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I have taken time out from the Committee that is considering the Local Government Bill. I apologise to this Committee for the fact that I may have to leave the Chamber after I have spoken to make a further contribution to the consideration of the Local Government Bill by my physical presence, if nothing else.
I wish to raise a matter that arises on new schedule 65. In my view, there is a growing problem with regard to the masquerading of political parties. Such a masquerade occurred recently in Birmingham. A council faced a problem in the council elections in the Erdington district when a disappointed Conservative candidate stood as a Conservative candidate against the official Conservative candidate. The impersonation of the political party extended to the distribution of almost identical literature. This resulted in confusion among the electorate, who mistakenly voted for the wrong candidate. Had the 350-odd votes mistakenly cast gone to the official Conservative candidate, he would have won the seat. It was not a problem of losing the seat. The problem was that confusion was sewn in the minds of the electorate. Following the election, we questioned many people in that community and found that they genuinely did not know who was the real Conservative candidate because they had been confused by the literature that has been disseminated among the electorate. That is wrong as an electoral practice.
It is a growing problem, not only with our party, but with the Labour and Liberal parties. People stand as Independent Labour candidates, Official Labour candidates, Independent Conservative candidates and so on. We need to control the image—the brand name—of the respected political parties. Electoral policy has been not to accept any organised political party. Each candidate stands as an individual, although as often as not he may have a party label attached to him. However, a problem arises in the situation which I have described. The addition of the new schedule—although I understand that it is not meant in quite the way that I interpret it, but nevertheless it fits my proposal admirably — together with my small amendment would adequately cover the problem of literature being disseminated among the electorate purporting to be from a political party, when in fact it is not that party's official literature.
I see no reason why political parties should not register as genuine, bona fide political parties, provided that it does not stop others from organising a political party and putting up candidates at an election should they so wish. At least my proposal would control the labels that we use and would avoid confusing the electorate.
I hope that earnest consideration will be given to the proposal. The problem has occured in Birmingham and will happen elsewhere, as I know from the many representations made to Birmingham from other parts of the country. The simple addition of this schedule, with my amendment, would adequately overcome what I believe to be a growing problem.