HC Deb 23 March 1885 vol 296 cc360-5

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—{Mr. Attorney General.)


said, he hoped the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would give some explanation with regard to it.


said, the Bill related to uncontested elections. Under the existing Act, where there was no contest, the Returning Officer was en- titled to demand that one-fifth of the amount of his expenses should be deposited as security. If they amounted, for instance, to £300, he was entitled to a deposit of £60. It had been pointed out that this was an excessive amount, 'and when the subject was brought forward the Attorney General said he would propose that the amount should be reduced. The present Bill proposed that the amount of the deposit of one-fifth should be reduced by half. He (Mr. Fowler) believed that those who had had experience would agree that the ordinary expenses of an uncontested election would be amply secured by this amount.


said, he thought it would have been well to have included in the Bill some provision for the exceptional circumstances which would arise under the Parliamentary Elections (Redistribution) Bill. The number of Returning Officers required to be appointed would be far in excess of the present number; and it was a matter of extreme importance to ascertain whether there existed any local power for the appointment of a sufficient number of Returning Officers to discharge the necessary duties in connection with Parliamentary elections. It was obvious that those duties would be very different in the future from what they had been in the past. There would be in some cases six divisions, and in others as many as 20; and special provisions would have to be made to meet such cases. He doubted whether any authority existed at present to enable or compel the High Sheriff to appoint a sufficient number of Returning Officers, so as to insure those duties being performed. As far as he could judge, the Authorities were not at all satisfied that there was any power which enabled them to appoint those Officers, or compelled them to do so. This matter came within the scope of the Bill as it now stood, and the object of the Bill would seem thoroughly to justify the insertion of a clause which would remove the disability which he believed now existed. Without detaining the House any further, he would simply observe that he had felt it his duty on that occasion to draw attention to this matter on the Motion for the second reading of the Bill, which seemed to afford an opportunity of making a necessary reform in order to meet the altered circumstances that would arise in connection with Parliamentary elections.


said, he had no wish to speak on the Bill in the absence of the Attorney General; but he was compelled to do so on this Motion. It would be in the recollection of the House that he had received from the Attorney General, whose absence he regretted, a kind of promise that he would afford him an opportunity on this Bill of raising a question of practical importance to all candidates at the next General Election. He had taken the opportunity of pointing out, either on the Report or the Committee stage of the Elections in Counties (Hours of Polling) Bill, he did not remember which, that in the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt Practices) Act there was an inconsistency between two of the Schedules of that Bill with regard to the Returning Officer's charges. The Attorney General said that he should have an opportunity of raising the point upon the present Bill, and, therefore, he would be glad to know whether it was the intention of the Government to remove the inconsistency?


said, the hon. and learned Member for Bridport had correctly stated that when the Attorney General announced his intention of introducing this Bill, he said that although it was intended for a particular purpose, he would take care that the title was wide enough to take in the question raised by the hon. and learned Member. His hon. and learned Friend, however, had not pledged himself to introduce in the Bill any provision of the kind referred to; but he had undertaken to introduce a Bill with such a title as would enable any hon. Member to raise the question which the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Warton) had raised. With regard to the other matter, to which the hon. Member for Mid Somersetshire (Mr. R.H. Paget) had called attention, it had frequently been referred to, and it seemed to him that it would be more properly dealt with in the Parliamentary Elections (Redistribution) Bill, which had reference to the Returning Officers. [Mr. R. H. PAGET: Only in boroughs.] Yes; but any alteration with regard to the counties would more properly come within that Bill than the one it was now proposed to read a second time, for the Parliamentary Elections (Redistribution) Bill dealt with the question of who were to be the Returning Officers. He quite admitted that the subject was well worthy of attention.


said, he was glad to hear from the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Bill had been enlarged in its title. The pledge which had been made had, he thought, gone a little farther than the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had said, for the Attorney General had not confined himself entirely to uncontested elections, but had, he thought, also said something about contested elections. He hoped such clauses would be introduced into the Bill as would tend to economy in the way of reducing the expenses of elections. He was sorry the Government were not going to take the initiative themselves, because he thought that such action on their part would meet with general consent. He did not think there was now a person in the House who wished to pay a farthing more than they could possibly help in connection with Returning Officers; and unless those items were effectually kept down, the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act would fail in its purpose of making Parliamentary elections inexpensive and open to larger classes of the community.


wished to point out that, although the title of the Bill was wide enough, the scope of the measure was limited by the Preamble. He would call attention to that more especially with regard to the remarks which had fallen from the hon. Member for Mid Somersetshire. He would ask the Government whether they would be willing to introduce new clauses dealing with this subject into the Parliamentary Elections (Redistribution) Bill on Report? They had passed through all the clauses of that Bill in the Committee stage, and it would not, therefore, be possible now to introduce new clauses until they came to the Report stage. It would be difficult for a private Member to carry such clauses as those he suggested, unless he were promised by the Government that they would accept his proposals. Would the Government give such a pledge?


said, that a Com- mittee was to sit, for the first time, tomorrow, to go into the question of registration, and they might be able to afford some assistance in the matter; but, however that might be, he should recommend the county Members who took an interest in the subject to recommend their views to the right hon. Baronet who had charge of the Parliamentary Elections (Redistribution) Bill (Sir Charles W. Dilke). If they would let the right hon. Baronet know what they wished to be done, and would show him the necessity of it, no doubt he would endeavour to meet them.


said, he had stated, last year, that the effect of the new franchise would be to greatly increase the number of working-men candidates, but that the present scale of charges made by the Returning Officers would be prohibitory to this class of candidates. He had understood the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister to assent to that view; and he had gathered from what fell from the right hon. Gentleman that the Bill to be introduced would not only affect the expenses to be paid at uncontested elections, but also at contested elections. The question that really affected the constitution of the House was not what a man should pay in the event of there being no contest, but what he should pay if the contest took place. If the Bill was to meet the necessities of the case, it would have to deal with the question of the scale of expenses in the case of contested elections, and would have to face the question of working men's expenses.


said, that, with the permission of the House, he would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General to consider this question. The hon. and learned Gentleman had suggested that probably the Amendment he (Mr. Paget) desired could be introduced in the Parliamentary Elections (Redistribution) Bill. He himself thought the Parliamentary Elections (Returning Officers) Bill was the right place for it; and the hon. and learned Gentleman had made another suggestion — namely, that probably it would be as well to leave the matter to the consideration of the Registration Committee. Between these three stools it was not unlikely that they might fall to the ground; and he would, therefore, ask the hon. and learned Gentleman whether they should press an Amendment, wait for the Report of the Parliamentary Elections (Redistribution) Bill, or go to the Committee on Registration?


I would recommend the hon. Gentleman to take the course he desires in relation to the Parliamentary Elections (Redistribution) Bill, as I think the subject is more directly relevant to that measure.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday.