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Lord McNally: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, is probably right in saying that the amendment has greater strength since events across the Atlantic where election officers are quickly identified as registered Democrats or Republicans and

20 Nov 2000 : Column 564

doubt is cast on their impartiality. The argument against the chief executive being a registered party member has considerable merit.

My only concern is that in recent years we have tried to encourage the participation of public officials in political parties and tried to remove some of the too restrictive rules in various areas of the public service. I wonder whether the noble Lord's amendment, which would apply to staff at all levels, takes matters too far the other way.

Lord Bach: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, explained, the amendment is concerned with whether or not a member of the electoral commission staff can be a member of a political party. He has obviously concluded that the staff as well as the commissioners should be barred from belonging to a registered party. After consideration, we believe that that would be going too far and would be an unnecessary and unjustifiable restriction.

One of the reasons for that belief was given by the noble Lord in the Committee debate to which he referred. The noble Lord advised us to check,


    "whether saying that they cannot be members of a political party actually breaches the convention".--[Official Report, 11.5.00; col, 1764.]

We had already considered that point and reached the conclusion that there was no necessity to prohibit party membership as regards the staff such as to justify the undoubted restriction that we would be placing on their convention rights.

The noble Lord draws a distinction between civil servants, however senior or sensitive their posts, who can be members of a political party. That is true about senior local government officials, too. We do not believe that there is a sufficient distinction between the role of, say, a junior member of staff at the electoral commission and a senior civil servant such that the first cannot be a member of a political party but the second can. We do not believe that there is sufficient justification to treat the staff of the commission differently.

I remind the House that local authorities, and no doubt also the Civil Service, have already adopted rules which mean that those who are members of a political party cannot play an active role in its activities. That is also true of the electoral staff of local authorities who are not barred from membership of political parties. Their position in some ways will be parallel to that of the staff of the electoral commission when they take up their posts.

We do not believe there is any doubt that the commission will adopt rules similar to those introduced for civil servants to restrict the political activities of its staff, and for their limited part in this the Government will certainly advise it to do so. A balance must be struck here. Many of the points raised

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by the noble Lord are valid, but I believe that on balance the line comes down in favour of allowing staff to be members of political parties, and I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, if I heard the Minister correctly--I found it difficult to follow his argument--he confirmed that if the staff of the commission were banned from political membership that would not be a breach of their convention rights.

Lord Bach: My Lords, perhaps I was not as clear as I should have been. We believe that it may be a breach of their rights and that almost certainly the matter will be tested in the courts. We do not go as far as to say that it would definitely be a breach: that is not the advice that we have received.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, if someone who is a member of a political party wants to join the staff of the commission but is not allowed to do so because my amendment is accepted, and he takes the commission, or perhaps the Government, to court because of an infringement of his convention rights, I wonder why such a person is so keen to be a member of staff of the commission.

The Minister tried hard to deal with my points, but he did not answer the real question. This commission is not like any other part of the Civil Service. The commission will send out its staff to obtain information from political parties. It could easily happen that a member of the commission's staff who was also a member of the Labour Party visited the headquarters of the Conservative Party at Smith Square in order to obtain information which might or might not be confidential.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that in some ways members of staff employed in an electoral registration office who were also members of political parties might obtain quite sensitive political information about other political parties? Sometimes they are in a sensitive position but no one has questioned their integrity.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I do not agree with the Minister. I cannot think of anything that an electoral registration officer wants to discover from a political party that that party may regard as confidential in the sense of its operations, funding or whatever. I do not believe that there is any analogy. I am very unhappy about this matter, especially as I appear to have discovered in passing that the chief executive could also be a member of a political party. I believe that that is beyond the pale. The Government have not thought this through sufficiently carefully. They agree that the members of the commission should not be members of political parties but suddenly stop and do not take the next logical stop. This matter is so important that I must ask the opinion of the House.

20 Nov 2000 : Column 566

5.25 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 7) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 108; Not-Contents, 153.

Division No. 2

CONTENTS

Alton of Liverpool, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B.
Astor, V.
Astor of Hever, L.
Attlee, E.
Blatch, B.
Boardman, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Burnham, L. [Teller]
Butterworth, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Campbell of Croy, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Chadlington, L.
Coe, L.
Colwyn, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L.
Courtown, E.
Cranborne, V.
Crickhowell, L.
Cumberlege, B.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Deedes, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Dundee, E.
Eccles of Moulton, B.
Eden of Winton, L.
Elles, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L.
Fookes, B.
Freeman, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Geddes, L.
Glentoran, L.
Goschen, V.
Gray of Contin, L.
Greenway, L.
Hanson, L.
Henley, L. [Teller]
Higgins, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Hooper, B.
Howe, E.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Hunt of Wirral, L.
Hurd of Westwell, L.
Inglewood, L.
Jopling, L.
Knight of Collingtree, B.
Laird, L.
Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Lawson of Blaby, L.
Liverpool, E.
Lucas, L.
Lyell, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Mancroft, L.
Marsh, L.
Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Monro of Langholm, L.
Monson, L.
Montrose, D.
Moynihan, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Naseby, L.
Noakes, B.
Northbrook, L.
Northesk, E.
Norton of Louth, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Onslow, E.
Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Palmer, L.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Perry of Southwark, B.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Prentice, L.
Rawlings, B.
Rees, L.
Rees-Mogg, L.
Renton, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Rotherwick, L.
Ryder of Wensum, L.
Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Seccombe, B.
Selborne, E.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Shrewsbury, E.
Slim, V.
Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Stewartby, L.
Strange, B.
Strathclyde, L.
Tebbit, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Trefgarne, L.
Vivian, L.
Waddington, L.
Wakeham, L.
Weatherill, L.
Willoughby de Broke, L.
Young, B.

NOT-CONTENTS

Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Amos, B.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B.
Bach, L.
Barnett, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Berkeley, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Billingham, B.
Blackstone, B.
Blease, L.
Borrie, L.
Bradshaw, L.
Bragg, L.
Brennan, L.
Brett, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brookman, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Burlison, L.
Carter, L. [Teller]
Chandos, V.
Christopher, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Clement-Jones, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B.
Crawley, B.
David, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Desai, L.
Dholakia, L.
Dixon, L.
Dubs, L.
Eatwell, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Gale, B.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Gilbert, L.
Goodhart, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Gregson, L.
Grenfell, L.
Hamwee, B.
Hardy of Wath, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harris of Richmond, B.
Harrison, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor)
Islwyn, L.
Jacobs, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord Privy Seal)
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Judd, L.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Kirkhill, L.
Layard, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Lipsey, L.
Lockwood, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Longford, E.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Mallalieu, B.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Mitchell, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Newby, L.
Northover, B.
Paul, L.
Peston, L.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Puttnam, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Razzall, L.
Rea, L.
Rennard, L.
Renwick of Clifton, L.
Richard, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Roper, L.
Russell, E.
Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Sawyer, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Serota, B.
Shepherd, L.
Shore of Stepney, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Simon, V.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taverne, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Tomlinson, L.
Tordoff, L.
Turnberg, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Uddin, B.
Varley, L.
Walker of Doncaster, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walmsley, B.
Warner, L.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Williamson of Horton, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

20 Nov 2000 : Column 567

20 Nov 2000 : Column 568

5.35 p.m.

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 8:


    Page 126, line 13, after ("by") insert ("the Secretary of State under section 17(6) or").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3 [Appointment of Electoral Commissioners and Commission chairman]:


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