§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ (12.31.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)
The objects of the Bill which I now ask the House to read a second time are twofold. The first is to secure a Schedule of the Returning Officers' charges, similar to that which is provided by law for England and Ireland. Unfortunately there is no Schedule at all for Scotland. Owing to the usual indifference of the House when Scotch measures are concerned the Bills which have been introduced upon this subject have not been passed, and the result is that the law of Scotland differs entirely from that which exists for England and Ireland. My own experience has been a somewhat singular one, and it shows, I think, the necessity for some such measure. Since the passing of the Corrupt Practices Act it has become rather difficult for a man to pass through an election without being placed in the position of being turned out of the House for some act which he did not himself commit. In 1885 I myself might have been turned out in consequence of the corrupt acts of the Returning Officer. He presented mo with a bill which, if I had paid it, might have led to my being expelled from this House. Of course I refused to recognise the unfair, unjust, and corrupt charges contained in the Bill. I had given £200 to the Sheriff, and he wanted me to accept back a sum of £50, which he did not require. If I had accepted it I should have condoned the illegal act of the Returning Officer, so, during the existence of that Parliament, I allowed the money to remain in his hands. When a dissolution came I took the money. The right hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. J. B. Balfour) brought in a Bill in 1886 to remedy the grievance, and in the present measure I have adopted every clause contained in that Bill except Clause 5. In the Schedule which I submit I have adopted the whole of the right hon. 1876 Gentleman's figures, which are very similar to those of the English Schedules. Unfortunately that Parliament was only a short one, and the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman was one of the last Bills brought in. It went before the other House, but there was not time to consider it; but as they thought we wanted something for Scotland they gave us the right of appeal. As the law now stands the Statutes governing this matter are, first the Reform Act of 1832, which states that fair and reasonable charges shall be defrayed by the candidate; and also one of the clauses of the Ballot Act. We have now the right of appeal, and at the election of 1886 the Bill presented to me by the Sheriff did not contain so many illegal charges as the previous one, but still there were some, and, taking advantage of the Act of 1886, I went to the Court of Session, before which Court all the illegal charges made by the Sheriff were taxed away, and the taxing master of the Court—a gentleman well known to the Lord Advocate, a good old Conservative, who was not likely to do anything in an unreasonable way— reduced the account from £241 to £157, or by nearly 40 per cent. But, unfortunately, although the Bill was reduced I had to pay all the costs of the action. In this case it so happens that the Sheriff is paid fairly well for the work he does, but under the special Act he charged £10 10s. for himself for attending on two occasions to do the work. I look upon it as most unfair that a candidate who has suffered from the work being badly and illegally done should also be made to suffer in being required to pay the costs. I remember that in the case of one of the polling clerks he travelled for a distance of eight miles, and his "fair and reasonable" charge for going down was only 15 guineas! Other people would have considered three guineas quite enough. I trust that the present Government will do what the last Government intended to do, and will give Scotland protection, by laying down what is already considered reasonable and fair in England and Ireland. So much for the principal portion of the Bill. The 5th clause is quite a different clause altogether. It provides that instead of placing the expenditure upon the candidates it shall be placed upon the rates, both in burghs and in munici- 1877 palities. In drafting the Bill I did not see how it was necessary or desirable to continue the present tax upon candidates. In the contests which take place in connection with the School Boards, Parochial Boards, Town Councils, and County Councils, all the costs are paid out of the rates, but in Parliamentary elections the candidate himself is compelled to pay them. If we were logical we should adopt the same principle in all cases; and so far as the cost is concerned, that of a County Council election is twice as much as that for a Parliamentary election. If the cost of electing a Member of Parliament were thrown upon the rates it would be a mere bagatelle, and would amount to very little more per head than the price of an ounce of tobacco. In the second place, it is the cost which prevents many working men candidates from finding their way into the House of Commons. The old feeling with regard to the working classes is now entirely changed. We have even the Conservative working man, and he is not regarded as at all a bad fellow. It is quite time that all these old bogies should be got rid of. The Labour Member has been found to be a very useful Member, and hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House are just as pleased to see him as we are. The cost of an election has also the effect of deterring persons of the lower middle class from becoming candidates. In Scotland there is, unfortunately, no farmer returned. My hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) is the nearest approach to one, and, so far as I am personally concerned, I feel that I ought not to represent Caithness, but that it ought to be represented by a farmer or a crofter. If this Bill passes, instead of the farmers and crofters having to return men to fight their battles, you will have the men themselves. So far as the Scotch Members are concerned, we are all at one in regard to this Bill, and I want to know from the other side of the House why a moderate measure of this kind should not be passed, and why a tax should be continued which has the effect of preventing a very useful body of persons from finding their way into this House?
