§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. FAWCETT,
in moving "That the Bill be now read a second time," said, he thought he should be able to show in a few sentences that, while it involved a principle of the greatest importance, its provisions were extremely simple. The Bill proposed, in the first place, to make candidates at elections no longer liable for the necessary election expenses, but to transfer that liability to the locality, and. it in the next place provided security against vexatious canvassing. As to the latter point, he had, after considerable reflection, arrived at the conclusion that, instead of imposing a pecuniary fine, which in certain cases might operate with great hardship, the candidate who did not poll a certain number of votes should be regarded as having presented himself to the constituency without a reasonable chance of success, and that he should, under those circumstances, be rendered liable to his share of the expenses exactly in the same way as under the existing law. What the proportion of votes should be was a matter of detail. He had fixed it at one-fifth of the whole number of electors polled, but if the House thought that proportion too large, he should have no objection to make it one-sixth or one-seventh in Committee. He should next address himself to the arguments which would probably be urged against the Bill. It would, perhaps, be contended that it would be unfair and impolitic to throw any new charge on the rates until the whole question of local taxation had been settled. The same argument had been urged that day week in opposition to a measure for the abolition of tolls on bridges in Scotland; but the House had arrived at the conclusion that the imposition of a new charge on the rates ought not to stand in the way of a necessary reform. If it were to be allowed to do so, the Amendment of which his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) had given Notice would be fatal to the Elementary Education Act Amendment Bill which had been introduced by the Government. But the argument drawn from the inexpe- 1111 diency of imposing new burdens on the rates until the question of local taxation had been settled was, in his opinion, strongly in favour of the measure now before the House. Was it not of the utmost importance that before the bargain as between Imperial and local taxation was finally struck, it should be determined what charges were and were not to be considered fair burdens on local taxation? Let him suppose, too, that next Session the House should decide that a certain amount of assistance was to be given from the Imperial Exchequer to relieve local taxation, would not a proposal such as that he was now making be met at once by the argument that it was unfair to re-open a question which had only just been determined? That being so, he thought the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes) and those who supported him, ought to be glad to take into account, not only the existing charges on local taxation, but those charges which were likely to be imposed on it in the future, before the whole question was settled. It was, he might add, constantly said that the throwing of a new burden on the rates would be unpopular, and he, for one, was extremely jealous of any such imposition, and would not wantonly be a party to it. But the charge which the Bill would impose was insignificant in the extreme. It had been computed that it would not be on the average more than 1½d. in every three years on an elector occupying a £10 house; and when that small amount was compared with the great principle involved in the Bill, he thought it could hardly be held to afford a valid argument against its passing. As to the Bill being unpopular, he should like to know what evidence there was in support of the assertion. Few measures had been more discussed during the last six or seven years, yet, so far as he knew, not a single Petition had been presented against it, while scarcely a large meeting of workmen demanding reforms in our representative system had been held at which resolutions in its favour had not been passed. It had also received the unanimous support of all sections of the Press. The third argument against the Bill was that it would increase the number of vexatious candidatures, and that many constituencies which would not now be contested would 1112 be exposed to a contest under the new system. He believed the directly opposite. In his opinion the Bill would operate by giving the constituencies an interest adverse to that of the printers, bill-posters, advertisers, solicitors, and others of the electioneering crew, who get up election contests under the present system, even when they knew it to be hopeless, and who benefited by the costly paraphernalia of an election, which they regarded as being "good for trade." Under the present system there was no check upon the machinations of these persons; but if this Bill were passed, the whole body of the ratepayers would be opposed to the schemes of people of this kind, and would be interested in keeping down election expenses. He asked the House whether any candid man could view without alarm the increasing tendency to make elections more and more expensive? Unless some change were made it would soon come to pass that no man who had not thousands to squander in election expenses would be able to aspire to a seat in Parliament, consequently that House would cease to be a Representative Assembly, and a severe blow would be struck not only at the efficiency, but at the permanence of representative government in this country. At no time in our political history had it been so important that persons who were not rich should be able to obtain seats in that House, and in view of the social questions likely to be discussed during the next few years, it was necessary that labour as well as capital should be represented in Parliament. It had been urged that it was the object of this measure to facilitate the entrance of working men into that House; but although he was anxious that labour should be fairly represented in the Legislature, he thought that the probable effect of the Bill in that direction had been greatly exaggerated; and however desirous he might be to see some working men in that House, he did not believe there would ever be many. Were the Bill to be rejected, and were no working man to be returned at the next General Election, very bitter feelings would be engendered, and the decisions of that House would be regarded as expressing the views of capitalists alone, and not of the nation at large; were, however, the Bill to become law, if no working man were re- 1113 turned, the fault would he with the working men themselves, and not with that House. It was of great importance at the present time that election expenses should be diminished as much as possible, because there was a powerful combination of circumstances acting in an opposite direction, which rendered it year by