HC Deb 01 February 1918 vol 101 cc1991-2003

The expenses mentioned above in Parts I., II., and III. of this Schedule, other than personal expenses shall not exceed an amount equal—

in the case of a county election, to sevenpence for each elector on the register;

in the case of an election for a borough, to fivepenee for each elector on the register.

Where there are two or more joint candidates at an election, the maximum amount of expenses mentioned in Parts III. and IV. of this Schedule shall, for each of the joint candidates, be the amount produced by multiplying a single candidate's maximum by one-and-a-half and dividing the result by the number of joint candidates.

Lords Amendment:

After the word "expenses" ["personal expenses"], insert the words "and the fee, if any, paid to the election agent."

Lords Amendment read a second time.


I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, to add the words "not exceeding in the case of a county election £75, and in the case of a borough election £50."

I think it would be better if a fee were mentioned, and that it is not unreasonable that a moderate fee should be paid. so that we may be able to secure the right kind of agent, who will protect us from the pitfalls of the Act.


I think that the Government and the House should not accept the Lords Amendment, even with the suggested alteration. This is an attempt to do something which was attempted before on the Report stage. The promoters then did not carry it to a Division, and if they had they would have been badly beaten. Under the Lords Amendment it would be possible to pay an election agent £500. I do not see any necessity for making any provision for the payment of an election agent over and above what is allowed already. I represent a county constituency and my election agent could be paid £200 under the Bill. I do not want to pay that, or £50, or £75. I can get it done for a great deal less. The Amendment of the hon. Baronet would give the rich man au advantage over the poor man. I think we ought to keep down the cost of elections as much as we possibly can.


I rise to support the position taken up by my hon. Friend who has just spoken. The Amendment, coming. from the rich Peers, would make the expenditure absolutely unlimited, and would be absurd in the extreme. The hon. Baronet saw that point, and the weakness of his case, and that the Peers went much. further than he desired.


I can assure my hon. Friend that I never prompted the Peers on the matter, nor mentioned it to any of them.


Not having prompted them, but seeing it on the Paper, the hon. Baronet realised that it was very unwise that the expense should be unlimited, and he has introduced this Amendment providing amounts. No one can gainsay that these are moderate fees, but the real point is the limit of expenses of elections. The Liberal and Labour parties have been endeavouring for many years to limit the maximum cost of elections. By this measure now before the House, we have got a more moderate figure. That having been attained, this Amendment overrides its attainment. It puts the fee out side that maximum figure to which we have now got it limited, and the effect of it will be, certainly in my part of the country, and I believe all over the country, that an election agent, knowing his fee is secure, will not be as careful of the expenditure of the money as he would otherwise. He will realise that his fee is secure, and he will be to a certain extent reckless with the maximum sum. One result following upon that will be that the election will not be well fought, because the money will be finished before the election comes on. By putting his election fee into the maximum figure the election agent has clearly in view that if he is not economical, if there is not something left over at the end of the election, he will get no fee. He is therefore bound by that, human nature being as it is, to economise and do things cheaply, so that his fee will be left at the end. No doubt £50 and £75 are by no means excessive amounts, but that is not the point. The point is whether it will be inside the maximum figure or outside. This was well discussed in Committee.


Very shortly.


I think there were twenty Members who spoke against this, and the Government unfortunately took up the attitude, through the President of the Local Government Board, that these figures were moderate, but he did not indicate, so far as I remember, whether those figures would be inside or outside the maximum. At any rate, it was well discussed in this House, and the Bill in that position was sent up to the Peers, who then say that the election expenses for the Commons are to be greater than the Commons themselves desire. I suggest to the Minister in charge of the Bill that the House will probably divide on this matter. I have a Teller from the Celtic party, which is an indication of the common sense which exists in that party, and we shall certainly go to a Division.


The discussion on the Report stage is within the recollection of the House. It is true when the discussion commenced there were not many Members present, but later there were a large number in the House and some twelve or fifteen Members spoke, and everyone spoke against the increase in the amount then suggested. I cannot imagine any Amendment coming from the Lords which should have less respect in this House, because the candidates for this House will have to pay this expenditure. I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will do the same as on the Report stage, and allow us to disagree with the Lords Amendment.


