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Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Extension to those not previously registered in United Kingdom because of age

11.30 pm

The Chairman : We now come to amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 16, leave out twenty-five' and insert fifteen'.

Mr. Waller : In the light of the reasonable decision on amendment No. 4, and because this amendment is closely related to it and it would be illogical to have a different figure, I do not seek to move the amendment.

The Chairman : In that case, I call upon the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) to move the next amendment in the group.

Mr. Darling : I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 16, leave out twenty-five' and insert twenty'.

The Chairman : With this, we will take the rest of the amendments in this group : No. 8 in, page 1, line 16, leave out twenty-five' and insert ten'.

No. 3, in page 2, line 6, leave out twenty-five' and insert fifteen'.

No. 6, in page 2, line 6, leave out twenty-five' and insert twenty'.

No. 9, in page 2, line 6, leave out twenty-five' and insert ten'.

Mr. Darling : I make no bones about it, the 20 years is a compromise. When speaking of compromises, I must say that I was surprised to meet the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) in the Lobby a few moments ago. After his outburst, in which he was almost moved to tears, about the principle of the franchise, and the shame that he felt had been brought upon democracy in the House, it was surprising to discover him in the same Lobby as I and some of my hon. Friends.

Having accepted the figure of 20 years in clause 1, it is obviously logical to accept the same figure in clause 2.

I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and other hon. Members that it is absolutely wrong, and that, if one goes abroad, one loses all touch and, therefore, all right to vote in one's constituency. I have in mind one of my constituents who lived and voted in my constituency for a number of years. He went to work for the EC, initially for five years, and under the existing legislation was entitled to vote. As he is now going to do a further stint of five years, I do not see why he should be disfranchised in a separate election. And I am not just influenced in that. I am more than satisfied with the way in which he casts his vote. It is difficult to see why he should be disfranchised. As the mobility of labour increases and people go to work in Europe and other parts of the world, I do not believe that there is a strong principle that one must restrict the franchise to those who are resident within a constituency at any one time.

Mr. Robert B. Jones : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Mr. Darling : I will not give way, because I am sure that, if the hon. Gentleman really wants to speak, he will have little difficulty in catching the Chairman's eye.

On that basis, I trust that the amendment will be accepted, compromise or not.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) has moved amendment No. 5 and I believe that he was also speaking to amendment No. 6. At the risk of being accused by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) of being a party to a collusion and for the reasons that I outlined in my remarks in the last but one debate, I commend amendment No. 5 to the Committee. Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made : No. 6, in page 2, line 6, leave out twenty-five' and insert twenty'.

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman : With the leave of the House, may I put together clauses 3 to 8?

Mr. Benn : No.

Clauses 3 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6

Increase of limits on expenses of candidatesat parliamentary by-elections

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Benn : The clause introduces an anomaly into the control of election expenses that is completely unjustifiable and inexplicable. The Committee is being invited to say that substantially larger sums of money can be spent in by-elections than can be spent in general elections. Whatever the appropriate figure--I shall not argue what the figure should be--hon. Members are elected under the same rules, whether they are elected in a general election or a by-election. The idea that a by-election should entitle the parties to spend more than in a general election can be justified only on the basis that they already spend much more than they should in by-elections. At least, it has been widely reported that in by- elections the expenditure exceeds the legal limit.

I speak with some feeling on the matter as I have fought 15 elections as a parliamentary candidate, including four by-elections. I got in at a by- election, I was slung out at a by-election, I got back in at a by-election, and when my constituency was abolished in 1983 I got in again afterwards at a by-election. What is so highly undesirable about the great media circus in a by-election is that it means that a by-election is treated differently from a general election. Seventeen candidates stood at Chesterfield in 1984, and it was a media circus. There were 25 film units in the constituency for a month. All the hotels for miles around were booked by the various journalists who covered the by-election. If there are limits of any sort or kind, they should apply to everyone, whether they are involved in a general election or a by-election.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : The number of candidates in the 1984 by-election at Chesterfield took the record away from my constituency when I was elected. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the reality in his by-election, as in others, was that

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more was spent by all the parties than the electoral limit? I suggest that that includes his own election and his own party.

