Clause 22 - Nomination procedures

Electoral Administration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:30 pm ar 15 Tachwedd 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 4:30, 15 Tachwedd 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in clause 22, page 24, line 18, at end insert—

'(7A) In rule 7 (subscription of nomination paper), in paragraph (1), for the word ''eight'' substitute ''one hundred''.'.

This is a probing amendment. It relates to perhaps one of the more controversial elements of the Bill, controversial not least with the Minister's hon. Friends—the reduction in the deposit required for parliamentary elections. A robust argument about that took place on Second Reading, because a significant number of hon. Members on both sides of the House wondered whether it was sensible or would open the door to more fringe and extreme candidates. It is an area in which we must balance concerns about the barriers to participating in the electoral process that might be put in the way of smaller parties against our wish to ensure that the electoral process is not trivialised, exploited or made to produce perverse results, through the prominence of parties that operate undemocratically.

The Government appeared on Second Reading to be a little lukewarm about their own proposals. It seemed to me that they were not entirely convinced about their proposal to reduce the deposit. I tabled the amendment as an alternative way to achieve some of the objectives of those who objected to the reduction in deposit—by increasing the number of subscribers. That would at least have the benefit of providing that, with a smaller financial requirement, candidates should be able to give a more obvious demonstration of electoral support in the constituency, by providing an increased number of assenters.

There is a perfectly respectable argument for the proposal in my amendment. Although the Electoral Commission does not support it. It does not believe that the number of assenters is a sensible determinant. I do not want to press the amendment to a vote, but I wanted to offer the opportunity to consider it. I am, at best, agnostic about the Government's proposal to reduce the deposit, although I do not believe that financial constraints are the right way to discourage fringe candidates, as they also entail the disadvantage of discouraging small parties from participating in elections. I am, I hope, a good democrat. Plurality is better than monopoly in such matters.

Nevertheless, there are arguments to suggest checks and balances. My amendment would be one way of dealing with the matter. I should like the Minister's comments, during which he may say that he is not inclined to pursue the reduction in deposits in any case. A significant number of hon. Members of all parties would be relieved about that and would feel that the Government were taking the right approach. I am satisfied to wait for the Minister's response.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General 4:45, 15 Tachwedd 2005

The amendment would increase to 100 the number of people subscribing to a nomination   paper from the current provision in the Representation of the People Act 1983. It would require candidates to obtain 102 subscribers, including a proposer and seconder, to validate their nomination, rather than 10, including a proposer and seconder, which is the current requirement.

We note, as did the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, that the Electoral Commission does not support the amendment. The commission recommended two options to improve the deposit and subscriber system in its 2003 report ''Standing for election in the United Kingdom''. Both options recommended the abolition of the current subscriber system, following extensive review and consultation. We are in favour of maintaining deposits as a barrier to nomination in elections. We shall discuss that later. The greater the number of subscribers required at the point of nomination, the greater the barriers to participation in the democratic process and we must be careful to maintain the correct balance.

The amendment goes too far. Where candidates seek to represent, and have been selected by, registered political parties, the additional requirement to provide a list of subscribers is particularly unnecessary. Obtaining 100 signatures on a nomination form would be a time-consuming operation and for some candidates potentially very difficult or even impossible. The requirement to obtain signatures does not represent a true test of electoral support, and acquiring signatures is arguably more a test of administrative competency than of electoral support. In addition, requiring a substantial number of subscribers can significantly increase the administrative burden on returning officers as they have to verify all signatures for each candidate.