I should like to say a few words in support of the proposal of the hon. Baronet. It is true this matter was considered in this House on two previous occasions, but I think the House should notice that the figures which are suggested to-day are very much more moderate than those previously suggested, and I would put it to the House that now that these figures have been suggested—£50 for a borough constituency and £75 for a county constituency—the agent should be safeguarded. I am afraid that if you do riot have some provision of this sort you will either have the election run in a way that is not efficient or the poor agent receiving nothing at all. And remember that the agent who carries through the election in a thorough way, so as to secure the return of his candidate, and who is not afraid to spend a penny in the interests of his candidate—by that very fact that man will cut himself off from getting anything, whereas the other man, who is thinking not about his candidate, but his own pocket, will skimp the election expenses and make sure of his own fee. Therefore, it seems to me that if all of us want our elections run in such a way as to win, we should be very wise to begin by putting our agent into a good humour by ensuring that he shall at one and the same time make a good show for us, and get something for his own pocket at the end of the election. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. T. Wilson) said he could pay his election expenses and keep £200 for his own agent.


What I said was that I could easily pay my election agent a good fee out of the election expenses under the Bill.


I do not know if the hon. Member has made a balance-sheet on the expenses allowed in the Bill and the prices he would have to pay for an election at the present time.


I do not think I have.


Well, I have in detail, and a good many agents have, and it cannot be done. I believe that since we discussed this last the prices of a good many things needed in an election have gone up considerably. The price of paper has mounted during the last few weeks, and, so far as one is informed, will continue to mount. The price of printing, too, is mounting; in fact, everything is going up, and if an election were to take place, not only within the next few months, but within the next few years, not only is there no chance of prices coming down, but there seems to be every prospect of prices going higher. So that as month after month passes, it becomes less possible for an election agent to have anything but the necessary labour to carry on an election. Roughly speaking, this Bill doubles the number of electors in a constituency and halves the amount of the expenses. That is a very serious matter. We have all spent, I will not say up to our maximum, but at any rate we have spent fairly well up to our maximum in past years. We are all for cheap elections. We would be all for getting in for nothing—spending nothing at all—if we could do it; but, at the same time, I think it is very wise that we should not skimp the election agent. The hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow (Mr. Watt) considered that if an agent is assured of a £50 fee he would be reckless of his other expenses. There is no reason for him to be reckless. If the hon. Member, with that careful mathematical method of his, will work it out, he will find that he runs a great risk of cutting himself out of a good many 'things he would like to do to ensure election. He always has a very stiff fight. I am sure, at the next election if he wants at the last moment to spend something, and the agents says, "If I spend this I shall have nothing left over for my own expenses," the matter will be somewhat awkward. I am quite sure my hon. Friend wants to get in and he wants to treat his agent with the same generosity with which he treats everybody. I would appeal to him—as I am quite sure he has a soft heart—and suggest that he would like to do what is right in this matter. I would like to remind him that under this Bill he is saved the returning officer's expenses that he had to pay before, that he is saved the cost of one postage, which—if my recollection serves me rightly—cost about £50, perhaps £100. What the hon. Member for College Division is going to be saved will he more than even his agent's fee.




I will calculate it out when I sit down. I cannot carry it in my head. But the hon. Member is saved that much, and I think the really chief argument—and very strong argument—in favour of this proposal, that really with these elections in future you must, have capable men is very much to the point. Such a man must be master of the provisions of this new Act, and must take care that the Committee or the people who are to conduct the election do not in coy way transgress the provisions of the Act. Because it must be remembered that in the future we have not only to deal with the old electors, but with new ones—to deal with a large bulk of people, men and women, who previously have had no experience in electioneering. You have got to steer a most difficult course. In regard to all these cases you have got, since we last discussed the matter, more difficulties in the cases, and all that range of naval and military voters, absent voters, and proxy voters which will make the matter extraordinarily difficult for any election agent to steer his way through. I feel that unless you have really capable agents you are going to get into such trouble that there will be election petitions all over the place. It would be a very sad thing if we began this new system, that all of us wish to try, with a. flood of election petitions. The only way to save that is by having capable agents. and the only way to have capable agents 75 to pay them, at any rate, like other' people—a living wage. There is security in the Bill that such men will have a living wage. There s no security that they will have any wage at all. I, therefore, think it is only right that we should adopt a reasonable and moderate proposal like that now put forward, to make sure that we shall, at all events, have at the first election matters. going smoothly and easily.