year more difficult to those who had not enormous wealth to enter Parliament. In the first place, the small boroughs had been abolished; secondly, the suffrage had been extended; and thirdly, there was a tendency to concentrate political power more and more upon large constituencies. He did not wish to be misunderstood on this point. He by no means objected to these changes, which he believed were inevitable, but it was for the House and the Government to consider whether steps should not be taken to guard against the evils that might indirectly result from them. Another powerful influence, which also tended to increase the cost of elections, but which the House was powerless to deal with, was the growing prosperity of the country, which enabled men to make enormous fortunes in a short time. Owing to the increase in the number of our moneyed men, the competition for seats in Parliament had become keener of late years, for one of the first things that a man thought of when he became rich, was to enter that House, and he was willing to pay an extravagant price for the honour. If only rich men were to enter that House, our statesmen would not receive a political training in their youth; and we should be governed by men who had first turned their attention to politics when they had realized fortunes and had arrived at 45 or 50 years of age. He had been told that he was ill advised to bring forward this measure in the face of certain defeat; but had he been deterred by a fear of defeat he should never have introduced any measure at all into that House. The chief use of an independent Member was not to register the decrees of the majority but to bring into notice the views of the minority and to mould questions into such a form that the Government were obliged at length to take them up. The history of this measure was somewhat peculiar. He had endeavoured six years ago to introduce a clause to effect the object of this Bill into the Corrupt Practices Bill of the then Conservative 1114 Government, and his proposal had been carried by a majority of 8 on one occasion, and of 9 on another. On the Report of the Bill, the Leader of the Conservative party, taking the House by surprise, had succeeded in throwing out the clause by a majority of 12, and on the third reading of the Bill, when the question was again raised, the clause was rejected by a majority of 3 only. Then commenced a new state of things. In a confiding moment he had placed this Bill in the hands of the Government. Whether the atmosphere which surrounded the Treasury bench was too enervating for the constitution of the measure he could not say, but the result had been that since the Bill had been in the hands of the Government it had been defeated by majorities of 90 and 92. He was aware, that when a question was entrusted to the Government it had no chance, unless certain Members of the Government were zealous in its favour; and he was afraid that the hon. Member for Shaftesbury (Mr. Glyn), upon whom had devolved the duty of acting as the foster-parent to the measure, instead of doing his best to carry it, had imitated the example of the wicked uncle in the Children of the Wood, and the Bill had consequently been thrown out. Under those circumstances, he trusted that the House would not think him rash in having taken back his Bill, in the hope that it would revive and regain health and strength in the more bracing atmosphere of independence. If the majority against it should be as large as it had been under the care of the Government, he should think that its constitution was still weak; but if it were reduced to 50, 40, or 30, he should feel that it was regaining strength, and should continue to bring it under the notice of the House from time to time until it was passed. It had been said the Ballot Act had rendered this Bill unnecessary; but in his opinion that Act had increased the necessity for it. He trusted that the fond hopes of those who believed that the Ballot Act would prove the death-blow to political corruption would be fulfilled; but in his view, nothing but such a change of opinion in the constituencies with regard to political responsibilities as that measure would effect would ever put an end to electoral corruption. It would not be until men were brought to believe 1115 that seats in Parliament involved important political duties, and were not mere privileges to be purchased by the highest bidder, that we should be able to attain electoral purity. Holding those opinions, he begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Fawcett.)
§ MR. W. N. HODGSON,
in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, he could not congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) upon the perseverance he had shown in bringing forward the Bill after the House had so decisively rejected it. No large constituency had expressed itself in favour of the measure, while the great body of the ratepayers were strongly opposed to it. Looking at the vast increase that had been made in late years in the local burdens, the House should be very careful not to add to the local rates. The hon. Member had said that the addition that would be made to the local rates by this measure would be very trifling; but he found from a Return that the expenses at the last election at Liverpool, which would be thrown upon the local rates by this Bill, amounted to £900 for each candidate. It might also be said that the borough rates and the county rates were only trifling in amount when compared with the taxation of the country. That might be the case, but it should not be forgotten that these rates had been increased by degrees. First, bridges were added to the county rates; next, gaols; then lunatic asylums; and, lastly, the police. These expenses, added together, had increased the local charges from £1,720,000 in 1796, to £15,000,000, the present amount, and it would be most unwise to add to the burden at a time when the question what relief should be afforded to the ratepayer out of the Imperial Revenue was about to be brought forward. There was no wish on the part of that House to exclude working men from seats in it; indeed, he should be very glad to see them there, but the Bill would rather hinder than facilitate their being returned as Members of Parliament. He did not think that Her Majesty's Government, in the face of the declaration made by the Prime Minister the other night, 1116 that he would not consent that any addition should be made to the local burdens, would give their support to this Bill. The provisions of the measure, too, were most defective; for instance, no provision had been made for taxing the statement of the expenses to be made by the Returning Officer, and it was very imperfect in its details. Believing that even if the Bill were to be read a second time, there would be no chance of its receiving the sanction of Parliament during the present Session, he begged to move that it be read a second time that day six months.