It also seems unlikely that the 100 signatures would prove a genuine barrier to extremist groups. Indeed, extremist groups would often be the most able to rely on a small but sufficient number of dedicated supporters to meet such a requirement. Equally, it seems unfair to genuine, mainstream candidates who may not be well resourced—some of them may have few active local supporters to count on and yet may still gain large numbers of votes—to force them to spend time collecting these signatures rather than allowing them to devote all their efforts to the real democratic business of an election, meeting and persuading those who are not already their supporters. Given the existing deposit rules, which we support, the extra burden would be unnecessary and probably ineffective.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South

Ten candidates stood in my constituency when I was elected. I am a little concerned about this matter but I am not sure that the amendment would solve the problem.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South

No, I didn't think you were. It seems to me there is a balance between protecting a democratic right and allowing genuine candidates to take part irrespective of the size of the support for the position they represent, and protecting the democratic process   from those who wish to use the election for their own rather spurious ends. I cite a case in the election before last in Northampton, where a candidate sponsored by the Daily Star ripped off her plastic nurse's uniform at the count and whose photograph appeared in that paper.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South

It was not very pleasant at 3 o'clock in the morning, but my point is that we all want to protect the democratic process from that sort of activity so we must strike a balance between the need to open up democracy and the need to protect it. We need to give more thought to the matter.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Scotland Office

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome was quite candid in introducing the amendment. Essentially, he said that there was a possible quid pro quo, but as he was not sure whether we would do the pro quo he was not certain how robust the quid would be. I do not want to pre-empt it, but I shall listen carefully to the debate on the next amendment to see whether it is as robust as it was on Second Reading. In that debate, hon. Members on both sides of the House clearly stated, with great vociferousness, that people did not want the threshold at which deposits were lost to be reduced from 5 to 2 per cent.

Given that the hon. Gentleman is allowing the debate on this amendment to be a possible exploration of the following amendment, I think the hon. Member for Huntingdon dealt with the case very well. There are practical issues involved but they are not insurmountable. It is not beyond the wit of an intelligent election agent to manage such things, nor is it beyond the wit of a good ERO to check them, but it is another burden and it adds to bureaucracy when we want to remove it. However, as I said, the problems are not insurmountable and if we were wedded to the principle they would not, in themselves, be sufficient to deter us.

I like the second argument made by the hon. Member for Huntingdon that the true test of whether someone has local support is whether they get votes. Of course, that can only be gauged after the ballot, but the amendment would insert an additional, slightly artificial hurdle before the ballot, testing whether an individual has local support. The test of whether an individual has local support should come on polling day. I think that is the principle that the hon. Gentleman was outlining.

I have noticed in the Committee that the Electoral Commission is often prayed in aid of whichever side happens to agree with it on an issue. I pay credit to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome who said that the commission did not agree with the proposal. Indeed, it wants to go in completely the opposite direction and do away with the system altogether. That is the position for election to Scottish Parliament:   there is a self-nominating procedure in which no assenters or subscribers are required. I understand that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are entirely happy with that system.

We are keeping the situation that we have had in this country for a long time, in which there is some sense of one having to do a bit of work rather than just sitting in London or wherever, and declaring one's self to be a candidate all over the place, in every constituency, without making any effort. We balance that against the two factors that I mentioned: the practicalities, which could be overcome, and the principle, which may not be the biggest principle in the world. Taken together they mean that the case presented by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome is not strong enough for us to move to the position that he outlined. I entirely accept the spirit in which he moved the amendment: as a probing amendment to open the debate—perhaps in advance of the discussion that we are about to have on the next amendment.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I thank the Minister for the level-headed way in which he responded. In my defence, I must say that I was not to know when I tabled the amendment that there would be a subsequent amendment and, therefore, debate. I simply felt that the matter could properly be put before the Committee so that we could debate something about which people are concerned.

Personally, I take an agnostic view on the threshold. I am willing to be persuaded either way, but simply am not convinced that reducing the threshold is the right way forward. Neither am I convinced that putting a financial barrier—that is what it effectively is—to standing for election is the right way to do things, especially considering that the amount of the deposit is insufficient to deter those for whom the main purpose of standing is to engender publicity or commercial benefit, but enough to deter some small parties which would struggle to meet the requirement.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

Order. The hon. Gentleman anticipates the next debate.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I must be careful not to do so, Mr. O'Hara, but you must appreciate that there is a clear link between the two. My proposal is an alternative to the current position on the deposit threshold and the Government wish to reduce it. The hon. Member for Huntingdon said that he was worried that getting 100 signatures would be a terrific barrier to those parties which are not well funded. Obviously, he thinks it would be quite easy for poorly resourced parties to secure £500, whereas getting 100 signatures would be much more difficult for them. I am not sure that I entirely agree with him, but I must not pre-empt the next debate.

