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Lord Cope of Berkeley: I am grateful to the Minister for setting out in some detail what these complicated amendments seek to achieve. I did not have the necessary wet towel around my head and therefore I am not sure that I appreciated all the subtleties of what he said. However, no doubt at a later stage we shall be able to ensure that we have grasped the issues.
I turn, first, to the matter of notional campaign expenditure. At first it seemed to me that the de minimis provision of £200 was being written out of this part of the Bill. However, I believe that I am right in saying that the sum of £200 is covered by Amendment No. 197B. I believe that it should be covered and that probably it is.
With regard to opposition Amendment No. 196, which inserts the words "by a permissible donor", perhaps I may ask the Minister whether the provisional transfer of property or services must be from a permissible donor or whether it can be from anyone. The noble Lord referred to it but I was not sure what he meant.
I turn to Amendment No. 209, which again is in the name of my noble friend. I am not clear in what circumstances it is envisaged that a third party can incur expenditure on behalf of a registered party, except in the case of expenditure which in any event is attributed to it; for example, when it obtains property at a discount of more than 10 per cent.
I turn to government Amendment No. 202A which concerns the subject of expenditure incurred before a campaign begins. I am concerned that the provision should not be drawn too widely in relation to services which are provided before the relevant campaign period starts. I do not argue with the principle behind the provision; it is clearly right because sometimes supplies which are necessary for an election campaign will be bought in advance. However, the time period seems to go back indefinitely. The time limit may be covered by some of the other provisions which, for example, require accounts to be kept for only six years.
However, the period in question could go back a long way. I know of one or two cases, for example, where the headquarters of a local Conservative Party are located in the rooms of a Conservative club which the club has owned for many years and where the association is allowed to use one or two rooms as its office. I believe that the same arrangement sometimes occurs in other parties. The building may have been bought many years earlier. Therefore, I should like to know how far back the records need to be kept in such a case. I do not believe that they should be kept for ever but rather for a reasonable period.
Amendment No. 210V concerns third parties. Those of us who have been involved with political parties know that campaign material and items of property will be used for campaigning purposes. However, some organisations will not be regular political parties. I am not sure how they will know that at some stage they may be regarded as using those items for political ends, even though the items will have been paid for some time ago.
It is slightly invidious to give an example but it may help to explain what I am talking about. The RSPCA campaigns on a number of matters such as fur farming, which we discussed the other day. In some circumstances where the matter is controversial among political parties or political candidates, the campaign could be regarded as having a political end. Yet it could be difficult for the RSPCA to distinguish the items of expenditure which it had used in that particular campaign.
Organisations other than regular political parties will be drawn into this matter--in some respects quite properly. I recall visiting the United States on previous occasions and seeing something of their politics. There, because of the restrictions on the financing of political campaigns, action groups--political action committees--were set up which, in effect, supported a candidate but managed actually to be part of his campaign. In my view, that was not helpful for democracy in the United States. It seemed to me that that had some negative effects, not least that a large part of the campaign was not at all in the control of the candidate because it was in the control of the separate political action committee. Some fairly ghastly negative campaigning went on, and still does, I believe, under that heading. That is a danger which we must bear in mind.
Amendment No. 242E will disapply some, but not all, of the requirement for detail in respect of the returns. My general question is in relation to the length of time for which records must be kept and how far back it will be necessary to account for expenditure. I do not wish to pursue Amendment No. 253E.
I start with Amendment No. 196 which would specify that the requirement applied to property provided by a permissible donor. We believe that the amendment confuses the purpose of the provisions and is unnecessary. The provisions of Part IV regulate whether or not a political party may accept a particular benefit in kind. The provisions of Clause 68 are not based on any assumption as to whether the benefits in kind in question also constitute a donation, although they no doubt would do so; nor is it necessary that they should do so.
Indeed, the effect of the amendment would simply be that benefits in kind provided by an impermissible donor would not count against a party's expenditure limit. A party could not accept a donation in kind from an impermissible donor under the provisions of Part IV, which we have already debated. But if a party did accept an illegal donation to offset its election expenditure, it should be accounted for under this part of the Bill, Part V. I hope that that is helpful.
As regards Amendment No. 202A, we agree that the principle should not be too widely drawn. The noble Lord wants to know for how long records should be kept. We say that the key point is the value of the donation at the time that it was actually made to a political party. The value of the goods or property, for example, at the time that it was obtained by a third party is irrelevant. The important point is the value of the donation when it is actually made to the political party.
Amendment No. 221C seeks to remove the words "during the regulated period" from Clause 91(5). That subsection expressly recognises that controlled expenditure incurred by a third party before it becomes a recognised third party can count towards the relevant limits. The detailed controls in Clauses 85 to 88 will not apply to that expenditure. The reason for removing the relevant words is that the subsection needs to apply also to expenditure before the regulated period begins but treated as incurred during it when the third party was not, at the relevant time, a recognised third party and should be looked at with
As must be abundantly clear, this is not an easy part of the Bill. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for his questions and comments. If there is anything important that I have left out in my response, I shall make sure that he is written to.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I return to the question of third parties. I used the example of the RSPCA and I do not wish to focus too much on that organisation. However, Clause 80 provides that the expenditure concerned can be expenditure addressed to the public at large and designed to promote the election of candidates who hold particular opinions or advocate particular policies or are against them. So if an organisation is campaigning on an issue in which two or more candidates in a particular election disagree, it may be held to be covered by that clause and, hence, its expenditure could be brought into it.
It may be right that it should be brought in, but I am just trying to clarify in my own mind whether it could affect an organisation campaigning for an individual point of view on what might be a very narrow issue in the election as a whole but nevertheless, one on which the two candidates disagreed and on which some votes might turn.
("(4) Where an amount of campaign expenditure is treated, by virtue of subsection (1A), as incurred by or on behalf of a party during any period the whole or part of which falls within any period which is, in relation to the party, a relevant campaign period for the purposes of section 75, then--
(a) the amount mentioned in subsection (4A) shall be treated as incurred by or on behalf of the party during the relevant campaign period, and
(b) the treasurer or a deputy treasurer appointed under section 69 shall make a declaration of that amount,
unless that amount is less than £200.
(4A) The amount mentioned in subsection (4) is such proportion of the appropriate amount (determined in accordance with subsection (1B) or (1C)) as reasonably represents the use made of the property, services or facilities as mentioned in subsection (1)(b) during the relevant campaign period.").