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Representation Of The People (Variation Of Limits Of Candidates' Election Expenses) Order 1981

Volume 417: debated on Tuesday 10 February 1981

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3.22 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th January be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that this draft order be now approved. The purpose of this order is to raise the limits on the permitted election expenses of candidates at elections to the Greater London Council to compensate for the fall in the value of money since March 1977, when these limits were last fixed. The order has been introduced now so that the new limits may come into effect in good time for the elections to the Greater London Council to be held on 7th May. The Representation of the People Act 1978 removed the need to introduce primary legislation to update election expenses limits, and instead permits the Secretary of State, subject to the affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament, to vary the limits by order to the extent justified by changes in the value of money.

The present limits in respect of candidates for GLC elections were last fixed in March 1977 at £320 plus 2p per registered elector for the area. The latest available figures show that the Retail Price Index has risen since March 1977 by 57 per cent. This indicates the need for this increase in the limits to £500 plus 3p per registered elector. In bringing forward this order to your Lordships' House we have consulted the major political parties, the local authority associations and the Greater London Council. None of these bodies raised any objection to the proposed new limits. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th January be approved.—( Lord Belstead.)

My Lords, your Lordships will be indebted to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for his clear and concise explanation. Plainly inflation has taken its toll and therefore it seems that the proposed new limit is inevitable and inescapable, and I would invite my noble friends to support it accordingly. There is just one point that I should like to raise with the Minister and that is whether this new limit is meant to last for some time; that is, whether it only brings us up to current prices or whether, in putting forward a new limit of this kind, some account is taken, so far as that can be done, of present and future rates of inflation, so that a new limit might be expected to last for a little while instead of our having to introduce a further order within a limited time. Clearly the order is needed. I think it is right to say that printing costs alone have again increased quite substantially, and those take a substantial proportion of the amount that a candidate spends on his election expenses.

My Lords, before my noble friend replies, can he explain why this order is only applicable to London? The rest of England and Wales are having elections on 7th May and I wondered whether there was any reason why they should be excluded.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Boston, in giving a welcome to the order, for which I thank the noble Lord, asked me in essence whether something has been built into the level of expenses, provided for in this order, to take account of inflation. The short answer to the noble Lord is, no, because the order-making power in the 1978 Act allows only for changes to be proposed to the level of expenses to take account of the change in the value of money. This order, therefore, makes its proposals by reference to the rise in the retail price index from the time when GLC election expenses were last raised, which was in 1977, until the present time.

However, in answer to a number of representations this order has deliberately not been introduced until shortly before the next GLC elections are due to take place on 7th May of this year. By doing this, my right honourable friend hopes to allow GLC candidates to have election expenses permitted which are absolutely realistic for the year 1981. My noble friend Lord Ridley asked me about other local elections in Great Britain. It is true that GLC elections and county council elections are both being held in Great Britain this year. The expenses limits for all local elections in Great Britain, save for those of the GLC, were in-creased in March of last year by the Representation of the People (Variation of Limits of Candidates' Election Expenses) Order 1980, and we hope that that took account of the needs of candidates for county council elections.

On Question, Motion agreed to.