Orders of the Day — Registration of Political Parties Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:57 pm on 4th June 1998.

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Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley 5:57 pm, 4th June 1998

This has been a short but interesting debate. When he was Home Secretary, James Callaghan said: I would hope that most people who stand for election would have a proper sense of responsibility. I agree that one cannot wholly rely on that". —[Official Report, 18 December 1968; Vol. 775, c. 1404.] In "The Times Guide to the House of Commons", when describing the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell), Neil Hamilton and others at the count in Tatton at the general election, Matthew Parris said: Behind both, towering above them and swaying from side to side in a weird dance, writhed a 7ft being. A 6ft transvestite in 12in platform heels, wearing a birdcage on her head, her face painted with wild shapes and red and green colours, dressed in royal robes, covered with glitter and plastered in £5 notes, 'Miss Moneypenny'—in reality Burnel Penhaul, 32, from Birmingham—was standing for the Miss Moneypenny's Glamorous One Party. Campaigning on the slogan 'Put the tat back into Tatton' she won 128 votes. I think that that shows how wrong James Callaghan was in 1968. The fact is that, at the most recent general election, a record number of candidates stood, and a record number of candidates lost their deposits.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) said, it was not so many years ago that candidates stood without any label on ballot papers. The changes that are occurring in the United Kingdom electoral system—especially the list system in European elections—make it is absolutely necessary that the registered names of political parties should be protected. Next year, for the first time in this country, people will vote for a political party. That will be their wake-up call on the consequences of proportional representation and the list system.

Not so many years ago, it was important for candidates to get their name known around the constituency. Now it is important for the party name and emblem to be known around the constituency, because that is what people will be voting for. That is not progress for politics in this country.

We have heard about the d'Hondt system. The Home Secretary said that d'Hondt was one of 10 famous Belgians whom he knew. Unless Mr. d'Hondt had nine other family members, I would struggle to name 10 famous Belgians. The d'Hondt system is simple compared with how the Liberal Democrats will select their lists.

The debate is about correcting a problem that we know exists because there have been a few Adjournment debates on it since the election. The problem is the spirit of fighting elections and allowing electors to choose clearly between candidates, individuals and clearly defined political parties. The arrangements have been flouted and, unless we do something, they will be flouted again.

I was once told that politics is not cricket. I guess that it is not. Some people will not play the game as it is intended. Deception is the clear intention of rogue candidates. I am not referring to any of the genuine articles in the House of Commons today. In a less generous mood, I could say a lot about deception and rogue candidates, but I am a generous person.

The speech of the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) before the Christmas Adjournment reminded me of a typical "EastEnders" episode—it was depressing and without hope to start with and then it got worse. We have an opportunity to end that soap opera. The Bill is not a cure-all and there will still be judicial appeals because of the problem of people changing their names rather than passing off political parties, but it is a step in the right direction.

A quick review of "Dod" or "The Times Guide to the House of Commons" shows why we need to act. There were 3,717 candidates in 659 seats at the 1997 general election. "Dod" lists no fewer than six legitimate left of centre parties: Labour; Labour Co-operative; Scottish Socialist Alliance; the Socialist Labour party; the Socialist party of Great Britain; and the Workers Revolutionary party. That does not even include new Labour, which we all know to be a deception, whichever party uses the description.

In Camberwell and Peckham, the Labour party, the Socialist Labour party, the Socialist party and the Workers Revolutionary party all appeared on the same ballot paper. In Cardiff, South and Penarth, the New Labour candidate, who stood against the Labour candidate, scored 3,942 votes-three times more than the Plaid Cymru candidate. In Blackburn, a Common Sense candidate stood against the Home Secretary. As we know, the electors turned their backs on common sense and voted Labour-we can see the Home Secretary in his place.

A distinction has to be made between the more eccentric candidates—such as the Monster Raving Loony party, the Sub-genius candidate, the Glow Bowling candidate and the Independent OAP—and others with more sinister intentions to deceive, such the Conservatory candidate and other examples that we have heard this evening. I spoke to Rod Richards earlier today about the exercise that he had to go through. We have heard about it many times. A gentleman called David Neal, who did not even change his name by deed poll, gave the returning officer a nomination form filled in under the name Rod Richard. He dropped the letter "s" so that he would appear above Rod Richards on the ballot paper and called himself the Conservatory candidate.

The hon. Member for Winchester mentioned the problem of the 24 hours available for an appeal. In many cases, the candidates have less than 24 hours because they do not find out about the problem immediately.