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Dr. Clark.)1878
§ *(12.42.) DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)
I am afraid that the ancient superstition which caused this House to be regarded as a close and very convenient club has now been dispelled. I gratefully acknowledge what has been effected by the Corrupt Practices Act which the right hon. Member for Bury (Sir H. James) steered through this House with such great ability. Candidates have been saved an enormous expenditure under that Act, but like other great measures, such as the Reform Act of 1832, it cannot be regarded as final. Experience shows that it did not go far enough. At present, I may spend £1,500 or £1,700 in contesting a constituency, and there are other hon. Members who may be compelled to spend a great deal more than that. I think the only remedy is to pass this Bill, and to place the necessary expenses of the Returning Officer upon the rates, or upon the Consolidated Fund. I do not care which, so long as the candidates are relieved of the burden of the expenditure. We give our time to the country, a great deal of labour, and often sacrifice our health, and why, practically, we should have our pockets picked as well, for election expenses, passes my comprehension. In the School Board and County Council elections the expenses are borne by the localities. I may be asked whether the constituencies themselves are in favour of the proposed change. Judging from my own locality, I believe they are. The charge upon the rates would be extremely small, and unless some Act of this kind is passed, we shall continue to be deprived of the services of labour candidates, and persons of local knowledge, which farmers and others possess. I have often been asked the qnestion "Why don't you have more local men coming forward in Scotland?" The reason is that few men can afford the expense of coming forward, and the result is that a great many constituencies are handed over to the noble army of "carpet baggers," who go down and sweep everything before them. I have, on more than one occasion, brought the question before public meetings, and I always found a strong feeling in favour of putting the expenses of Parliamentary elections upon the rates or upon the Consolidated Fund. It is said that if this Bill passes there will be a contest 1879 every time. Well, I do not see that that would be a disadvantage. On the contrary, it is generally of immense advantage to oneself, and to the constituency as well. It educates oneself very much; and it educates the constituency still more. It also encourages a friendly feeling among your own supporters, and is of great service, seeing that it is not bound to come more than once in seven years. If the expense of a contest were got rid of I would encourage a contested election every time. At present, the practice is to carry on a hopelsss contest against you in order to squeeze you pecuniarily as much as possible, and exhaust your resources so as to prevent yon from becoming a candidate again. Personally, I am engaged in fighting: in succession all the Tory lairds of Aberdeenshire, but if the expense were put upon the rates, it would be indifferent to me whether I was opposed or not. But I think it exceedingly probable that the opposition would fade away altogether. There are many of us who think that the present duration of Parliament is too long; that it is out of touch with the country, and that the country desires a change. But if we are to have a new Parliament every two or three years, I do not think it would be right to subject candidates to a constant expenditure of this character. It is for this reason that I have always been opposed to the shortening of the duration of Parliament, because I believe it would work badly in exposing candidates to a perpetual drainage, in the shape of expenditure. I regard the present proposal as a very reasonable one, and I have no doubt that it will receive considerable support from English and Irish Members. We in Scotland are desirous of going forward as the pioneers of reforms, and we are suggesting reforms that will be of immense advantage both to England and Ireland. I trust that the Government will accept the Bill. If they do not it is not impossible that we may secure a victory, unless the Government have a considerable number of Members waiting in ambush outside. I warn them, that when they leave office and we on this side of the House come into power, this is one of the very first reforms we shall require. I hope the day is not far distant when that may be the case. I beg to second the Motion.
§ (12.50.) THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. P. B. ROBERTSON,) Bute
The hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark), in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, very justly observed that it has two separate and distinct objects. On the part of the Government I wish to express our complete sympathy with that branch of the measure which the hon. Member first developed, namely, that a Schedule should be provided of the Returning Officers' charges. That would really supply a deficiency which exists in regard to Parliamentary elections in Scotland, and which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. J. B. Balfour) nearly rectified in 1886. The House will recollect that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was introduced on the eve of a General Election, and that there was practical unanimity in regard to making provision for a Schedule of charges, Indeed, the subject is one on which I do not think there can be much difference of opinion, although I am not prepared to say that it may not be necessary to modify some of the details of the measure now before us. Unfortunately, as I think, the hon. Member has mixed up the subject with a proposition of a much more controversial character. We should readily accept the Second Reading of the Bill of the hon. Member if it were not that be has coupled with the harmless proposal for providing a scale of charges—a proposal which, I believe, would secure general assent—another proposal to throw the expenses upon the rates. Now, I venture to think that the hon. Gentleman is rather throwing away his opportunity of effecting a change in the law on a subject in which he takes deep interest, namely, the establishment of a Schedule of charges, by including a larger question with it. If the Bill were confined to the provisions contained in Clauses 5 and 6 I think the hon Member would have the easy assent of the House, but it is most undesirable to connect with the Bill a subject which is notoriously a matter of very great and keen debate. The question whether the expenses shall be borne by the rates is not one which is peculiar to Scotland at all, but is a question which, I venture to think, will be best considered by the House when it is presented fairly and squarely in a general Bill affecting the whole country. 1881 The hon. Member for Caithness tells us that the ratepayers are already familiarised with the matter in connection with the mode in which the expenses of School Board and County Council elections have been dealt with.
§ MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON
We have certainly got the ballot boxes, but I am hardly persuaded that the County Councils have all the necessary materials for dealing with Parliamentary elections, so as to prevent the necessity for the cost which now arises. The hon. Member on the one hand makes a proposal which is to effect economy in the conduct of Parliamentary elections, and on the other hand he proposes to saddle upon the ratepayers the burden of an expenditure which, unfortunately, it has been necessary to inflict upon them in connection with the establishment of County Councils. The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire (Dr. Farquharson) has given his reasons why these changes should be brought about. So far as his charge against the Scotch Members is concerned, that they are most of them "carpet baggers," it is a dispute which I must leave him to settle with his own friends. Personally, I am not aware that, owing to the expenses to which candidates have been subjected, Parliament has been deprived of the services of representatives who are natives of Scotland, and I am not prepared to say how far the Scottish constituencies would agree to the proposal that native candidates are to be forced upon them on the condition that there must be an increase in the burden of the local rates. I do not propose to discuss the details of the Bill, and I hope I have not entered into the merits of the question in any controversial spirit. I freely admit that it is one for consideration, and my only reason for rising was to point out this in favour of the change which the hon. Gentleman first advocated, that he is unnecessarily encumbering the reform he desires to bring about by tacking on to it a highly controversial subject. I venture to think that these clauses should be eliminated from the Bill with 1882 a view to the speedy passage of those parts of the measure as to which there is general agreement. Failing that elimination, I am constrained to say it is impossible for the Government to assent to the Bill, because the most salient and controversial part of it is the 5th clause, and we could hardly read the measure a second time and afterwards propose to exclude that clause without the assent of those who have charge of the Bill. I think that the subject, large as it is, is not well raised on this occasion, and when we come to enter into the merits of the question I, for one, must offer my opposition to a proposal that would impose an unnecessary burden on the rates of the counties in Scotland.
(1.1.) SIR G.TREVELYAN (Bridgeton, Glasgow)
I am glad to find that on the important question of the schedule the Government take a decidedly favourable view of this measure, and I take it that that admission on the part of the right hon. Gentleman is at least something gained. But when, having said so much, the right hon. and learned Gentleman asks my hon. Friend to withdraw the Bill, I think he goes a little too far. It is not so easy for a private Member to secure first place on the Order Paper, on a Wednesday for an important Bill, that such an opportunity should be thrown away. My hon. Friend, though a new Parliamentary hand, is too knowing a one not to see that if the Government want, in the interest of the Conservative Party, to enact that there should be a Schedule of expenses, they can find time for that with the greatest ease, because no Scotch Member would raise his voice against it.
§ MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON
I did not suggest that the hon. gentleman should withdraw the Bill. What I suggested was that an undertaking should be given to the House that the Controversial Clauses, 5 and 6, should be eliminated from the Bill, and that tha t would relieve the Government from the necessity of opposing the Bill.
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN
The right hon. Gentleman stated the case quite clearly at first, and has restated it very clearly now; but we say that the clauses referred to are of the greatest importance, and we are extremely anxious to get the judgment of the House—and especially of the Scotch 1883 Members—upon them. This is one of those cases in which the arguments for the Bill are very simple and elementary, while all that can be said against it amounts to nothing more than arguments of an ingenious, but, as I consider them, of a very trivial character. I feel bound to say that if we can show that our arguments are plain, and simple, and clear, we need care very little what the arguments on the other side are. The main argument for the Bill is that under the present system the people cannot elect the man of their choice because a very severe fine is inflicted on him. How severe that fine is I am prepared to show; but I shall not dwell very long on this part of the subject, on account of the evident agreement on both sides of the House that the expense of Scotch elections are uncertain, and in many eases too large. Even under the most reformed system it would be quite impossible to have the expenses of a contested borough much under £200—that is to say, £100 for each candidate; or, of a contested county much under £300, or £150 for each candidate. I, therefore, ask the House to consider this as a very serious matter. It is when you come to the Crofter counties that you come to those in which most enormous expenses are inflicted. In the case of Inverness, in the year 1885, the legal expenses amounted to £1,191, while in Ross and Cromartie they amounted to £1,145, and, although reduced in the elections of 1886, the expenses in these counties were still very heavy. Well, Sir, I say that to tell the Crofters of Scotland that they are not to have as representatives the men who sympathise with them and their interests and grievances, unless they pay three times as much as is paid by those who contest the richer counties of Lothian and Fife-shire, is, I think, nothing short of a sin and a shame. You must remember it is only when those expenses are handed over to the County Council that you have a real guarantee that they shall be kept as low as possible. The County Council will minutely and ruthlessly examine into the expenditure, but at the present moment everyone who knows Scotland knows how much in the more remote parts of the country the candidate is at the mercy of the Returning Officer— absolutely at the mercy of the Returning 1884 Officer, and that, unless he has the unusual pluck of my hon. Friend below the Gangway, he must be the very last man to veuture to tax the Returning Officer's bill. That is one of the main arguments for this Bill, namely, that the people may be able to elect the man of their choice. But still there is another and a deeper argument which many of us regard as one of much importance. We say that you ought to have a high ideal to place before the constituents at an election, and that so long as the candidate is called upon to pay all the expenses of his own election you must have a low ideal, because you make it appear that you are conferring a favour upon him by electing him, whereas, instead of that being the case, a good Member in reality confers a favour by serving the constituency he represents. By passing this Bill we shall show that the position of the Member is one of public duty, and not of private pleasure. I was sorry to hear the Lord Advocate raise the bugbear of expenditure, because I would ask the House what, after all, does the expenditure amount to if put upon the rates? For the whole of Scotland in the year 1886 it was £17,000. That, no doubt, is a large sum when it has to be paid by a limited number of private persons, but if you take the rental of Scotland I think you will find that it is less than one farthing in the £1 in the whole area. I put it to hon. Members, what should we think of the electors of Scotland if they so lightly value their electoral privileges that they will not pay the price of a pipe of tobacco, or very little more than that of a pinch of good snuff, in order to get the man they want. It is said that this is only a part of the election expenses. That is an argument which was used with great effect informer days, but since the Corrupt Practices Act was passed those legal expenses have become so large a part of the expenditure at elections as to be a very important consideration. I ask the House to note that these expenses bear a much larger ratio to what I may call, without offence, the people's candidate, on whichever side of the House they may happen to sit than they do in the case of ordinary Members. I can here quote a very curious instance. In the Wansbeck Division of Northumberland we have a working man's candidate, 1885 whose expenses amounted to £465 in all. But of that sum as much as £259 were legal expenses. If you look at the expenditure of other working men's candidates, you will find that the same thing holds good. In a certain division a, working man stood against a colonel of considerable position; the working man spent £383, and the colonel £896; the legal expenses were in each case £200. How very much larger in that case was the proportion of legal expenses to the other expenditure of the working men's candidate. Again, in the Eastern Division of Finsbury, the working men's candidate spent £254, of which £100 were legal expenses. It is evident that this Bill, if passed, would be essentially a measure for the relief of those persons who, as candidates for seats in Parliament, want relief the most. You must recollect the great advantage attaching to private wealth. This is almost the only country in which the candidates have to pay the whole of the expenditure, or in which the Member has to give the whole of his time without any remuneration. When we ask the House to relieve candidates of the many burdens imposed upon them, it may not amount to much, but it is at any rate a tangible relief, and I believe it to be in every sense an act of justice. I now come to the last argument against the Bill, and that is one which seems to frighten hon. Members opposite. They say that men of straw will be set up in large numbers, and that we shall always have contests. I believe there is nothing in that argument, and for this reason: hon. Members who have watched the course of recent elections know perfectly well that if we have to fight successfully a contest in a great community, say of 70,000 or 80,000 persons, and desire to obtain a majority of some 1,000 or 1,200 electors, the only chance is to choose the best man on our side we can possibly select. If a man is deficient in character, reputation, or genuine and solid standing, no matter what his rank may be, he is a bad candidate, whom neither of the two great Parties in the borough will accept, and he has no chance. I say, further, that if a man, be he Liberal or Conservative, represents a great Party and a great cause, he need not be afraid of anybody coming forward from motives of mere selfish notoriety, or personal 1886 vanity. This is how we shall eliminate men of straw, and not by laying a fine upon both good candidates and men of straw alike. As to this being a question for the whole country, all I can say is, that Scotland knows her own mind on the matter; she has freedom of discussion, and we want her to have free elections. You must remember that Scotchmen say, I do not know with what amount of truth, that what Scotland thinks to-day England will think to-morrow. Twenty years ago, when England was in better mind, this proposal of my right hon Friend was put into a Bill introduced into this House by the then Conservative Government, and upon two Divisions a majority kept that clause in the Bill. Every argument which Professor Fawcett, then sitting below the Gangway, brought forward at that time for the conviction of the House, that that Bill was called for by reasons of Justice and National expediency, exists at the present moment, and if Scotland thinks that this Bill ought to pass, England ought not to stand in her way in a matter which concerns Scotland alone, except so far as her example may influence England.
§ (1.13.) SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy)
This is a delicate matter, in which it may be said that the interests of the candidates are different from those of their con-stitutents. There are many who say that a rich candidate would rather have expensive elections, in order that the poor man may he kept out, but we poor Scotch Members do not like to pay more than we can possibly help, and to this extent our interests are opposed to those of our constituents in the mere matter of pounds, shillings, and pence, although, as regards other matters, their interests are identical with ours. This is a question in which we are bound to think once, twice, or thrice before accepting this Bill. But I have given it those repeated thoughts, and am willing to take whatever responsibility I may incur in voting for it. We know there is a question often brought before the constituencies, and I regard it as a popular question, that Members should be paid. I am not now going into that question, but I certainly think that Members should not pay their election expenses. A place in this House ought not to be a privilege for which a man has to pay. I would not make an election absolutely without cost to a 1887 Member, but I would insist, with my right hon. Friend, that the strictly legal expenses should not be imposed upon the candidate, but thrown on the constituency. I also agree, that when you pat these charges on a constituency they will amount to a very small burden. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton has said, so long as a Member is required to pay all the expenses he has no way of diminishing them unless he exhibits that amount of courage which has been alluded to that would enable him to tax the Returning Officer's charges. Doubtless the Returning Officers impose very heavy costs on the candidates, but if you throw those charges on the constituency there will be a self-acting means of economy that will save a great deal of the present cost. At present you have this in the case of elections for Burgh Councillors, and County Councillors and School Boards, but there it rests. All these constituencies are equipped with the proper machinery for the purpose, and it is only necessary that the machinery should be utilised in the Parliamentary elections, in order to secure a considerable saving. Nothing can be more absurd than that a constituency should charge the candidates for the hire of ballot boxes and things of that kind. If you pass this Bill you will get rid of all these charges, without throwing any additional cost on the ratepayers. As to the expenses of Returning Officers and Sheriffs, I am convinced that they might be vary materially cut down in the interests of economy and of the constituencies, while the charge thrown on the constituencies will be but small. The poor candidates will be greatly relieved by its passage, and I trust the House will see its way to allowing the measure to be read a second time.
