HL Deb 29 April 1982 vol 429 cc957-8

3.13 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Governmentwhether they propose to amend the Representation of the People Act so as to prevent candidates at parliamentary elections from deliberately misleading the electorate, by requiring all candidates other then recently-married women to stand under the names by which they were generally known six months prior to the election or by-election.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office, (Lord Elton)

My Lords, we do not believe that such a change is necessary.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, although his reply was, of course, extremely disappointing. Would he not agree that, whatever our varied political views, we would all consider it an affront to democracy if a distinguished, talented and evidently popular candidate had been cheated of victory by 50 or 100 votes—as might well have happened at Hillhead—as the result of the frivolous intervention of a candidate who changed his name by deed poll immediately prior to the election specifically in order to confuse and deceive the electorate?

Lord Elton

My Lords, of course, the Government deplore any attempt to confuse the electorate at an election and agree that candidatures whose purpose is simply to do so and to distract attention from bona fide candidates are to be deplored. But, of course, under the noble Lord's proposals it would still be open for a candidate to mislead the electorate by standing under a name which he had assumed six months ago. That leaves aside the difficulties of recently-married women. It must be supposed that anybody who is determined to confuse the electorate would be prepared to go to such lengths.

Lord Tordotf

My Lords, would the Minister not agree that in order to sort out the sheep from the goats and to make sure that serious candidates stand, an increase in the number of nominees for the papers being put in at by-elections might be a better way of tackling this problem?

Lord Elton

My Lords, indeed, this might be a way of discouraging frivolous candidates, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is reviewing that possibility, together with that of increasing the level of the deposit, which has remained at £150 since it was introduced in 1918. I am informed that that is equivalent to £2,000 at the present time.