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Viscount Astor: Perhaps I may respond to the Minister and speak to Amendments Nos. 182D, 182E and 182G. I had wondered what the difference is between "use and benefit" and "use or benefit". I sometimes wonder whether guidance should be issued to the draftsman about the words "and" and "or". We are always having arguments about whether it should be "and" or "or" and sometimes we are told that it should both. It would be helpful if the right form of words could be devised. A clever parliamentary draftsman should be able to think of a form that would cover all these eventualities.
I shall turn now to the amendments. I welcome government Amendments Nos. 186A, 187A and 189A. They place the disclosure limit for members' associations on the same level as those for parties' central organisations. That reflects a point raised on 1st February by my honourable friend Robert Walter in the Standing Committee of another place. However, I shall not detain the Committee by going further into the detail.
More significant amendments have been moved by the Minister in this grouping on matters that have not previously been debated in another place. I refer specifically to matters addressed by Amendments Nos. 182D and 182E. Amendment No. 182D seeks to
Lord Bach: I have conceded Amendment No. 182G which is the amendment to which I believe the noble Viscount is presently referring. It should read, "Member of the House of Commons". The noble Viscount and his colleagues are right and we have accepted that.
Paragraph (8) of the schedule includes Members of the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and so forth. It also includes members of any local authority, the Greater London Assembly and the Mayor of London; a long list is included here which embraces a huge number of people. Can the Minister tell the Committee how relevant information as regards donations is to be disseminated? What consultation is to take place? Has Mr Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, been told about paragraph 8(g)?
I shall turn to Amendment No. 182D, tabled in the name of my noble friend, concerning control over donations. This relates to political activities. Can the Minister provide a definition of what is a "political activity"? Does a donation to fund a meeting or drinks reception between a Member of the House of Commons and his constituents count as such, even though that could not be defined as a party political meeting? How will this affect Members of the European Parliament as regards any funding they receive from that body? Would that be prohibited because such funding would be seen to be funding from abroad, even though it would relate to their official duties?
These matters deserve some consideration and I should be grateful for the noble Lord's thinking here. As the Minister will realise, this amendment is of a probing nature to establish the Government's reasoning and to provide an opportunity for the Minister to cite relevant examples.
As regards Amendment No. 182E, the Minister rightly pointed out that the electoral commission will have wide powers to offer advice. However, we would feel much more comfortable if the commission had conferred on it a duty to provide guidance, which is perhaps a stronger term than advice. A great many
Furthermore, the way in which the provisions of Schedule 6 will affect the rules by which your Lordships' House presently governs itself means that noble Lords will be directly affected by it. Can the Minister confirm whether that will be the case, because that is how I read it? I feel that the Government should have consulted the Procedure Committee and the Committee for Privileges in this House--and possibly the relevant committees in another place--to gauge their reaction to these provisions. After all, noble Lords have taken the view that it is their right to regulate their own affairs.
Schedule 6 is extremely wide ranging and covers a great deal of territory. Furthermore, it will affect a vast number of people, ranging from senior figures in political parties to Members of Parliament, moving on to mayors, councillors and so forth. The provisions will affect not merely hundreds of people, but possibly thousands or even hundreds of thousands. A positive duty should be put on the commission to offer guidance on how Schedule 6 will work.
I have put a number of questions to the Minister in response to this grouping of amendments, in particular as regards the effects they will have on this House and on Parliament in general. I shall be most grateful for the Minister's response when he comes to sum up our debate.
Lord Norton of Louth: Perhaps I may raise a point which has been highlighted by Amendment No. 182G. I should like to use that amendment as a peg on which to inquire into a matter that is related to the matters covered by it. I understand that the Minister has accepted the amendment and I hope that he, in turn, will understand why I am raising a point in the light of that acceptance.
Amendment No. 182G refers to paragraph 8 of Schedule 6 where the term used is "relevant elective office". The Minister conceded that in his acceptance of the amendment to subparagraph (a), where reference is made to a "Member of Parliament", so that it will be refined to refer to a "Member of the House of Commons"--because it refers only to elected offices. Because of that, I should like to raise a point which has been triggered in my mind in relation to subparagraph (f), which relates to a member of any local authority. I believe that it is possible for a member of a local authority not to be an elected member, but to be co-opted. I am not sure what would be the status in that case.
Lord Bach: I shall deal first with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. He has made an extremely helpful point. There is a nice question here as regards whether he is in fact a member of the local authority in the important capacity he plays within it. Perhaps I may take the point away and look at it.
So far as concerns the comments made and points raised by the noble Viscount, I am most grateful to him and I shall do my best to respond as fully as I can. I shall then return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, because I now have some more information on that.
Members of this House are not covered by paragraph 8 of Schedule 6. That is why we have accepted Amendment No. 182G. I know that the noble Viscount was elected--we were all delighted at how high he was on his party's list. But the voting was for a party list as opposed to an election. I am sure that he will understand the distinction. I wish some of his noble friends would see that as clearly as he does. So the answer to that question is, no, the House of Lords is not included.
There has been consultation; we have brought forward a White Paper and a draft Bill. We will ensure that Members of Parliament, councillors and others are notified of the coming into force of Schedule 6--which, as the noble Viscount indicated, is an important schedule to the Bill--and the obligations that it places on them.
The noble Viscount mentioned that under Clause 9 there is no compulsion on the electoral commission to offer guidance. He is right about that. But in reply I ask him, perhaps rhetorically, is it not hard to believe that an electoral commission with these powers would not see one of its primary tasks as being to advise relevant people and organisations of where they stand on issues raised by Schedule 6? Indeed, we expect that, in practice, advice on such matters will be given on a case-by-case basis. In other words, a party will go to the electoral commission and will expect--and get--a reply to a particular query. We do not think that any overall guidance could be expected to cover all possible circumstances.
Turning again to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, co-option is limited to parish councils, not principal area councils, in terms of becoming a member of the local authority. We all remember the days of aldermen, but, whether for good or for bad,
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