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I assure the hon. Member for Mid-Worcester (Mr. Forth) that he need never apologise for his absence.
I very much welcome the Government's response to our representations, and to the discussions that we had with them. I shall deal later with the principle involved on clause stand part, but now I deal with the reduction to £500. The figure could, with advantage, have been less, but in our discussions with them the Government began by proposing a higher figure and so we arrived at £500 as a compromise that involved as high a figure as we were ready to accept and as low a figure as the Government were ready to accept. Indeed, that is the way in which compromises are reached. Thus, we reluctantly accept that figure. However, it is very much coupled with the question of the threshold. The present threshold of 12·5 per cent. would have been unacceptable in relation to a deposit that was more than three times as high as the present one. The Government took the view that that threshold could be reduced, but did not wish to reduce it as far as we thought appropriate.
Once we had decided with the Government on the level of the deposit, we had to decide between us about the level of the threshold. Although the Government originally thought that the threshold should be higher than 5 per cent., I am very glad that, in the spirit of compromise that the Home Secretary referred to last night, they ultimately agreed to our proposition that the £500 deposit should be accompanied by a 5 per cent. threshold.
The compromise was typical, in that no one is really satisfied with it. But at any rate it is tolerable, and many small parties will find contesting elections a little less onerous than they would have done if the Government's original proposal had remained or if the Government's proposal of a revised threshold had been maintained. I should make it clear once again that the Government's original proposal would not have been in any way politically disadvantageous to the Labour party. A 5 per cent. threshold would have meant that we would have retained almost all our deposits, even in an adverse electoral year. The issue involved not what was convenient to the Labour or Conservative parties, but the right of access to the ballot paper of those advocating minority, eccentric or unpopular views. Indeed, that is what an election is all about. It is because we believed that that principle should be maintained that we proposed the amendment. That being so, we are very pleased that the Government have accepted it, and look forward to its incorporation in the Bill.