§ (1.17.) MR. LENG (Dundee)
I am, perhaps, unable to speak quite so feelingly on this subject as the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, but I may say that, perhaps, no Member has entered this House lately whose election expenses have been less than my own, so that it is not on the ground of personal interest that I desire to say a few words in favour of this Bill. I observe that the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate altogether evaded the question of whether the proposal to throw these election expenses on the rates was 1888 a prudent and wise proposal. He insisted that it was a large question, affecting the whole country, and therefore ought not to be dealt with in a partial manner, bnt I put it to the House, if the proposal is sound in itself why should it not be debated now? It is one that has been before the House on several previous occasions, and I ask when will the House have more leisure to discuss it than it has on this quiet Wednesday afternoon? The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate has not met the point that was put by the hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark), that already these expenses are thrown on the rates for all other elections, except Parliamentary elections. Many of those elections occur annually, and many triennially, but Parliamentary elections are supposed to be septennial, although, no doubt, they do occur more frequently than once in seven years; but, as has been shown, the cost to the constituencies under this Bill will be exceedingly small, and will scarcely be felt by the ratepayers. Why, then, is the Bill opposed, as it has been by the Government? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman be content to leave this question in the hands of the Scottish Members? If he were to so leave it, he knows well how it would be decided. The large majority of the Scottish representatives have already made up their minds on the subject, in conformity with the views of their constituents. Whenever 'I have endeavoured to ascertain the opinion of the voters on this question I have never heard them grudge the throwing of those expenses on the rates. It seems to me that whenever questions of this kind arise, the true feeling on those Benches is always the same. If I rightly interpret the minds of hon. Members opposite, it is felt that these election expenses act as a protection to men of wealth, and in prohibition of the candidature of working men, and individuals of that class. I would just put the matter in this way to the House. We have been defeated already in many of these Scottish questions, but we ought not to be exposed to the action of the English majority, whose resistance to the popular demands of the Scottish people is doing more than anything to promote the claim for Home Rule in Scotland. The Lord Advocate has admitted that one important part of 1889 this Bill is deserving of the approval of the House; but we in Scotland think that the clauses to which he objects are equally good, if not better than those he is ready to accept. I appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman not to run the risk of rejecting this measure, because we shall continue to press it forward, and we are determined that Scotch legislation shall be in conformity with Scottish opinion, and that we will not be constantly out-voted by English Members. They have out-voted the Scotch Members time after time, and I now call on the English representatives not to allow the Government to put a drag on the superior intelligence of Scotland. I had no intention to speak on this question, but my spirit has been stirred within me, and I intend systematically to insist that on all Scotch questions Scotch opinion shall prevail.
§ (1.26.) MR. J. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)
Many years of my life have been spent in Australia, where all the expenses of the elections are paid out of the general revenue of the country. I am, therefore, in a position to say that that plan works well and gives general satisfaction, and I am quite prepared, when a sufficiently comprehensive Bill is brought in, to support a proposal for paying the whole of the expenses at elections out of the revenues of the country. But I do not feel justified in supporting this sort of piece-meal legislation, and I think it would be an injustice to other parts of the Kingdom. As to the argument that men of straw would come forward if this Bill were passed, I may be allowed to suggest a plan that would prevent anything of the kind. In Australia no one is permitted to come forward as a candidate who does not deposit with the Returning Officer a substantial sum of money, and in case he fails to secure one-fifth of the votes that deposit is forfeited on the ground of frivolous opposition. For the reasons I have just stated I regret that I am obliged to oppose the Bill.
§ (1.28.) MR. A. ELLIOT (Roxburgh)
In the interesting maiden speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee I think he rather lost sight of an important consideration, namely, that on what 1890 is only a Local Bill we are asked to fight a point of Imperial importance. That being the case, you are really inviting Members representing parts of the Kingdom outside Scotland to apply their minds to a measure which, while it applies to Scotland alone, involves a principle applicable to England and Ireland also. For my part, I feel that the question is of as much importance to the other portions of the Kingdom as to Scotland, and that if such a Bill is carried for Scotland it ought to be carried for England and Ireland. Therefore it would not be right to exclude Englishmen from voting on this question. I was struck by a remark made by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire. My feeling about this Bill is that it should have been an Imperial Bill applicable to the three Kingdoms. I think the argument is wholly in favour of the payment of the necessary expenses out of the rates. No argument has been proposed on the other side against it, although I suppose if the debate continues some will be adduced. I look at the question rather from the point of view of the constituents, and surely we are benefitting them if we widen their choice of candidates. At present they are too much restricted to candidates who are favoured in high quarters, whereas I think the candidates should be chosen by the constituents themselves. I think the direction and control in these matters ought to be local, because the representation is really based on local feeling and sentiment. I have always felt that this proposal rests on a different basis altogether from the proposal to pay Members Parliamentary salaries. I should be sorry to see a step taken in that direction, but I do not think it is involved in the present proposal. It is an honour to represent and serve a constituency, and I do not think it should be made a subject of pecuniary interest to obtain seats in Parliament. Such a course would tend to class legislation, and might hold out an inducement to those who have not succeeded in their profession or trade to seek a seat in Parliament, thus depriving the country of the services of those men who can best maintain its interests. I shall certainly vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, and I am sorry that it does not apply to the whole of the Three Kingdoms.
