HC Deb 24 July 2000 vol 354 cc755-6
10. Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

What assessment he has made of the impact the incorporation of the European convention on human rights will have on political parties in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement. [130331]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

We do not anticipate that political parties will be covered by the definition of public authorities for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Mr. Barnes

Is the Minister aware that many United Kingdom citizens, who are correctly on electoral registers, can neither vote for nor join the major political party in this country—the Labour party? I am referring to Northern Ireland. Will not those rights, which the citizens of Northern Ireland lack, be affected, at least indirectly, by the human rights convention? Is not it a good idea for the Labour party to organise in Northern Ireland? That might begin to end some of the sectarian nature of politics in the Province.

Mr. O'Brien

We do not believe that the way in which a political party allocates its membership or decides to organise itself internationally will come under the Human Rights Act.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

Can the Minister tell us how the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill will square with freedom of expression—the fundamental tenet of the European Commission of Human Rights—given that, under the Bill, the composition of a Parliament will determine the funding and, therefore, the Labour party could currently spend £9 million on a referendum on the euro, but the Conservative party could spend only £5 million? How does that square with the fundamental tenet of freedom of expression and fundamental democracy?

Mr. O'Brien

Legislation has shown that it is possible to regulate the financial operation of elections and that that does not contravene the European convention on human rights. The legislation is clear on such matters, and it also deals with the transparency of the financial affairs of political parties. We want to ensure that we comply with the European convention on human rights—indeed, we will be obliged to do so—and nothing in the legislation to which the hon. Gentleman refers will cause us to breach it.

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