HL Deb 20 November 2000 vol 619 cc640-6

(" —(1) In the case of any registered party a person—

  1. (a) may be registered as the party's campaigns officer, and
  2. (b) may be so registered whether or not he is also registered as the party's leader or nominating officer (or both).

(2) The person registered as a party's campaign officer shall be responsible for compliance on the part of the party with the provisions of Parts V to VII.

(3) So long as a party is registered as a party with a campaigns officer, section 23(5), (7) and (8) shall apply in relation to a person registered as the party's campaigns officer as they apply in relation to a person registered as treasurer of the party, except that in section 23(5) the reference to the appropriate person shall be read as a reference to the person registered as treasurer of the party.

(4) The person registered as a party's campaigns officer may appoint, on such terms as he may determine, one or more deputy campaigns officers of the party for the purposes of Part V, but not more than 12 persons may hold such appointments at the same time.

(5) For the purposes of this section—

  1. (a) the provisions of section 72(2) to (10) shall apply in relation to a party's campaigns officer and the appointment of a person as deputy campaigns officer as they apply in relation to a party's treasurer and the appointment of a person as deputy treasurer, and
  2. (b) any reference in those provisions to a treasurer or (as the case may be) deputy treasurer shall accordingly be read as a reference to a campaigns officer or (as the case may be) deputy campaigns officer.

(6) In relation to any time when a party is (or was) registered as a party with a campaigns officer—

  1. (a) the provisions of Part V (other than section 72) and Parts VI and VII shall apply as if any reference to the treasurer of the party were a reference to the registered campaigns officer, and any reference to a deputytreasurer of the party were a reference to a deputy campaigns officer of the party; and
  2. (b) the provisions of Part X (enforcement) shall apply in connection with matters relevant for the purposes of Parts V to VII as if any reference to a person who is or has been the treasurer of the party were a reference to a person who is or has been the registered campaigns officer.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 24 [Financial structure of registered party: adoption of scheme]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 56: Page 18, line 37, leave out ("For the purposes of this section") and insert ("Except for the purposes of Parts V and VII,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 56. If I was of a suspicious nature I would say that this amendment takes us back to one of the ways in which the Government deliberately and cynically are rigging this Bill to benefit the Labour Party; but of course as I am not of a cynical nature I could not possibly say that.

My amendment refers to the position of the trade unions which are affiliated to the Labour Party. Clause 24(4) makes it abundantly clear that they are not to be taken as part of the party for the purposes of the Bill. I do not have a problem, nor am I arguing about the trade unions being affiliated to the Labour Party. That is a matter for them and for the Labour Party. Perhaps I might say that by using the phrase "affiliated trade unions" I am referring only to those unions which have signed a political affiliation agreement with the Labour Party and joined themselves to it.

Those unions make a conscious choice to join with the Labour Party, support its political aims and policies and participate in its internal decision-making process in a variety of ways, including through the National Executive Committee, the National Policy Forum and elections for the party leader. In fact, there are more trade union NEC members than constituency Labour Party, Parliamentary Labour Party and European Parliamentary Labour Party representatives combined.

I will not go on, or indeed at the risk of seeming to pun unnecessarily, labour the point I want to make, but affiliated trade unions are an integral part of the machine. In Committee the Minister mentioned organisations in respect of which the Conservative Party had applied for exemptions under Clause 24(8)(c). I would just say to the Minister that these organisations are not involved separately in partisan campaigning, and certainly not to the extent of only affiliated trade unions; nor do they spend a lot of money. I understand that UNISON, which I think is an affiliated union, spent something like £1 million on partisan advertising at the last election.

The Minister drew our attention to the Conservative Party's evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in 1992. That drove me to take another look at it, and I saw there the words of the then General Secretary of the Labour Party, who was giving oral evidence to the Select Committee on 23rd June 1993. He said this: There was obviously agreement between the Labour Party and its affiliated unions as to how we fought that election". He was referring to the 1992 General Election. If the Minister thinks I am misquoting, he should perhaps consult the person who said that, namely, Mr Larry Whitty, who is now of course the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, a member of the Government and of your Lordships' House.

