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Viscount Astor: My Lords, perhaps I may start with Amendments Nos. 9 and 10. I am grateful to the Minister for accepting these two amendments. I am glad that I have been able to aid him in the drafting of a Bill and I am delighted with the Government's response.

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I shall turn first to Amendment No. 12. I thought that the Minister's response here was extremely helpful and gave good guidance to noble Lords. I shall not move the amendment because I am happy to accept what he said; it has been most helpful in explaining the Government's position.

As regards Amendment No. 11, I accept that in such instances it is difficult to impose an absolute bar on membership of a political party. I listened carefully to what the Minister said. Perhaps he can help the House on this matter. Often in these cases, membership of a political party may mean only that one gets a card through the post stating, "You are a member of this political party"; on the other hand, it may mean something more. Will there be any guidance in relation to this? Will the Government offer a view of where the cut-off will be? It will be difficult because every instance may be different, but will a person elected to the commission be able to go to someone and say, "This is what I have done in the past; what do you think? Does this go beyond ordinary membership of a party and constitute an active political role?"? It would be useful if the Minister could briefly comment on that issue.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot comment because I have not received any advice on the issue, but if someone had been a member of a particular party and was about to be appointed a commissioner, I think it unlikely that there would not be some questions about what his role had been, when he had resigned from the party, and basically how active he had been. I should have thought that was common sense.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, that is an extremely helpful answer. I am grateful to the Minister.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 10:


    Page 3, line 9, after ("officer") insert ("or employee").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 not moved.]

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 13:


    Page 3, line 25, leave out ("(3)(b)") and insert ("(4)(b)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 13, I shall speak also very briefly to Amendments Nos. 124, 135, 136, 144, 161, 162, 190, 191, 207, 208 and 213, which are all government amendments.

These amendments, by and large, simply correct a number of erroneous cross-references which appeared in the changes made to the Bill in Committee. The amendment to Clause 67 in Amendment No. 124 is consequential upon the insertion in Committee of paragraph 3 of Schedule 6, which relates to the information about the identity of a donor which parties must supply in weekly donation reports. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 14:


    After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--

PARLIAMENTARY PARTIES PANEL

(" .--(1) There shall be a panel (to be known as "the Parliamentary Parties Panel") which consists of representatives of qualifying parties appointed in accordance with this section.
(2) The function of the panel shall be to submit representations or information to the Commission about such matters affecting political parties as the panel think fit.
(3) Where the panel submit any such representations or information to the Commission, the Commission shall--
(a) consider the representations or information, and
(b) decide whether, and (if so) to what extent, they should act on the representations or information.
(4) Each qualifying party shall be entitled to be represented on the panel by a person appointed to the panel by the treasurer of the party.
(5) Subject to subsection (6), a person so appointed shall be a member of the panel for such period as the treasurer of the party may determine when making the appointment.
(6) A person so appointed shall cease to be a member of the panel if at any time--
(a) his appointment is terminated for any reason by the treasurer of the party, or
(b) the party ceases to be a qualifying party.
(7) The panel may determine their own procedure.
(8) The validity of any proceedings of the panel shall not be affected by any failure by the treasurer of a qualifying party to make any appointment in accordance with this section.
(9) In this section "qualifying party" means a registered party--
(a) to which two or more Members of the House of Commons for the time being belong; or
(b) to which two or more such Members belonged immediately after the most recent parliamentary general election.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 14 is an important amendment, but one which I am confident will be supported across the House.

I start with why the new clause is being brought forward. On Second Reading, I signalled the Government's intention to bring forward amendments to ensure that the membership of the electoral commission would consist of people who were not associated with political parties. Those amendments, which were very similar to ones moved by the Official Opposition in another place, were duly brought forward in Committee and were passed into the Bill. Essentially, they constitute what is now subsection (4) of Clause 3.

I might add that, with the passage of time, our conviction that it ought not to be possible to associate members of the electoral commission with any political party has grown stronger rather than weaker. Events on the other side of the Atlantic have reinforced our conviction. At every twist and turn we have seen someone with a party tag to their name and it has not done a great honour to the electoral process as a consequence. We should not go any further in jumping on the grave of an electoral system; nevertheless the point is worth making.

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Having said that, it was clear both at Second Reading and in Committee that noble Lords were not without some qualms. The concern expressed was that the more impeccable the credentials of the electoral commissioners from the point of view of political impartiality, the less likely they were to have hands-on experience of the political process from the point of view of the parties. That point was echoed on all sides of the House.

The proposed new clause is designed to meet this point, and to meet it head on. It provides a forum and a legitimate opportunity for the political parties collectively to put their points to the electoral commission and to have them considered. The panel will not, of course, be in the nature of a supervisory body; nor is it considered wise to have it as a formal advisory body in the sense that the commission cannot proceed without consulting the panel and, by implication, clearing its proposals through it. The commission will, of course, wish to consult on general matters, but it will obviously cast its net a good deal wider than the handful of political parties represented on the panel. If we were setting up a formal advisory panel, its membership would have to be expanded rather more widely.

There would also be a risk of appearing to set up almost an alternative electoral commission. It is for this reason that I cannot accept Amendment No. 14A, which has been brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, as an amendment to the government amendment. The panel is designed simply to allow the parties to discuss matters collectively and to engage with the commission if they wish to do so. No doubt it will take notice of the commission's work programme and decide what input it wishes to make. We have not sought to circumscribe in any way the matters on which the panel can engage with the commission. The commission will have to give due consideration to any points put to it but will not, of course, be bound by them.

We have not thought it necessary to provide more than a minimal structure for the commission. It will be open to any party with two Members in the House of Commons to nominate a member of the panel. To extend that opportunity to every registered party would make the panel unmanageable. Procedure is to be entirely in the panel's own hands. In the first instance, it would no doubt be helpful if one of the major parties were to get the ball rolling.

Nor do we think it necessary to provide any logistical or financial support. This is not a new quango. Representatives of the parties get together at present on matters of common concern. The new clause simply provides a new forum for them to do so, and gives a legitimacy to any interaction which they have with the electoral commission.

I believe that the new clause responds appropriately to concerns expressed at earlier stages of the Bill and I commend it to the House.

I must also deal with the amendment to the amendment, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. Its effect would

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be to exclude from the club, if I may put it that way, parties whose members have not taken the Oath. We have done that in other contexts in other parts of the Bill but we have not included it here. In case anyone should think otherwise, that is not a mere oversight on the Government's part but a deliberate decision. The panel is not primarily a parliamentary body. The requirement to have two Members in the House is primarily a means of limiting the membership of the panel to manageable proportions compared with opening it up to every registered party. So there is no inherent reason why any party which has had Members elected to another place should be excluded. I beg to move.


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