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. Of course, we always look carefully at what our colleagues north of the border do on these matters. They are normally entirely right, I am sure, with the solutions that they come up with in conjunction with their coalition partners in the Scottish Executive.

My last point is that I made it very plain that the Electoral Commission did not support it, because the   Electoral Commission is the one firm rock that we have to cling to in cases of dispute. It provides a useful form of arbitration, so I do not claim its support when it is not given but make it plain where we are at variance with its opinion. That is something that the Committee should use as its touchstone throughout these considerations. Where there is doubt, I will tend to support the view of the Electoral Commission because it was set up precisely to give advice. That is a sensible way forward and something that was not followed by some of the Minister's predecessors in previous legislation—to their cost and that of the electoral system. Having said that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General 5:00, 15 Tachwedd 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 46, in clause 22, page 24, line 33, leave out section (9).

Subsection (9) amends rule 53 of schedule 1 to the 1983 Act, which deals with parliamentary election rules, reducing the proportion of votes that a candidate at a parliamentary election has to poll in order not to forfeit his deposit. Currently he has to poll 5 per cent.—one-twentieth—of the votes cast; the subsection lowers that to 2 per cent., or one fiftieth.

Deposits for Westminster parliamentary elections were introduced in the Representation of the People Act 1918 following a number of candidatures that were regarded as frivolous. There was no full parliamentary debate on that aspect of the legislation because all the main parties represented at the time supported the initiative. The 1918 legislation allowed election costs to be met for the first time by central Government. Previously, candidates had met costs collectively, so the deposit acted as a safeguard against candidacies that had no realistic chance of success but which nevertheless added to the complexity of the process. The requirement for deposits and subscribers has therefore been in force since 1918 for all elections in the UK except for local government, parish and community council elections.

The threshold set by the 1918 Act was put at one eighth of votes cast. In 1982, the Select Committee on Home Affairs Committee conducted an inquiry into electoral law, which concluded that the deposit should be raised to the more realistic level of £1,000. However, the Committee had difficulty in agreeing a threshold for forfeiture. Legislation followed in the Representation of the People Act 1985 and the deposit was increased to £500 with the threshold reduced to one twentieth, or 5 per cent. A Home Affairs Committee inquiry in 1997–98 recommended increasing the level to £700, with indexation to follow after the next general election. However, that was not accepted by the Government.

My point is that all previous moves have been to make the threshold higher. Suddenly, with this Bill, the position is being reversed, and we are extremely concerned that reducing the threshold will give a major boost to extremist parties such as the British National party, which benefit from the freepost electoral addresses and election broadcasts. As members of the committee know, all candidates in   parliamentary elections receive a freepost mailing to each elector. That is worth some £10,000 to £15,000 in free postage.

In addition, parties can be eligible for party election broadcasts on television and radio. In fact, BBC rules allow a party election broadcast across Great Britain if a party nominates in one sixth of all British seats. Ofcom rules for commercial television state that in order to qualify, parties must contest one sixth or more of the seats up for election, with the four nations of the UK considered separately. If candidates are nominated in one or two constituent parts of Britain, their parties will be offered broadcasts on ITV in the appropriate nations. Parties qualifying in all three nations are also offered Channels 4 and Five as well as national commercial radio. One sixth of the seats in England are currently equivalent to 88 constituencies.

To illustrate the point, in the 2005 general election, lowering the threshold to 2 per cent. would have saved the BNP £36,500, equivalent to allowing it to nominate candidates in a further 73 constituencies. The 5 per cent. threshold is there to deter frivolous and extreme candidates who might otherwise use elections as a form of self-promotion. If these provisions had been in place at the last election, the major parties would not have been significantly affected by the change. The principal beneficiaries would have been parties such as the BNP who do not command popular support and should not be encouraged to peddle their propaganda.