Mr. Benn : I am not asking the House to go into that. I have said that it is widely accepted that the limit is exceeded. If the House passes a law, finds that it is disregarded and then makes an exception of the occasions when it is disregarded, that is not a satisfactory legislative procedure. I do not know, but it may well be that in some instances the limit is exceeded in general elections. Indeed, I had to appear before an electoral court in 1964, when it was alleged that I had spent more than in fact I had. I think that my agent put down many things under the head of election expenses--that is not uncommon--and as a result accidentally exceeded the limit. I do not think that we spent anything like the total sum recorded. However, I had the unpleasant experience of appearing before an election court and having to ask to be excused.

I am saying that if the House thinks that the limit is unreasonable, it should raise the limit, but we should not introduce a distinction between by-elections and general elections.

Mr. Simon Hughes : It seems that the by-election limit is unenforceable when national interest is focused on one constituency. That is never the position during a general election. I assume that that is the practical reason for the proposal set out in the clause.

Mr. Benn : The principle of unenforceability is based on the assumption that everyone is doing it, that no one wants to reveal that anyone else is doing it, and that it is believed that the limit should be raised. Perhaps even the proposed new limit would not cover some of the expenditures that are undertaken.

I do not believe that media by-elections perform any service in a parliamentary democracy. The media take over, but they have little to do with the constituencies where the by-elections occur. The journalists who pour into an area for a by-election have no interest in the locality where the election is taking place. Their purpose is to use the election as a test of opinion in a general election. For example, Peter Snow, on "Newsnight", examined a swing in a ward in Chesterfield and predicted an SDP Government in a general election. Pollsters make a living out of these occasions. Vincent Hanna came to Chesterfield during the by-election and went to a ward where there had been an unhappy withdrawal of a candidate for personal reasons. He stood outside the polling station and said, "There has been a withdrawal because Mr. Benn has been selected as the Labour party's parliamentary candidate." His interest had nothing to do with the people in the area, and I do not think that that does Parliament any good.

I know that the Lobby makes a living out of by-elections, as do pollsters, but that is not necessarily a good thing. I say this with some feeling, because the party of which I am a member has already interpreted the arguments that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) advanced as a justification for saying, where there is a by-election, "We had better impose a candidate or retain the right to do so." That is not a good thing either, and that is a view that I have expressed both internally and externally. Candidates are there to represent the constituencies that choose them.

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I am opposed to proportional representation in some forms because it would involve a list system. That would mean--

The Chairman : Order. There is nothing about proportional representation in the clause. I hope that we can stick to the subject of the clause.

11.45 pm

Mr. Benn : I am not wasting the time of the Committee but making the serious point that by-elections are the same as general elections because they are designed to fill vacancies. Once we say that a by-election is different, not only do we give more leeway for expenditure, but we begin to argue that the candidates should be chosen in a different way. Similarly, the list system would destroy the link between candidates and the locality that they represent. These are not party matters. The Representation of the People Bill is generally accepted as a parliamentary matter which, in certain circumstances, might even go to a Speaker's Conference. I hope, therefore, that the House will not regard this as a narrow point of party advantage. The time has come for us to restate certain principles : candidates are chosen by the localities which have a chance to vote for them ; when they stand as candidates they are all subject to indentical rules on expenditure ; political parties, candidates and everyone else should discourage the media circus which brings Parliament into contempt.

I am opposed to a high deposit. I believe that it would be better to have nominations, so that the measure of support can be seen. I fought 17 candidates, some of whom were wholly frivolous in character. One man stood with the slogan, "Buy your Chesterfield couch in Thame". That was an advertising gimmick. By paying his deposit he received a free post to everyone in the constituency. That is not the way in which Parliament should organise elections, whether by-elections or general elections.

I hope that the House will consider my point seriously and not make the change, as once it is made the argument for raising the level for all expenditure to the by-election limit will become unanswerable. It will then be argued again that by-elections are special and the level will be raised once more.

One of the most important characteristics of parliamentary democracy in this country, compared with congressional elections in America, is that in the United States they spend millions and millions of dollars promoting candidates. Only wealthy people or those with massive support can stand for Congress, which is moving away from the idea upon which the franchise was founded--the principle that anyone should be able to stand for Parliament and manage a campaign without being outpaced by those whose purses are longer. I seriously urge the House not to accept the clause, and I hope that you, Mr. Walker, understand that when I make these points I do so with considerable sincerity and a great deal of experience of by-elections and parliamentary elections.

Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove) : While I do not wish to follow the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) down all his favourite paths, I have considerable sympathy with his views on by-election expenses. I was responsible for running a large number of by-elections, and I was

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concerned about the reported levels of expenditure. However, I did not understand from the right hon. Gentleman's dissertation why, just because the media descend on a locality, it should be necessary for the candidates to spend more money. I have not seen that connection. My experience was that some of the minority parties regarded these occasions as a wonderful opportunity for the band wagon to roll and undertook considerable expenditure, to which, perhaps, other parties might want to respond in some lesser degree.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we should think most seriously before creating a different category of expenditure for these occasions. I shall listen closely to the Minister's argument as to why we should support this clause, because I find it offensive, both in principle and as a matter of practicality. I have sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman's suggestions that we are running the grave risk of increasing expenditure limits for all elections and opening an undesirable door. I shall listen closely to the Minister's justification of why, merely because there is so much media attention, it is necessary for the candidates to spend more money.

Mr. Simon Hughes : The debate is worth while because it requires the Government to explain the reasons for their proposals. I share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) and by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). Several issues are at stake here.

First, by countenancing much higher expenditure, are we disadvantaging certain parties' or candidates' chances of electoral success? In an age of advertising, those with a lot of money will spend to the maximum and do better in an election than people who have less.

Secondly, when a vacancy for a seat occurs, the by-election campaign to win it begins within days. If the seat becomes vacant due to a resignation, it begins immediately ; if due to a death, after a decent interval.

Sir Hal Miller : It depends how you define decent.

Mr. Hughes : I agree.

Sometimes, a long time may elapse before the election. By-elections are not like general elections, for which, thank goodness, there are short campaigns. Campaigns can take months. I cannot understand how we can expect the same amount of money to be spent on a two-week campaign as on a campaign lasting four, five or six months. The longer the campaign, the more money will be spent.

Thirdly, I presume that the Government's argument is based on practicality, not principle. I share the concern of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield that the reason for the Government's proposal is their belief that the rules have long since been ignored. If that is so, it is illogical to distinguish between the levels of expenditure, given that a general election is an election of 650 Members, constituency by constituency, not an election by a list system for parties. If, as the thin end of the wedge, we are now introducing proposals affecting by-elections, there is no reason in principle why the same election expenses should not apply in general elections.

If so, we must deal with the whole subject of general election expenses. The greatest distortion at these elections is to be seen in the different amounts spent nationally by the various parties ; they affect the result far more than the moneys spent supporting local candidates.

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It is unprincipled to argue for this partial change without addressing the point raised by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield. I do not complain on behalf of myself or my colleagues, but other even smaller parties find it difficult to take on the party of Government, with all the machinery and money that it can bring to bear--or to take on the Labour party, backed as it is by the unions, which invest massively in general election expenses.

I fear that this unprincipled proposal will not last long ; it has no real justification and it is being introduced as a matter of temporary expediency.

Mr. Robert B. Jones : I cannot see how this measure will work in practice, because there is an exemption from election

expenses--regular newspapers, which can say what they like, promote candidates, endorse them editorially and so on. It is not beyond the wit of political parties to produce newsletters. We have seen them in by-elections ; the name of Focus comes to mind. They can be produced daily or even hourly throughout the campaign.

Mr. Simon Hughes : Not quite.

Mr. Jones : I appreciate the difficulties of manpower. However, the newspapers can be produced regularly and can be used to get around the expenditure limits without too much difficulty.

