§ * MR. HARRY FOSTER
I desire, Sir, to ask the indulgence of the House in order that I may make a short personal statement with reference to an imputation under which I conceive I labour at the present moment. In asking that indulgence I am aware, though a very young Member of this House, that it is an invariable tradition of the House to extend to any Member in any quarter indulgence to make a personal statement. Although this matter specially affects me personally and my constituents, it is also a matter which affects every Member of the House. I shall be in the recollection of the House when I allude to a Return made at the instance of the hon. Member for one of the divisions of Nottingham in reference to the Parliamentary expenses incurred at the last General Election. [A laugh.] The hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Conybeare) smiles; but, perhaps, he will remember that I am at present asking the indulgence of the House. When the Return was presented to the House, several questions were put to Members of the Government. The Prime Minister and the Attorney General were asked, in particular, whether it was the intention of the Government to put the Public Prosecutor in motion; and attention was called to the fact that according to the Return several Members of this House had exceeded the amount they were entitled to expend under the Corrupt Practices Act. Upon a certain day I ventured to put certain questions to the Prime Minister, my own name having been particularly mentioned in many 660 newspapers as one of the offending parties, and I here desire to say at once that, labouring under what I felt—perhaps unjustly felt—was a desire on the part of the right hon. Gentleman not to answer my question—[Ministerial cries of "Oh!"]—I do not say I was right—I was betrayed into what I acknowledge frankly to the House might be considered an act of discourtesy. In putting the question I alluded, I think now in questionable taste, to the fact that the Return was signed by his son, and I desire to take this, the earliest, opportunity of making avowal of the discourtesy, if it was so considered. But arising out of that, the Prime Minister referred me to the Home Secretary, the Return having come from the Home Office. Therefore, on December 14, I put a question to the Home Secretary, who, in what I will venture to call his best Parliamentary form— [Ministerial cries of "Oh!"]—I really do not know how that observation is disorderly—[Cries of "Personal explanation!"]—I was about to say that the right hon. Gentleman in his best Parliamentary form, and therefore, I venture to say, in his most unjudicial form, answered my question. In doing so the right hon. Gentleman—[Shouts of Order!"]—I do really ask the indulgence even of hon. Gentlemen opposite—stated that he had looked into the matter, and found I was labouring under a mistake. I had called his attention to the fact that in my own Division there were on the Register 12,996 electors; and the right hon. Gentleman said I laboured under a mistake—that I appeared to have arrived at my figures by adding the occupiers' list to the names of those who were also on the owners' list whose names were starred; and that the correct way to arrive at the trite number on the Register was to deduct the starred or duplicate voters. Thereupon I asked the right hon. Gentleman if there was anything in the Register to indicate to a candidate how he was to arrive at the maximum, and he replied, "Yes, by deducting the number starred;" and on my asking whether a candidate was expected to revise the list himself, his answer—which I conceive left me under an imputation—was that candidates were expected to know and to observe the law.[Ministerial cheers.] I am very glad to hear those cheers, because 661 I shall ask the House whether the Home Secretary is not supposed to know and to observe the law. [Loud Ministerial cries of "Order!"]
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
I must point out that the hon. Gentleman is asking the indulgence of the House in order that he may make a personal statement. To that personal statement he must confine himself.
§ MR. HARRY FOSTER
I will endeavour to do so, Sir. That I was loft under an imputation is clearly shown by a statement in The Daily News on the following morning. [Cries of "Oh!" and "Personal explanation!"] Yes, I am making a personal protest; I am calling attention to a definite charge, notwithstanding the impatience of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Daily News said, referring to me—An attempt to clear himself of the charge made in a recent Home Office Return, of having spent in his election in July, 1892, more than the Corrupt Practices Act allowed, produced a lively scene.Now, my object is to clear myself of not having known and not having observed the law. I would remind the House of the fact, as stated by the Homo Secretary last week, that the law relating to this matter is contained in the Corrupt Practices Act of 1883, the Registration Act of 1885, and the County Electors Act of 1888. With regard to the Corrupt Practices Act of 1883, hon. Members are aware that in the Schedule there is laid down a maximum scale to be allowed to candidates in respect of the number of voters on the Register; and with respect to the law on the point I would refer the House to a book called The Election Guide, edited by the Home Secretary himself.