A further problem with the subsection is that a 2 per cent. threshold would be inconsistent with the 5 per cent. minimum share of the vote necessary to gain representation, which is in use in the additional members system of proportional representation in Britain. At a time of growing concern about the rise of extremist parties, it somewhat beggars belief that the Labour party wants to lower the hurdles for the far left and the far right to receive freepost mailings and election broadcasts in parliamentary elections.

In our free democracy, allowing extremists to run for election is a necessary evil, but checks and balances should exist to prevent the system of free mailings and broadcasts from being abused. That is exactly what the threshold of 5 per cent. does. Lowering the threshold will help the likes of the BNP spread its propaganda courtesy of the taxpayer, despite the fact that its views do not carry mass public support.

Notwithstanding what I have said in relation to lowering the threshold and to deposits, we welcome the provision in subsection (5) to allow candidates to pay their deposits by credit or debit card.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Llafur, Worsley

I do not believe that the threshold for returning and losing deposits should be lowered from 5 per cent. to 2 per cent. It is strange that the Electoral Commission has suggested it. The aim is to encourage the participation of candidates, and that is desirable, but the provision sends out the wrong message, and, as the hon. Member for Huntingdon said, it may have some perverse and unwanted effects.  

The provision would encourage frivolous candidates, of whom we have heard an example. We must take account of the fact that a parliamentary election entails free post, which can have considerable commercial value. It also entails television and media publicity and publicity at the count. It is a substantial attraction and benefit to single-issue candidates, extreme candidates and frivolous candidates with a self-promoting, commercial interest.

We must take those factors into account because an increasing number of frivolous, self-promoting and commercial candidates at elections helps to contribute to the apathy and distrust that we want to resist. In this Bill we are working to get rid of that, and unfortunately every time a number of people at elections contest for frivolous or self-promoting reasons, it says to the electorate that the candidates are not taking their candidacy seriously. We should work in the opposite direction and try to ensure that only serious candidates stand.

The overriding reason why we should resist the Electoral Commission's proposal is, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the undesirable effect it will have of encouraging extremist and undemocratic parties. At the last local elections, the BNP stood in many more local authorities—certainly in the north-west—and in many more wards in those local authorities. In those circumstances, it is just a question of getting people to subscribe and put forward their names. I should not want to encourage such parties any further, and if the deposit and its loss are barriers to them, we should keep those barriers. That is a strong reason. We do not want more BNP candidates having their odious message delivered to more households. The Bill is not right on this point. It has come about for a good reason but would have perverse effects.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome and myself are the only people who are familiar with the Liberal glee club at the end of every party conference. There used to be a song called ''Losing Deposits'', which was set to the tune of ''Waltzing Matilda'', sung with sad irony by many members at one stage. It seems far less relevant these days, but I guess I might declare an interest.

We agree on the objectives of the system of deposits and forfeiture. The objectives are clear: to encourage serious candidates; to discourage extremists and frivolity; and to ensure that the electoral process does not unduly subsidise those people who have no representation nor support. What is at issue is not the system but whether the way in which the system is pitched in terms of percentages and the size of the deposit will do just that. I get the sense from everybody who has spoken so far that we have some disagreement with the Electoral Commission on this and do not think the system that it is recommending will have the beneficial effects that I am sure it would endorse. We do not have clear evidence that it necessarily agrees with our objectives. However, if our objectives are to discourage extremist candidates from participating, to discourage frivolity and to encourage serious candidates who stand a realistic chance of winning, while not making the process   onerous or giving a subsidy to people who are standing for some vexatious purpose, we must consider what is in the Bill and support an amendment such as this one.

Photo of Jim McGovern Jim McGovern Llafur, Dundee West

I totally understand why there is so much opposition to reducing the level at which the deposit is forfeited. The British National party and other right-wing groups have used elections to spread hate, bigotry and distrust in the communities in which they operate. They exploit the fears and insecurities of those who feel that they have had a raw deal from society and allow the prejudices of a racist few to infiltrate other sections of our society. I am firmly against the BNP, but it is right to let the party stand in elections. More than that, I believe that it is a fundamental right of any party in society to stand up and speak for the people it feels it represents.

