Clause 8

Political Parties and Elections Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 7:15 pm on 18 November 2008.

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Declaration as to source of donation

Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I beg to move amendment No. 153, in page 5, line 43, leave out ‘£200’ and insert

‘£5,000, or £1,000 where subsection (4A) of section 54A applies,’.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 3, in page 5, line 43, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.

No. 135, in page 5, line 43, leave out ‘£200’ and insert

‘£5,000 donated to a registered party or £1,000 donated to an accounting unit of a registered party’.

Government amendments Nos. 154 and 155.

Amendment No. 4, in page 6, line 3, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.

Government amendment No. 156.

Amendment No. 5, in page 6, line 14, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.

Amendment No. 134, in page 6, line 14, leave out ‘£200’ and insert

‘£5,000 donated to a registered party or £1,000 donated to an accounting unit of a registered party’.

Government amendments Nos. 157 to 160.

Amendment No. 148, in schedule 3, page 34, line 7, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.

Government amendment No. 161.

No. 147, in page 34, line 12, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.

Government amendment No. 162.

Amendment No. 146, in page 34, line 25, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.

Government amendments Nos. 163 and 164.

Amendment No. 145, in page 36, line 2, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.

Government amendment No. 165.

Amendment No. 144, in page 36, line 7, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.

Government amendment No. 166.

Amendment No. 143, in page 36, line 20, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.

Government amendments Nos. 167 and 168.

Amendment No. 142, in page 37, line 30, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.

Government amendment No. 169.

Amendment No. 141, in page 37, line 35, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.

Government amendment No. 170.

Amendment No. 140, in page 38, line 6, leave out ‘£200’ and insert ‘£1,000’.

Government amendment No. 171.

Clause 8 stand part.

Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am pleased that we have moved to this important group of amendments.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. The Minister was speaking. He would have to sit down before I could ask the Government Whip to move the Question that he seeks to put to the Committee and to which I am now aware that there is an objection. Clearly, that Question is debatable. I suggest that the Committee do not debate it at great length, but that is entirely up to the Committee. Again, I can give only guidance, not advice. I ask the Minister to speak to the amendments. It is up to him how quickly he does so. Then I shall be happy to call the Government Whip.

Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Thank you, Sir Nicholas. I will be as brisk as I possibly can, but there are a great number of amendments, so forgive me if I conclude my remarks in full.

Clause 8 requires a person making a donation of more than £200 to a political party to make a declaration about the source of the funds. The declaration must say whether another person or body has given more than £200 with a view to, or otherwise in connection with, the making of that donation. If that is the case, the declaration must go on to state whether sections 54(4) or (6) apply to the donation: that is, whether the donations have been made by the donor acting—[Interruption.]

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. The Minister has the floor. Minister, please continue your remarks.

Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Thank you, Sir Nicholas. If that is the case, the declaration must go on to state whether section 54(4) or (6) apply to the donation: that is, whether the donations have been made by the donor acting as principal donor for a group of other donors or as agent for another donor. If they have, the 2000 Act separately requires the details of the true underlying donor to be disclosed. If the declaration says that the sections do not apply, the declaration must state why not.

If a donation of more than £200 is not accompanied by a declaration, it cannot be accepted by the party. Furthermore, the party must take reasonable steps to verify that the declaration is accurate and include a statement to the effect that it has done so in its donation report. Schedule 3 replicates the proposal in respect of regulated donees— including MPs—recognised third parties and permitted participants in referendums.

Concerns have been expressed that the £200 threshold is too low and that the requirement to take reasonable steps is unduly onerous. I have listened to those concerns and am keen to ensure that the provisions, while being useful, do not impose an unnecessary burden on donors, parties and volunteer workers. With that in mind, I have moved the accompanying Government amendments. As they are technical, I hope that the Committee will be content if I explain the combined effect of some of the amendments rather than taking each individually, which might prove unnecessarily complex and time-consuming.

