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Deposit by Candidates at Parliamentary Elections

Part of Orders of the Day — Representation of the People Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 14th February 1985.

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Photo of Mr Matthew Parris Mr Matthew Parris , West Derbyshire 4:15 pm, 14th February 1985

One would think from listening to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) that the way to decide these matters was to survey the range of political parties likely to stand, decide which ones were the most offensive to oneself and set the level of the threshold at such a point that those parties would be most severely penalised financially. The hon. Gentleman has fallen into the trap of using the very argument that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary studiously avoided last night. That argument will be seized upon by parties such as the National Front against what the Government are now proposing.

Parties such as the National Front will say that this is a measure to obstruct democracy and prevent parties like it from even standing. As they cannot afford to stand they will feel that they have a moral right to take to the streets or indulge in extra-parliamentary action instead. If I had listened to the hon. Gentleman in the frame of mind in which such parties will listen to him, I might have felt some moral authority for such a response. That response would be wrong and dangerous, and we should do nothing to encourage it. My concern is that the measure might encourage it.

I should like to speak to my new clause 11 and the associated amendment No. 65, which is a new schedule. I do not ask hon. Members to weary themselves going through my wording in any detail. It is sure to be technically defective. It may even be the wrong way of going about what I seek to achieve. I should like to outline my aims and ask my hon. Friend the Minister to reply.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary for the concession that he announced last night reducing the deposit from £1,000 to £500. I do not wish to be churlish about that; it is a major improvement. My concern is for the devastating effect that the loss of all those deposits would have on a small party that wishes to field a respectable number of candidates at a general election and wishes to say that it is at least fielding enough candidates to have a chance, should it receive sufficient support, of forming an important part of the Parliament that follows the election. There would be a devastating effect if that party failed to get the 5 per cent. of votes that it needs to retain its deposit. For instance, I reckon that if the Ecology party decided to field a candidate in every constituency at a general election to show that it was a major national party, it would probably lose the deposits for all 650 candidates, which would come to about £325,000. I doubt whether a small party such as that could afford to risk such a loss at a general election.