Mr. Corbyn : I apologise for missing part of the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) because I was delayed outside on urgent business. I am sure that he will forgive me.

I had tabled some amendments to clause 6, which were not selected, so it is clear that I have several objections to it. The first is the complete nonsense that the by-election expenses limit should be set high because by- election expenses are higher. Paper, petrol, telephone calls and all the other such factors do not cost any more. The only difference is that the massive interest in by-elections makes them into a media circus, with the local electorate being made into mere spectators in what should be their election campaign. The cost of all that leads the parties to believe that they should have an increased limit to meet the interests of the media.

If this provision goes through, I suspect that the next proposal will be to increase the limit for each parliamentary election by a similar amount. Once the precedent has been set in the by-elections, people will logically ask why, if this amount of £14,000 plus 16p per elector can be spent in by-elections, it should not be spent in general elections. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield said--I caught the end of his speech--we are then into the American situation, where those who spend the most win.

I agree that there is a case for increasing the expenses limit, and it should be increased regularly. However, I suggest that it should be uprated annually as the new register comes into force on 16 February each year. That would make the expenses limit open and clear in advance of the electoral year. I see nothing wrong with that. At least we would know where we are going, and would do so with an agreed figure.

There is also an omission from clause 6. It should abolish the electoral deposit and introduce instead a requirement to submit large numbers of names as a demonstration of political support. That would be better

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than the present system, which shows only the ability to pay one's way to get on the ballot paper, and would be more democratic. This is a bad Bill, and clause 6 is particularly bad, so I hope that the Committee will not accept it.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : There is a certain tension between the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), who spoke first to the clause on behalf of the Opposition, and welcomed it. The clause is justified for three reasons. The first is that the plain fact of life is that the by-election becomes the focus of national political interest. It is a partial view to describe it a focus for media interest. It is, but it is also a focus for political interest, and politicians go to by-elections in great numbers. One of the difficult questions is the extent of the expenditure attributable to those visiting politicians that should be recorded in the electoral expenses. There was a day, quite a long time ago, when Labour candidates were pleased to have the right hon. Member for Chesterfield support them at a by- election. I should be interested to know how often his travelling expenses were shown in the candidates' expenses.

Mr. Benn : The Minister is making a cheap point that may entertain his colleagues, but he is missing the point that I made. He is saying that the limit is exceeded, although he knows--as everyone knows--that the agent makes a statutory declaration. He has said that the law is disregarded, and that we all know that it is disregarded. He also made a comment about my travelling expenses, or anyone else's for that matter.

The hon. Gentleman is a Minister responsible for upholding the laws passed by Parliament. He has now told the House that those laws are disregarded, and I should like him to clarify that. Is he saying that the limit is being increased because the statutory declarations made by the parties in recent by-elections have, in the Government's view, been false? If that is his argument let us consider it on that basis, but it is a serious matter for a Government to say, "We know that the law is being broken, so we are going to change it."

12 midnight

Mr. Hogg : The right hon. Gentleman is not rising to the occasion ; nor is he focusing on the issue. The issue is this : by-elections are of considerable political importance. As a consequence, the parties, often for a prolonged period--I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) about this--pour a large amount of resources into the constituency. Those resources frequently take the form of speakers of high renown, such as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield.

It is important to remember that only the courts can clarify which expenses are properly recordable and which are not. This is a seriously grey area. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman's expenses, incurred when he is travelling to a by-election, should, in law, be incurred ; generally the view has been taken that such expenses are not properly recordable, but I can envisage circumstances in which the courts would take a different view. Because of the volume of effort put into particular by-elections, candidates' expenses may be very close to the

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ceiling. If the courts were to take an adverse view--a view inconsistent with the practice of 30 years or more-- individual candidates and agents could find themselves seriously at risk. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield will know the nature of that risk better than most : it involves disqualification from membership of the House, with the possibility of a fine and imprisonment. That cannot be right, and the House has a duty to remedy such grey areas. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield will, I trust, bear in mind that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it plain that we shall re-examine the whole question of expenses. As an interim measure, however, the Committee is considering this clause, which has the general support of hon. Members.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : This is very interesting. Is the Minister saying that, if the clause is passed, the expenses of all parliamentarians visiting by-elections will have to be submitted?