§ (1.35.) MR. M. STEWART (Kircudbright)
Sir, as to the effect which this Bill would have, if carried, on the working classes, I think that the amount involved is really so small that there exists no serious grievance. Taking the whole of Scotland over, and excluding certain counties to which reference has been made, the entire sum in the case of an election would be £150, and I do not think that would so act as to prevent the working classes bringing forward candidates. Of course, if a working man does come forward, his expenses must be paid; but whether it is £500 or £150, it really is a matter of great indifference, if you are determined to have such a representative in Parliament. I look upon it as unwise to bring this Bill forward at this time. We have not taken the opinion of our constituents upon this question. The hon. Member for Dundee said the opinion of the majority of Scotch Members is in conformity with Scotch opinion. But this is a matter which has not been brought before the people of Scotland, and it means, if the Bill ha carried, the payment of Members. Because the majority of Scotch Members happen suddenly to make up their minds in this subject, it is no proof that the whole nation demands the change which they are advocating. We have very distinct proof that the people of Scotland are fairly satisfied with the present mode of returning Members of Parliament, and that Members should pay their own way. It is one of the glories and boasts of this country that you get more hard work out of your Members, more of their time, than does any other Legislature in the whole world. If you pay the election expenses out of the rates you will very soon find that you will have to pay the expenses of the Members, and you will no longer have able men who devote more than their spare time to the service of their country. I do not see how you can deal with Scotland piecemeal in this matter. There are questions peculiar to Scotland which can well be dealt with separately, but here is a measure which applies equally to England, Wales, and Ireland. I venture to say it is a Bill which ought not longer to occupy the time of the House. Then there is the further argument that if you have triennial elections you would 1892 multiply the expenses cast upon the ratepayers—expenses of which they know nothing now. And as to the question of working-men Representatives, I maintain that the ordinary Member has opportunities of meeting the working men in various centres of his constituency, and of ascertaining and representing their wishes just as well as others of their own class. I do hope this Bill will not ho read a second time.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Mark Stewart.,)
§ Question proposed "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ *(1.45.) MR. J. H. C. HOZIER (Lanarkshire, S.)
Sir, I think this Bill might be fairly described as a Members Relief Bill. It seems to be chiefly directed to looking after number one. The hon. Member for Caithness, in moving the Bill, was ingenious in holding out as a pleasing prospect that if this Bill were passed he would himself be replaced by a Crofter Member to the combined advantage of the House and of the constituency. I shall express no opinion on that point. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire was ingenuous, for he seems to be only too delighted that under it he would be able to enjoy the luxury of a successful contested election, without any expanse whatever to himself. He says a contested election encourages friendly feeling, and I am glad that is his experience. I am afraid, however, that he does not seem to appreciate encouraging that friendly feeling at his own expense. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton talked about eliminating men of straw. I do not quite see how you are to do so under this Bill—quite the reverse. The right hon. Gentleman said we have now free education in Scotland, therefore we ought to have free elections. I would venture to point out that free education does not put an additional burden on the rates.
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN
Free education in Scotland is paid for by a sum of 1893 money which in England is devoted to the relief of the rates.
§ * MR. HOZIER
The sum might be devoted to the relief of the rates, but its alienation throws no new burden upon the ratepayers.
§ * MR. HOZIER
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. It is by no means the same thing. This cost of elections would be an additional burden upon the ratepayers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was very glad to state that the ratepayers of Scotland made no serious complaints with regard to the rates. That will certainly not be the case if you throw this additional burden upon the ratepayers of having to pay for a number of frivolous contests, oven in order, as the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire pleasantly puts it, to encourage friendly feeling throughout the length and breadth of Scotland.
(1.40.) MR. J. B. BALFOUR&c) (Clackmannan,
Sir, I think it is satisfactory that we have at last heard the only arguments which can apparently be advanced against the proposal in the 5th clause, and I must say that they appear of a singular character. The argument of the hon. Member for Kirkcudbright was that the amount of the official expenses to be put upon the rates would be so small as to be hardly worth while mentioning. But if that be so, there would not be objection on the part of the ratepayers to the rate levied for election expenses.
§ MR. M. STEWART
I said it would not be worth mentioning, inasmuch as it would not give much assistance to working men coming to this House.
