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The deposit is a most important way of demonstrating that one wishes to stand in a general election or a by-election. I particularly welcomed the concession made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary late last night when he announced the reduction from £1,000 to £500.
In amendment No. 99, standing in my name, I had called for it to be further reduced to £250, and I very much wish that it could have been that way, because no one should be deterred from standing. It is a great honour, it costs something to stand, it is not free, and £250, a much higher threshold and a larger number of assenters would make much sense.
The most important point and the reason why the question of deposits is suddenly very much on the agenda is that in the general election of 1983 2,578 candidates were validly nominated, working out at 3·9 candidates per seat, of whom 679 were from other minor parties or independents. Excluding those who belonged to the Ecology party and other such parties, there were 474 true independents devoid of any known political party. In comparison, in 1979 there were 2,576 candidates standing, working out at 4·1 candidates per seat, with 754 independents or candidates with other non-party definitions. The votes cast for those independents and others amounted in 1983 to over 1·6 million—slightly down on 1979, when the figure was 1,677,417.
The real problem, however, is in by-elections, when one sees the deposit issue, the problems and the abuse by so many people standing for the most strange reasons. The opportunity might he used to promote the cause of a person in prison or as a public relations exercise to promote the sale of vodka. In Chesterfield, 17 candidates stood—some of them mad, including the one who was elected. [Interruption.] There was even a Monster Raving Loony candidate, so that makes at least two.
In 1979, 156 candidates in by-elections lost their deposits. Candidates stood for ridiculous and frivolous causes—Reclassify the Sun, Fourwheel Drive, Yoga, Elvis Presley, Soon to be Unemployed and an Official Loony. There is clearly a need to deter such frivolous candidates. Reluctantly, I concede that a £500 deposit is acceptable, but we must consider how many candidates have lost their deposits in the past. In the 1983 general election, 739 candidates lost their deposits — five Conservatives, 119 Labour, five Liberal, six SDP, 54 British National Party, 35 Communist, 108 Ecology party, 60 National Front, 32 Plaid Cymru, 53 Scottish National party, 21 Workers Revolutionary party and 241 others. In other words, a large number of strange candidates lost their deposits and were not elected.