§ MR. FLOYER,
in seconding the Amendment, said, his great objection to the Bill was, that it would add considerably to the burdens of the ratepayers. The addition to the rates would be immediate, but the relief that the country was now expecting to the rates from the Government measures might be a long way off. The present local burdens were quite heavy enough, and there ought to be no addition to them. That was a Bill to relieve rich men from their necessary election expenses and to throw them upon the local rates, and that he altogether objected to. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) deplored the circumstances that recent legislation had thrown obstacles in the way of men of moderate means finding seats in that House; but if that was a fact, what a commentary it was upon the proceedings of the great Liberal party, for all the measures now complained of had been passed during the period in which that party had been in office. After having had the control of political affairs with few intervals for nearly the last 30 years, one of their most prominent Members was obliged to confess that the result of their reforms had been to throw the whole of the seats in that House into the hands of the rich. With regard to the hon. Member's wish to see members of the working classes sitting in that House, if they remembered what large sums had been raised during the last few years by working men to carry out objects which they thought promoted their interests, he (Mr. Floyer) thought they would be of opinion that, if working men thought it worth their while, they could also collect sufficient subscriptions to enable some of their own class to obtain seats in that House. It was, however, a mere 1117 delusion to suppose that this Bill would have any effect, except in respect of a very small portion of the expenses in the case of a contested election. The speech of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) indicated that he was the advocate of a failing cause. The Bill was very superficially and carelessly drawn. One of its clauses threw upon counties the expenses of a county election. The Bill did not show whether or not those expenses were to be defrayed out of what was called County Stock, to which a large number of boroughs contributed, or by a special county rate. If those expenses were to be defrayed out of County Stock, then the boroughs which contributed to the county rate in addition to paying the expenses of their respective elections of Members of Parliament, would have to contribute to the payment of the expenses of the county election. He quite agreed with the observation of his hon. Friend the Member for East Cumberland (Mr. W. N. Hodgson) that the Bill did not provide any check with reference to the payment by the county treasurer of bills presented to him. They might be by carpenters and masons, and any persons for materials supplied and work done in connection with a Parliamentary election. The Bill did not appoint any person to examine these accounts, and if he sanctioned them, to give a certificate in favour of their payment. At present the treasurer paid only such bills as were certified by the Justices of the Quarter or Petty Sessions. In these days there was too much legislation of the careless character that belonged to this Bill. The hon. Member for Brighton talked about the excellence of large principles; but when he proposed that other people's money should be spent, he ought, at any rate, to have laid down clearly in his Bill a plan on which that money should be spent. The local burdens throughout the country had been recently increased very much, and he (Mr. Floyer) had no desire to add to those burdens—to put on the last feather that would break the horse's back. No case had been made out for the Bill; the country at large had not demanded that it should be passed, and, under existing circumstances, he held that it was the duty of hon. Members of that House to their constituents to oppose it.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Nicholson Hodgson.)
§ MR. MELLY
said, he was glad to see that important question once more in the hands of his hon. Friend (Mr. Fawcett). In the bracing atmosphere of what his hon. Friend so very complacently called "below the gangway," it would no doubt, if not in this or the next Session, then in a new Parliament, be carried to a successful solution. His hon. Friend had bantered the Government with much good humour on their failure to carry his measure; but they must not forget that, though at the close of a wearied Parliament in 1867 a majority of 8 or 9 declared for the Bill in a House of 150, yet that in very full Houses during the Ballot discussions last year, the same clauses were rejected by enormous majorities. They had therefore their work before them in persuading the House to adopt that just measure. He would first observe that with reference to the payment of election expenses, the present state of affairs was most anomalous. If an election of members of the municipal council or of the local board was held in a borough, the expenses of the election had to be defrayed by the ratepayers, whereas in the ease of an election of Members of Parliament, the expenses of the election had to be defrayed by the candidates. Thus, in so far as legislative sanction could be given to so dangerous an impression, a line was to be drawn between those who served their country in its local government and those who took part in national affairs. The ratepayers invited and elected whom they would to their town council, but the Parliamentary candidate paid for himself, and they could only invite or elect a man willing and rich enough to pay his own expenses. From that anomalous legislation sprang in too many cases a most erroneous doctrine—that the representative and not the electors had the greatest interest in the election. It was of the first importance that such a delusion should be dispelled, and if the payment of that charge made the electors more careful whom they dismissed or whom they selected, it would have a most beneficial effect. But there was another great anomaly. The 1119 Parliamentary candidates, with reference to expenses, were subject entirely to the control of the Returning Officer, and in that respect their position had no parallel. A perfectly irresponsible person employed whom he would, spent what he liked, and the candidate was compelled to pay a heavy bill over the details of which he had no supervision, but the total of which, however much he might dispute it, he was bound to pay. It had been shown how lightly the charge would fall on the great mass of the ratepayers, though in many places the weight when falling upon the candidate acted as a bar to the candidature of all but very rich men. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Hodgson) quoted the case of the late Liverpool election, where each candidate had been charged £900 or £1,000, a monstrous sum; but there were 53,000 electors, so the cost would be only 9d. per head every five years if it fell upon them; but as it would really fall upon the 80,000 householders, it would not exceed a rate of 1⅕d. per household per annum. They were told that the total expenses of Returning Officers were £90,000, which sum amounted to about 1½d. in the pound every five years over the rateable value of the three Kingdoms; he (Mr. Melly) wondered it had not been twice as much, considering that there was no check whatever upon any charge those officers might make. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Floyer) said that there was no guarantee in the Bill that the expenses would be reduced, but there was the same guarantee and check there always was in all other matters where those who paid the bill appointed the officers who spent the money. The ratepayers would see that no undue expenditure took place, and, as the machinery would be used for all local elections, the cost would be very greatly reduced. The position of the Returning Officer was felt by him under the present system to be most unsatisfactory. One of those gentlemen wrote to him to ask how he was to get the money he had spent if one of the candidates were unable to pay it. The law in that respect wanted revision, and when the Bill got into Committee, the responsibility of the Returning Officer could be more fairly defined. It had been suggested that the way to pay these charges was by combination among the working men. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Floyer) had, he 1120 thought, spoken very unadvisedly with reference to trades unions. He said working men had collected large subscriptions for their own objects, let them subscribe and elect Members. The hon. Gentleman had thus suggested that those unions should mix themselves up in politics. He (Mr. Melly) fervently deprecated the transfer of the conduct of Parliamentary elections for counties or boroughs from the ratepayers to outside organizations. A suggestion more unconstitutional and dangerous he had not often heard. Those who sat on that side of the House greatly approved of trades unions—combinations of men of all shades of politics for the discussion and arrangement of all questions between labour and capital, the employer and the employed; their position and their own common sense equally precluded them from taking part as trade organizations in local contests, but they were now advised to collect large sums of money, and pay the legal and necessary expenses of Parliamentary contests. A perilous suggestion, coming from the quarter whence it came. But why should a poor man be compelled to solicit assistance from his friends or fellow-workmen to pay the legal costs incurred by the electors in the discharge of a solemn constitutional privilege and duty? How many men in that House had been returned at the cost of their friends? He thought that every candidate should stand in the same position as far as the mechanical portion of the election was concerned. Legislation had much altered the position of the question. The Ballot would put an end to much unnecessary and voluntary expense, but would largely increase, in many ways, the legal and compulsory charges. The ballot-boxes, polling-booths, and all the Returning Officers' expenses, would be, in many places, doubled. A man determined to leave the election to the electors would have little but the cost of public meetings to pay, if, by passing this Bill, they threw the compulsory costs upon the rates. It was equally unjust to the electors to limit their choice, and to the candidate to exclude him from nomination, unless he were able or willing to pay. As to working-men candidates, he had shown that the Bill would put an end to special injustice. He himself was, he understood, to be opposed by a working man's can- 1121 didate, who held pretty much the same opinions as he did. [Laughter.] Hon. Members might laugh; it was by such divisions among the Liberal party that the Conservatives won seats. He hoped to beat his opponents on the merits; but he was most anxious that he should not be handicapped by a forced payment of £300 or £500 to the Returning Officer. Hon. Members opposite well knew that whether it were the true reason or not, if the advocates of the direct representation of labour in Parliament were disappointed by the result of the next election, they would attribute their want of success to the power of wealth, and complain bitterly of the forced contribution to the uncontrolled expenditure of the Returning Officer. He would remove that just cause of complaint, and place the expenses of Parliamentary contests on the same footing as those of municipal and local board elections, with the fair guarantees offered by the Bill against spurious candidates. Lastly, the hon. Member for Dorsetshire found fault with his hon. Friend for pointing out that year by year, by the natural law of supply and demand, richer men were prepared to pay more and more for seats in that House, and poorer men had less and less chance of being returned, and he attributed that to "the policy of the Liberal party which had been in power," he said, "for 30 years." He (Mr. Melly) would reply that perhaps it was owing to the policy of the Liberal party that there was such universal prosperity, so many rich men who, in becoming rich, had added to the comfort and wealth of hundreds of thousands of others; that perhaps it was owing to the policy of the Liberal party, pursued for more than 40 years, that that House had at last become a really Representative Assembly, to which honest men might laudably desire to be returned by free and unbought electors. This, at least, was certain, that for 30 years it had been the policy of the Liberal party to exclude no man from that Assembly by reason of his creed, or his social position, or his purse. For many Sessions he (Mr. Melly), his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, and almost every hon. Member upon that side of the House, had laboured to abolish paid canvassers, salaried agents, the conveyance of voters to the poll, employment of public-houses at elections, and every 1122 description of bribery and corruption. Every impediment, however, had been thrown in their way by hon. Members opposite, who did not seem to desire that while the constituencies should be free to choose any man, no one should, by any compulsory expenditure, be excluded from the honour of a seat in that House.