The BNP may be despicable, but it represents a group of people who feel disenfranchised. Often people vote for the BNP and other right-wing groups because they feel that they have had a raw deal from society. What greater challenge is there to us as democrats than a party exploiting disillusionment? We should be engaging with such people, not removing them from the political process. This country has laws that prevent groups such as the BNP from inciting racism or provoking violence. During a previous election—in 2001, I believe—the BNP's advertising was banned from the TV airwaves because it was so offensive. That was entirely right and proper.

However, if a party follows the rules of a democracy and seeks to gain people's votes, why should it not play the game? I say to those who seek to limit the BNP simply through increasing the level at which it can claim its deposit that, if we do not think it should fight elections, we should ban it totally, add it to the proscribed list and be done with it. If we think that it deserves to have a say in the greater scheme of things, we must let it participate fully. Unfortunately, that means allowing it to have its deposit back if it attracts any degree of support.

The BNP dominates this debate, but it should not. The path of democracy does not run smooth—that much is obvious from the party's success—but many other people attempt to find a role in the political process and find their way somehow blocked. We should lower the threshold, as pluralism is vital to the good operation of democracy. If we encourage people to stand in elections, we encourage them to put their issues, topics and concerns on the agenda. We encourage important debates that involve, for example, protests against a school closure, or a community who feels it is getting a raw deal from the Government and wants a local non-party representative, or a group of people who want to raise a specific issue. Such people are vital to us as politicians and to the political discourse of this country.

A party called the Publican party stood at the last election in Inverness. Its main issue was a belief that people should be able to smoke in pubs. It was incredibly unsuccessful—in fact, I believe that it would have lost its deposit even with the 2 per cent. boundary—but the panel had to address the smoking   issue at every hustings in the constituency. A group of publicans put their issue high on the agenda.

I understand that there are many ways to get an issue addressed at election time, but it should not be the job of MPs to remove any of those methods. If people care enough about an issue, a political ideology or a community, we should be begging them to take part in elections, not slamming the door on them by making them pay a hefty deposit that they probably will not get back.

I understand the concerns raised by Opposition Members and, indeed, by my hon. Friends. However, the BNP will not go away if we take its deposits. We must stand up and be counted, debate the issues until we are blue in the face and, more importantly, win the argument. The rise of the BNP is a useful reminder that there are still issues to address and battles to fight. We should not be afraid of that but should, in fact, embrace it.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Ceidwadwyr, Northampton South 5:15, 15 Tachwedd 2005

It is not the raising of a deposit that matters but the danger of losing it that gives pause for thought—and so it should. The argument that we have just heard suggests that there should be no deposit at all. I argue that the deposit should give people pause for thought and make them consider whether the election is worth fighting, and certainly whether it is worth fighting from a frivolous point of view. Some people might think, ''Let's get involved in the election for a lark.'' No one can tell me that that does not happen, because a number of us have seen cases in which it has. I fear that the argument that we have heard is an argument for no deposit at all. I argue that there should be a deposit, that it should give people pause for serious thought, and that it should be of enough consequence to achieve that objective. I therefore support the amendment.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

First, I apologise to you, Mr. O'Hara, and to other members of the Committee. The business managers of the House have managed to place me on two Committees at the same time and I have not quite succeeded in separating myself accordingly.

I have some experience of the issue that we are discussing, and not just in relation to Sinn Fein involvement in elections in Northern Ireland. Whatever one might think of the BNP, Sinn Fein or any other political parties, the reality is that it is probably better that they put themselves before the people, get the verdict of the people on their views and, if necessary, have their views exposed to public ridicule than it is for us to attempt to use electoral law to ensure that they cannot do so.

