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In the three general elections in which I stood, I never found it necessary to refer at all to my opponent. It is entirely laudable that this part of the Bill precludes the election addresses from being used in a slanging match. But a slanging match can be verbal. Why, then, should it be excluded from the election address? It is true that there is a Latin phrase which says that the written word
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the purpose of these lines in the schedule is to be more precise about the nature of abuse that we attempt to circumscribe and rule out. This follows logically from paragraph 3(1) and adds further explanation that an election address should not be used to advertise or for material gain relating to commercial activity. Subparagraph (2)(c) refers to an earlier discussion and precludes the mayoral candidate from referring to himself or herself if he or she is standing also as an assembly candidate or to other assembly candidates. This links to an issue that we discussed at some length earlier. I hope that explanation clarifies the issues raised by the noble Lord. I thank him for raising the matter.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, the noble Lord was courteous enough to say that he would consider the point I raised on an earlier amendment. Will he do so also on this amendment, and will he be kind enough to write to me with the result of his consideration?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I want to be more helpful to the noble and learned Lord because he raises important drafting issues. However, it needs to be understood that those relate to ruling out the abuse about which we were so concerned in our earlier discussions, not just this afternoon but in relation to the orders and during the Committee and Report stages of the Bill.
We believe that we have tightened up the provisions so that we can reasonably expect abuse not to take place through the freepost facility. That is exactly what the schedules are all about. Of course, we keep drafting under careful consideration at all stages of the legislation and it would be wrong to say that we shall not check the drafting carefully. However, this provision is directed at the issue of abuse; it is an attempt to tie it down precisely.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th February be approved [11th Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have debated this matter before. The matter of the free mailshot has been disposed of and I hope we can deal briefly with the matter in question in relation to this order.
The draft order prescribes the maximum amounts for the election expenses of candidates, their agents and third parties in elections for mayor of London and the London assembly. In my opinion the draft order is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The draft order sets out three separate limits: for mayoral candidates, assembly constituency candidates, and for parties and independent candidates contesting the London-wide list, reflecting the GLA's unique voting systems. Those limits are £420,000 per mayoral candidate; £35,000 per candidate contesting an assembly constituency; and £330,000 per party or independent candidate contesting the London-wide list.
As I said, we consulted political parties on our proposals in December 1999. We listened carefully to the points they raised about the level of the limits and, in the light of that consultation, reduced significantly the mayoral and London-wide list limits from the levels that we originally proposed--namely, £990,000 and £495,000 respectively--because consultees considered them too high and likely to disadvantage smaller parties. The limits provide for a more level playing field for candidates while allowing them the freedom to put their message across to the electorate.
The limits can be broadly compared to expenses limits in other relevant regimes. The expenses limits for mayoral candidates and for parties and independent candidates contesting the London-wide list are broadly derived from the figure of £30,000 per parliamentary constituency used in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, which is presently before another place, as the building block for calculating the national spending limits for political parties. The assembly constituency limit is broadly equivalent to the sum of parliamentary constituency limits within an assembly constituency area. The limits are enough to enable candidates and parties to fight effective campaigns at either the London-wide or constituency level, while not allowing their spending to become unacceptably high.
When the order comes into force, GLA candidates and parties contesting the London-wide list will not be permitted to spend more than the relevant prescribed limit in respect of their election expenses. Election expenses are defined in the Representation of the People Act 1983 as,
Spending before 14th December 1999--the date when the relevant provisions in the GLA Act were commenced--is not caught by the provisions of the Representation of the People Act and hence would not, in our view, count toward the limit. I want to take this opportunity to clarify that a mayoral candidate's contribution of up to £10,000 towards the cost of
Noble Lords may wonder whether, in the light of the decision to produce the booklet, explained so eloquently and modestly earlier today by my noble friend Lord Bassam, to the appreciation of the House, we should perhaps adjust downwards the election expenses limits for mayoral candidates. After all, their literature will be delivered to every elector at a pretty cheap rate. However, on balance I believe that it could be unfair to do so, given that we are where we are. Candidates have known about our proposed expenses levels for some time. Their spending since 14th December--the date when the relevant sections of the GLA Act were commenced--would count against those limits. We could be accused, with some justice, of moving the goalposts if we altered them now. I believe it is right to leave them for this election and look again at the issue before the next Greater London elections.
Article 2 of the order prescribes the maximum expenditure which a person other than a candidate, his agent or persons authorised by the agent--that is, a third party--may incur at such elections. The limits are set at £25,000 per third party supporting or opposing mayoral candidates; £25,000 per third party supporting or opposing London-wide list candidates, including independents; and £1,800 per third party supporting or opposing an assembly constituency candidate.
Some comment has been made on those limits and the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee drew attention to them. The limits are derived from the formula we intend to bring forward by amendment to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill to limit third-party spending in local elections. Concern has been expressed that the limits are too high. They are indeed high compared with the current £5 limit set out in the Representation of the People Act 1983, but the main reason for drawing those levels is that they are justified; and they justify my earlier contention that the Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. They are justified also in the light of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Bowman case. The court ruled that the £5 limit constituted an unjustifiable restriction on freedom of expression.