opposed the Bill. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), that the prospects of his measure, however good they might have been in the good old times when he first had charge of it, were not very favourable at the present moment, and certainly some of the arguments used by the hon. Gentleman did not appear to him to be at all calculated to forward its prospects. In the first place, it was a very remarkable way of recommending a measure to the favourable consideration of local taxpayers, to say that if we added another burden to the already intolerable charges which rested upon them their case for relief would next Session be rendered additionally strong. He believed the case of the local taxpayers for relief was sufficiently strong, without being added to by a measure of this kind. The hon. Gentleman had also said that the cost which would be thrown upon the ratepayers would be insignificant; that it would be 1d. or 1½d. per head, and therefore was a very small matter. If the charge were so insignificant he could not think the hon. Gentleman was just in imagining that it would have an important effect in preventing contests. There was no doubt that printers, solicitors, and publicans contributed considerably by their charges to increase the expenses of elections at the present time. He (Mr. Yorke) contended that those charges would not be touched at all by the provisions of the Bill, and therefore he thought it was evident that this was only a step to further measures in the same direction. The hon. Member had further said that the exclusion of the working men was owing to the expense of a contest; but he believed that that had nothing to do with the question. He understood that the trades unions had funds at their command amply sufficient to meet the expenses of elections in many places, if the working men were really popular with the constituencies and commanded the same numerical support which was now en- 1123 joyed by others. But he believed the real obstacle to the admission of the working man arose from the good sense of the electors. The constituents were of opinion that a candidate required early study and education, and that a man without those advantages would not be able to take the same intelligent care of their interests which men highly educated would be prepared to take. The constituents believed that the British Constitution was a vast and complicated machine which ought not to be handed over to incompetent hands to deal with. He could not, moreover, agree to the infliction of any additional burden upon the ratepayers while the question of local taxation was under the consideration of the Government, and he believed the effect of the two measures on that subject brought before the House by the Government would be to leave them in a much worse position than they were in before. They had been recently engaged in rating woods, mines, fishing, and shooting, and when they came to the Valuation Bill they would find that its machinery would raise assessments all over the country. It was plain to everyone that it was the object of the Government to get the greatest amount out of the existing area, and then to come down to the House and say there was a little more required; and then, perhaps, they would throw in a dog tax or something of that kind. Therefore, independently of the merits of the question, he held it to be the duty of all those who had the future of local taxation at heart to refuse their assent to such a Bill as that. At the same time he was ready to make the hon. Member for Brighton an offer. If the hon. Gentleman would withdraw the Bill and reconsider it, and place the expenses of elections on personal property, he (Mr. Yorke) should be ready to support that proposal. If his hon. Friend could devise a method by which to charge these expenses on personal property he would do something towards placing his name on honourable record in connection with the subject of local taxation.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, the principal argument used against the Bill seemed to be, that if it were carried it would increase the county rates; and the last Speaker had concluded his observations by an appeal to the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) to undertake 1124 to withdraw the Bill and to shift a portion of the county rates upon personal property. He (Mr. Trevelyan) was entirely opposed to the proposition of charging personal property with the expense of elections, but the Bill did not provide for any such thing. It proposed that the expenses of hustings, and the charges made by and paid to the Sheriffs or Returning Officers, should be charged on the borough or county rates, as the case might be. He also denied that the Bill was calculated to promote bribery, or that it was bound to charge ratepayers with the expenses incurred by those who wished to go into Parliament. Anyone who had listened to the previous debate on the subject would be inclined to augur success to the Bill, from the extreme venality of the arguments against it, because it appeared to him that those who opposed it, simply rang the changes to the tune that it proposed to transfer a tax from the shoulders of the wealthy classes to those of the community generally. But the Rating Bill of the Government, by its removal of existing exemptions upon mansions and sporting, certainly took from the pockets of the wealthy classes more than that Bill would put into them. The speech of the hon. Gentleman the Seconder of the Amendment was more fit for a Committee of the House; but the whole of their arguments dwindled down to nothing, when they were told that the increased expenditure caused by the Bill would not amount to half-a-farthing in the pound on the rates once in three years, and the rate was so small that no other machinery than that of the county rate would be available for levying it. He would point out, as a justification for the mode of rating, the inequality of the expenses incurred in various localities for Parliamentary election expenses. His hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham had to pay £900 for his expenses, while the hon. Member opposite paid only £45 4s.; in other words, one hon. Member paid £20 for every pound another paid. At present the expenses of elections were paid by Gentlemen who were afraid to question their accuracy, but that would not be the case after the passing of the Bill. Moreover, such an argument came with very ill grace from hon. Gentlemen who held that the magistrates of England and the Commissioners of Supply in Scotland were as 1125 careful of the ratepayers' money as the ratepayers were themselves; and he had that confidence in the magistrates of the country, that he believed they would carefully scrutinize all the items of the bills of the Returning Officer. And the House must not think that there was no margin for economy in these bills. He could not at present see why it was that the election expenses at Dover, with a population of 3,000 electors, should be £160, and at Derby, where there were 9,000 electors, the expenses of the hustings and booths should be only £70. In the Ayr and Dumfries Burghs the cost of the hustings, &c., were respectively £34 and £42, while in other towns of the same size they came to £116, and there was a similar difference between the other election expenses. It was monstrous that where one Member of Parliament did not have to pay £50 for the expenses of his seat another should have to pay £150. Then it was said the Bill would encourage the nomination of men of straw, who wanted to purchase a cheap notoriety at the expense of the ratepayers. That theory, however, was not borne out by facts. In Scotch burghs in particular, party feeling on social questions ran very high, and of all places there were none where