Mr. Hogg : I am not saying that. I am saying that the items of expenditure which are properly recordable are not defined exactly in law. Consequently, there is uncertainty about whether--I cite this merely as an example--the expenses of a visiting politician should be recordable.

Clearly, in a number of cases, if all the expenses of politicians visiting by-elections had been recorded, it might well have transpired that the limits had been exceeded. I do not believe that anyone present would wish to deny an individual candidate the opportunity to attract the right hon. Member for Chesterfield ; indeed, the Conservative party would be delighted if he appeared at every by-election in which a Labour candidate was participating. However, we do no want to put candidates at risk, and I cannot believe that hon. Members wish to put candidates at risk. It is on that basis that I commend the clause to the Committee.

Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness) : I have listened very carefully to my hon. Friend, but with the greatest respect I feel that he has made a spurious point. There is no difference between a visiting parliamentarian and any single constituent who chooses to travel from his home to wherever the particular constituency party or association sends him and who uses his car or public transport to get there. Although in theory my hon. Friend is right that the courts could decide that any money spent on transport for the purpose of assisting at a by-election should be recorded, to do so would be fatuous because it would be so totally impracticable. I do not agree with my hon. Friend that it is possible to draw a distinction between visiting parliamentarians and those who assist at by-elections.

Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend is making my point. He says, quite rightly, that it is difficult to draw a distinction between a visiting parliamentarian and a large number of volunteers. He went on to say that in theory the courts could hold those expenses to be recordable. So they could. That is the problem. In a by-election, not only do prominent politicians come forward to support a particular candidate but very frequently, because it is part of our democratic procedures, a very large number of volunteers come forward, too. They incur expenses of

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many kinds. I can envisage courts taking the view that those expenses should be recordable. There is no point in saying that the matter will not be raised. I most certainly foresee the time when a number of minority parties that are not represented in this place at the moment may seek to raise the issue.

Sir Hal Miller : I realise that the Minister has to walk delicately, but unfortunately this clause has taken the cork out of the bottle. We are now having to discuss in the open matters which previously we preferred not to discuss. I have very considerable experience of these matters. Of course there is a grey area, as the Minister has just reminded us, but the Bill does not clarify that grey area in any way. Whereas it could previously be said that the current limitation on expenses acted as a brake on expenditure, the Minister is now lifting his foot off the brake and encouraging a great deal more expenditure.

It would help the Committee if, without it being too difficult for him, he could say why the new suggested limit is thought to be appropriate. According to a rough calculation, it would amount to about £26,000 in my constituency. That is a very considerable sum of money, but we have been given no clear idea of what expenses a sum of money of that magnitude would be expected to cover. I ask the Minister to help us, because it is a matter of some principle.

Mr. Hogg : Of course it is a matter of some importance, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it, but he will forgive me, I hope, if I say that he does me less than justice. He will bear in mind that I have already said that this is only an interim measure. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made plain in his Second Reading speech and in a parliamentary answer, we are proposing, after discussions between the parties, to embark upon consultations as to expenses across the board.

The new clause is designed not to settle the position finally, but merely to protect it until that process of consultation is complete and it is possible to implement the product of that consultation process. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) also asked how the new figures had been reached. There is nothing magic about that. They were the result of consultations between interested parties. As I say that, I fear that I shall be accused of collusion.

Mr. Simon Hughes : The Minister is certainly trying to be helpful and I welcome that. As the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) said, we are all treading carefully, wary about what might appear from the bottle when it is uncorked. No doubt we all rely on our agents to deal with these matters and happily claim ignorance. That would apply to both sides of the House. I wish to ask the Minister two specific questions. First, can he give an estimate of the current expenditure in each of the by-elections? Secondly, as the Home Office must have done some work on this, can the Minister estimate the current expenditure by constituency in the last general election? If we are to have change before the next general election, that is relevant to the interim and final proposals.

Mr. Hogg : The hon. Gentleman flatters me. I cannot answer either question without notice and I shall reply to him in writing.

Mr. Benn : Can the Minister help me on three points? Alternative amendments would have clarified the issue

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around which he built his case. If the Bill said that in considering election expenses, the travelling expenses of speakers visiting constituencies were to be excluded, that would have clarified a matter on which the Minister said the courts had not made judgment. It would have been a permissible amendment.

The second point that the Minister omits is that, in general elections, circuses of party leaders travel around and Members of Parliament visit other constituencies. I have no idea how those expenses are carried, but I represented a big city for 33 years, and at every election Mr. Attlee, Mr. Gaitskell or Mr. Wilson would visit, and presumably the expenses were quite substantial. There is no argument whatever in respect of those constituencies that attract major party leaders to differentiate a by- election from a general election.

Finally, the Minister said that the new clause is the result of informal consultations, which has been a characteristic of the Bill's consideration in Committee. If consultations are to take place--and must take place, because we have raised a subject that most right hon. and hon. Members do not discuss often--there is no reason why the provision should be in the Bill. Another Bill should be produced quite quickly, clarifying what is an election expense on the basis that general elections and by-elections are the same. With great respect to the Minister, who has not addressed the points that I have raised, this is not the right clause for the Bill and it should not have been included on the basis that the Bill happened to be before the House on quite another matter to provide a special exception for by-elections which generally do not contribute much to a public respect for parliamentary democracy.

Mr. Hogg : With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, his intervention does not go to the root of the matter. It is perfectly true that the travelling expenses of visiting politicians are excluded from recordable expense. But the right hon. Gentleman is not focusing on the fact that there are a whole variety of expenses which are in doubt. I gave one example--travelling expenses--but there are many others. The point made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is particularly important. At what point in the range of expenditure do expenses become recordable? Is it on the adoption of the candidate, or at some prior date? The point that I am making to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield is that a range of difficult questions must be addressed. For that reason, we propose to proceed by public consultation, and clause 6 is designed to protect the position pending the conclusion of that consultation. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield will know that on consultation we seek to move ahead with as much agreement as can reasonably be achieved. In the Bill, we have tried to identify at least two prior issues of high priority--expenses and the extended franchise. On that basis, only two elements are in the Bill. 12.15 pm

Mr. Maclennan : I have much sympathy with the Government's purpose, which they declared on Second Reading, for this interim measure. As the Minister spoke, I became more concerned about what will be the longer-term solution to the problem.

Given the attendance tonight, it is clear that hon. Members take an interest in the subject. The Secretary of

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State is to initiate a process of public consultation. Has consideration been given to what I believe is quite normal in such matters--the setting up of a Speaker's Conference, and without delay, because this is pre-eminently a House of Commons matter? It seems to me that the Government should not necessarily take the lead in organising consultation. I hope that the Minister will say whether he has considered that and whether he would look favourably on it.

Mr. Hogg : The answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) is yes, consideration has been given to the proposal that he made. It has been thought best to proceed in the way that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlined on Second Reading, which is the approach that I commend.

Mr. Benn : I listened carefully to the Minister, but I am wholly unpersuaded. Like every hon. Member, I have had to sign the statutory declaration, which is a solemn thing to have to do. Not only the agent but the Member must sign it and, as the Minister rightly said, when the hon. Member signs it he runs the risk of getting into difficulties with disqualification, punishment or, so far as I know, imprisonment. On a technicality, I once had to ask for relief from election courts, so I am speaking with some feeling.

The proper way to deal with the matter is to clarify what is an election expense. If people help by driving their cars around a constituency, it must be decided whether such expenditure should be included. If it is, one is faced with the impossible task of deciding who travelled where to take people to the polls. Without doubt, that should not be included. Expenditure incurred when people visit a constituency should not be included, although clearly there would have to be consultation.

