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Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 64 and 65:

("( ) the addition or removal of a statement that a party is registered as a party with a campaigns officer,").

    Page 22, line 39, at end insert--

("( ) Where the Commission refuse an application by a party under this section, they shall notify the party of their reasons for refusing the application.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 29 [Notification of changes in party's officers etc.]:

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 66 and 67:

    Page 23, line 7, at end insert ("or of any officer of such a unit registered for the purposes of section 25(3);").

    Page 23, line 14, leave out from ("(d)") to end of line 16 and insert--

("(i) specify the name of the officer replacing the person currently registered as holder of the office in question, and

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(ii) (if that person is so registered as an officer of the party) include an application for the registration of the replacement officer which complies with Part III of Schedule 4; and").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 68:

    Page 23, line 21, leave out ("14") and insert ("21").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 68, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 69.

These amendments concern the clause in the Bill which puts a duty on a party to notify the commission of a change of officer under certain circumstances. We have had several lengthy and detailed debates in relation to the notification of officers and to the role of the party leader during previous stages of the Bill. My amendment is not about who would be responsible at the time of a vacancy arising, it seeks to increase the time in which notification of the change of an officer has to be reported to the commission from 14 days to 21 days on death or termination of appointment, and from 28 days to 42 days for any other changes.

During our debates, many noble Lords with experience of the everyday running of political parties, particularly at constituency level, have expressed the view that parties out in the countryside, if one may so describe it, can be rather slower than perhaps they should be. Parties have different structures and different strengths in different areas. Some are quite strong and some are very weak. Some have secretaries; some have agents or shared agents; but, alas, many do not have agents and rely on volunteers. In many constituencies, sadly, the post may be opened only once a week; or perhaps, in August, everyone is on holiday, most offices are shut, and there is no one there. There are many valid reasons why it might be impractical to meet the deadlines set out in the Bill.

The Bill places heavy burdens on parties and constituency associations in many areas and inflicts penalties for non-compliance. We agree with most of the burdens. However, we feel that the requirements should be sensible and that the time allowed should also be sensible. We should ease the pressure and allow a reasonable time frame for reporting these changes. I repeat: my amendments do not seek to change the fundamental principle of the Bill. They seek only to make meeting the reporting requirements easier and, it is hoped, enable them to work more smoothly. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, Clause 29 requires that in the event of a party's entry in the register becoming inaccurate it must give the commission a notification by means of which the entry may be brought up to date. Where the notification requirement is triggered by the death or termination of the appointment of a registered officer, it must be submitted within 14 days; in any other circumstances, within 28 days. Amendments Nos. 68 and 69 seek to change these time limits to 21 days and 42 days respectively.

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The noble Viscount expressed concern about the time limits in Committee. I can only stress again that the value of the register would be severely undermined if it were not at all times as up to date as is humanly possible. It is particularly essential that the names of registered officers who are responsible for compliance with the Bill are accurate. If, for example, the appointment of a party's registered treasurer is terminated, the party will have 14 days in which to notify the commission of that fact and to submit an application to have the relevant entry in the register changed. I accept that in that short period the party may not select and appoint a permanent replacement for that officer, but it should be able to name an official who will be able to take on the role in an acting capacity.

I recognise that the time limits proposed by the noble Lord are more stringent than those he suggested in Committee, but the Government believe that the time limits set out in the Bill remain, on balance, the right ones. For those reasons, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

3.45 p.m.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, when one listens to the Minister, one begins to think that the Bill has been devised by those who have had nothing to do with the management of political parties. The noble Lord said that the commission would be "severely undermined"--I think those were his words--if the information was not accurate. That is right--but I do not think that it can be reasonably suggested that an extension from 14 days to 21 days would severely undermine the commission.

If one looks at the reporting requirements for companies, for example, almost all situations are covered by 21 days. One cannot think of many instances in company law--which company secretaries have to obey--that allow only 14 days for them to comply with its requirements. By and large, businesses know what is going to happen and have systems in place to deal with it.

In some areas, political parties are small and haphazard institutions. Noble Lords on all sides of the House will know of areas where their own political party is not strong but very weak. Imposing these requirements on representatives in such areas is going too far.

My amendments would not severely undermine the commission. Although I shall not take the issue further today, I hope that between now and Third Reading the Minister will reconsider the matter. Extending the time limit from 14 days to 21 days would make life much easier for the commission. It would make life easier for everyone if we were to have a sensible time limit. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 69 not moved.]

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 70:

    Page 23, line 36, leave out subsection (8).

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On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Applications under Part II]:

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 71 to 77:

    Page 140, line 15, at end insert--

("( ) If the application is for the party to be registered as a party with a campaigns officer, the application must also give the name and home address of a person to be registered as the party's campaigns officer.").

0, line 28, after ("treasurer") insert ("and of the officer to be registered for the purposes of section 25(3)").

    Page 140, line 37, at end insert ("and

( ) (if the application is for the party to be registered as a party with a campaigns officer) by the proposed registered campaigns officer,").>

140, line 42, after ("treasurer") insert ("or as proposed registered campaigns officer").

    Page 141, line 4, after ("9") and insert ("and (if applicable) paragraph 9A").

    Page 141, line 8, leave out ("paragraph 9") and insert ("paragraphs 9 and 9A").

    Page 141, line 22, at end insert--

("Details of campaigns officer

9A. If an application is for the addition of a statement that the party is registered as a party with a campaigns officer, the application must--
(a) give the name and home address of the person who is to be registered as the party's campaigns officer; and
(b) be accompanied by a declaration of acceptance of office signed by that person.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 32 [Registration of minor parties]:

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 78 and 79:

    Page 24, line 43, after ("treasurer") insert ("or campaigns officer").

    Page 24, line 44, at end insert ("or campaigns officer (or any deputy campaigns officer)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 80 not moved.]

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 81:

    Page 25, line 2, leave out ("sections (Financial structure of existing registered party) and") and insert ("section").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 82:

    Page 25, line 29, leave out subsections (7) and (8).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment relates to Clause 32 of the Bill, which deals with the registration of minor parties. The clause was added to the Bill in Committee on 10th October and needs to be read in conjunction with Clause 48(9). Clause 32 concerns the registration of minor parties and Clause 48(9) states that nothing in the donations part of the Bill will apply to minor parties.

In Committee on 10th October, at col. 263 of the Official Report, I raised a possible scenario which I invited the Minister to consider. Amazing as it may be to conceive of such a being, I suggested that there might be an unscrupulous and devious politician

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abroad who would create and register a minor party, pledging with the utmost sincerity to the electoral commission that it would contest only parish elections. But then, using the exemption provided by Clause 48(9) in regard to donations, that party would take large sums of money from abroad and need not report them to the electoral commission. Of course, such sources of funding from abroad would be denied to the main political parties.

Having taken the foreign cash, such an unscrupulous and devious politician could then amend that party's registration to allow it to contest national elections. He would be allowed to do so under subsection (7) of Clause 32. That is the subsection that my amendment seeks to remove. There would be no reason for the commission to refuse such an application--not only because there would be no record of foreign donations, but, even if there were such a record, there would be no grounds under the provisions of the Bill for refusing to alter the registration. So, in a way, this person could drive a coach and horses through the ban on foreign funding.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, undertook to consider the point. I hope that he has done so and can reassure me that there is some provision in the Bill that I have not noticed which prevents this scenario. If there is not, I recommend my amendment as a way to close a possible loophole. I beg to move.

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