§ Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)
I wish to raise a few points, in particular about subsection (2) which mentions £600,000 as the sum available. I have traced the genealogy of the sum through the Neill report and the White Paper and I am not arguing for a higher figure—once a Treasury Minister, always a Treasury Minister. However, I was slightly surprised to see that the figure of £600,000 is set in stone. I have looked through the clause and I cannot see any provision for varying it. On several occasions, we have heard that the Bill is a template and that it is designed to last for a long time, so I assume that we shall need primary legislation to change the figure of £600,000. I appreciate that sums are mentioned elsewhere in the Bill, but they tend to be larger sums—£20 million and others. The figure in this clause is relatively small, so I am puzzled why there is no power to vary it.
§ Sir George Young
It is kind of the Minister to suggest that there may be that provision for variation. I take it that that applies to this clause.
§ Sir George Young
That is helpful. However, I seek further explanation. Other clauses in the Bill, such as clause 11 on grants, give the commission pretty wide discretion. It can make grants to other persons or bodies to enable them to carry out certain programmes. Under clause 11, it seems to have enormous flexibility to spend quite large sums of money on grants that are not wholly its prime purpose. However, this clause gives it £600,000 to help designated organisations, and clause 141, which the Minister mentioned, gives powers to the Secretary of State to vary the figure. In effect, that is my point.
Other parts of the Bill, such as schedule 13, allow for flexibility, although I concede that, in the case of the schedule, it is flexibility on the part of the Secretary of State. When the commission produces its post mortem on a referendum, will it have the freedom to state its view of the figure of £600,000? That is not clear from this clause. 1003 However, if, for the sake of argument, it felt that the figure in subsection (2) was wrong, will it be able to make recommendations to the Secretary of State suggesting that the figure was either too high or too low and will he take its views on board and consider varying it?
It would be helpful if the Minister could explain why the figure of £600,000 is so tightly constrained by the Secretary of State, when one of the commission's prime functions is to make sure that a side of the argument that is in danger of being under-represented gets sufficient money. There are no such constraints on the commission in making the grants in clause 11, yet that function is arguably less important. In fact, we argued that it was so unimportant that the provision should be deleted. There seems to be an imbalance between clauses 11 and 103. Can the Minister shed any light on that?
§ Mr. Tipping
I shall try to shed light on the matter. I take the right hon. Gentleman back to clause 141. I admit that I sprung that on him earlier, but if he reads it he will realise that although the Secretary of State makes the order, subsection (2)(b) adds,where the order gives effect to a recommendation of the Commission.The Secretary of State cannot therefore make an order without a recommendation from the commission.
I turn the right hon. Gentleman's attention to clause 4, which spells out the reports that the commission must produce regularly after elections, and clause 5, which contains a much more permissive power to keep matters under review and submit reports to the Secretary of State from time to time.
The right hon. Gentleman asked why clause 11 gives the commission a great deal of flexibility. Speaking from memory, I believe that the sum concerned is £3 million, but a lot of that is existing money within the Home Office and local government, which is used, perhaps not very successfully, to remind and exhort people to vote. Although I should not stray from the subject at hand, I accept that there is a great deal of good work for the commission to do on electoral education under clause 11.
Another part of the Bill dealing with policy development grants represents a step forward. It gives the commission the power to make £2 million of grants to political parties so that they can develop their policies, but the commission has to bring forward a scheme after consultation.
There is, therefore, a great deal of flexibility throughout the Bill for promoting awareness and policy development. As I pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman, there is also flexibility in the power to vary the sum of £600,000. I look forward to the commission's reports because they will be a trigger that will help all our thinking.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause 103 ordered to stand part of the Bill.