HC Deb 16 June 1886 vol 306 cc1639-50

, in moving an Amendment to increase the allowance to the Returning Officer for printing the polling papers from 10s. to a sum not exceeding £1 per 1,000, said, that, in some cases, printers charged double prices at Election time, on the ground of being much pressed by work. The Returning Officer had sometimes only the briefest notice as to the contest, and there might be difficulty in getting the polling papers printed, unless the Returning Officer could pay the printer's price.

Amendment proposed, in page 8, line 7, to leave out "10s.," in order to insert "£1,"—(The Lord Advocate,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That '10s.' stand part of the Schedule."

MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)

said, the purpose of the Bill was to cut down the fancy prices charged at Election times.

MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)

said, he agreed with that view; but he would point out that, in this case, the candidates could not be materially fleeced; and, in some country places, where there was only one printer, a Returning Officer might be placed in an awkward dilemma.


said, he concurred in that representation.

Question put, and negatived.

Question, "That '£1' be there inserted," put, and agreed to.

On the Motion of The LORD ADVOCATE, the following Amendment made:—In page 5, line 9, at end, add—"in the case of a new machine; but where an old one is used, 2s. 6d."

Other Amendments made.

MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

I beg to move that the Bill be re-committed in respect of a New Clause and Schedule; and that it be an Instruction to the Committee, that they have power to provide for the payment of the expenses of Returning Officers out of the rates.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be re-committed in respect of a, New Clause."—(Mr. Esslemont.)

SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS (Lancashire, S.W., Newton)

I feel bound to oppose the Motion. I objected very strongly to what was proposed to be done in this direction in the case of the Irish and English Bills, and I hope that the House will again divide on the subject. It is not necessary that the matter should give rise to a long discussion, but I certainly hope that a division will be taken upon it.

DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)

I hope my hon. Friend will press the Motion, because nothing could be worse in view of a settlement of the question than that any difference should be made in the law of Scotland as compared with that of England and Ireland. If the three Bills are to go to "another place" with a provision for the payment of the Returning Officer's expenses in two of them, and omitted in the third, an effort may be made to assimilate the three measures in the wrong direction. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that it is not necessary to take up much of the time of the House in arguing the question, but I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire (Mr. Esslemont) will press his Motion.

MR. E. STANHOPE (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)

I think it right to say, in support of what has been said by my right hon. Friend, that this is a matter which has been suddenly sprung upon the House and the country when a great majority of Members were absent, and when no one in the country has had a fair and reasonable opportunity of expressing their opinion with regard to so momentous a change. I wish it to be distinctly understood by the ratepayers that the House of Commons, without giving a fair opportunity to the country to express an opinion on the subject, propose to place this heavy charge upon them.


The right hon. Gentleman opposite says that this proposal has been sprung upon the House and the country. The right hon. Gentleman may speak for himself and that portion of the House with which he is connected; but I altogether deny that it has been sprung upon that portion of the country to which I belong, because if there was any principle adopted by the whole of the Radical Party at the last Election, it certainly was this, that the payment of the expenses of the Returning Officers should be borne by the rates. As to the threat addressed, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope) to the ratepayers, I do not suppose that the ratepayers in Scotland are likely to be taken in by any threat of the sort. This is an attempt on the part of Gentlemen opposite to prevent the full expression of public opinion by confining the representation of the constituencies to those who have it in their power to pay heavy Election expenses. I believe that the public opinion upon this question is quite ready to go a great deal further than this proposal, and to include other expenses besides those of the Returning Officers among those which ought to be paid out of the rates. I trust that the House will treat Scotland in the same way it has already treated England; and as this is a Scotch measure, I hope that the English Tories will have the goodness to keep their hands off it.


