Second Reading

Part of Political Parties and Elections Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:07 pm on 18th March 2009.

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Photo of Lord Neill of Bladen Lord Neill of Bladen Crossbench 5:07 pm, 18th March 2009

My Lords, I thank the Minister for putting that right. I was not quite sure whether it would accept some increase, but my position is that I do not think that any of these figures should be increased. There is no justification for it. We talk about this leading to bureaucracy, but I do not see why it causes more bureaucracy to enter a small figure than to enter a large figure, and I do not think that it gives the public the right feeling in days when those with money are regarded with some suspicion.

I shall put down my position on a point that has been touched on today: public funding. In the Committee on Standards in Public Life's fifth report, we went into public funding. At that stage, the Labour Party put in a written submission opposing it. One of its arguments was that public funding was not something that we ought to be looking at in times of financial stringency. Talk about financial stringency! Turn over a few pages of the scrapbook and get to 2009, and that is exactly what Mr Jack Straw said the other day in another place. He said that the public would not look with a kindly eye on public funding for Members of Parliament. That is completely correct, I think. If the issue comes up, we will probably have a debate about it when an amendment is moved.

The final thing that I want to mention is a hobby-horse of mine. The Bill refers to civil sanctions to be given to the Electoral Commission. In substance, they are not civil at all, but completely criminal. They are fines imposed for committing an offence. They are a fixed monetary penalty, a variable monetary penalty and a non-compliance penalty, as set out on page 37. The standard of proof is the criminal standard—it must be beyond reasonable doubt—and what is being alleged is the commission of an offence. They are really criminal in nature. That is all that I have to say.