The combined effect of Government amendments Nos. 153 and 155 to 157 is as follows. The size of donation that must be accompanied by a declaration will be raised from the current threshold in the Bill of more than £200 to the level at which a central party is required to declare a donation to the Electoral Commission, that is £5,000. Where the donation is to a local accounting unit of such a party, the requirement is for a declaration to accompany donations of more than £1,000. In addition, where such a donation is made to a party’s central organisation, a declaration will have to say whether an amount of more than £5,000 has been provided to the donor with a view to, or otherwise in connection with, that donation. Again, the relevant figure is a donation of more than £1,000 if the donation relates to a local accounting unit. If an amount of less than those sums has been provided, the further requirements relating to making a declaration about the impact of sections 54(4) and (6) will fall away.

In addition, Government amendments Nos. 160, 161, 162, 164, 165, 166, 168, 169 and 170 seek to achieve the same effect for the declaration requirement in schedule 3 with respect to donations to individuals and members’ associations, recognised third parties and permitted participants.

Government amendment No. 158 removes the requirement for a registered party to take all reasonable steps forthwith by, or on behalf of, the party to verify it. Government amendments Nos. 163, 167 and 171 remove this requirement with respect to declarations received by the individuals and organisations covered by schedule 3, which I have already mentioned. It is worth noting that removing this provision will not reduce the obligations that parties are already under by way of section 56 to ensure that they take reasonable steps to verify the identity and permissibility of donors. So, even where a declaration is made under these arrangements, if a party suspects for any reason that the details given are not right, section 56 may require them to make further checks. These amendments will substantially reduce concerns about overburdening central and local parties and donors, while ensuring that the biggest donations are subject to an improved level of transparency. That said, if hon. Members have residual concerns, about the level at which these requirements have effect for example, I will, of course, be willing to listen to them and consider them further.

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Solicitor General, Ministry of Justice, Shadow Minister (Shadow Solicitor General), Home Affairs

Thank you, Sir Nicholas, for making it clear that the Question is debatable. I would like to have it debated and I would also like to vote against it. The Committee is making painfully slow progress with  this Bill. Today, we have completed six groups of amendments in nearly five and a half hours. If we continue at that pace, on Thursday, when we have just short of four and a half hours, we will not even reach clause 9. That means that the Committee will not get to discuss all of the proposals about party funding that have been put down for debate—all the proposals about caps on donations, party expenditure and about how to deal with the question of affiliation of the trade unionists to the Labour party.

It would be an outrage if this Committee were to be denied the opportunity to debate those issues which, for my party, and for many members of the public, are central to our consideration. We would also be unable to discuss clause 10, which is where the triggering proposal comes before the Committee. We spent hours in the first part of the Committee taking evidence from numerous experts on the question of triggering. There has been wide debate, both inside and outside the House, on whether triggering works. It would be farcical, having done all of that, not even to reach that question in Committee. My proposal is that we do not adjourn the debate now, that you, Sir Nicholas, suspend the sitting for an appropriate time for us to have something to eat, and that we come back after about an hour and carry on consideration so that we at least get far enough tonight so that on Thursday we shall be in a position to give full consideration to those important matters.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

There is a longer-term timing issue and a shorter-term timing issue. In the longer-term context, we have some sympathy with what the hon. Member for Cambridge has just said. We have maintained consistently that not enough time has been given, such as the single weekend between the evidence sessions and the following Committee sittings. We are still suffering from the lack of time to consult properly as we move through the Bill—that has been a consistent problem for us. Given that the later stages of the Bill will be in the next Session anyway, we have no idea what the rush has been with Committee. The overall time could have been longer and, to that extent, we have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman.

However, in the short-term context, we wish to delay discussion of clause 8 until Thursday. Let me explain why. On Second Reading, the Government implied and consistently after that said that we would get amendments to clause 8. First, they spoke about providing a new clause, then amendments. We received those amendments, such as they are—I agree that they are pretty poor—only yesterday. We filed our amendments, based on the Government amendments, yesterday evening. It is not as if we had a week to look at what the Government came up with. We had a handful of hours and we put in our amendments yesterday evening, which means that, today, they came in starred, so we cannot debate our amendments until Thursday. That is why I say to the hon. Gentleman that I am very sorry, but he should not look to us. The Government did not allow us time to debate our amendments, which is why we think it fit and proper to adjourn now until Thursday, and that is why we shall be voting to adjourn.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I rise to support the hon. Member for Cambridge in asking for an adjournment, so that the Committee can  reconvene in an hour’s time after we have all had some suitable refreshment. The public will find it staggering that we are not able to discuss, as now looks likely, such issues as party funding, caps and donations, party expenditure and trade union affiliation. That is what the public want us to discuss; that is the meat of the Bill. It would be unforgivable if we spent all this time sitting and failed to reach the crucial and important amendments. Failure to do so would be a dereliction of the Committee’s duty.