I think that the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has proved a little too much in endeavouring to repudiate the charge which I think is perfectly true—that this matter has been sprung upon the country at a time when the House of Commons is thoroughly incompetent to discuss it. I think it is most unfair to bring forward a proposal of this kind after the announcement of the Dissolution, when hon. Members have practically been driven away from the House. Most of the hon. Members who were competent to discuss a question of this kind are now absent, and I think the hon. Gentleman, if he has proved anything, has proved a good deal too much. He says that it is a principle which is dear to the Liberal and Radical Parties, and that they had made up their minds upon the question before the last Election. If that were so, why should it not have been brought forward at an earlier period of the Session at a time when it could be fairly discussed? If, after the last Election, hon. Members from Scotland came back with a burning desire to make the ratepayers pay their Election expenses, and to secure that they should have very little to pay for themselves, why not have made their proposal to the House before this? It will not be found that anyone on this side of the House is afraid to go back to his constituents and say that he is prepared to resist this proposal for throwing the expenses of the Returning Officers upon the rates. I quite agree that Scotland ought not to be treated differently from England and Ireland, and it is for that reason that I am going to resist the proposal which has been made. I trust that all Three Kingdoms will be treated alike, and the only way to secure that they shall all be treated alike is not to allow a proposal of this nature to be thrust upon Parliament by such a remnant of the House as is now present. My object is to protect the constituencies, and I think the best way to do that is to resist this proposal in every Bill in which it is contained until the feeling of the ratepayers can be fairly impressed upon the matter.


I think the best way to treat the constituencies of the country is to leave them in the hands of their Members. At present, there is a serious complaint that the present heavy charges which attend an Election contest prevent a very large number of the working classes from appealing to the constituencies. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House have always been in the habit of endeavouring to win Elections by the use of a long purse. I am not, therefore, surprised that an opposition to this proposal should have come from them. [Cries of "Oh!"] If hon. Gentlemen opposite want illustrations I could furnish them with a good many, but at the present moment they must accept my word that it is so. They have always done all they could to make Parliamentary Elections expensive, whereas we have done all we can to make them cheap. Instead of sending men to this House to take care of the national purse, they have sent men who have made themselves exceedingly free with the national purse. I, therefore, hail with satisfaction and pleasure a movement which I consider to be in the right direction, and one which is, sooner or later, certain to be carried—and that is the placing of the legitimate expenses of Parliamentary Elections upon the rates. The hon. Member who has just addressed the House says that that is a new principle. I altogether deny it. School Boards and Boards of Guardians are already elected upon the same principle, and it ought to be applied to the election of Members of this House. Allow me to use one other argument. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they intend to defeat measures which are brought in for Ireland and Scotland, must recollect that they are putting forward the strongest argument in favour of Home Rule.


I do not wish to trouble the House with any observations upon the merits of the question, but simply to answer a point which has been raised by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Robertson), who denied that this question has been brought on in the House by surprise. If that were not so, how is it that it was not brought forward in an early period of the Session, when it could have been properly discussed? The hon. Member for Dundee and the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Cossham), if they will study the speeches which the present Prime Minister has made on this subject, will find that since he has expressed himself friendly to the proposal of throwing the Returning Officers' expenses upon the rates, he has stated that it was a question of a polemical and controversial character which ought always to be brought forward by itself, and decided at the time by fair and proper argument in a full House. I myself heard that objection made by the right hon. Gentleman on the 7th of June, 1883, and I have refreshed my memory lately in order to see that I was quite correct in the view I had formed. Well, then, what happened very recently? Only on Monday last the right hon. Gentleman rose in his place, after the defeat of the Government, and stated that no controversial subjects would be supported by the Government, because it was necessary that the constituents should be consulted as soon as possible. I heard him make that statement myself from that very Bench opposite, and then on Friday morning, at 3 o'clock, this question was suddenly sprung upon the House. [Cries of "Oh!"] It was certainly not until Friday morning, at half-past 2, that the proposal of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) was brought before the House. By one of the greatest abuses of the Forms of the House which I ever witnessed, the hon. Member moved that a Bill should be committed in order that a new principle, which the Prime Minister had declared to be irregular, seeing that it was of a polemical and controversial character, should be included in a measure which practically had nothing at all to do with it. At that time the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary had gone away, and only the Attorney General was left to represent the Government. The only point urged in favour of the proposal was the old, stale, and clap-trap argument which has been used to-day by the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Cossham)—that the adoption of the principle will enable worthy men belonging to the working classes to become Members of this House. It is nothing of the sort. Everybody who is acquainted with the works of the late Mr. Cocker knows very well that that portion of the Election expenses which is comprised in the charges of the Returning Officer is comparatively small, and that every man who is worthy of a seat in this House is perfectly able to find the money to pay such expenses. But what I lay most stress upon is that this proposal was brought on at the last moment—at half-past 2 o'clock in the morning. Is that a time for discussing a grave and serious question? I believe that a Committee on Procedure which has been sitting upstairs has come to the conclusion that no questions of importance ought to be discussed in the early hours of the morning; and, if so, how much more ought that principle to be applied to a question of grave moment, which has been brought forward without any notice whatever, and by what I repeat again was one of the greatest abuses of the Forms of the House I have ever known? I have said before that I do not intend to enter into the absolute merits of the question, because I think it is one that ought to be discussed in a more solemn manner, and at a time when all the Members of the House are assembled for the consideration of important public questions. It is not improbable that I myself may not have another opportunity of sitting in this House; but, as an old Member of the House, I have always endeavoured to see that the Forms of the House shall be duly observed, and, therefore, I feel bound to enter my protest against the course which has been taken in reference to this proposal.

