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Friday, 30 March, 2001, 17:30 GMT
Who can be a candidate?

There is no single document or law which defines who can stand for election as Member of Parliament.

Essentially, however, candidates must be over the age of 21 and be citizens of the UK, the Republic of Ireland or the Commonwealth.

The lack of clarity extends even to the qualifying age - it is not set down whether candidates have to be 21 by the date the election is called, or close of nominations, or polling day itself.

Those banned from becoming MPs include:

  • Members of the House of Lords,

  • Undischarged bankrupts,

  • Seriously mentally ill people,

  • Prisoners serving sentences of more than one year,

  • Those guilty of electoral malpractice in the last 5-10 years,

  • Traitors - ie those guilty of treason and not pardoned,

  • Certain people holding offices of profit under the Crown (including holders of judicial office, civil servants, members of the armed forces, or the police forces, members of the legislature of any country or territory outside the Commonwealth, Government-nominated directors of commercial companies).

  • Clergy of the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church.

    The clergy ban will be in force unless the Removal of Clergy Disqualification Bill receives the royal assent before parliament is prorogued. The bill removes the ban on all past and current clergy standing, unless they are also members of the House of Lords.

    Spreading your chances

    A candidate can stand in more than one constituency.


    Lord Sutch, leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party
    The late Lord Sutch of the Monster Raving Loony Party stood in three seats in 1992, losing his deposit in all of them.

    More successfully, Charles Stewart Parnell was elected in 1880 in three constituencies in Ireland, then part of the UK.

    In the event of being victorious in more than one seat, a candidate has one week to decide which one to represent.

    Now you elect him, now you don't

    While some categories of people might definitely be banned from becoming MPs, there is nothing to stop them from standing and campaigning actively, and nothing to stop the voters casting a majority of the ballots for them.

    If the electors are not aware of a candidate's ineligibility, he or she will be disqualified if victorious and a by-election ordered. If the electors are aware, however, then the second-placed candidate may be declared elected.

    This happened to Bristol South East Labour MP Tony Benn in 1960 when he succeeded to his father's title of Viscount Stansgate, which carried a hereditary seat in the House of Lords.


    Tony Benn MP
    Because no-one can sit in both houses, a by-election was called which Mr Benn duly 'won'. However, the Electoral Court ruled that the second-placed Conservative candidate be declared the new MP.

    This case ultimately led to a change in the law in 1963, allowing hereditary peers to give up their titles in order to sit in the Commons.

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