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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 4:30 pm on 14th February 1985.

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Photo of Mr Matthew Parris Mr Matthew Parris , West Derbyshire 4:30 pm, 14th February 1985

Good. The hon. Gentleman is not saying that they should not; he is just saying that he would like to set the threshold and the deposit at such a level that it is difficult or impossible for them to do so.

The deposit was, I think, introduced in 1918. I was unable to campaign against it at that time and so was the hon. Gentleman. I have never thought that the deposit was a fair test of a candidate's seriousness. The larger the deposit is, the less fair the test. Therefore, the proposal to increase it to £1,000 makes the injustice a more pressing one and I said so on Second Reading.

I seek to set up a scheme whereby a political party can limit its liability to loss of deposit at a general election. I propose a voluntary scheme whereby a political party may register as a political party. The registration would serve no purpose and give it no privileges, immunities or benefits of any kind, other than the benefit which will flow in relation to the parliamentary deposit. There will be no test of whether a party may or may not register other than its preparedness to pay the registration fee. The registration fee should be set at a level which discourages any but the serious parties from wishing to register—£5,000, £10,000, £15,000 or perhaps £20,000.

The registration would, in essence, be a tendered group parliamentary deposit. Having paid that registration fee, the party would then be able to field as many candidates as it liked without paying any further deposit for those candidates and without risking the loss of further deposits. For example, if the Ecology party or the National Front could collect the money necessary to register, it could field candidates in every constituency at a general election.

The payment of that fee would be a serious test of a party's interest in a general election. No frivolous party or candidate would be able to stand. At the same time there would be a limit to the amount that a party could lose by standing at a general election and it would not be open to a party to say that, although it had support in the country, it had been prevented from fielding candidates by the system of parliamentary deposits.