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Lord Rennard: The noble Viscount may have missed my point. I was arguing for a reduction in national expenditure limits. When it comes to the accountancy principles for the vouchers we have to provide, perhaps fewer vouchers need to be provided. My overarching principle is consistent; that is, that less money should be used to influence elections.
Viscount Astor: The noble Lord may think it is consistent, but I fail to see it. In effect his amendments seek to reduce the threshold at which third party organisations have to register with the electoral commission. That means more organisations will fall in and I do not see the logic behind that argument.
I wish to make only one small further point. The Neill committee recommended that a third party should be able to spend up to 5 per cent of the maximum limit for any political party. These amendments would change that and we feel that the proposals in the Neill committee are the ones that should be followed.
Lord Bach: The purpose of this group of amendments is to reduce the various monetary limits that apply to third parties under Part VI of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 210T and 210U are concerned with the threshold at which a third party is required to register with the electoral commission. Clause 89 currently sets the threshold at £10,000 in the case of a third party incurring controlled expenditure in England and £5,000 in the case of Scotland, Wales and
I remind the noble Lord that the thresholds set out in Clause 89 are already significantly below the £25,000 proposed in the Neill committee report. To reduce the threshold further to the figures he mentioned would be difficult to justify. These are relatively modest sums. Anyone spending up to such limits would have very little impact on an election campaign. I cannot therefore see the case for bringing these minor players within the electoral commission's regulatory remit.
The purpose of Amendments Nos. 211 to 214 is to reduce the overall expenditure limits to which recognised third parties are subject. Amendments Nos. 203 and 204 proposed that the limits on political parties' expenditure be reduced by a quarter. In this context it is proposed that the limits be reduced by two-thirds. The figures set out in the Bill derive from a clear and unambiguous recommendation in the Neill committee report. I am conscious when I say that, that all sides in this Chamber use Neill when it suits them and do not use it when it does not. I am about to use it.
As ever, when considering amendments to the Bill, it is often instructive to go back to the committee's report to remind ourselves of how the committee came to its various conclusions. At paragraphs 10.83 and 10.84 the committee said:
Some might seek to draw a comparison with the £500 limit we intend to introduce on third party expenditure at the constituency level. It would be a false comparison. In proposing an overall spending limit of £20 million for political parties, the Neill committee did not take the limit on what a candidate may spend as its starting point. The £20 million limit for political parties is considerably more than the aggregate of a candidate's limit in each of 659 constituencies. The national third party limit must be determined against that background. The £500 constituency limit is quite simply a red herring in this context.
We entirely accept that general elections are, first and foremost, contests between the political parties and it is right that the focus of the campaign should be upon them. But elections are not exclusively a matter
Lord Rennard: I thank the Minister for that reply, in particular for his honesty and candour in admitting that all sides in the Committee have a tendency to use the Neill committee in their defence when the arguments suit them and to disagree with it when they do not.
His brief obviously suggested that I might refer to the fine and constituency limits. I did not do so because I did not think it appropriate. However, I urge the Minister to think again about the issue because he did not quite address my concern about "ganging up". It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, at Second Reading when he feared that there may be a capacity for some third party organisations to co-operate in such a way as to ensure that they can drive a coach and horses through the principle of the legislation.
We saw how in previous elections third party expenditure may cause serious problems; for example, inelections to the Scottish Parliament. I fear that it may be a real issue in the general election unless the Government address it but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) at any time before the beginning of any regulated period any expenses within section 80(2) are incurred by or on behalf of a third party in respect of any property, services or facilities, but
(b) the property, services or facilities is or are made use of by or on behalf of the third party during the regulated period in circumstances such that, had any expenses been incurred in respect of that use during that period, they would by virtue of section 80(2) have constituted controlled expenditure incurred by or on behalf of the third party during that period,
the appropriate proportion of the expenses mentioned in paragraph (a) shall be treated for the purposes of this section, sections 91 to 94 and Schedule 9 as controlledexpenditure incurred by or on behalf of the third party during that period.
(5B) For the purposes of subsection (5A) the appropriate proportion of the expenses mentioned in paragraph (a) of that subsection is such proportion of those expenses as is reasonably attributable to the use made of the property, services or facilities as mentioned in paragraph (b).").
Page 58, line 10, leave out ("Chapter") and insert ("this section, sections 91 to 94 and Schedule 9").
Page 138, line 28, after ("period") insert ("for the purposes of this paragraph").
Page 138, line 36, leave out ("(except in the context of a period mentioned in sub-paragraph (2))").
Page 139, line 16, after ("period") insert ("for the purposes of this sub-paragraph").
Page 142, leave out lines 4 to 10.
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Page 58, line 25, leave out ("other than registered parties") and insert ("which either are not registered parties or are minor parties").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Page 142, line 16, leave out ("other than registered parties") and insert ("which either are not registered parties or are minor parties").
Page 142, line 19, at end insert ("other than a minor party").
Page 142, line 21, leave out from ("donation") to end of line 22 and insert ("to the recognised third party for the purpose of meeting controlled expenditure incurred by or on behalf of that third party").
Page 142, line 23, after ("2") insert (", 2A").
Page 142, line 23, at end insert--
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