The provision that concerns me much more is the one relating to frivolous candidates. Over the past 25 or 26 years in the House, I have fought a variety of salesmen—some who wanted to sell televisions and some who wanted to sell car exhausts—who found it worth while putting their name down for election so that they could get free post and other electoral benefits and sell their wares. We have not yet been able to deal appropriately with frivolous candidates but we should keep trying to discourage them, and I suspect   that the only way to discourage the kind of candidate that I have described is to require a deposit that makes it less profitable for them to use the electoral system as they do at present. However, electoral law should not be twisted to prevent people from receiving a democratic verdict on their views, no matter how repulsive those views may be.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

My first reaction on considering the clause was to support it because it would allow people to engage in the electoral process far more easily. When I stood in the 2001 general election, the Church of the Militant Elvis also put up a candidate. Despite its name, it provided lively and informed debate about political issues. I was therefore minded to support the clause. However, I have listened to the debate, particularly the contributions from the hon. Member for Huntingdon and from my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) and I feel very strongly about what has been said about the BNP and other extremist groups that use the publicity and the free post to get their message across. That concerns me greatly, and I think that we should stick with the 5 per cent. threshold. I support the amendment.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Scotland Office

This has been an enlightening, interesting and thoughtful short debate on an issue that, although itself narrow, introduces the much broader concepts of access to elections and democratic participation. The amendment would remove the reduction in the threshold for the forfeiture of deposits at parliamentary elections from 5 to 2 per cent. and would keep the deposit at 5 per cent. The proposal to reduce the threshold came, as several hon. Members have said, from a recommendation by the Electoral Commission in its report entitled ''Standing for election in the United Kingdom''.

The commission originally proposed two options for the deposits and subscribers system. The first option was to abolish that system outright—a point that I think the hon. Member for Huntingdon made. The second option was to reduce the threshold to 2 per cent. of the vote and standardise the deposit at £500 for all elections. The aim of the proposal was to make the electoral system more accessible for smaller parties and encourage a wider range of such parties, and genuine independent candidates, to engage in the democratic process.

I am sure that we all sympathise with that principle. We have spoken about the principles of accessibility and participation in the election in terms of how they apply to voters; they should also apply to those who wish to take part in the election by standing in it, not only to those who participate by voting.

On Second Reading, I said that the will of the House was clearly expressed and that, with one or two exceptions, there was near universal disapproval of this aim. I gave an undertaking that we would clearly establish whether that view would carry on during the discussions in Committee. The discussion during the past 20 minutes or so has shown clearly that it has carried on. I shall briefly characterise my canvassing returns to make sure that I have them right The hon.   Member for Somerton and Frome said that he was agnostic on the proposal; the hon. Member for Huntingdon was clearly against the reduction from 5 per cent. to 2 per cent., as was my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley. I shall characterise the position of the hon. Member for Southport as ''weak against''; he certainly was not in favour.

The only dissenting note came from my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West, who made a principled speech that addressed some of the issues of participation that I have just mentioned. He is absolutely right. The course of the debate has allowed us to focus on two separate issues—first, that of extremist parties, which are well organised and sometimes well financed. They have a hateful dogma and agenda, but, as in the famous maxim, we defend their right to make their case, as long as it does not incite violence.

In a sense, my hon. Friend was arguing for the removal of deposits altogether; that was the logic of his position. I understand entirely where he is coming from and have a great deal of sympathy with his point. The way to deal with the BNP and any other extremist party, whether of the fascist or fundamentalist intolerant religious variety, is to deal with them on the substance of the argument—to take on their arguments and defeat them, not go about erecting some procedural fix to prevent them from making their arguments. Sure as eggs is eggs, they would simply use that as a martyrdom issue and say that they had been excluded.

My hon. Friend is right to say that whatever we do with the deposit, such people are not going to go away, and we must not imagine that they are. That does not mean that we should lower the deposit, but that we must be realistic about the outcome. Whatever we do with the deposits, those vile people will not go away. We have to take on the argument where it is made and address the underlying reasons why such people get support from those who might otherwise not be tempted to support them. That is a much broader issue than is raised by the amendment. However, my hon. Friend was right to make his argument.

