HC Deb 13 July 1883 vol 281 cc1399-408

asked whether it was necessary to be so particular in regard to all the details which this Schedule contained? There was a maximum of expenditure, and the real question for the Committee was whether, if that were limited to £500, it would be necessary to state exactly how it should be spent. The first paragraph stated that there should be one election agent in a borough, whilst in counties there might be several agents and polling stations; and that there should be only one clerk and one messenger for each polling place. He was quite of opinion that there should not be any colourable employment; but he thought this Schedule went too much into detail, and would very much hamper candidates. Suppose a candidate started upon an election contest, and wished to issue his address to every elector. That was necessary; and for the purpose of doing that he would require to employ a considerable number of persons in order to get the address out at once. That would require more people than would be needed at any other period of the election; but by this Schedule the candidate would be limited as to the number of clerks. He could not bring all the clerks from the various polling stations to one particular place to get out the address, because the expense would be very large, and the clerks would be wanted elsewhere. It seemed to him that, even if the maximum was limited, it was not necessary to tie the candidate down to details of this kind. The Attorney General, in the course of the debate, had said that some of these matters might be dealt with by contract. He wished to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman whether he might go to a printer in any constituency and contract with him to publish an address and circulate it amongst the electors; and whether, if he entered into such a contract, he would not be exceeding the number of persons which the Bill would allow him to employ? The printers would certainly be employed by him; and, therefore, he would be paying a certain number of persons who were practically in his employment, although nominally in the employment of Mr. Willing, or some other person. Simply to raise this question, he would move to strike out the first words in the Schedule.

Amendment proposed, in page 43, leave out "one election agent and no more."—(Sir R. Assheton Cross.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Schedule."


said, the words which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to leave out were a proof of the necessity which existed in relation to all these details. Suppose a candidate was allowed to have as many agents as he liked, he could spend his money all in one direction, so long as he kept within the maximum; but he wanted to protect a candidate from being compelled to take people into his service during an election. If the candidate was able to say that he could not employ more than a limited number, that would get rid of many of the instances of bribery in a modified form by the employment of messengers and clerks and the relatives of voters. As to whether a candidate could go to a law stationer and contract for the issue of circulars, that did not come within the limit.


said, that, as he understood the measure, each candidate might appoint an election agent provided he kept within the maximum scale. Each candidate might appoint his own agent or agents, or the two candidates might agree in the selection of one election agent and apply their funds to his remuneration. He believed that was the scope of the Bill; but he should like to have an explanation.


replied, that each candidate might appoint a separate agent.


said, he thought it was very necessary to have words clearly showing the position of a candidate if he employed a law stationer or other person to carry out duties which had hitherto been discharged by clerks.


said, he believed a clerk in each case would be sufficient; but in times of emergency a candidate might resort to a law stationer.


said, that the practice was to get three or four persons into one room in order to get through the work quickly. It was said that there was to be great security against bribery by the employment of a number of people; but he failed to see that the real security against corruption was a limitation of the charge and the fear of penalties which would be present in the minds of the agent of a candidate.


said, unless a distinct rule was laid down limiting the number of persons to be employed, he thought it was very likely, as the Attorney General had said, that there would be a considerable amount of corruption through the employment of a large number of people. There could be no question whatever that under this Bill a candidate would have, at least, the protection of being able to say that he was restricted to the number of persons he could employ for remuneration. By this Bill an experiment was about to be tried. Matters would have to settle themselves down on an entirely different basis from that formerly existing, and he believed that political Parties would depend upon voluntary agency to a large extent. If a spirit of self-sacrifice could be introduced into this country, as well as a sense of public spirit, the political life of the country would be purified. He hoped that that would be the effect of this Bill, and that while they were limiting the number of paid officials there would be no difficulty in getting voluntary assistance.


