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Lord Bassam of Brighton: I did not hear the noble Lord's learned treatise during debate on the Scotland Bill. No doubt if I were to undertake research, I could consider carefully that argument. The points he puts before us today are interesting. We see no particular reason why one registered party should not be precluded from making a donation to another.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am grateful that he says my points are interesting. Interesting they may be but they are questions which require answers. Has any political party ever given a donation to any other political party? If they have not, in what circumstances is it envisaged that they might? Does that justify having this provision in the Bill?
As I said, it is a matter for the parties concerned. It is vital to ensure that where one party provides a large amount of financial assistance to another, voters should be aware of that. The noble Lord might like to observe this point. The disclosure requirements of the Bill will ensure that that is the case. So where such a donation is made, the requirements of the Bill are transparently plain--the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, made this powerful point earlier--and are the key to ensuring that these matters are effective.
Finally, Amendment No. 140 would extend the list of permissible donors to include political parties elsewhere in the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has drawn attention to the close links that exist between some political parties in this country and their counterparts on the continent. No doubt he has the Green Party in mind. It is, of course, perfectly healthy that such links are developed and the Government have sought to ensure that the ban on foreign funding of political parties does not prevent members of the United Kingdom parties participating in visits and conferences intended to foster such links. But it would be quite another thing to allow funds raised by a party in another country to be brought to bear on elections here. The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, made the parallel point on the position of trade unions.
I promised an answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. The electoral register is defined in Clause 49(8). The general definition of member state is taken as referring to the European Union as respects all legislation. That is a term which is common across all legislation.
I do not support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Norton. It would envisage foreign donations. I have made clear that the Conservative Party accepts the recommendation; we have imposed that on ourselves voluntarily without legislation. My noble friend makes a good point. Sometimes I wonder why we do not make all donations over £5,000 open and above board. It would then be up to the parties to decide whether they wanted to take a donation from whatever source. All the other parties and the press would know where they had got it from. They would simply have to decide whether they could justify it. The Neill committee did not suggest that and neither do I, but my noble friend, as an academic, has made a good point.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The Minister has missed the point. I have said that we accept what the Neill committee says on the subject and have already implemented the recommendation voluntarily. In a more sensible world, without all the accusations that go to and fro, it might have been easier to adopt my noble friend's suggestion. That would certainly have made for a much simpler Bill.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: But the crucial point is whether that would have satisfied public concern. That is why, ironically, we have ended up with a slightly heavier-handed form of regulation than many of us would have desired at the outset.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am not sure whether it would satisfy the public. I am not sure that the public are nearly as concerned as the press about the subject. We are in danger of self-flagellating too much. There have been a few problems in politics, but the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, did no service to any politician or political party by suggesting that there was widespread corruption. Everybody in this country knows that there is not.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: That is pure invention. I did not say that there was widespread corruption. I said that there had been a number of episodes, including a matter that I had discussed with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, involving a fugitive from justice who gave stolen money to Conservative Central Office. I did not say that all British politicians were involved in such enterprises.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Of course the noble Lord did not say that. Perhaps my memory is deceiving me, but I thought that he implied that unease about the more general problems was widespread. I do not believe that it is. We should be cautious before we do more damage to the political system in this country than has been done by any of the examples that we can all think of. I shall continue to resist naming any particular cause celebre. The Minister has not played that game, so I shall not mention one or two people whom I could mention who might be as embarrassing to him as some of the others are to me.
I was trying to suggest that the point made by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth might have been worth a lot more consideration, but we have gone too far down the road for that. However, when he was talking about being on the register, I wondered which register was meant. That relates to the issue of donations from European companies. Going back to the Scotland Bill, if my Italian voter comes here, he can register to vote in local government elections, but he cannot vote in parliamentary elections.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: But he cannot vote in Westminster elections. Can he donate to the campaigns of political parties for Westminster elections, for which he is not a registered elector? The Government want to stop foreign donations, but in this case they will allow donations from someone who cannot vote in Westminster elections. I have a lot to say about the importance of having the right to vote in our elections.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Nice point. We could make an exception for Members of your Lordships' House. Such exceptions are made in various ways to get round that problem. For example, I was allowed to vote in the election for the Scottish Parliament even though I am not allowed to vote in Westminster elections. That would not be a great problem. If your Lordships all wanted to donate vast amounts of money to political parties, I am sure that the Government would find a way to except Members of the House of Lords. It is easy to do and is well documented. However, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart for pointing that out. Never trust a lawyer; that is my view.
Amendment No. 136 would incorporate what the Neill committee says. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, asked who was eligible. That is easily answered, because everybody knows who is eligible. It is well defined in various Acts of Parliament. There is not a problem there. Interestingly, the Minister said that the right to donate followed the right to vote. I wrote that down very carefully this time. That is exactly what the second part of the Neill suggestion said. When the Minister checks Hansard or his notes, he will find that he said that.
Parties should not have a problem deciding. If somebody makes a donation without being on the electoral register, the party can ask whether they have a right to vote. If they do, for whatever reason, it is easy enough for the party to check that and accept the donation. That applies particularly to people who are not on the register for security reasons. Such a person would not be on any of the registers. If I remember correctly from when we passed the provision, we have two registers, but one is used only by companies for junk mail. The full register is open to public scrutiny. It is not a private document. We can all go to the local library or our electoral registration office and study the full register.
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