HC Deb 11 March 1980 vol 980 cc1291-2 9.58 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Leon Brittan)

I beg to move, That the draft Representation of the People (Variation of Limits of Candidates' Election Expenses) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 26th February, be approved. This order seeks to raise the maximum sums which may be spent by candidates in local elections in order to take account of inflation since March 1977 when they were last fixed. We are introducing the order now so that the changes may come into effect in good time before the local elections in May in all 36 metropolitan districts and over 100 non-metropolitan districts in England and Wales, and all Scottish districts. The draft order was approved last week in another place, and, if approved by this House, it will be made immediately.

Hon. Members will recall that primary legislation has been required for this purpose in the past, but the Representation of the People Act 1978 allows candidates' expenses limits to be increased by order to the extent justified by inflation.

The political parties represented at Westminster and local authority associations have been consulted about this proposed increase, and they are all agreed that an increase to the full extent justified by inflation is desirable. We are grateful to them for their prompt advice.

For all local elections except those to the Greater London Council, the current limit on candidates' expenses is £72 plus 1.5p per registered elector for the area. The order proposes an increase to£100 plus 2p per elector. In a county council electoral district with 5,000 electors, that means an increase from£147 to £200—a rise of 36 per cent. In smaller district wards or parishes, the increase is proportionally slightly larger. It amounts, for example, to 38 per cent. in an area with 1,000 electors. That increase is closely in line with inflation in the period since March 1977.

Candidates' election expenses in ward elections in the City of London are customarily subject to the same limit as that applying to local elections generally. The order accordingly proposes an increase in the limit for these elections identical to that for other local elections. The order-making power also extends to the expenses of candidates in elections of certain City of London officers, and this maximum is raised from £600 to £750, in line with inflation since July 1978, when it was last fixed.

The draft order does not propose an increase in the limit applying to candidates' expenses at GLC elections, which at £320 plus 2p per elector, are considerably higher than those for other local elections. The elections for the whole Greater London Council are not due until May 1981, and it seems more sensible to make the necessary changes in the GLC limit in the light of circumstances early next year.

I think that hon. Members will agree that the procedure for increasing election expenses limits, introduced in the 1978 Act of the previous Administration, is an improvement on previous arrangements, which too often left the limits unaltered for long periods. It was, of course, more difficult to find time for such changes in the primary legislative programme and this led to rather hurried and irregular changes. The Government take the view that it is important that the very modest maximum expenditure allowed to local election candidates is not substantially diminished because of inflation. The appropriate place for more substantive changes—if one thought that the general level was inappropriate—is, of course, primary legislation. But I commend to the House this limited but important measure.

10.2 pm

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

The Opposition support the order.

Question put and agreed to.