Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Perhaps I should explain what this clause achieves before I answer the point raised by the noble Viscount. The clause exempts from the controls on third party expenditure the print and broadcast media and it reflects the current situation under the Representation of the People Act 1983. The answer to the question posed by the noble Viscount is that it would depend who bought the newspaper. If a party bought the newspaper and the party used it as a campaigning tool, my guess is that it probably would not be exempted. We shall have to look at that. I believe that is the situation.

Viscount Astor: What would happen if I bought the newspaper or the noble Lord, Lord Alli, who I see is in his place, bought the newspaper? Would that count?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Would that we were all as rich as the noble Viscount and could afford to buy a newspaper. That was a facetious observation. Apparently, there is case law on the equivalent provision in the 1983 Act to the effect that a "newspaper" is not something issued purely for political purposes. That would not be the case in respect of the publications to which the noble Viscount has referred, including the Daily Telegraph.

Viscount Astor: I thank the Minister for that reply. Of course, at one point my family owned newspapers in this country, but we gave that up quite a long time ago. I have no intention of buying a newspaper unless I find a generous benefactor. Someone may come along and back the Minister to buy a newspaper. One never knows. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: While I do not own the Evening Argos, it gives me ample support from time to time!

Lord Alli: Perhaps I may say that I can give no such undertaking!

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 82, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 83 [Third parties recognised for the purposes of this Part]:

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 210A to 210E:

(a) an individual resident in the United Kingdom or registered in an electoral register (as defined by section 49(8)),

18 Oct 2000 : Column 1134

(b) a registered party, or
(c) a body falling within any of paragraphs (b) and (d) to (f) of section 49(2).").

    Page 53, line 41, at end insert ("or (if he has no such address in the United Kingdom) his home address elsewhere").

    Page 53, line 43, leave out from beginning to end of line 15 on page 54 and insert--

("(b) if given by a registered party, state--
(i) the party's registered name,
(ii) the address of its registered headquarters, and
(iii) (in the case of a minor party) the name of the person who will be responsible for compliance on the part of the party with the provisions of Chapter II,
and be signed by the responsible officers of the party (within the meaning of section 59); and
(c) if given by a body falling within any of paragraphs (b) and (d) to (f) of section 49(2), state--
(i) all such details in respect of the body as are required by virtue of any of sub-paragraphs (4) and (6) to (8) of paragraph 2 of Schedule 5 to be given in respect of such a body as the donor of a recordable donation, and
(ii) the name of the person or officer who will be responsible for compliance on the part of the body with the provisions of Chapter II,
and be signed by the body's secretary or a person who acts in a similar capacity in relation to the body.").

    Page 54, line 18, leave out ("relevant notification date") and insert ("date on which it is received by the Commission").

    Page 55, line 4, leave out subsection (9).

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 83, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 84 agreed to.

Clause 85 [Restriction on incurring controlled expenditure]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 210F:

    Page 55, line 28, at end insert--

("( ) Where, in the case of a recognised third party that is a registered party, any expenses are incurred in contravention of subsection (1), the expenses shall not count for the purposes of sections 89 to 94 or Schedule 9 as controlled expenditure incurred by or on behalf of the recognised third party.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 85, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 86 agreed to.

Clause 87 [Restriction on making claims in respect of controlled expenditure]:

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 210G to 210L:

    Page 56, line 9, after ("party") insert ("during any period which is a regulated period (as defined by section 89(6)(a))").

    Page 56, leave out lines 14 and 15 and insert ("not later than 21 days after the end of the regulated period").

    Page 56, line 16, leave out from ("paid") to end of line 17 and insert ("not later than 42 days after the end of the regulated period").

    Page 56, line 32, at end insert--

("( ) Subsection (2) is without prejudice to any rights of a creditor of a recognised third party to obtain payment before the end of the period allowed under that subsection.").

    Page 56, line 38, at end insert ("; and

( ) any reference to the treasurer or deputy treasurer of the registered party were a reference to the responsible person in relation to the recognised third party.").

18 Oct 2000 : Column 1135

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 87, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 88 [Disputed claims]:

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 210M to 210S:

    Page 56, line 41, after ("party") insert ("as mentioned in section 87(1)").

    Page 57, line 3, leave out ("section 87(1)") and insert ("that provision").

    Page 57, line 12, leave out subsection (3).

    Page 57, line 16, leave out ("Subsections (4) to (7) of section 72") and insert ("For the purposes of this section--

(a) subsections (4) and (5) of section 87").

    Page 57, line 19, after ("claim") insert ("(whether it is disputed or otherwise) which is").

    Page 57, line 19, leave out (" 72(1)") and insert (" 87(1); and

(b) subsections (6) and (7) of section 72 shall apply as if any reference to subsection (4) of that section were a reference to section 87(4) as applied by paragraph (a) above.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 88, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 89 [Limits on controlled expenditure by third parties]:

Lord Rennard moved Amendment No. 210T:

    Page 58, line 8, leave out ("£10,000") and insert ("£2,000").

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 210T and 210U restrict undeclared third parties to spending a maximum of £2,000 in England or £1,000 in each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I believe that the purpose is to reduce potential abuse by third parties. It seems to me that it is too easy for someone to spend £10,000 asking people to vote for or against a particular proposition, affecting a particular candidate or group of candidates. However, it is not too difficult to register for third party expenditure so that it can be controlled properly.

My main concern is in relation to the size of expenditure for third parties when they are registered. That is dealt with in Amendments Nos. 211 to 214. I ask the Committee to think back to the Scottish parliamentary by-election earlier this year. Effectively, it was hijacked by large, expensive campaigns focusing on the Scottish Section 2A issue.

This highlights the problem of a third party being allowed to spend up to £1 million. Several different like-minded organisations may also be allowed to spend £1 million each during an election campaign. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that 10 or even 20 Eurosceptic organisations grouped together and each was able to spend £1 million during an election campaign; between them they would be able to spend as much as the Labour Party or Conservative Party or the Liberal Democrats, if we had the money. I feel that the agenda of a general election could effectively be hijacked.

Instead of standing as candidates for a party, or influencing policy within parties, are we to see anti-abortion, anti-European or anti-gay organisations able to derail the democratic process because they have sufficient money and are allowed to spend it? The overarching principle of this Bill is that money should

18 Oct 2000 : Column 1136

not buy influence over policy. Of course there should be freedom of speech, and of course we should be mindful of the human rights legislation guaranteeing freedom of speech. But limiting each third party to around £300,000 of expenditure will breach that principle.

The danger is, if we allow a £1 million limit for each third party, then just six organisations, possibly campaigning on a common platform, will be able to spend more money in a general election campaign than all of the candidates for a specific party put together will be able to spend even if they stand in every constituency in the country. The £1 million limit puts disproportionate power in the hands of third party organisations. We accept that they have a right to have their say, but not to use their money to buy control of the political agenda and the outcome of elections.

Third parties can have their say in many ways, and most of those ways do not require money. Let us try to limit the influence of money in elections, whether spent by political parties or by so-called third parties. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Viscount Astor: The Liberal Democrats never cease to surprise me. Earlier this evening they were arguing about raising limits to get away from a cumbersome and bureaucratic process. They were talking of changing £100 to £500.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page