said, he could not understand the position in which the Committee were placed by the objections to the Amendment. Surely, if a law stationer were employed to send out all the addresses and polling cards he would be a person employed for payment, and would be placed in the same position as any other person in the service of a candidate for the time being, and it was quite possible that he might employ only those persons holding the same views as himself. The objection he had to the Amendment was that control over the persons employed upon this kind of work would be loosened, and he had no doubt that half the polling cards would come back without having ever been delivered. But if the election agent, who knew whom he was employing as his clerks, undertook this work there would no risk, and the candidate would know that he got value for his money. Then there was another objection. The Amendment was wholly unnecessary if inserted to prevent bribery and the employment of a great number of persons colourably, because, as the amount was limited, it was clear that there would be no money to spend in colourably employing a single clerk who was not absolutely employed. Under these circumstances, it seemed to him that the candidate was being needlessly hampered in the management of his election.


said, he desired to amend this Schedule, in order to reduce the vast army of paid agents. He calculated that in a constituency of 60,000 electors there would be 240 paid clerks, messengers, and polling agents. Such a number was a great deal too many, and so long as this system of paid agents was maintained candidates would not get the help of people who would otherwise be willing to come forward and take part in the election, and would do away with a great part of this vast army. There being a Maximum Schedule, the payment of such people would have to be reduced in order to bring them within the Schedule. In a polling place for, say, 1,000 electors, there would be one election agent and a deputy agent, and in counties there would be one polling agent and one deputy polling agent for each station. A polling agent, in addition to the clerks and messengers, would not be wanted, and he thought it most desirable to reduce the number of these people to reasonable proportions. Then they would get men who took a real interest in politics to do the work voluntarily.


said, he had an Amendment which he was afraid would rather tend to increase than decrease this vast army of paid officials. He quite felt that it was desirable to reduce the pressure on candidates to put numbers of friends on the list of persons employed, and for that purpose it was necessary to fix a limit to the number of paid officials; but that principle might be carried too far. "Why did they have paid persons at all? The services paid for, and the services rendered voluntarily, were of a totally different character. There was a large number of persons who took an interest in political matters, or who wished to serve a friend who was a candidate, and were ready to undertake such voluntary work as canvassing and looking after the voters; but there was a vast amount of actual business—and very unpleasant business—to be carried on during an election, especially in a large constituency. There must be at each polling station two or three representatives of each candidate to watch voting throughout the whole day. That was work which was tedious and uninteresting, and the people who did it were the people who ought to be paid. Looking at this clause, he arrived at rather a different conclusion from that of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), because, although he was just as anxious as the hon. Member to keep down unnecessary expense, he was afraid that if they did not allow a sufficient expense to carry on the business of an election this clause would be evaded just as every enactment which was not reasonable in itself was evaded. With regard to election agents, he had great doubt whether a large constituency could be really worked by one election agent. There were two kinds of duties which an election agent had to perform. One was, to carry on the administrative business of the election, and that was one of the highest and most difficult duties; but there was also the financial part of the business to be looked after. He had found it extremely convenient to have one agent to look after the accounts, and another to advise upon the policy of the canvass, and to be responsible for anything outside finance. He quite believed that in a large constituency those two officials were wanted.


said, the hon. Member (Mr. Salt) contended, first, that there ought to be a possibility of having more paid persons than the Schedule contemplated, because several persons were needed at each polling place. By the 3rd sub-section of this Schedule one representative was allowed in each station. With regard to the necessity of having one general election agent and another financial agent, he would give the hon. Member a little personal advice. He had never got his financial business so well done as when it was done by voluntary assistance.


said, he thought it was desirable to have only one election agent, and that the number of sub-agents should be specified. He did not, however, agree in the view that the work at the head office could be carried on by one clerk, and that the arrangement contemplated in this Schedule would be impracticable. One sub-agent and one sub-cleric in each sub-district might suffice for the work; but at the head office the head agent must have a sufficient number of clerks to work with him. If the Committee adopted the suggestion of the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), and allowed the work to be done by a law stationer or some publisher, how far would that carry them? If a law stationer was so employed, would he not also have to receive the answers to circulars and to register them; and, if so, did he not then become practically an election agent, together with several men in his office, by working for the purposes of the candidate?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


proposed that Sub-section 3 should be left out of the Schedule. Personation agents were simply men employed to watch anybody who was suspected; but he had seen these men in very many cases absolutely doing nothing, and he found that the sole reason why they were placed at the polling booths was that they were the relatives of some electors. So long as power was given to employ a large number of these agents, electors would almost force candidates to employ then. His contention was that two clerks and two messengers in each polling station would be quite a sufficient staff, without having personation agents besides.

