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Lord Bach : One can take one of two views: either that taken by the noble Viscount or that which suggests this House is a revising Chamber and that it does its job when it raises such points.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 60:



(c) the description of the candidate given in his nomination paper includes the word "Independent" and no more than five other words which do not contravene the restrictions laid down in section 25(2)(a), (c), (d), (e) and (f)").

The noble Lord said: The Bill proposes that a person standing as an independent candidate is allowed to use only the word "independent". That description is extraordinarily narrow and most unfair on such people. I do not believe for one minute that the electorate become confused over Labour candidates and independent Labour candidates, or Conservative candidates and independent Conservative candidates. I do not believe that the electorate become confused at all. The issue is clear. I understand that certain playing around with names may confuse the electorate but I do not believe that adding words such as "Conservative" or "Labour" to the word "independent" confuses the electorate one little bit.

Most people who stand as independent candidates are not widely known and it is not fair that they should be restricted to only the word "independent". Some independent candidates need no other description. That was certainly the case with Dennis Canavan when he stood as an independent candidate for the Scottish Parliament and so thoroughly trounced the Labour candidate. And Mr Canavan deservedly trounced the Labour candidate because of the appalling way in which he was treated by the Labour Party. He was not even allowed back in and now he is to precipitate a by-election. I would advise Members opposite not to put their shirts on at the bookies that their party will hold on to the seat. I believe that many Labour voters in that constituency are still aggrieved by the way their party behaved towards Dennis Canavan.

He did not need to explain what he was about; "independent" was enough. He was extraordinarily well known and popular, as the final election results

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showed. However, most independent candidates are not. They may be being difficult, rebelling against their party or in disagreement but I do not see why their description should be narrowed down to only the word "independent". It is part and parcel of the Government's control freakery and it seems to me to inhibit the freedom of the individual. I believe that, provided the title that is used is clear, no confusion is caused. "Independent Conservative" or "Independent Labour" is perfectly clear and understood by the electorate and I see no reason for the Government to retain the restriction. In order to be fair to those people who want to exercise their democratic rights and stand for Parliament the Government should accept my amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. Not only is it a question of the right of people to stand as candidates, it is the right of the electorate to have an indication of what they are standing for. There should be on the ballot paper a brief indication of the kind of independent a particular animal is. I believe that the proposal that they should be described only as "independent" is bad and I oppose it.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Rennard: I understand the legitimate concern of the Government in this matter, but perhaps there is an alternative way to address the problem. For example, 600 candidates who stand in a general election as independents may all have the description "Independent Against Europe". Effectively, those candidates are acting as a political party without any of the constraints imposed in this Bill.

I too am concerned that someone who stands as a genuine independent will be denied the opportunity to give himself an adequate description. There must be some means by which candidates who stand as independents cannot circumvent the provisions of the Bill but are allowed more than the very basic description "independent". There are some parts of the country where it is still not uncommon to find two or three independent candidates standing in local elections. Some description on the ballot paper may be necessary to enable electors to distinguish between particular platforms. Currently, there is provision in electoral law to prevent candidates in local elections from pretending to stand independently of one another in order to circumvent spending limits imposed in council elections.

Where there is a three-member ward in local council elections, three candidates from one party can spend double the normal election expenses limit. That applies to one candidate who stands in that ward. However, candidates are not allowed to have triple the normal election expenses limit. Each candidate can potentially pretend to stand as an independent and, therefore, claim three times the normal limit. However, the law says that, if candidates have a common agent or are deemed to be campaigning together on a common platform, they are to be treated as common candidates and cannot have three times the normal election

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expenses limit. One wonders whether some provision can be made to avoid the possibility of independent candidates ganging up and circumventing the legislation. If they behave as a party they should be subject to the provisions of the Bill. Will the Government give this further consideration before adopting a fairly draconian measure which prevents someone from standing as, say, an independent in support of the local bypass, or some other such description?

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: I apologise to my noble friend for failing to give him notice that I intended to raise one small query. I very much agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and disagree with those put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, about the use of a semi-political description; that is, "Independent Labour" or "Independent Conservative". I am a little surprised that the noble Lord's own party has not told him that at times it causes confusion and is not a satisfactory method. Nor do I believe it right that people should identify their names by what they believe in, because that is to put over a political message with their description, which they can do in other ways.

My query about "independent" is that it has been known--it may happen again--for people to use the names of others. Therefore, one may have Joe Bloggs Independent fighting Joe Bloggs Independent. I should like to know whether there is some way to ensure that individuals are distinguished perhaps by occupation and certainly not by political persuasion.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I was not a Member of this House on 3rd April when the Bill was given its Second Reading and so did not have the privilege of participating then. However, I have read with care the report of that debate in Hansard. I note how many noble Lords reflected on the changes involved in moving from what might appear to be unobjectionable, and perhaps desirable, strategic objectives to their practical implications on the ground. In a way, it is the difference between viewing topography in an aircraft at 20,000 feet and walking across it on the ground. A good part of Clause 22 as currently drafted contains a classic example of that particular danger, and for that reason I strongly support my noble friend's amendment.

The strategy to reinvigorate local democracy is entirely praiseworthy, but the practical tactic of wiping out all small parties unless they call themselves "independent" or register is dead against the practical implications of that objective at constituency level.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister to consider the case of Mr Bill Boaks and tell me how he would fare under the clause as presently drafted. Twenty-four years ago I was a candidate in a by-election in Walsall North. It was a by-election that had a certain high profile because the sitting Member had disappeared in Miami and reappeared in Australia. A considerable number of candidates put themselves forward. Among them was a Mr Bill Boaks. He stood as an "Air and Road

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Safety" candidate. His policy was to segregate motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. That is a very worthy objective, if a little narrow in focus for someone seeking a parliamentary career.

Neither that objective nor his campaigning methods carried any great danger to the democratic process. His campaigning methods mostly consisted of climbing inside a large cardboard box, on the outside of which were painted his slogans, renting a bicycle and slowly cycling around the constituency. It cannot be said that he obtained great public support. I think that 30 votes were cast in his favour. Perhaps Mr Boaks was what one might call a one club golfer. But he was not sexist; he was not racist; he was not ageist; he was not any other "ist". He was in effect a slightly eccentric elderly gentleman.

As presently drafted, Clause 20(2) will bring an end to Mr Boaks and his kind. To stand as an independent is not the same kind of thing, because part of Mr Boaks's description was his policy. It seems a strange way to reinvigorate local democracy by preventing the Mr Boakses of the world from participating.

When the Minister replies, he may say that Mr Boaks can register his party. I hope he will not say that because that would show conclusively that the Minister is at 20,000 feet and not on the ground. The kind of person that Mr Boaks was will never be able to cope with the bureaucracy, form-filling or indeed the cost of complying with the commission. Therefore, if the purpose of Clause 20(2) is to reinvigorate democracy, it will have the reverse effect of making politics the preserve of the professional.

I venture the thought that politics are too important to be left entirely to the professionals. Candidates like Mr Boaks perform two valuable services. Professionals take their politics very seriously. That is quite right and proper. But Mr Boaks reminds professional politicians of the transitory nature of their work. He performs a function not dissimilar to that of the medieval jester who could tell the king home truths that others in the court were frightened to tell him. He also reminds our countrymen that it is possible for any man or woman with a cause, however local, in which they believe passionately, to put it before their fellow citizens with the minimum level of bureaucracy and administration. In so doing, they perform an invaluable and reinvigorating role in our local democracy. Therefore, I strongly support the amendment that my noble friend has moved.


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