The Government have not in this matter suggested either agreement or disagreement with this particular Amendment to the Clause. It is not because they have no opinion on the subject. but because they thought it would be better to ascertain something of the opinion of the House before they expressed' any opinion of their own. On a previous occasion, when I took part in a similar Debate in this House, the particular figure put forward as the sum which might be given to the agent was £100 in a borough and £150 in a county. That was considered h. some to be too high a figure. We were not then discussing a figure of £50, or £75, but, as I say, of £100 to an agent in a borough and £150 to an agent in a county division. The current opinion in the House was very strong. The particular proposal made in another place is that there should be the power in the candidate to give an absolutely unlimited fee—any fee he likes—to his agent. He can give him £1,000. It would really be very absurd, and a curious contra-diction, after what we have done, to cut down the likely expenses of an election to something like 50 per cent. of what they were, and, considering what all of us for many years have been desirous of keeping these expenses to, if we actually put into the Bill the power to give an unlimited figure to the election agent, It would really be a piece of absurdity, and an act of contradiction which, I am quite certain, this House would be the last to assent to. If this stood alone, if we had either to agree to or disagree with this Amendment of the House of Lords, I am quite certain that we should almost unanimously disagree. After all, however, we are here to consider a middle course. Generally, I agree with every word of the speech to which we have just listened from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumfries Burghs (Mr. Gulland). He has had a very large experience of elections and election agents. So have I think my experience of election agents is very much as his. It is quite true there are good, bad, and indifferent agents; and it does make an enormous difference, not only to the candidate, but to the constituencies, as to whether or not you have a good election agent. The conduct of the election is largely in the hands of the agent. Whether it would be a dirty or a clean election depends very largely on what the agent tries to make it. The issues can be put clearly or in a very confused way. There may be a good many practices bordering on the improper, or it may be a very clean election, according as the election agent really shapes it. You do not secure an ordinary business man if you do not pay him a decent salary, according to the market. For my own part I believe that there is not enough money in the scale laid down for the conduct of elections out of which you can put aside a sum of money adequate to remunerate an agent for the trouble, anxiety, and risk he runs in the conduct of an election. I do not agree with the hon. Member who sits for Westhoughton. I do not think £200 can be saved out of the election expenses allowed.


Last election I was £1,000 under the maximum.


The hon. Gentleman's experience is a little different from that which any of us have had. At all events, I am confident of this—and I think he will agree—that it is not possible to save £200 out of the present scale—not even £100. I have worked out the figures in detail. What I calculate in respect of printing, extra postage—after allowing for the one postage—committee rooms, public meetings, etc., makes it that, to my mind, it would be difficult under the present scale to save anything with which to reward the agent. We are going to have a somewhat different electorate to deal with—an electorate singularly ignorant of electioneering matters. I am quite sure the House will agree with me when I say that if we only get a very low poll, if we only get 60 per cent. or 70 per cent. of the electorate, that this Bill will have been, certainly to that extent, a failure. I am quite certain of this: unless you have enough money to conduct your election adequately in a given space of time, you will not. your issues clearly and properly before the electors. After all, it is a very serious matter that of electing the. Government of the country. We may, however, be inclined to cut down expenses too much. I quite agree that it ought to be possible for a man of small means to get into this House, but we can go too far in that direction, and not leave sufficient money to place the issues clearly before the electors, and get an important decision as to the issues represented by the various candidates. For my part, I think the advice that has been given by my right hon. Friend opposite is right, and that it would be far better to disagree with the Lords Amendments in the form they are sent to us and accept the form in which my hon. Friend has moved his Amendment, which enables a candidate in a borough to spend £50 more, and £75 more in a county, in addition to the scale allowed.