Members were elected to represent what might be called a special idea, yet in the burgh he represented (Hawick district) the election expenses known under that legal name only amounted £3 5s. 3d., and taking every conceivable charge into the account, when he had taken his seat and paid all the expenses, he had change out of a £20 note. He believed if he or his hon. Friends the Members for Elgin and St. Andrews were unseated at the next General Election, it would be entirely from their demerits, and in no respect from any reckless expenditure on the part of their opponents. He entirely denied that to pass the Bill would be to multiply candidates on the ground of their being relieved from contributing to the expenses, and considered that the restrictive provision on that point would be quite sufficient. Even, however, if the cost were great, hon. Gentlemen should not seek to shelter themselves behind a big Bill, instead of relying on their own merits. It was a monstrous thing, in his opinion, that a gentleman could not present himself to a constituency for the purpose of 1126 serving his country without being called upon to pay enormous sums in the shape of fees. He thought the arguments against the measure were all very far fetched, whilst those in favour of it were quite simple, and at the same time quite unanswerable. The object of its supporters was to sanction the principle, that the choice of a Representative was a most responsible and important matter, and that the duties of a Representative were those of an honoured minister, who gave instead of receiving service. It had been said that a candidate who had gone round cap in hand to the voters, and asked them to do him the favour of supporting him, could not consistently afterwards ask the ratepayers to pay for his election. Now, the supporters of the Bill repudiated the notion that a vote was a favour. Surely, it was not to be supposed that an elector cared so little about his privileges that he would not pay the value of a pinch of snuff for the opportunity of exercising them. Such a measure as that would do something to prevent political apathy and to show the country that this House wished to place no obstacle in the way of working men who sought to be returned to Parliament. To refuse to pass the Bill, indeed, was to maintain to that extent a money qualification. If it were desirable that labour should be represented in Parliament in 1867, it was doubly desirable in 1873, when so many new labour questions had arisen. For example, it was not only discreditable but positively dangerous that the recent agitation in the rural districts should be ignored and unknown in this House, so far as resolutions on the subject were concerned. Sometimes, we heard the argument that the working classes were represented in Parliament by men who had risen from that class; but had a single Member in this House ever dug drains or trimmed hedges? He hoped the House would deny a statement that had been recently made at a meeting in Hyde Park—that there was not a single hon. Member of that House who sympathized with the working classes, and justify the confidence of the general body of those classes, by passing an enactment which would show their willingness to welcome Representatives of the working classes in Parliament.
§ MR. CORRANCE
opposed the Bill. He thought the reason in favour of the 1127 measure did not rest upon popular, but upon philosophical considerations. At the same time he regretted the disappearance from that House of the philosophers who formerly sat there. In the last Parliament there were several philosophers, including Mr. John Stuart Mill, but circumstances had made nearly a clean sweep of them. ["No, no!" and laughter.] From various causes, the supporters of the hon. Gentleman had dwindled away. The constituencies had considered the question, and had arrived at the conclusion that it would not be for their interest that the Bill should pass. However small the amount, they saw that they would have to pay something, and they had not been accustomed to do so—quite the reverse. They could not be convinced that it was necessary or that it would be beneficial for them to pay a tax for the privilege of recording their votes at elections. That Parliament had been elected by the ratepayers, but nothing had yet been done for the relief of the the rates, though an abstract Resolution had been passed in favour of doing so.
§ MR. MORRISON
considered that the Bill involved a great many important questions besides the expenditure of money. He thought the passing of the Ballot had materially strengthened the argument for the Bill, as the legal expenses of candidates must be greater now than they used to be; and though they generally amounted to a very small proportion of the expenses of a contested election, still experience showed that it was possible for a Member, whose presence in the House was thought of importance to the public interest, to be returned at a moderate outlay upon other heads of expenditure. He regretted to say that there had been no proportionate reduction in the cost of elections, and that the old estimate of a pound for every voter polled in a county election still held pretty nearly true. At present there was a direct incentive towards wasteful expenditure by local authorities, and no candidate could dispute the account presented to him any more than a man could dispute the Bill of an undertaker. He could point to boroughs in which it was the custom of Returning Officers to put up polling-booths instead of availing themselves of such public buildings as were available for the purpose. The theory of the Constitution was that the 1128 electors selected the candidates, but the practice was rather the reverse. There was frequently a great difficulty in obtaining candidates, and some constituencies were willing to accept anybody who would consent to pay the costs connected with an election. It was clear, however, that few but the wealthy could entertain a nomination; and although that was an advantage to the extent that it produced a House of Commons superior to pecuniary bribes, it was unwise to keep up an artificial barrier to prevent poorer men from coming in. The presence of representative workmen in the House of Commons would be desirable; they would then be required to reduce their theories to Bills, and perhaps they would discover that their political regeneration was not to be worked out by Acts of Parliament so much as by self-control and industry. He regretted, in conclusion, that the Opposition had not met the Bill by the Previous Question rather than by a Motion to read it six months hence; for if the Bill were to be rejected because of the action of the House on the subject of rates generally, the Previous Question was the true issue raised.
thought the House had heard as much stilted talk on this question as on many great subjects. Now, he considered the question a very small one indeed. Whether the expenses of the Returning Officer were to be paid by the candidate or the ratepayers did not matter a straw, as far as money was concerned. If the object of the Bill had been to introduce into the House young men, well educated, industrious, and talented, instead of well-to-do old gentlemen, of whom it was said the present House of Commons consisted, he should have been able to support it. On principle he objected to any unnecessary addition being made to the local rates. He did not believe the Bill would have the effect of introducing working men into the House, but if it did, the moment a working man was elected he would cease to be a working man. He wished to remind those who talked of the exorbitant charges of some of the Returning Officers that they could be cut down without saddling the counties with the expense, whether this measure was carried or not.
