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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: That is a very helpful suggestion. I must point out to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that I believe we will be able to amend these amendments after they are incorporated in the Bill when we consider the legislation on Report, but, frankly, that is still very unsatisfactory. We shall be asked to pass a series of amendments when we have exposed the fact that the Government have no particular policy in this respect. I should have thought that a "yes" or "no" answer would be terribly simple. I would not have continued with the argument because frustration had eventually forced me to remain in my seat, but the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has-- the Minister will be sorry to hear--given me a new lease of life.
It is a simple question: can a person in the United States give money to a British political party? As I understand it, the answer is, "No, they cannot". Can a Scotsman who lives in the US give money to the Scottish National Party to help the old country? No, he cannot. Can an American give money to an Irish political party for the old country? Either he can or he cannot. Either the Government intend that he can, or they intend that he cannot. It is terribly simple. Indeed, I believe that we deserve an answer.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I understand some of the confusion that has arisen as a by-product of this debate. However, I return to the argument clearly laid out in the Neill report. We are trying, by way of these amendments, to ensure that we put that properly in place. I believe that the real issue is contained in Clause 65--
Lord Glentoran: I appreciate what the Minister has said, but he is just coming to the point that I had intended to make. The Neill report had been produced well before this Bill was drafted. I still fail to understand why, if it was thought necessary, these amendments had not been incorporated in the Bill before it ever entered the other place. Equally, I am very suspicious--and this is the key to the point that I wish to make--because it seems to me that Clause 65 gives the Government and Secretary of State powers to make special provision if and when it seems to be necessary by an order that will be justified in both Houses in the proper way.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I apologise for interrupting the Minister again, but he made the point a few minutes ago that it is impossible for Her Majesty's Government to stop Irish American citizens sending money into Northern Ireland. By the same token, is it impossible for any nation in the Commonwealth to send money through the post to England for the Conservative Party? What is the difference?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The important thing about the Bill--this goes to the heart of the debate--is that we are trying to regulate and legislate to control the process of donations so that we have an entirely understandable and transparent situation. That has been part of the debate that we have had this evening. I can understand where some of the confusion has crept in.
I have tried to clarify matters as best I can. I have been pushed by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, to suggest that these amendments take us further than was intended in the Neill committee report. I do not believe that to be the case. I believe that we can return to these matters on later clauses and obviously we can consider them further at Report stage. On that basis it is entirely possible for us to endorse the amendments this evening. I accept that the debate has been less than clear but I believe that we have now achieved greater clarity. I hope that the Committee will therefore accept the amendments.
Lord Monson: Would not the Committee be perfectly in order to accept Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 tonight while reserving the right to return to the other amendments in the group on the next day of the Committee stage?
Lord Carter: I hope that I can help on a matter of procedure. I am not familiar with the argument that is being proposed here and therefore I shall not address that. It is important to realise that, provided amendments are not agreed to in Committee on a Division, they can be returned to on Report. I suggest that the easiest thing to do is for the Committee to accept the amendments tonight, although not as the result of a Division. That will then give time to reflect between now and Report on the best way to deal with the problem we are discussing, if it can be dealt with. As I say, provided the amendments are not accepted as the result of a Division--that cannot be reversed at Report--they can be amended on Report.
Lord Carter: I had hoped that we might have progressed beyond Amendment No. 56 this evening, but, the way things are going, that is probably unlikely. I am now being pushed to end the day's proceedings at Amendment No. 55. However, as has been said, probably the right way to proceed is to accept Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 this evening and then take the matter on from there.
("(c) a registered political party is "represented" if there are at least two Members of the European Parliament belonging to the party who--
(i) are Members for a United Kingdom electoral region, and
(ii) are not disqualified from sitting or voting in that Parliament;
(d) a registered political party is "represented" if there are at least two Members of the Scottish Parliament belonging to the party who are not disqualified from sitting or voting in that Parliament and that party also stands candidates in elections to the House of Commons;
(e) a registered political party is "represented" if there are at least two Members of the Welsh Assembly belonging to the party who are not disqualified from sitting or voting in that Assembly and that party also stands candidates in elections to the House of Commons; and
(f) a registered political party is "represented" if there are at least two Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly belonging to the party who are not disqualified from sitting or voting in that Assembly and that party also stands candidates in elections to the House of Commons").
I belong to a party which, although it has no Members in the House of Commons and only one Member in the House of Lords who has got there by, shall we say, sideways movement, nevertheless achieves under fair, or reasonably fair, electoral systems, 11 or 12 per cent of the poll where we stand for election. That has been the case when we have gained
We believe that the definition of "political party" should depend not only on having two Members of the House of Commons but also on the kind of representation set out in my amendment, which is the kind of representation that my party has at the moment.
I hope that the Government will be friendly towards this suggestion. I have no doubt that my ex-colleagues in the Liberal Democrat Party will be fairly supportive of my amendment. I remember the time when it, too, would not have qualified as a political party under this kind of set up. They had only five Members of the House of Commons, three of them by agreement with other parties. It could just have qualified--but only just--and only then by pushing it. The party at that time certainly was not polling 11 per cent all over the country, as we are.
Viscount Astor: The noble Lord, Beaumont of Whitley, will be glad to hear that we have great sympathy with his amendment. We think that it raises an important issue. I am surprised that his former colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches have not yet spoken, but no doubt they will wish to intervene and tell the Committee what they think. It is obviously an issue that affected them in the past and no doubt they will feel able to support their former noble friend.
It is an interesting issue which the Minister should consider very carefully. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said, policy development grants are important. We should not exclude from development grants a recognisable political party which gains a substantial share of a vote. We look forward to the Minister's reply and to hearing what the Liberal Democrats have to say on the subject.
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