafted places an obligation on the national treasurer to inform the commission of changes in the detail of party officers, the party's headquarters, and so forth.
First, why should that duty fall on the treasurer? I thought that the treasurer's role was supposed to be concerned with financial matters rather than with the registration of detail. Why cannot that duty be performed by one of the other national officers of the party or even an authorised official?
The short time-scale laid down by the Government for the alteration of details also causes me concern. It may not be possible for changes in the details of local parties to be notified to the commission by the national treasurer within 28 days. My amendments invite the Government to think again about those periods, especially because in the case of Amendment No. 282 a civil offence is created which is punishable with potentially heavy fines for anyone who fails to deliver the details within 14 or 28 days.
These amendments relate to local parties and perhaps parties which are not very strong; for instance, local Labour parties in safe Conservative areas or local Conservative parties in safe Labour areas. An obligation has been placed on them to report that their treasurer has left them; that the treasurer has resigned or perhaps died. The report has to be submitted. It may be August and the holiday period may have begun. They have to find another treasurer and that will not be easy. It will be even less easy when the potential treasurer is handed a copy of this Bill when it becomes an Act and he is told, "You had better read that before next week". I am sure that we shall all find it difficult to find treasurers. A more generous time-scale ought to be considered by the Government. However, from the way the Minister spoke, it appears that nothing will change in that regard.
But Part IIA of Schedule 3 does not appear in the Bill itself, or in Amendments Nos. 90 and 91. It appears in Amendment No. 101, on pages 30 and 31 of the Marshalled List. The crucial provision of Part IIA of Schedule 3 (Amendment No. 101) is the proposal in paragraph 10C which appears at the top of page 31. I am sorry to make this sound like a lesson but Members of the Committee will appreciate that finding one's way through these amendments is not the easiest task. So we go to the top of page 31 and there it states that an application, including an application for the alteration of a treasurer of a local party association,
I made the mistake of trying to fit all the Government's amendments into the Bill in order to discover what they were about and my copy is now full and complicated. However, paragraph 10 on page 109 defines the term "the responsible officers" as,
The effect is that, for any application to alter the registered detail of any treasurer of any local constituency association of our great parties, the signature must be obtained of three of the national officers of the party, including the Leader. So if the treasurer of any constituency Labour party, no matter how small it is, changes, the commission must receive a document containing the signature of the Leader of the Labour Party, the nominating officer and the national treasurer. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Bach, can confirm to me that the Prime Minister is fully aware of the provisions of paragraph 10(2)(a) of Schedule 3. Is he aware that every now and then--and I suspect in reality quite often--somebody will be trotting up to Downing Street and popping into his Red Box a form which he will be expected to sign stating that Joe Bloggs has been replaced by Jeanie Bloggs in the Any Town Labour Party?
Lord Bach: Perhaps the noble Lord will give way. I had always thought that the noble Lord was in the wrong job. What he has said is an impressive display of forensic skill. Perhaps in order not just to shut him up but so that we may move on I may say that as a consequence of his remarks we will look at the proposed changes to the registered treasurer of an accounting unit. He seems to have a point there which perhaps he has made once or twice.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I have made it only once but I now know how to get something out of the Government: mention that the Prime Minister might be involved and the Minister rises almost instantly. I am grateful to the noble Lord.
I am sorry to bother him--he will table so many amendments--but I have another little point related to Amendment No. 69, which is in the group. It deals with convictions for offences. The amendment appears to provide that the treasurer of a registered party shall cease to hold office if,
I wonder whether the Minister can defend this provision in the light of a recent case involving the Member of Parliament for Newark, Mrs Jones, who kept her seat despite the fact that she had been convicted of election offences and was awaiting appeal. That is almost the same situation and it seems to me unfair that a treasurer must relinquish his post if he is appealing while a Member of Parliament had the pleasure of not doing so until the appeal, which was successful. The point is that the appeal by the treasurer could equally be successful.
Lord Bach: I will certainly look at that last point. We are suggesting that on conviction the treasurer's appointment is automatically terminated. However, I take the noble Lord's point and perhaps we should consider whether there is a possibility of delaying that until the date for leave to appeal is reached, after which it will automatically terminate. I make no promises but we will take that matter away too.
("(8) Where a person registered as treasurer of a registered party is convicted of an offence falling within subsection (7)(b), his appointment as treasurer of the party shall terminate on the date of the conviction.").
Page 14, line 12, at end insert--
("( ) In connection with the registration of a party in both the Great Britain register and the Northern Ireland register in accordance with section (The new registers)(4)--
(a) a person may be registered in the Northern Ireland register as leader of the separate party registered in that register if (although not such a leader of the party as is mentioned in subsection (2) above) he is leader of the party in Northern Ireland; and
(b) references to a person's responsibilities in subsection (3) or (4) above shall be read as references to the responsibilities that he will have with respect to the separate party registered in the Great Britain register or the Northern Ireland register, as appropriate.").