I would also refer your Lordships to the website—just to show how trendy and modern I am—of the Labour Party in the trade union section. Referring to the 1997 election, it said this: The scale of union support before and during the 1997 election was unprecedented and was 100 per cent targeted behind the successful key seat strategy"— that was certainly true— The affiliated unions support the drive to make Labour as strong…as possible and continue to pursue many projects, collectively and individually, to this end". Undoubtedly the Labour Party and its affiliated trade unions campaign as one. I have no problem with that. However, the Bill makes an exception to that principle. It states that any money they spend on political campaigning for the Labour Party will not count towards the Labour Party's spending limits, either in elections or, indeed, in referendums.

Under the Bill the Labour Party can spend £20 million in the year before an election. It can spend £5 million in a referendum campaign. According to the Labour Party website, there are 23 affiliated trade unions. Each of those could spend £1 million, in the year before an election and £ £½ million in an election campaign. Therefore, they could spend together an additional £23 million in an election campaign and £11.5 million in a referendum. I recognise that those figures may be a little unrealistic in practice. Some unions may not be able to get anywhere near that level. Nevertheless, it is there in theory. Even if they spend 25 per cent of that amount, that would still be a significant addition to what the Bill states should be the capped expenditure on behalf of political parties. The words, "cake and eat it", spring to mind. That is what the Government are trying to do.

In Committee noble Lords tried to cover their embarrassment by having one or two other arguments up their sleeve. They argued that the exemption was necessary in order to ensure that money given to the Labour Party by the unions is declared in the register of donations held by the electoral commissioner. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, stated: Far from being a device to obscure these financial and political links, the very purpose of subsection 8 is to ensure that such funding and the relationship are transparent". — [Official Report, 10/10/00; col 291.] That is not a good argument. Not only does the Labour Party publish the details of the money it receives from the trade unions in its annual accounts; the details of the political funds of trade unions are regulated and made public at any rate. The unions are already required to make annual returns of the financial affairs available for public inspection. That is made clear in paragraph 6.21 of the Neill report. The argument that if the exemption were not made transparency would not otherwise be ensured simply does not stand up. The second argument was that if the unions were included as part of the Labour Party, the party's annual accounts produced under Part III of the Bill would have to include all the affairs of the affiliated trade union.

I believe that Amendment No. 56 meets both those arguments. I am perfectly prepared to concede them to the Minister. Trade unions would still be separate from the party for the purpose of donating and accounting. They would be considered as part of a political party only when it came to campaign and referendum expenditure limits. No doubt the Minister will have some more arguments made out by this time and no doubt he will reject my amendments. However, I believe he must address the important central point I make. By going about it the way the Bill does, the Labour Party and its affiliated unions will be allowed to exceed the spending limits as they would otherwise apply. Is that fair, not only in terms of elections but in terms of referendums?

We have discussed not allowing an independent candidate to put two or three names on the ballot paper if he was standing for parliamentary elections because he just might find a loophole. If that is a good enough argument for a poor old independent to find a loophole, here is a loophole a mile wide. If the Government were being honest to themselves and to the political process, they should consider either my way of closing this loophole or come up with their own between now and next week. I beg to move.

11 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, sought to narrow the responsibilities of the registered treasurer. These amendments now seek to add to those responsibilities. The intention is to make the registered treasurer responsible for any campaign expenditure or referendum expenses incurred by a constituent or affiliated organisation which is not to be treated as part of the party by virtue of Clause 24(8).

I am somewhat surprised that the noble Lord continues to pursue this point. While he seeks to bring Clause 24(8) organisations back within the registered party for the purposes of Parts V and VII, Central Office is working constructively with officials to include a number of organisations affiliated to the Conservative Party within the Clause 24(8)(c) order. There seems to be some confusion in the noble Lord's party about its policy towards this provision.