MR. J. B. BALFOUR
That is exactly the point I was coming to. When a working man becomes a candidate, the funds are generally contributed by men who are not well off, and who have to make sacrifices of their hard earnings to meet the expenses of their candidate. I think the House ought to be ready to remove any artificial barriers to the return of such candidates to this House. It is said that this is an unfortunate time to bring forward the Bill; but if we are to believe the whispers in the air, it is not very long that private Members will have any chance at all this Session to bring their questions forward, and if it 1894 were not brought forward now, it might be, I suppose, deferred until some future Session, or some future Parliament. The next argument is, that this is a step towards the payment of Members. I am not going into that question, which is entirely separate from the payment of election expenses. It seems to me that so far from the two questions being bound together, they are entirely dissociated. I know there are persons who are not favourable to the theory of paid Members, but who have advanced this as a proper remedy in the first instance, before the question of the payment of Members is considered. It has been said with great force that the payment of the official expenses at elections out of the rates will enable the class which is desirous of being represented to have a larger number of Members in the House than at present. But that is a question entirely dissociated from the subject of payment of Members. The next argument is that this is piecemeal legislation. If it were possible to carry a measure for the whole country we should be very glad to do so. But is any injustice done to the rest of the country by dealing with Scotland? Surely, England and Ireland are not so jealous as to deny Scotland that which would do them no harm. I have no doubt that if Scotland got this measure it would be a step towards the rest of the country obtaining it at no distant period. I am glad we have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburghshire, who carried a Bill, which had application solely to Scotland, legalising marriage with a deceased wife's sister. That is a subject of interest to the whole country, for you must admit the universality of the interest which attaches to the domestic relations; yet the House did not hesitate to grant the Second Reading of my hon. Friend's Bill. Then, something was said about the duration of Parliament. If elections are to be more frequent, there will be the more necessity for some relief; and as to the question of vexatious elections, I do not think it is the poor men who are likely to indulge in vexatious contests. Still, it is a casual evil, occurring in a small number of constituences compared with the whole electorate, and it ought not to be used as an argument for preventing the constituencies having a free choice 1895 in the selection of their candidates. The expenses of various other elections are now paid out of the rates—School Board, Municipal, and County Council elections—and no candidate, whatever his official position may be, thinks it dishonouring that the official expenses of his election should be paid out of the public funds. Why should there be an exception in the case of Parliamentary elections? It really appears as if the argument in favour of this proposal was all one way. We have had other reforms working in Scotland— Sunday Closing for instance—long before they were extended to other parts of the country. Is there any reason why effect should not be given to the enormous preponderance of opinion in Scotland, because, I take it, that the majority of Members here represent the preponderance of opinion in Scotland? With respect to that part of the Bill which is not contentious, I think, perhaps, our English, friends owe us a little consideration because they have had a Schedule of expenses from 1875 and we are only getting one now. This question of the Schedule must be considered in Committee. It was considered with very great care in 1886. There has been, at all events, a very careful preparation, which I am glad to see the hon. Member for Caithness has adopted, and I should be very sorry if anything prevented this Bill becoming law now.
§ (2.15.) Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ *(2.17.) MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)
I rise not for the purpose of debating this Bill, but to draw attention to one defect in the position of the Members from Scotland who advocate it. The question the House has been debating is a pecuniary question, to which there are two parties—the candidates and their Members, who now pay the official expenses of the Returning Officer, and their constituents the ratepayers, to whom the Bill would transfer the burden. The question has been discussed from the point of view and in presence of only one of those parties. The constituents are represented here on the question only by their opponents in interest. Noevidence has been brought forward showing what the views of the constituencies are upon this 1896 point. I hope hon. Members from Scotland will be influenced by that delicacy of sentiment which the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir G. Campbell) describe d as existing in his breast, not to support this Bill, because to vote for it will be to vote in favour of their own pockets and against the interest of those whom they represent. I hold that the question of the apportionment of election expenses between Members and their constituents, is a question which ought to be submitted to the constituencies at the time of a General Election. We have nothing before us upon which we can rely as showing that the constituencies are willing to shift the burden of the expenses mentioned in the Bill from the candidates to the ratepayers. My belief is that the opinion of the constituents would be not that the ratepayers should bear the expense, but that the candidates who seek to have honour conferred upon them should defray the cost of the contest out of their own pockets.
§ *(2.22.) MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)
If the argument used by the hon. Member who has just sat down were pushed to its logical conclusion, we should be prevented from taking any step forward in legislation at all. He argues that because the Scottish electors are not specially represented on this question, the Scottish Members are precluded from giving a vote respecting it. We hold that the electors, as a body, are very ready to adopt and back up the votes we give in this House.
§ * MR. KIMBER
I beg pardon; what I meant to say was, there was no evidence as to what the opinion of the constituencies was on this particular question.
§ * MR. MARJORIBANKS
I think the evidence of the opinion of the constituencies is very clear, from the fact that they entirely acquiesced in the provisions of the Local Government Bill of last year, which imposed these official expenses in connection with County Council elections on the ratepayers. Having acquiesced in that, I think they are also ready to agree to the financial proposal contained in the Bill before the House. The main contention urged against the Bill is that 1897 the proposal to make the ratepayers defray the expenses of Returning Officers is too grave a matter to agree to with respect to one part of the United Kingdom only. That argument can at once be disposed of, because my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) and we are very willing to accept Amendment in Committee to make it applicable to the whole country. Another criticism is that if the Bill passed an enormous number of vexatious contests will take place. From that view I altogether dissent, because it will be the interest of every ratepayer in Scotland to prevent such contests. That there might be an undue multiplication of candidates is a more valid objection. Recognising this, we are ready to accept an Amendment providing that a candidate must obtain a certain proportion of votes to entitle him to the payment of his expenses. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken will probably be shortly opposing a Bill which proposes to give the Irish ratepayers the power of stopping licences by means of a direct veto. But if he thinks the Scottish Members are not capable of giving their votes on this question, as representing the people of Scotland in their absence from this House, and so expresses his distrust of the representative principle, he certainly ought to vote in favour of giving the power of direct veto to the people in Ireland. It seems to me that his conduct in the two instances is of a contradictory character.