MR. W. A. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

I hope that hon. Members opposite will not put us to the trouble of dividing on this question. There is a conspicuous absence of Scotch Members on that side of the House. I think that if there were any Scotch Member there to inform them what has occurred in regard to this Bill, they would hardly put the House to the trouble of dividing upon it. As a matter of fact, the subject was discussed at a meeting of the Scotch Members upstairs, and a large majority were of opinion that the expenses of Returning Officers in Parliamentary Elections should be paid out of the rates. That meeting took place about three weeks ago, and since that time, although we have had no opportunity of bringing the question before the House, no fewer than 40 Members have signed a Memorial to the Lord Advocate, requesting him to introduce a change of this character. Therefore, Scotland is in a very different position from England and Wales. We are practically unanimous in Scotland on the subject, and I trust that, under the circumstances, the English Members who now remain in the House will not put us to the trouble of a division.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

The right hon. Gentleman opposite was labouring altogether under a delusion when he said that this subject has been sprung upon the House. Three weeks ago a clause, throwing the expenses of the Returning Officers upon the rates, was placed on the Paper; but we were prevented from discussing it because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), at about 1 o'clock in the morning, moved the adjournment of the House, in order to prevent the matter from being discussed on that occasion. We were kept up with similar Motions the other day until 4 o'clock in the morning, when leave was given to bring in the clause. The clause, however, had been down several times, and the question was not raised, as hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to think, after the Dis- solution was announced, but it was raised long before, and the matter was discussed on Friday last, or rather on Saturday morning, somewhat exhaustively by several hon. Members on both sides of the House. Therefore, there has been no springing of the matter upon the House at a time when all Parties in it were not represented. On the contrary, when the vote was taken on Saturday morning, all Parties were very fairly represented in this House. There were present a considerable number of Members on this side, a considerable number of Irish Members, and also a considerable number of Conservative Members who had been asked by the Whips to stop here in order to vote upon the clause. The country has made up its mind long ago upon this proposal. An hon. Gentleman opposite shakes his head. Will any right hon. Gentleman on that Bench get up and say that he is opposed to the principle of the clause? [Sir R. ASSHETON CROSS: Yes.] Will any other right hon. Gentleman get up and say that he is opposed to the principle of it? Right hon. Gentlemen opposite are afraid to do that; they do not dare to go before the country and say that they are opposed to this principle. All they do is to shilly-shally with the question, and say that the ratepayers have not had time to discuss the matter. The other day I read an extract from a speech of the late Mr. Fawcett on this subject, in which he pointed out that the cost to a £10 householder would be the price of one glass of beer for three years. It is highly improbable that the ratepayers would object to pay that in order to secure that suitable Representatives should find their way into this august Assembly.

MR. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)

I certainly do not think that the matter has been sprung upon the House, because I have heard it discussed before, although it may have been pushed to a conclusion rather more rapidly than it would have been had it not been for the circumstances in which we are now placed by the political exigencies of the day. The subject itself is one which has been threshed out as well as any subject before the country; and I do not think there is any ratepayer who objects to pay his share to enable the official expenses of Elections to be charged upon the rates. There is no privilege which an Englishman values more than the privilege of voting for a Member of Parliament, and the constituencies wish to be able to vote for the men of their choice, irrespective of whether they happen to be rich men or not. I feel certain that the ratepayers of the country will welcome most heartily the passing of this clause, in order that in future they may be able to select the best man as their Representative.

THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR)&c.) (Clackmannan,

This matter is one which has engaged the attention of Scotch Members for some time, and about a fortnight or three weeks ago there was a meeting which resulted in the Amendments which have since been introduced into this Bill. A very general opinion was then expressed in favour of this proposal, although there were some doubts as to whether it was quite germane to the Bill. Shortly after that meeting was held I received a Paper or Memorial signed by not fewer than 40 Scotch Members, not being Members of the Government, in favour of the proposal. So that, undoubtedly, there has been a strong expression of opinion on the part of a large majority of the Members from Scotland on the subject. On Friday last a similar Amendment was introduced into the Bill as applicable to England and Ireland, and I think it is quite plain that there should not be a different rule for Scotland. On the contrary, I think this House is almost bound, as a mere corollary, to do the same thing for Scotland as has been done for England and Ireland, especially as there is such a large consensus of opinion in favour of the proposal on the part of the Scotch Members.


The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke) took upon himself to speak of what he called this side of the House, but in reality he was only speaking for a very small section of this side of the House. Now, there is a contingent quite as large as that for which he speaks which is not likely to follow his suggestion, but which will take good care to oppose resolutely anything that emanates from the Conservative Benches. The Conservative Benches represent the old history of the House of Commons, when it was a preserve for the moneyed and privileged classes, and when no reform could be brought about unless something like a revolution was impend- ing. Under the present proposal the electors of every portion of the Kingdom will be able freely and fairly to make a real choice of their Representatives, and they will not be restricted to a selection from among the moneyed classes. Unless it is considered desirable that this House should still continue to represent to a certain degree class privileges, I think it is necessary to give every facility in aid of those who are not in a position to pay heavy Election bills. It is enough for us who represent Ireland to know that on this occasion a great body of those who represent Scotland are practically unanimous. We take that as a sufficient indication of the manner in which we ought to vote.


It is not very easy to please hon. Gentlemen opposite in this matter. They objected to discuss the proposal at half-past 2 in the morning, and they now seem adverse to deal with it at half-past 2 in the afternoon. The question has been asked again and again, why should this measure or anything like it be pressed forward at this moment? The answer is a very obvious one—namely, because we are on the eve of another General Election, and because this further Election is to occur very shortly after the previous Election. As an hon. Gentleman near me says, it is just possible that a third Election may rapidly follow Election number two. It has been pointed out that these Bills have been before the House for several weeks, and, as the Session is comparatively young, I think the progress which has been made with them is rather remarkable than otherwise. Personally, I am quite prepared to face the wrath, of the ratepayers on the subject. I am quite satisfied that no measure could be more popular among the Liberal Party, however it may be regarded by hon. Members opposite. If this is the last vote it may be in my power to give, I shall always reflect with pleasure that I gave it in favour of the principle contained in this clause.

MR. J. W. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)

I only wish to state that this question was fully discussed in Scotland at the last General Election, and the opinion of the electors, as far as I could gather, was decidedly in favour of the proposal now presented. I think that it is most desirable that the expenses of Elections, as far as the candidates are concerned, should be reduced as much as possible, in order that the constituencies may have the fullest choice, and may select the most worthy Representatives whether they are rich men or poor. I have, therefore, great pleasure in supporting the proposal.

MR. DUCKHAM (Herefordshire, Leominster)

I feel that I should not be discharging my duty if I did not express the opinion which I entertain on the subject, and which I have repeatedly expressed both in and out of this House; for this is not the first time that the question of throwing the Election expenses upon the rates has been brought before the House of Commons. Similar arguments to those which have been used by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol (Mr. Cossham) were used then—namely, that the expenses of School Board elections and of the elections of Poor Law Guardians are thrown upon the rates at present. I do not think that there is any parallel between those cases and the expenses of Parliamentary Elections. We are sent here to discharge the business of the Empire, and that business is by no means confined to the affairs of the ratepayers; and although it may be a matter of consideration whether the expenses of Parliamentary Elections might not be thrown upon the Imperial resources, I certainly fail to see any justification for throwing them upon the rates.

Question put.

The House divided:— Ayes 91; Noes 35: Majority 56.—(Div. List, No. 131.)

Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to provide for the payment of Returning Officers out of the rates.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

New Clause (Returning Officers expenses to be defrayed out of the local rates,)—(Mr. Esslemont,)—broughtup, and read a first time.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Clause be read a second time," put, and agreed to.

Clause added to the Bill.

Amendment proposed, to omit Schedule 2.—(Mr. Buchanan.)

Question proposed, "That Schedule 2 stand part of the Bill."

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR)&c.) (Clackmannan,

said, there were some other Amendments, but they were not down on the Paper.


The Bill has only been re-committed in regard to a new clause, and any further Amendment the right hon. and learned Gentleman desires to propose must be brought up on the Report.

Bill to be read the third time Tomorrow.