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
Certainly not: but the matter may be regarded as serious, and I think it only fair to the hon. Member that he should be allowed to give an explanation to the House. I hope he will confine himself to his personal explanation.
§ MR. HARRY FOSTER
I will endeavour to do so strictly, but the point is an involved one, and I cannot well 662 give my explanation without citing chapter and verse for the facts I am quoting. In accordance with the proper course I referred, and am able to refer the House to the correct interpretation of the law—first to the statutes themselves and then to the works upon them. I was referring the House to a book called The Election Guide, which is edited by the Home Secretary himself, and which he states is for the purpose of showing candidates what the law enables them to do; and I observe that the Home Secretary says on page 247, with reference to this maximum scale—As to the scale, observe the number of electors means the number on the Register, without allowing for deaths or other causes of deduction.Since then there has been passed the Registration Act of 1885, which provides that the Revising Barrister, where he finds that there are duplicate entries upon the Register, shall erase from the Register any duplicates; but since that, again, the Act of 1888, the County Electors Act, has been passed, and that Act expressly provides that in lieu of erasing the name the Revising Barrister shall put a star against county electors in numbering the list, and that the Overseer or the proper officers shall number the names consecutively. What I wish to call the attention of the House to is the fact that all a candidate can do is to study those Acts, and study the text books which tire published upon them. There happens to be a text book published by the Central Conservative Office, and that book—
§ MR. SEXTON (Kerry, N.)
I wish, Sir, respectfully to call your attention to the fact that the hon. Gentleman is now engaged in what is obviously it complicated legal argument; and I wish to ask whether, if the hon. Member is allowed to lay before the House his views of the construction of certain points of law, it will be open to other Members to do the same?
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
I was very unwilling to interfere with a personal explanation; but I am bound to say that I think the hon. Gentleman is exceeding the proper limits.
§ MR. HARRY FOSTER
I asked the indulgence of the House; and I am sorry if Parliamentary traditions are to be broken in this respect. I 663 am only desiring to show the House, if hon. Gentlemen opposite will restrain their impatience for a moment, that I acted legally in the course I took—it will only occupy me two minutes. I was quoting from a book called The Practical Manual of Parliamentary Elections, which is issued from the Central Conservative Office. It sets forth that the maximum number of electors is the number on the Register without deduction for deaths or duplicate entries. I find that a similar book has been issued by the Liberal Central Association, and is edited by Mr. W. Woodness, the assistant secretary. On page 5 the book says—Duplicate entries need not be deducted in calculating the maximum.I find further, in a book which I believe is accepted on both sides as an acknowledged text-book—I mean Parker on Elections, 1891 edition, that on page 311 it is stated that the number of electors is to be taken according to the enumeration of the electors in the Register of Voters, and consequently no deduction need be made either for dead men, or double entries or the like. In addition to that I have had the advantage of consulting the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury, whom Members of this House on all sides will acknowledge to be at least as good a legal authority as the Home Secretary. I have the permission of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to state to this House that I have had a correspondence with him, and that the inclination of his opinion is that, if the question involved is governed by technical rules, the number of voters enumerated for whatever purpose the names are on the Register must be taken to control the expenditure under the Corrupt Practices Act. Having made that statement to the House I am satisfied to leave the matter with the House. I venture to think I have shown that the Home Secretary in giving the opinion which he did, thereby impugning my conduct as a Parliamentary candidate, at any rate had not sufficient warrant for the imputation which he sought to put upon me, and that the course which I pursued is the course advised by both Parties in this House as the proper course to be pursued by candidates.