§ * MR. KIMBER
I beg pardon again. I do not admit the analogy. The point I wished to make was that this was a matter of personal pocket interest, in which the interests of the constituents conflicted with those of the Members.
§ * MR. MARJORIBANKS
I support this Bill for another reason. I think it is a great pity that, as far as Scotland is concerned, we do not have a larger number of direct labour Representatives in the House of Commons. At present there are no such Representatives of Scottish constituencies. If the official expenses wore thrown on the rates it would be practicable for a labour candidate to come forward in many a constituency where it is now out of the question. I hope the Scottish Members will support the Bill, and will succeed in inflicting on the Government another of those defeats to 1898 which they have lately become so much accustomed.
§ *(2.28.) MR. KELLY (Camberwell, North)
One of the Scotch Members gave us, I think, a very good reason for supporting this Bill. He said the poor Scotch Members did not like paying. That is, no doubt, very true, but the question is whether the poor Scotch ratepayers like paying. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Leng) spoke of the superior intelligence of the Scotch. I am not prepared to deny it, but I do not know what that has to do with the question, inasmuch as the Scotch people have not decided that this Bill ought to become law. The same hon. Member said that by opposing the Bill the House would be precipitating Home Rule for Scotland. That was a peculiar argument for the hon. Member to use, considering that before his election he pledged himself to support Scotch Home Rule. We were told by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that Scotland can have no labour candidates, because they cannot have their expenses paid. I think, however, that very recently there was a labour candidate in Lanarkshire; and the Scotch, people, by reason of their superior intelligence, declined to be represented by him. Many Members of this House have their expenses paid, and I do not know that they are any the worse as Members on that account. What I contend in opposition to the Bill is this. In the first place, I do not see how the House can consistently stop at the point to which we are asked to advance on this occasion. How can it be said that the payment of the Returning Officer's expenses, which may be estimated at between £100 and £150, bars the entry of representative labour candidates into the House of Commons? If the public are to pay the Returning Officer's expenses why should they not defray the other expenses and also pay the Members? I look upon the Bill in its present form as being simply the thin end of the wedge. There would be a strong argument in favour of the Bill if it could be shown that the House loses by the present system, but that has not been shown. Able representatives, whatever class they may belong to, are not kept out of Parliament by the present system. Personally, I am astonished to hear the argument about Members being at the mercy of 1899 Returning Officers. It is open to any Member to dispute the Returning Officer's charges, and they have been disputed with success in a number of cases. It may be that the Returning Officer's expenses should be limited, and that could be done very well by part of this Bill. If the change which is advocated takes place, many candidates will come forward from motives of vanity or in the pursuit of vulgar notoriety, and, consequently; there will be very a large additional number of contested elections all over the country; whilst from the complication of the issues before the electorate, it will be almost impossible to ascertain the general opinion of the country on the greater issues on which General Elections ought to turn.
§ *(2.40.) MR. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars)
The last two speakers on the other side of the House have dwelt on what they call the absence of all evidence that the people of Scotland desire this change. A very short reference to the history of the Bill will, I think, satisfy the House that there is plenty of evidence on this point. The measure has been five years before the House. It passed in the early Session of 1886, and was thrown out in another place. In 1887 I had charge of it in this House. I had some correspondence with the Secretary for Scotland respecting it, and pointed out to him that the majority of the Scotch Members were in favour of it. In 1888, 1889, and again in the present year the Bill has been introduced. Now, a Bill that comes before the House for five years in succession in reference to Scotland is quite certain to have been discussed in almost every constituency in the country. If the feeling of the people were against the measure plenty of evidence to that effect would certainly have been produced on the other side. In 1886 it was thrown out by the Lords, mainly on the ground that it was undesirable to make the change at a period so near to the General Election. That was not a satisfactory reason for rejecting the Bill, but it furnishes a very good reason why the question should be dealt with now, because we are continually nearing the next General Election. It has been already pointed out, in reply to objections on the other side, that if the Bill be of a local character it can be converted into 1900 an Imperial Bill by inserting an Amendment to make it apply to England and Ireland. No Scottish Member has the smallest objection to that. Indeed, we are satisfied that this Bill is merely the beginning. We know that this is the thin end of the wedge, as the last speaker said it was, and that the official cost of elections in England and Ireland as well as in Scotland, will ultimately be thrown either on the ratepayers or on the Consolidated Fund. The last speaker said the official expenses were from £100 to £150, but it was pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridge ton (Sir G. Trevelyan) that in some Scottish counties the official expenses were nearly £1,200.
§ * MR. PROVAND
No doubt in 1886 the expenses were lighter than that, but Members are still liable to enormous official expenses in all the Scottish counties. It is true that a reduction of the Returning Officer's charges might be obtained by means of an application to the Court of Session, but the Member would probably have to pay two sovereigns costs for every sovereign he got taxed off the bill. The total cost of the elections in Scotland in 1886 was £17,000, which, it was said, would amount to something like ¼d. in the £1 on the rates. I do not think it would amount to so much, and I certainly believe that if the Bill passed the £17,000 would be reduced by one-half, as Local Authorities would then be liable, and would see that the charges made were reasonable.
§ (2.45.) The House divided:—Ayes 123; Noes 136.—(Div. List, No. 36.)
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.