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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am not surprised by the last answer, given what the Minister said to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. I was just trying to be helpful by ensuring consistency in government. I think that it is called "joined-up government". Clearly there is to be no joined-up government in this case.

I wonder how many parties have a turnover between £250,000 and £1 million. How many would be affected if the limit were raised? I wonder whether small parties are being asked to go through hoops unnecessarily. I suspect that the Government cannot tell me, because they have not even considered the impact of the Bill on major political parties to any great extent, so I do not

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believe that they have given any greater consideration to the impact on minor parties that are not represented in this House. We may come back to the issue if the Minister cannot answer. Can he help me?

Lord Bach: I cannot. One of the purposes of the Bill is to ensure that there is proper accounting of political parties. That has not always existed. Of course it has in the Conservative Party, my party and the Liberal Democrats, but maybe not in all parties. As I understand it--I hope that I am not wrong--there are no figures to enable me to give an accurate answer.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful for that answer, which proves that the Government have made no effort to ascertain the impact of the Bill on smaller parties. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 123 to 125 not moved.]

Clause 39 agreed to.

Clause 40 agreed to.

Clause 41 [Submission of statements of accounts etc. to Commission]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 125A:

    Page 24, line 40, after ("than") insert ("7 days after").

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 125B to 129, 130A and 130B. I shall be brief. The amendments make minor technical and drafting changes to the accounting requirements in Part III. I shall confine my comments to the more significant amendments but shall, of course, attempt to answer any points which arise on the other amendments in the group.

Amendment No. 125A to Clause 41(2) relates to the period for submitting audited accounts to the electoral commission. As the Bill stands, a party which is required to have its accounts audited has six months from the end of its financial year to complete the audit. However, the party must also submit the accounts and the auditor's report to the commission within six months. Clearly, if a party does not receive its auditor's report until the end of the six-month period, there may be little or no time left to forward the documentation to the commission. This amendment gives a party a further seven days leeway.

Amendments Nos. 126 and 127 relate to Clause 43, which creates criminal offences for failure to comply with the provisions of this part of the Bill. The clause includes a number of defences, but the formulation employed is at odds with that used elsewhere in the Bill; for example, Clause 60(5) refers to both the taking of all reasonable steps and the exercise of all due diligence. Our Amendments Nos. 126 and 127 bring Clause 43 into line and, we hope, ensure consistency across the Bill.

Finally, Amendments Nos. 128 and 128A enable regulations to make provision for the delivery of revised statements of accounts, prepared under Clause 44, to the electoral commission. Amendment No. 129 concerns the public inspection of such statements.

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Under Clause 42 such requirements already apply to the original statement of accounts prepared by a party treasurer. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for explaining those amendments. He is perhaps the right Minister to answer at least one of the questions that I want to put. But, first, I believe that Amendment No. 125A is welcome and sensible.

I turn to Amendment No. 126. Although I hear what the noble Lord says with regard to making Clause 43 consistent with another part of the Bill, the relevant sentence in that clause currently states:

    "It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) to prove that he took all reasonable steps for securing (as the case may be)",

that the requirements were met. The amendment changes that to,

    "and exercised all due diligence, to ensure".

Am I right in thinking that that increases the test--that is, that it makes it harder--and therefore that the defence will find it harder to answer? It may be able to answer "reasonableness", but "all due diligence" may be more difficult. As I said, the noble Lord is probably the right Minister to answer because he will understand those legal points even if I do not fully understand them myself. However, even to an amateur such as me, there appears to be a difference between "reasonable" and "all due diligence". One can discuss whether or not the steps taken were "reasonable", but I believe that adding the words "all due diligence" increases the test.

With regard to Amendment No. 128A, I wonder whether the Minister can give examples of the type of scenario that might occur if a decision were taken to disapply some of the provision. I am not entirely sure what circumstances might pertain in such an eventuality.

The Minister did not mention Amendment No. 130B. That amendment makes the treasurer of an accounting unit, which may be--and, in many cases, will be--a local association, personally liable for the costs in relation to a revised statement of accounts. I wonder whether the noble Lord considers that it is right to make treasurers of accounting units personally liable. I have said on a number of occasions that I am sure that all our political parties find it difficult enough to find treasurers. The very fact that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, was for 15 years a treasurer may tell us that he was an excellent treasurer, but I suspect that it also tells us that he could not find anyone to replace him during many of those years. Therefore, I wonder how that will work.

When I read this clause and considered the question of something being amiss with accounts or of someone reporting that something was wrong, I wondered what procedures would be set up in order to investigate and prosecute. If someone reports to the electoral commission that he believes that something is wrong either with his own party's accounts or, as is much

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more likely, with another party's accounts, who will carry out the investigation? Will it be the electoral commission? Will the electoral commission decide to ask the police to intervene? Who will decide whether to prosecute and who will carry out the prosecution? I am intrigued to know what steps will be taken. Will the electoral commission have a type of detective force in its midst in order to carry out such investigations? This may not be the appropriate moment to raise the matter, but it has come to my mind because we are discussing offences in this clause. I hope that the noble Lord can help me with those points.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Bach: I shall do my best to help the noble Lord. Yes, he is right:

    "and exercised all due diligence, to ensure",

is a higher test than mere "reasonableness". However, I do not believe that one should exaggerate the height that it reaches in terms of the Bill. It clearly adds something, otherwise we would not add it. Therefore, he is right to say that it is a tougher test.

So far as concerns Amendment No. 128A, the noble Lord asked me to give examples. I am afraid that I shall have to write to him with those rather than give them to him today.

So far as concerns Amendment No. 130B, I deliberately did not refer to it. The amendment is necessary in order to remove an erroneous reference to the registered leader of an accounting unit. As the noble Lord knows, Clause 24 currently provides only for the registration of a treasurer of an accounting unit. That treasurer will be liable.

So far as concerns the electoral commission, where a party member complains about possible fraud, either in his or in another party, I imagine that the electoral commission will investigate. It may, as may anyone, bring in the police if it feels that it needs to do so. If it does, then in the normal way the question of whether or not a prosecution takes place will, in the last resort, depend on the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Lord for those explanations. However, if the electoral commission does not call in the police, what will happen? Will that mean that the case has been dropped or will the electoral commission be able to prosecute?

Lord Bach: The electoral commission will obviously try to sort out the difficulty but, as I understand it, powers exist under the Bill to prosecute and the electoral commission will be in a position to do so. The position often changes when the police are brought into matters of this kind.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 125B:

    Page 24, line 44, at end insert ("(unless the auditor was appointed by the Commission under section 39(4))").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Clause 41, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 42 [Public inspection of parties' statements of accounts]:

On Question, Whether Clause 42 shall stand part of the Bill?

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