The hon. Member for Northampton, South was against the reduction and made a strong case. That brings me to the second of the two broad categories that I was talking about—frivolous candidates. That distinction was also made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). We have to take seriously the issue of frivolous candidates—the owners of local pizza restaurants and so on—using an election to get free publicity and monitor it to ascertain whether it is becoming a weed in the democratic garden. The Daily Star, which was mentioned earlier, would of course be able to afford a deposit of 5 per cent., and would not mind losing it; it is a wealthy organisation owned by a very wealthy individual. No deposit would stop that kind of high-profile candidate. Frankly, we will have to live with that; I am not sure that we can do an awful lot about it.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

Sometimes, such organisations put up candidates all over the country; the £500 adds up by the time they get to seat No. 650.  

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Scotland Office

I suppose that such practice is regarded as a cost-benefit analysis for the newspaper. To an organisation that has millions, the decision to spend £500 on 100 constituencies might be a price worth paying, if it receives x amount of free publicity.

We would not deal with the frivolous, well-financed, corporate candidate by changing levels of deposit or the level at which people retain their deposit or otherwise. We are now deciding whether a move from 5 per cent. to 2 per cent. would be a good or a bad thing, for all the reasons that have been suggested. Different countries have different approaches to the matter. Yesterday I was with a group of Turkish Members of Parliament. Under the Turkish proportional system, there must be a 10 per cent. of the vote threshold before a party can have an MP, which means that only two parties have MPs. However, when those MPs get into Parliament they defect and set up their own parties, because they have access to state funding that can make them well off. The group explained that although the 10 per cent. order was designed to avoid a proliferation of parties, it did not work because once in Parliament, the Members set up their own parties to get around the problem. I am not aware that any country has found a perfect solution to deal with such problems. We will just have to deal with frivolous, well-funded, corporate candidates.

Let us consider the other frivolous candidates, who simply use the election to gain publicity for an entirely bogus or worthless cause. The 5 per cent. or 2 per cent. issue may make a difference to them, and to that extent, we should think seriously about it before we make such a move. For those reasons, and for the reasons that I gave on Second Reading, it is clear that it is not the will of the House to proceed with the 5 to 2 per cent. reduction.

Unfortunately, I am not in a position simply to accept the hon. Gentleman's amendment. Without wanting to lift the curtain on the magic by which such matters are decided across Government when a change of that nature is being considered, I can give him a clear undertaking that we shall come back, having been through the process and having reported back on the clearly expressed view not only of the Committee but of the House on Second Reading—when many speeches were made by hon. Members who are not here now—that it is not desirable to reduce the deposit from 5 per cent. to 2 per cent. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not push his amendment to a vote, because I would have to urge my colleagues to resist it, for the reasons that I have outlined. I assure him that we shall return to the issue on Report.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

The debate has been helpful and interesting. I thank the Minister for agreeing to return to the subject at a later stage. I shall not go through all the contributions that have been made, but I want to pick up a few points. The hon. Member for Dundee, West made some important points. He said that we needed to find ways in which to raise participation. I agree. He said that we needed to engage with those who are disaffected by the political process and might join extremist parties. To a degree, he is right. However, I do not believe that the way to do that is   to give extremists carrying a tiny percentage of the vote the right to have access to taxpayers' funds.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East made an important contribution to the debate. He said that there is an increasing tendency for commercial salespeople to use the electoral process as a way in which to receive publicity for their businesses. There seems to be an increasing tendency for single-issue lobbyists, who have no intention of representing the constituency as a whole, to use the election as a podium to promote their single-issue policies. If we removed or reduced the deposit level, those people, in particular, would be encouraged to stand for election.

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs made it clear that the amendment was an important point of principle for the Conservative party. I shall therefore ask for a Division, although I acknowledge that the Minister has said that he will return to the issue later.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 9.

Rhif adran 1 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 22 - Nomination procedures

Ie: 3 MPs

Na: 9 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.