§ MR. JAMES
said, he should not have taken any part in the discussion but for the recurrence to the old arguments which had been formerly used on the subject. One of these was an argument respecting local taxation, and he was sure that every hon. Member would be glad if there was no such thing. The question now before the House, however, was a much broader one than a question of local taxation. With every respect for the argument of his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), he must say that it was entirely fallacious from the want of connection between his premises and his deductions. His hon. Friend had said it was very desirable the expenses of elections should be reduced, and, without showing that his Bill would reduce them, he had said, therefore, the Bill was a good one. He had next urged that it was desirable working men should be in the House, and, without showing this Bill would introduce them, had said, therefore, the Bill should become law. The expenses of the last General Election had been returned at £1,500,000, but only £90,000, or less than one-fifteenth of that total would be thrown upon the rates to the relief of the candidate by this Bill. His hon. Friend had put the matter as if the expenses of the election meant the official expenses alone; but on looking at the question practically, it would be found that the cost to each Member was some £2,000. The official expenses were a very small proportion of that sum, and if the carrying of the Bill should have the effect of increasing the number of contests and greater excitement, the expenses which his hon. Friend was desirous of diminishing would be considerably increased. He declined to discuss the measure on mere theoretical grounds. Accepting all that his hon. Friend had said about the desirability of securing the admission of working men to the House of Commons, he denied it was desirable the House should be changed entirely. The experience of hon. Members who had sat in many Parliaments was very valuable. Was it right they should be punished by a contest? They might think their position secure, and under the present system it was; but with that Bill in force, they would not be safe against the ambitious, uneasy, or intemperate opponent. Such a contest might exceed in 1130 cost the whole of the Member's previous expenditure, and similar influences would tend to increase the expenses of all other candidates. Would that be compensated by the benefits of the measure? It was also questionable whether working men themselves desired this change. Only two or three working men made an attempt to get elected at the last General Election, of whom the personal expenses of the workman who contested Aylesbury were £354, and the official £62. Which item was of most importance, and what would be the effect, if the Bill were passed, upon the conduct of working men in respect of the nomination of one of their own class? Instead of subscribing to pay the expenses for some representative man, every workman would be coming forward who held the opinion that he was as fit as his neighbour for the position. At present there was a barrier to the gratification of vanity in this respect, and it should be maintained. He admitted he was speaking in behalf of men of moderate means. He declined to imperil his estate by engaging in ruinous election contests, and some consideration should be had for others besides working men. The measure was also inconsistent in itself. It would be unfair to throw these expenses on the ratepayers generally, many of whom were not electors, but women and minors; they should be borne by the electors only, and if the precedent of the Revising Barristers were followed they should be borne by the Imperial Exchequer.
said, it would be very curious if the House of Commons, after resolving to relieve local taxpayers of some of their burdens, were to commence the operation by saddling them with a charge hitherto borne by hon. Members themselves. Ratepayers would not be all agreed upon the justice of the charge. Some might like the candidate elected, others might prefer someone else, and a third class would perhaps think it preferable if there were no Parliament at all for some three years, that the Government might be left to the permanent officials while Ministers were allowed to travel on the Continent for the benefit of their health and the improvement of their understandings. Certainly two sections of the ratepayers would in that case be 1131 paying for what they did not want. Some hon. Gentlemen seemed to think that at least the working men were all united, and loved one another as brothers. Hazlitt, however, once said that all country gentlemen hated one another, and it was fair to presume that jealousies existed among members of all classes. John might think himself as good as Tom at election time, and the result would be a host of candidates and contests. To be consistent, hon. Members should be paid for their services, and perhaps local subscriptions should be added to make the candidates acceptable to the constituency. It had often been said unpaid services were bad, but it did not follow from this that paid services were good; so he trusted the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) would not be consistent and propose payment of Members as well as payment of expenses.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, the expense of the election for the school board of Edinburgh was £2,200. There were 15 candidates, and he would like to ask why, considering the arrangement that existed in regard to Parliamentary elections, these 15 candidates should not have to pay £150 each, which was their share of the expenses. Parliament said it would be unjust that they should pay the expenses, because the members of school boards were elected for the benefit of the whole community, and it was therefore held to be right that the community should bear the expense. There were necessarily some preliminary expenses which required to be paid by candidates, but why should they be called on to pay for the election itself—more especially if the constituency were willing to pay a small rate? It was the same in regard to Parliamentary, as to school board elections. Hon. Members had referred to the rates that would be required in their particular districts. He might mention that in Edinburgh, the rate which would be required to raise £1,500 would be a third of a penny, so that a man rated at £12 would have to contribute 4d. Large constituencies in Scotland, he believed, would be delighted to pay the expense. There was one other fallacy he wished to point out. It had been said by the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James), that the expenses of the Returning Officer were a mere trifle compared to the great 1132 expenses of election. There was the difference, however, that those expenses were fixed, and could not be altered. The general expenses might be much or little as candidates chose, and as showing the difference that sometimes existed, he might mention that in a northern borough at the last Election, the expenses of one candidate were £410, while those of the other were £4,600—both, it was to be observed, being candidates in the same borough and under the same circumstances, and both being returned. He thought there was no good reason why the expenses of Returning Officers should not be paid by the communities, leaving the candidates to bear the extras.
said, that the Government having stated that it was not their intention as long as the question of local taxation was in its present unsettled condition, except in cases of necessity, to bring forward any measure which would tend to increase local burdens, it was impossible for them as a Government to give the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) that support which they gave him on former occasions. His hon. Friend had said that as long as the question remained in his own hands, he had a majority, and that it was only when the Government took it up, that there was a majority against it. But his hon. Friend forgot to state that when he had a majority, it was only in a House of 147 Members, the numbers being 78 to 69; whereas, in the two divisions on the subject which occurred when the Government brought the question forward, there was on one occasion a House of 416, and on another a House of 430 Members. His hon. Friend seemed also to have forgotten the words of one of our poets—"The best is but in season best," and that there was at present the deepest disinclination on the part of the House to assent to any measure which had a tendency to add to local burdens. In spite, however, of the able speech of the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. James), he still adhered to the opinion that the measure of the hon. Member for Brighton was founded in justice and expediency. He agreed with his hon. Friend, that the effect of the Bill would not be to introduce many working-men into Parliament, and he held that the great object of lowering the expenses should be to 1133 bring into the House young men of education who might be able to devote their talents to the service of the public. He had a general objection to ignorance whether in working-men, in capitalists, or in country squires, and the great aim which they ought to have in view was to get young men into the House, who might be made capable of dealing with the great subjects which were constantly coming before them. He also admitted that it would be a great advantage to discuss in the presence of working-men all those theories which were now so widely, and, as many thought, so dangerously propagated throughout the country. For these reasons he should be glad to give his assent to any measure for the reduction of expenses which would throw open the doors of Parliament to working-men and young men of promise and ability. They had already representatives of the tenant-farmers, and the manner in which they deported themselves was a great encouragement to working-men being introduced into that House. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Floyer) was understood to say that as trades unions had shown their power in many other ways, they might also show their power in returning working-men to Parliament. [Mr. FLOYER: I did not say so.] If the hon. Member did not say so, the hon. Member for East Gloucestershire (Mr. Yorke) said so very explicitly. He had no reason to think that working-men were exclusively on one side of politics. He knew that the votes of working-men in many constituencies had turned the scale in favour of hon. Gentlemen opposite. But that being so, why should they urge trades unions to combine to return working-men to that House? The doctrine was a dangerous one. It was because he wanted to smooth the way as much as possible to working-men and others of small means that he should have given his vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton, if the occasion when the Bill was brought forward was a proper one. But the hon. Gentleman, acting on his own responsibility, and in opposition to the judgment of his friends, had by his obstinacy placed the measure in a wrong position. It was not true that Government had allowed itself to be defeated by a small majority on the question; were defeated by a majority of nearly 100, 1134 which showed decisively the opinion of the House. But after the Government had made the declaration on the subject of local taxation to which he had referred, it was not fair to bring forward this measure, and then to make a charge against the Government for not supporting it. Under the circumstances, he hoped the second reading would not be pressed to a division, for if it were he felt convinced that it would be defeated by an overwhelming majority.
§ MR. FLOYER
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had attributed to him a meaning which the words he used did not bear. What he said was, that the working-men had combined to raise large sums for certain purposes, and he did not see why they should not combine to raise money to return some of their number to the House. That was a simple statement, and had nothing to do with trades unions.
§ MR. FAWCETT,
in reply, observed that a greater compliment could not be paid to an independent Member by the Treasury bench than to have it said of him, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, that he was "obstinate." He was much mistaken if the speech of the right hon. Gentleman would not before the Session was over get the Government into trouble. The right hon. Gentleman had laid down the doctrine, that he could not vote for a Bill the principle of which he endorsed, because it was brought forward at an inopportune time, and he could not vote for this Bill because the question of local taxation was not settled. Well, in three weeks' time the House would be discussing the Elementary Education Amendment Bill, and would it then be said that they must vote against the Bill because it would impose an additional charge upon local taxation? He did not advocate the measure now before the House mainly because it would reduce election expenses, but because it was founded on a right principle—namely, that a man in becoming the representative of a constituency was discharging an important duty, for which he should not be called upon to pay. We were now the only English-speaking people on the earth who made their Representatives pay the necessary expenses. His great argument in favour 1135 of the Bill as a practical measure was, that under the present system, constituencies were interested in extravagance at elections, whereas if they passed this Bill they would do all in their power to interest the great mass of the constituencies in economy.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 91; Noes 205: Majority 114.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill put off for three months.