The issue, surely, is the definition of an election expense and the proper limit. My understanding of the reason for a limit is to stop an enormous sum of money being spent not on bringing in visiting speakers but on influencing people by mass propaganda, which gives an advantage to those who have the longest purses. For all those reasons, I shall oppose clause 6 in the Lobby, not because I do not want the matter to be taken seriously and urgently but because the Government have come to a shoddy way of tackling a problem that is of legitimate concern to the public and to hon. Members who are required to make statutory declarations.

Some Members die unexpectedly. When a prospective candidate is adopted as a candidate, he will not know whether he will fight a general election or a by-election. Just after a general election, there is always a wave of by- elections. First, there is the general election expenditure and, if the freshly elected Member goes to the House of Lords or the EEC, there is a by -election and immediately the expenditure increases--at a time when the turnout usually decreases. I ask the Minister to consider this matter. I will seek to divide the Committee. This is not a matter that just needs discussions between the national agents of the two parties. It requires public scrutiny and discussion and a clear statement of the principles upon which the law is to be founded, followed by enforcement of the law so that people do not apparently disregard it.

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Question put, That the clause stand part of theBill :-- The Committee divided : Ayes 126, Noes 13.

Division No. 284] [12.20 am


Alexander, Richard

Allason, Rupert

Alton, David

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)

Atkins, Robert

Beith, A. J.

Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)

Blackburn, Dr John G.

Boswell, Tim

Brandon-Bravo, Martin

Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)

Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)

Burns, Simon

Burt, Alistair

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)

Carrington, Matthew

Carttiss, Michael

Chapman, Sydney

Chope, Christopher

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Cran, James

Currie, Mrs Edwina

Curry, David

Darling, Alistair

Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)

Davis, David (Boothferry)

Day, Stephen

Devlin, Tim

Dewar, Donald

Dorrell, Stephen

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Dover, Den

Durant, Tony

Fallon, Michael

Favell, Tony

Fishburn, John Dudley

Forman, Nigel

Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)

Forth, Eric

Foster, Derek

Freeman, Roger

French, Douglas

Garel-Jones, Tristan

Gill, Christopher

Golding, Mrs Llin

Goodhart, Sir Philip

Gow, Ian

Greenway, John (Ryedale)

Gregory, Conal

Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)

Hague, William

Hanley, Jeremy

Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)

Hawkins, Christopher

Hind, Kenneth

Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)

Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)

Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)

Howells, Geraint

Hunt, David (Wirral W)

Hunter, Andrew

Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas

Irvine, Michael

Jack, Michael

Jackson, Robert

Janman, Tim

Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)

Jones, Robert B (Herts W)

King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)

Kirkhope, Timothy

Knapman, Roger

Latham, Michael

Lawrence, Ivan

Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)

Lightbown, David

Lilley, Peter

Maclean, David

Maclennan, Robert

McLoughlin, Patrick

Malins, Humfrey

Mans, Keith

Marshall, John (Hendon S)

Martin, David (Portsmouth S)

Mills, Iain

Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)

Monro, Sir Hector

Moss, Malcolm

Neubert, Michael

Nicholls, Patrick

Nicholson, David (Taunton)

Norris, Steve

Paice, James

Porter, David (Waveney)

Portillo, Michael

Raison, Rt Hon Timothy

Redwood, John

Riddick, Graham

Roe, Mrs Marion

Sackville, Hon Tom

Sayeed, Jonathan

Shaw, David (Dover)

Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')

Stern, Michael

Stevens, Lewis

Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)

Stradling Thomas, Sir John

Sumberg, David

Summerson, Hugo

Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Taylor, John M (Solihull)

Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)

Thurnham, Peter

Twinn, Dr Ian

Waddington, Rt Hon David

Wallace, James

Waller, Gary

Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)

Warren, Kenneth

Watts, John

Wheeler, John

Widdecombe, Ann

Wood, Timothy

Yeo, Tim

Tellers for the Ayes :

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle and

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory.


Abbott, Ms Diane

Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)

Cryer, Bob

Loyden, Eddie

Mahon, Mrs Alice

Meale, Alan

Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)

Nellist, Dave

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