In the past six months I have received representations in favour of increasing the level of the deposit from four hon. Gentlemen; from a Conservative party constituency association and from one member of the public. I have received representations against increasing the deposit from two hon. Members, from the general secretary of Plaid Cymru and from three members of the public who have previously stood as independent candidates.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the £150 deposit was introduced as long ago as 1918 to discourage frivolous candidatures and that after Bermondsey, with 16 candidates, and Darlington, with eight, clearly it is no longer any sort of deterrent? Will my right hon. Friend consider raising the deposit to, say, £2,000, which today is roughly the equivalent of what £150 was in 1918?
As my hon. Friend knows, the Select Committee on Home Affairs, as part of its inquiry this Session into the Representation of the People Acts, is considering the question of the deposit. We should wait to see what it says. Many people think that the deposit is unsatisfactory at its present level but that changes should, as they have in the past, be made on the basis of all-party agreement in the House. I think that that is important.
Does the Home Secretary accept that the present level of deposit creates a travesty of democracy when people stand without any deterrent, using completely free mailing to all constituents, sometimes for their own personal publicity purposes and sometimes to promote the wishes of thoroughly racist and unpleasant little organisations?
Without confirming everything that the hon. and learned Gentleman says, I think that many hon. Members believe that the deposit at its present level encourages undesirable candidates. If that is the view of the Select Committee and of the House, and if there is all-party agreement, I should strongly favour putting it up.
Whatever is done, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the public are not entirely deprived of the pleasure of amiable nut cases enlivening what is otherwise a somewhat drab event and which is, after all, in accordance with the splendid traditions of British eccentricity?
Considering the tenor of the Home Secretary's earlier remarks, does he agree that to try to introduce any legislation on the matter so late in this Parliament would be misconstrued and should instead be left to an early decision for the next Parliament, because then it would have no political overtones?