I listened carefully to the remarks of the hon. Member for Huntingdon, but I have to say to him that the Conservatives have been less than helpful in making sure that we try to reach those amendments. I was looking forward to the Conservative amendments on such crucial issues, but they have not been forthcoming—they have not happened.

Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the hon. Member for Huntingdon was not strictly accurate in his description of the Government amendments? They were tabled last Thursday. Was he aware of that?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I am grateful to the Minister. I have absolutely no problem at all with the process of the Government tabling their amendments. The Conservative party seems to have a massive issue with that. If that is why the Conservatives have failed to bring forward their amendments and to make progress on the Bill, their approach is absolutely disgraceful. It has not been in good faith and we should have made further progress. Having to listen to the hon. Member for Epping Forest—whom I usually enjoy listening to—for 50 minutes on what I assumed was an inconsequential group of amendments is unbelievable and shocking. The Conservatives have done the public a massive disservice in terms of making progress on the Bill. We ought to reconvene at the earliest opportunity to discuss these vital issues, because it will be a total dereliction of duty if the Committee fails to address the important issues of the Bill. I have spent several hours with the hon. Member for Chichester discussing some of the issues, and I was looking forward to his contribution. I thought that we had some sort of arrangement or agreement about where we would move forward with the Bill, but nothing has been put forward by the Conservatives. I hope that one of the Conservatives will now get up and tell us exactly what their intentions are on the Bill. It is inconceivable that we cannot deal with those main issues. I agree with the hon. Member for Cambridge that we must come back and discuss the vital measures.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Minister (Scotland) 7:30, 18 November 2008

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge and with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire that we should reconvene later tonight to discuss these important issues. I have little sympathy with the Conservative viewpoint. My hon. Friend and I have tabled amendments to later clauses in the Bill and have submitted new clauses. We did not wait to see what the Government were planning to do. We put forward our own ideas, and Conservative Members could have done exactly the same.

I draw the Committee’s attention to what little progress we have made. The Bill has 20 clauses. We are now  discussing the 10th clause. That means that, in three quarters of the time available, we have debated less than half the Bill. We have got through six groups of amendments today. If we make similar progress on Thursday, we will not even reach clause 9. The most controversial measure is clause 10, which brings in triggering. As my hon. Friend said, we debated that at great length when we were questioning the witnesses. As that is the most controversial part of the Bill, it would be an utter outrage if the Committee were not able to debate it. With the knife already set in place by the House for 4 pm on Thursday, we would have only four and a half hours on Thursday. That is simply not enough time to deal with the rest of the Bill. We must reconvene later tonight.

Sir Nicholas, during your chairmanship, you have tried to usher us on as quickly as possible, but Conservative Members have spent a great deal of time debating their amendments. They are perfectly entitled to do so, but the logic of their choosing to spend a lot of time debating their proposals is that they will vote to continue consideration of the Bill tonight. It would be an outrage to democracy if we could not discuss the important amendments and clauses that are still to be debated, so I urge members of the Committee to vote to continue discussion of the Bill this evening, especially those Conservative Members who have hogged most of time in Committee so far.

Question put,

The Committee divided: Ayes 14, Noes 3.

Division number 7 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 8

Aye: 14 MPs

No: 3 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

This Public Bill Committee is breaking new ground in modern times. I have just consulted the Clerk sitting on my left, and this is the first occasion for many years that a motion to adjourn the debate has been opposed.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes to Eight o’clock till Thursday 20 November at Nine o’clock.