HC Deb 03 May 1886 vol 305 cc263-5

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(The Lord Advocate.)

MR. J. W. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)

I do not rise to oppose the second reading of the Bill. On the contrary, I think that I am expressing the feelings of all the Scotch Members, when I say that we are very much indebted to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for introducing a measure of this kind. I merely wish to call attention to the charges in the Schedule of the Bill, which are altogether too high, and will require to be very much modified in Committee. My election agent informs me that the rates in the Schedule of this Bill will very largely increase the expenses, and to a county Member, even an hon. Member informs me that in his case if only two candidates contest the seat, the scheduled rates will nearly double the Returning Officer's expenses. Moreover, I would point out that the Returning Officer in Scotland is an official of the Crown, and, as such, is very well paid, and I do not see why the candidate should be called upon to pay him for discharging a public duty. The Returning Officer is the Sheriff of the county; but the Sheriff of the county usually resides in Edinburgh, and may either perform the duty himself, or leave it to a substitute. Now, according to the Bill, the candidates are expected to pay for the Returning Officer making the journey from Edinburgh to the constituency and back again, when he thinks proper. At this moment, however, I will not enter into details. I am not going to oppose the second reading of the Bill; I only rise to say that we hope to cut down and consolidate the expenses in Committee. I understand that the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate (Mr. J. B. Balfour) does not wish to increase the expenses of elections, and I can assure him that in that he will be very warmly supported by Members from Scotland. On the other hand, I can assure him that unless something is done to cut down the expenses as they appear in the Schedule, it will be the duty of the Scotch Members to oppose the Bill altogether.

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

I am afraid the hon. Member for Forfarshire is under some slight misapprehension, because it will be noticed that the charges in the Schedule are not charges authorized to be made unless they are absolutely and necessarily incurred. They are the maximum charges to be made by the Returning Officer; but they are in no case to exceed the sums actually necessary to be paid or payable. We have a very great difficulty in Scotland in regard to a hard-and-fast line, because the conditions vary, and the distances vary so enormously; but, notwithstanding that, the charges in the Schedule are not higher than those in England—even the maximum. I shall be very glad to have the advantage of the assistance of Scottish Members in cutting down the charges still farther. One great difficulty is in regard to taxing; but in this measure, I think, we have introduced something where the corresponding English measure is defective, and I think it will furnish us with a very effective method of taxation. It provides that the power of taxing shall be with the Election Judges—in Scotland the Central Body—and that they shall submit the charges to the Court of Quarter Session, who will require strict evidence of the necessity of every charge made. The result will be that, most probably, a uniform and greatly diminished and very moderate scale will be established. Yes, I say, I shall be only too glad to have the assistance of any hon. Friends from Scotland in this matter. With regard to what has been said about the Sheriff, it is quite true that he is a "public officer," and, being so, it is not intended he should receive payment for his own services. On look- ing at the Bill, the payment will be found to be a necessary outlay and disbursement. On all matters of detail I shall be very glad to meet my hon. Friends where it is possible.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.

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