Amendment proposed, in page 43, to leave out Sub-section (3.)—(Mr. Labouchere.)

Question proposed, "That Sub-section (3) stand part of the Schedule."


said, only one man was to be in each place to prevent personation. This sub-section did not require a candidate to have any personation agents at all. The maximum scale would prevent an excessive number being employed.


said, he did not wish to put the Committee to the trouble of a Division, as there was no absolute question of principle involved; but he hoped the Attorney General would allow something in the direction of the Amendment, in order to reduce this vast number of employed people; otherwise constant pressure would be put upon candidates to employ relatives of electors.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said, he thought that if there were to be these booths in polling districts, it would be found impossible to work them, except with two messengers to each booth. He had a lively recollection of elections in which there was an enormous number of surplus messengers forced on the candidate; but he thought the Government were going rather too far in restricting the number to one. There might be a large constituency with 3,000 voters to bring to the poll and pass through the booths in a day. There might be 10 stations, but, with only 10 messengers, a candidate would be absolutely helpless. He hoped the Attorney General would accept his Amendment.

Amendment proposed, in page 43, line 10, leave out "one messenger," and insert "two messengers."—(Mr. Raikes.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Schedule."


said, he also proposed to substitute two messengers for one messenger. As the Schedule stood, there was to be only one messenger for every complete 500 people, and unless there was a complete 500, there would be no messenger. He should be glad to learn from the Attorney General how the election of the incomplete 500 would be worked?


said, if there were 2,100 electors, there would be four messengers. Then there would be the odd 100 to be dealt with. He was willing to provide that any such odd number should have a messenger. He wanted to keep one clerk and one messenger to each 500 people, and to avoid having a great number of these messengers, who were a perfect pest. He would, therefore, propose to omit the word "complete."

Question put, and negatived.

On the Motion of The ATTORNEY GENERAL, Amendment made, in page 43, line 7, after "borough," by inserting— And if there is a number of electors over and above a complete 500, then one clerk and one messenger may be employed for such number, although not amounting to a complete 500.


said, he wished to move an Amendment with the object of limiting the number of clerks. He had put down the number at 10; but that might be considered too few. In a large constituency there would be an enormous number of these people, and he hoped the Attorney General would consent to some limitation.


The hon. Member will not be in Order in moving that Amendment.


said, it was easy in a borough where there were 10 clerks and messengers to use them in any part of the constituency; but that was not the case in counties. A messenger in a county could not be brought up suddenly to the central office; and he wished to know whether a distinction could not be drawn between the head office and a district office in a county? In a district office, one messenger and one clerk were ample; but in a county that number would not be sufficient.


explained that one messenger was allowed to each polling district, and he should not suppose that the messengers would be required to go from one district to another.


said, the object of the clause he wished to move was to place certain boroughs in the position of counties. These were boroughs which contained very large and dense populations, and were not in the strict sense boroughs. The borough which he represented measured 13 miles east and west, and about eight miles north and south. It contained two considerable towns—one with nearly 20,000 inhabitants, and another with between 4,000 and 5,000 inhabitants—in addition to 10 villages, some of which had large and mixed populations, and some had sparse populations. If the test as to whether boroughs were to be included in counties was to be the density or the sparseness of the population, he thought he was entitled, on either of those grounds, to ask that his Amendment should be accepted.

Amendment proposed, in page 43, line 34, after the words "Much Wenlock," to insert the word "Christchurch."—(Mr. Horace Davey.)

Question proposed, "That 'Christ-church' be there inserted."


said, this question bad been dealt with when the case of the borough of Leominster was discussed. He did not think it desirable to re-open the question.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.

And it being ten minutes to Seven of the clock, the House suspended its Sitting.

The House resumed its Sitting at Nine of the clock.

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