The fact is that Central Office at least accepts that it is nonsensical to treat certain affiliated organisations, which are essentially free-standing, independent bodies in their own right, as part of a party. The Labour Party is not responsible in any way for expenditure by affiliated trade unions; nor is the Conservative Party responsible for expenditure by, for example, the Conservative Christian Fellowship or, for that matter, the Association of Conservative Peers. As such, the registered treasurer of either party cannot be held accountable for those bodies. If those bodies incur election or referendum expenditure, they do so on their own behalf and in their own right. It is they who will need to account for it under Parts VI and VII. It would be quite wrong to place any responsibility on the registered treasurer of the party.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, seems to see mischief in all of that. It is argued that the trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party will be able to incur election expenditure on a grand scale on the party's behalf, thus facilitating expenditure above the £20 million limit. Amendment No. 56 seeks to address that by providing that the exclusion for which Clause 24(8) provides does not apply to Parts V and VI.

There are two strands to that argument. First, the noble Lord suggests that it is perfectly obvious that, given their links, political expenditure incurred by an affiliated trade union should be regarded as expenditure incurred by the Labour Party. However, it should be pointed out that the Neill committee did not see it that way. The committee noted NALGO's campaigns in the early 1990s but adduced the example in support of its argument that controls on third party expenditure were required. That point now goes because it is not affiliated to the Labour Party.

It did not suggest that those trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party should not be regarded as third parties at all. I do not see how one could come to any other conclusion. The Labour Party cannot compel a trade union to conduct a campaign on its behalf. If a trade union uses its own resources to conduct a political campaign, it is because it believes that such a campaign will be in the interests of its members. Those interests may not always accord with the interests of the Labour Party. I should have thought that some of our disagreements in the past would at least have adduced that point when we sometimes argue between and among friends within the trade union movement. The trade union movement is independent of the Labour Party.

The noble Lord argues that the Bill offers scope for the subversion of limits on expenditure by political parties. The Labour Party could spend up to its own limit and at the same time conspire with its affiliated trade unions to mount a parallel campaign to promote the election of a Labour government. Not for the first time, the noble Lord sees dangers lurking in every nook and cranny of this Bill. The Conservative Party put forward a number of candidates for inclusion in Clause 24(8)(c), but the noble Lord seemingly does not regard them in the same light as the trade unions, albeit that the same possibilities arise.

Similarly, how would the noble Lord react if the Conservative Party's corporate donors were to mount a campaign calling for the return of a pro-business government? He would no doubt argue that companies are not affiliated to the Conservative Party, so the same concerns do not arise. But the point is that a trade union has as much right to campaign in its own name and to register as a recognised third party or as a permitted referendum participant as has a company. There must be that equity. The trade unions and the Labour Party are distinct and separate organisations. There is no case for treating them as one for the purposes of Parts V and VII.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, having heard those compelling arguments, will feel more than usually obliged to withdraw his amendments.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, although the argument was not in the least compelling, it certainly was not surprising. If there were equivalent bodies on the Conservative side which would be allowed to spend £1 million each, the noble Lord and his officials would have found a way of ensuring that the capping which the Bill imposes on political parties could not be breached by the use of the bodies affiliated to the political party and well able to spend lots of money.

I hear his suggestion that the Conservative Party should find friends who will do the same thing. I wonder whether he would be happy to allow those "friends" to drive a coach and horses through the capping expenditure, which is what he wants his friends to be able to do as proposed in the Bill.

It is unbelievable that the Minister should try to persuade me that the trade unions are somehow separate from the Labour Party. I read out 33 NEC members, 12 of them nominated by the trade unions. I read out what was said by his noble friend Lord Whitty. It is the least convincing argument.

He could put forward many other arguments. He could say that it would be difficult and bureaucratic—which would not surprise me, given the rest of the Bill—or he could simply say, "We do not believe that this should be done. The trade unions have a right to campaign for who they like and if they are campaigning for us, good and well". I say simply that if they were campaigning for the Liberal Democrats or for the Conservative Party, I would wager that he would take a different view. But it is too late to put that bet to any kind of test and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.