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The words "on request" are appropriate in the context of subsection (1), but do not fit the intention behind this provision. As well as enabling the Electoral Commission to provide general advice and assistance—for example on points of law or procedure—to electoral administrators, political parties and others, subsection (3) is the mechanism whereby the commission can promote best practice. To do that, it must be able to give advice on its own initiative, and not be restricted to providing advice only on request. We expect the commission to use the provision to disseminate best practice guidance to the registration and returning officers and to assist them in raising the standards for discharging their functions to the best.
The commission might be expected to use its powers under the clause to ensure that accounting and political parties' other practices meet the minimum standard that the Bill and subordinate instruments require. The amendment would allow the commission to advocate best practice on its own initiative rather than at the request of others.
I shall not delay our proceedings for long. We are anxious that if the phrase "on request" is removed, and the provision reads:
The Commission may also provide advice and assistance to registration officers, returning officers … registered parties, recognised third parties",
that implies that the commission may intervene. It contains a suggestion of rights of entry and of the commission being a little bossy about the way in which registered parties and recognised third parties conduct their affairs. I should like the Minister to reassure us that the commission's provision of advice and assistance will be limited to best practice.
The amendment is designed to raise everyone's standards to the best. It is in the interests of political parties to do that. However, if one political party chooses not to take the advice, and my colleagues in the Labour party take it, I say hurrah to that. The amendment is not prescriptive.
As the Minister knows, throughout the Committee proceedings, we have tried to provide for improving standards and reaching a point at which everyone is cognisant of best practice. We are a little anxious about interference. I hope that the Minister will take note of that when he advises the Electoral Commission.