|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, in his revised amendments. I believe that what the noble Lord is proposing is all of a piece with the objections that many of us have constantly expressed as to the potential effects of what is a highly bureaucratic and complex Bill. I am under no illusions whatever that our body politic should, for reasons of effectiveness and expediency, continue to be dominated by two substantial parties. I say this mainly because we are living in a era when we ought to worry substantially
My support for this proposal in no way undermines my feeling that the present electoral system performs that very sensible role. I am sorry that the Liberals have always failed to understand the essential importance of this at a time when extreme Right-wing parties are increasingly rampant among our European partners. Nevertheless, this practicality has to be tempered with the recognition that everyone who is interested in politics and does not want to support the main parties should not be unduly handicapped in the way that he or she is able to do so. A very large part of this Bill is, I suspect, introducing handicaps that do not already exist and from which we have benefited in our polity for many generations.
Therefore, although I find it difficult to see myself ever voting for the noble Lord's party--not because I disagree with its objectives, but because I fear that its recipes are not those for salvation but for disaster--none the less I very much respect his view that we should encourage anyone who wants to stand for minor parties to do so. State bureaucracy and the incorporation of parties into state bureaucracy should not prevent such people doing so. The noble Lord has done us a service. I hope that the Government will look sympathetically upon his amendments.
Lord Shepherd: My Lords, I hope that the Minister will give very careful consideration to this amendment. It is possible that the drafting may not suit the Government. However, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said, we ought to have real regard to the ordinary people who may belong to these strange, but sometimes useful, parties. Public life has become expensive. I have in mind an article that I read in my newspaper today, which really sickened me. A few weeks ago we applauded the Government's announcement of an award to former prisoners of war held by the Japanese during the last war. However, I see that the firm of solicitors representing those former prisoners is charging them some £3.5 million for its services. I am sure that the firm had to meet expenses and costs. But after the Government made this most generous gesture on behalf of the country, it seems strange that those who are, shall we say, in difficulties should have to pay a certain sum of money towards those legal fees.
I know that that example is slightly different from what we are now discussing--indeed, it is considerably different--but it indicates the cost of being in public life in the pursuit of justice. Therefore, if the Minister does not have the right answer today, I hope that he will reconsider the matter between now and Third
Viscount Astor: My Lords, apart from the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, all the noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate would not vote for the Green Party if they had a vote. However, we are all sympathetic to the point that he made; indeed, that applies to this side of the House, to the Liberal Democrats and to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, a former leader of the Labour Party in this House. I trust that the Minister will take note of that fact.
Before the Minister even thinks that he can accuse me of supporting state funding by being sympathetic to this amendment, I should point out that this is nothing to do with state funding. I am sure that the noble Lord realises that this is to do with preventing small parties being bankrupted by the new arrangements. It is as simple as that. Small parties will just go out of business, so to speak, unless something is done. The amendment before us may not be exactly the right way to solve the problem. However, can the Minister say what consultations there have been with small parties about their compliance costs? What will the Government do to ensure that small parties do not go out of existence?
Unless the Government come forward with a reasonable answer to the concerns that have been expressed by noble Lords this afternoon, we shall have to think the worst of the Minister--which, I am sure, is something that we do not want to do. We shall wonder whether the only reason for the Government not supporting the amendment is that they wish to put out of business the Scottish Socialist Party, led by Mr Tommy Sheridan, a thorn in their side in Scotland.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I thought that the noble Viscount was doing quite well until he made his final point. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, indicated that he would return to the fray with further amendments on the issue. I commend him on his persistence. We have had time to reflect on the matter since the Committee stage. The noble Lord proposes a more generous conception of what might constitute "start-up" costs, with an additional £200,000 to be made available over the course of four years. I appreciate that what is at stake is a small sum of money in relation to the size of the public purse. But I remain unpersuaded that this amendment in its current form should be accepted.
I remind the House that the Neill committee made a specific recommendation in relation to start-up costs. By start-up costs it had in mind, for example, the purchase of IT equipment which might be required to keep track of large numbers of recordable donations. It is perfectly reasonable to suppose that that sort of investment, if it is necessary, will be undertaken at the outset, not three or four years down the line.
That said, the Government wish to ensure that adequate assistance is available to meet initial start-up costs and intend that a figure of £700,000 rather than £500,000 should be made available. We understand
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked a specific question about consultation. All parties had an opportunity to comment on the White Paper and draft Bill. Sadly, few chose to do so. However, that was not for the want of trying on the Government's part. We were genuinely interested in stimulating interest. As has been demonstrated during the passage of the Bill, that interest has grown since.
Viscount Slim: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I hope that I may reinforce the earlier remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. As the noble Lord may know, over many years I have been somewhat involved in trying to get the Japanese prisoners of war some recompense. This is not entirely in the context of the mini-debate we are having at the moment.
Viscount Slim: My Lords, I was about to do so but I had forgotten it. Will the noble Lord who represents the Government on the Front Bench please look into the matter that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, raised? I do not complain about the sum of £10,000 per person. The Prime Minister has been very generous and quite correct. Will the noble Lord please ensure that all that money does not go to the lawyers?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as the noble Viscount well understands, that is wide of the remit of our discussions today. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made an important point. I do not think that anyone in your Lordships' House would want to see lawyers profit at the expense of those who have suffered as a consequence of war. I say that with a lawyer sitting behind me and in the knowledge that I live with a lawyer. Therefore, perhaps I am entitled to make such remarks. I shall take steps to investigate the current situation but beyond that we shall have to look to the future.
I am grateful for the rather small mercy that the noble Lord has produced. I look forward to seeing the amendment that the Government will bring forward at Third Reading. I hope that the Government will allow plenty of time--not that there is a great deal of time available--to enable us to study it and, if necessary, propose alternatives at that stage. However, in the meantime, and with some gratitude, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.