HC Deb 03 November 1983 vol 47 cc990-2
13. Mr. Wigley

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to change the regulations concerning parliamentary election deposits.

Mr. Mellor

The Government are consulting the political parties represented in the House on the Home Affairs Select Committee's recommendation that the deposit should be raised to £1,000 and the threshold lowered to 7.5 per cent.

Mr. Wigley

In view of your recent ruling, Mr. Speaker, perhaps I should declare an interest on this question. Will the Minister give an assurance that, in considering the increases in deposits, he will bear in mind the need not to drive away from the legitimate ballot box operation all interest groups which should have an opportunity to stand for Parliament, and that if, regrettably, the amount of deposit does increase, the percentage who keep it will be reduced substantially, possibly even lower than 7.5 per cent?

Mr. Mellor

When I announced this at Blackpool the other week I tried to make it clear that we saw considerable attraction in a proposal to reduce the threshold even lower than 7.5 per cent. to 5 per cent. I think that the hon. Gentleman will already have received a letter from my right hon. and learned Friend inviting his comments and full participation in the discussions that are taking place. We shall obviously pursue those discussions with the honourable intention of getting the maximum agreement for the proposals.

Mr. Bottomley

Will my hon. Friend consider reducing the threshold to say, 5 per cent., because otherwise there might be a great temptation for local Lib/ Lab pacts, which might suit one or the other of those political parties but which would have an undesirable effect if they ought to be competing at parliamentary elections throughout the country?

Mr. Mellor

I have already said that we believe that there is a case for reducing the threshold to 5 per cent.

Mr. Corbett

Will the Minister and his colleagues resist the temptation to price people out of parliamentary elections? Will he look instead at the possiblity of raising the number of signatures required for nomination as an alternative?

Mr. Mellor

In our opinion, that is not a viable alternative, but, as I think the hon. Gentleman well knows, the £150 that was set in 1918, would, fully indexed, be over £2,000 today. In saying that we would start the discussions at a figure of about £1,000, we took a great deal of note of the point that the hon. Gentleman makes.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Does my hon. Friend agree that anyone in this country should have the right to stand for Parliament, representing a particular point of view — whether we agree with it or not—and that it would therefore be wiser to increase the number of signatures required as evidence of some measure of support than to restrict people from standing by increasing the deposit?

Mr. Mellor

As I think I made clear earlier, and with great respect to my hon. Friend, we do not consider that that proposal would be advantageous.

Mr. Canavan

Why not?

Mr. Mellor

In our view, the proposal that a sum of money should be put up by candidates is an eminently proper way to proceed, and it has been the way that we have always proceeded. 'We are consulting about the proposal to increase that amount so that we may determine what it should be.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Bearing in mind the record number of deposits lost by the Labour party at the last election, despite the energetic campaigning on their behalf by the Prime Minister against the parties of the alliance, do the Government agree that it would be fairer to combine an increase in the number of signatures on the nomination paper with an increase in the threshold, instead of this slavish regard to monetary matters?

Mr. Mellor

The leader of the hon. Gentleman's party has already received an invitation to participate in the discussions on these matters. No doubt, if he agrees with the hon. Gentleman—in the alliance one should never take that for granted—he will put that view forward.