Supposing you allow nothing outside the scale beyond what is paid to the election agent. Supposing there is going to be a very close contest and the agent feels that he must spend up to the limit in order that his side may win. Every keen observer would do that even at the risk of leaving nothing for himself. The agent might go to the candidate and say, "You really must have some more meetings, or you really must answer that circular and spend that £50 which, in estimating your expenditure, was put aside for me. That is my fee. I will give it up, because it will be of the greatest value; and I feel bound to say that, unless you spend that £50, you will probably be beaten." What position does that leave the candidate in? Let us suppose that that candidate was returned by a narrow majority, very likely owing to the expenditure of that last £50, which may turn the election in a close contest, and that is quite a probable case. In those circumstances, what is a rich man tempted to do? Simply to evade the Act, and there are hundreds of ways to do it. He can recompense the agent for the £50 which he has surrendered. Now I want to obviate that temptation and make it possible for the agent to receive a fee of a moderate amount from the candidate, and I do not want to see the rich man spending up to the maximum and then finding other ways of satisfying the agent who might be put into possession of something after the election which may make it worth his while to surrender his £50. I think we should steer a middle course, and for my part I hope the advice given by my hon. Friend behind me and the right hon. Gentleman opposite will be acceptable to the House. I think, while disagreeing with the Lords Amendment, we should also agree that a moderate fee not exceeding £50 in a borough, £75 in a county, may be legitimately put into the scale allowed to any candidate.


The right hon. Gentleman said he waited to receive some direction from the House generally. My observation is that no less than three hon. Members opposite applauded this proposal, but all that counts for nothing when a right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench gets up and suggests a certain course.


The Motion was made by my hon. Friend behind me and supported by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and that is the proposal I am asking the House to adopt.


Neither the Front Treasury Bench nor the Front Opposition Bench, as a rule, voice the opinions of the House. We have not heard the voice of the House, but the voice of the election agent speaking through the Government Bench and front Opposition Bench gramophone This is a. matter in which election agents are greatly interested, for they see their expenses are being put down. They are in contact with the party machine on both sides, and the Members of this House who speak here and there are in contact with the live wires, so to speak, and are sensible to the currents which are passing across the floor of the House. This Amendment has been discussed upon a false basis. This is an attempt indirectly to raise the scale of election expenses, and nothing else. I have been appalled by the description of English elections which the right hon. Gentleman has given. What is involved? A matter of £50 in a borough and £75 in a county, and we are solemnly told that the fate of the Empire may depend upon the spending of those additional sums of money.

I take a wholly different view of the common sense of the average English elector, and I do not believe that such a state of things exists in English constituencies. I believe that election agents rather exaggerate the great services which they render. The circulars sent out at the last moment to do such terrible execution, in my judgment, are not so efficacious as the right hon. Gentleman supposes. I do not suppose that the expenditure of £50, whether it is spent properly or improperly, will affect an election very much either in an English borough or county, and I do not think that that is what is at the bottom of this Amendment. We are being subjected indirectly to the pressure of election agents. I do not want to underpay election agents and I do not think the amounts mentioned are at all excessive, and I cannot imagine any competent professional man undertaking to do such work for anything less. That, however, is not the question. Nobody wants to underpay election agents. The question is whether the scale of expenses mentioned here is sufficient to conduct an election. We are told that by some strange mathematical mistake the Speaker's Conference has come to this curious result, and have under-estimated the scale of expenditure by £50 in boroughs and £75 in counties. It is preposterous. There is no foundation for the suggestion. There is enough in this scale to pay an election agent decently, and to fight an election as it ought to be fought. I hope that in this matter the House will not yield. If is the third time we have had it before us. We had it up in Committee, when we had the same conflict between the two Front Benches. One Front Bench agreed to it, and then the other grasped at the olive branch which had been held out. In my judgment, that is not the House, and that is not the view of Members generally. I do not believe that it is a good thing to spend on elections as much as this Act allows. We are told that you cannot put the issues before the electors without this increase, but what fudge it is to suggest that £50 will make all the difference between putting those issues properly or improperly before the electors! This Amendment merely represents the alarm of individual election agents. The Bill, perhaps, naturally leads to that state of alarm, but that is not a thing to which this House should yield. I know that the hon. Member (Sir G. Younger) denies that he had any hand in suggesting this Amendment to the House of Lords. I am bound to accept his assurance, but it does strike me as a remarkable instance of thought transference. If he did not suggest it, perhaps those Amendments came from the same source.


indicated dissent.

