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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am not surprised by the last answer, given what the Minister said to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. I was just trying to be helpful by ensuring consistency in government. I think that it is called "joined-up government". Clearly there is to be no joined-up government in this case.
I wonder how many parties have a turnover between £250,000 and £1 million. How many would be affected if the limit were raised? I wonder whether small parties are being asked to go through hoops unnecessarily. I suspect that the Government cannot tell me, because they have not even considered the impact of the Bill on major political parties to any great extent, so I do not
Lord Bach: I cannot. One of the purposes of the Bill is to ensure that there is proper accounting of political parties. That has not always existed. Of course it has in the Conservative Party, my party and the Liberal Democrats, but maybe not in all parties. As I understand it--I hope that I am not wrong--there are no figures to enable me to give an accurate answer.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful for that answer, which proves that the Government have made no effort to ascertain the impact of the Bill on smaller parties. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 125A to Clause 41(2) relates to the period for submitting audited accounts to the electoral commission. As the Bill stands, a party which is required to have its accounts audited has six months from the end of its financial year to complete the audit. However, the party must also submit the accounts and the auditor's report to the commission within six months. Clearly, if a party does not receive its auditor's report until the end of the six-month period, there may be little or no time left to forward the documentation to the commission. This amendment gives a party a further seven days leeway.
Amendments Nos. 126 and 127 relate to Clause 43, which creates criminal offences for failure to comply with the provisions of this part of the Bill. The clause includes a number of defences, but the formulation employed is at odds with that used elsewhere in the Bill; for example, Clause 60(5) refers to both the taking of all reasonable steps and the exercise of all due diligence. Our Amendments Nos. 126 and 127 bring Clause 43 into line and, we hope, ensure consistency across the Bill.
Finally, Amendments Nos. 128 and 128A enable regulations to make provision for the delivery of revised statements of accounts, prepared under Clause 44, to the electoral commission. Amendment No. 129 concerns the public inspection of such statements.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for explaining those amendments. He is perhaps the right Minister to answer at least one of the questions that I want to put. But, first, I believe that Amendment No. 125A is welcome and sensible.
With regard to Amendment No. 128A, I wonder whether the Minister can give examples of the type of scenario that might occur if a decision were taken to disapply some of the provision. I am not entirely sure what circumstances might pertain in such an eventuality.
The Minister did not mention Amendment No. 130B. That amendment makes the treasurer of an accounting unit, which may be--and, in many cases, will be--a local association, personally liable for the costs in relation to a revised statement of accounts. I wonder whether the noble Lord considers that it is right to make treasurers of accounting units personally liable. I have said on a number of occasions that I am sure that all our political parties find it difficult enough to find treasurers. The very fact that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, was for 15 years a treasurer may tell us that he was an excellent treasurer, but I suspect that it also tells us that he could not find anyone to replace him during many of those years. Therefore, I wonder how that will work.
When I read this clause and considered the question of something being amiss with accounts or of someone reporting that something was wrong, I wondered what procedures would be set up in order to investigate and prosecute. If someone reports to the electoral commission that he believes that something is wrong either with his own party's accounts or, as is much
So far as concerns Amendment No. 130B, I deliberately did not refer to it. The amendment is necessary in order to remove an erroneous reference to the registered leader of an accounting unit. As the noble Lord knows, Clause 24 currently provides only for the registration of a treasurer of an accounting unit. That treasurer will be liable.
So far as concerns the electoral commission, where a party member complains about possible fraud, either in his or in another party, I imagine that the electoral commission will investigate. It may, as may anyone, bring in the police if it feels that it needs to do so. If it does, then in the normal way the question of whether or not a prosecution takes place will, in the last resort, depend on the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Lord for those explanations. However, if the electoral commission does not call in the police, what will happen? Will that mean that the case has been dropped or will the electoral commission be able to prosecute?
Lord Bach: The electoral commission will obviously try to sort out the difficulty but, as I understand it, powers exist under the Bill to prosecute and the electoral commission will be in a position to do so. The position often changes when the police are brought into matters of this kind.