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I am conscious of the justified blandishments of the Chair. I had assumed that I was being required to speak to take us somewhere towards the Division, but I will conclude quickly.
“In the absence of any evidence that there is a need to lower the threshold for third parties to register with the Electoral Commission, we recommend that the Government revert to the existing levels. To this end, we recommend that clause 27…is removed from the Bill.”
Secondly, as far as the Committee could see, there was no justification for the new lower spending limits. Witness after witness came before the Committee, and not a single one said, “This is fantastic. We have been waiting for ever for the Government to do this on spending limits.” The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:
“The cost limits are reduced in a way that is neither explicable, nor relevant.”
The NCVO does not know the basis on which the Government decided on the new limits for expenditure, adding:
“One may suggest that they are arbitrary.”
That is why we set our face against those limits, and we say to colleagues in all parts of the House that until there is a proper justification of that, we feel that clause 27 should not progress.
Finally, as a chair of a charity and a trustee, I will remake the point that I made the other day in respect of clause 27. If there is even the faintest question mark over the hard-earned money of my charity, due to the possibility that we may get sucked into legal action and have to pay someone else’s costs on a six-figure basis, I am looking at having to sack people. I am not going to do that. It is no good, Minister, restraining, by some technicality, something that I have worked very hard to create.
I respect the Minister, who has been put in a very difficult position by some of his colleagues. I respect him when he says, “Don’t worry, Graham. That’s going to be okay. You’re not going to be caught.” There are many barristers and lawyers out there who live by the fact that people make technical mistakes. If I make a technical mistake by asking whether I can write to every candidate in the next general election and tell them about the wonders of early intervention, which my charity pursues, and I do it in slightly the wrong way, I put at risk the whole enterprise, and I am not prepared to do that. The Government are chilling me—stopping me engaging in the process.