3.0 P.M.


We all know that the hon. Member is an entirely honourable gentleman, but he is in contact with the great electoral machine of one English party, and is very active as an assistant to his party in that direction. Everybody respects him for it, but he is being used here simply as the speaking trumpet of the election agent, and that is the objection which I have to this Amendment. If there is one subject more than another in which we ought not to tolerate the interference of the other House in our proceedings it is this question of election expenses. It is a most intimate domestic matter of our own. The Peers have nothing to do with it. They are not the people to consider it, and they ought not to be the people to decide it. The Speaker's Conference met to consider this matter and decided it. This House has decided it on two occasions. Is it to be said after that merely on the suggestion of the House of Lords that we are all to admit that the whole of the Members of the House of Commons are wrong on this question which concerns them alone, and that we must take our light and guidance from the House of Lords? I hope that there is sufficient independence in the House of Commons to resist this Amendment and to defeat it.


This is not a question whether £50 in boroughs or £75 in counties is adequate remuneration for an election agent. If the matter ought to be dealt with, it is quite clear that the amount per head allowed for the election ought to be increased. I object to the form of it. If a man does not pay his £50 in a borough or £75 in a county, and does not have an election agent, then he cannot spend the money. It ought to be in the total lump sum, or not in at all. This way of doing it, practically saying that you must have an election agent, and that if you do not you will have £50 less in a borough or £75 less in a county is wrong. If it ought to be done at all, it ought to be done by increasing the grant per head of elector instead of increasing the scale. This method of doing it is not likely to lead to any good result, and for that reason I intend to divide against it.


What would happen in the case of an uncontested election?

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Lords Amendment."

The House divided: Ayes, 96; Noes, 30.

Division No. 152.] AYES. [3.3 p.m.
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Guest, Capt. Hen. Fred. E. (Dorset, E.) Partington, Hon. Oswald
Age-Gardner, Sir James Tynte Harris, Sir Henry P. (Paddington, S.) Pearce, Sir William (Limehouse)
Ainsworth, Sir John Stirling Henry, Sir Charles Pennefather, De Fonblanque
Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire) Hermon-Hodge, Sir R. T. Peto, Basil Edward
Baldwin, Stanley Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Pratt, J. W.
Barnett, Capt. R. W. Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)
Barnston, Major Harry Hughes, Spencer Leigh Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.
Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick Burghs) Hunter, Major Sir Charles Rodk. Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)
Beale, Sir William Phipson Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East) Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, E.)
Beauchamp, Sir Edward Jones, William Kennedy (Hornsey) Samuels, Arthur W.
Bellaire, Commander C. W. Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney) Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)
Bean, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth) Kenyon, Barnet Sanders, Col. Robert Arthur
Bird, Alfred Kerr-Smiley, Major Peter Kerr Soames, Arthur Wellesley
Blair, Reginald Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle) Spicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert
Boland, John Pius Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury) Stirling, Lieut.-Col. Archibald
Boyton, Sir James. Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury) Talbot, Rt. Hon. Lord Edmund
Bridgeman, William Clive Loyd, Archie Kirkman Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Cater, John Lynch, Arthur Alfred Tickler, T. G.
Cautley, Henry Strother M'Callum, Sir John M. Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)
Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George Macdonald, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Falk. B'ghs) Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)
Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham McGhee, Richard Whiteley, Sir H. J.
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. Macleod, John Mackintosh Wiles, Rt. Hon. Thomas
Cowan, Sir William Henry Macpherson, Jamas Ian Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen)
Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe) Magnus, Sir Philip Williams, Col. Sir Robert (Dorset. W.)
Dalrymple, Hon. H. H. Malcolm, Ian Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs, N.)
Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Sir Willoughby H Marks, Sir George Croydon Wolmer, Viscount
Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward Morgan, George Hay Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)
Fell, Sir Arthur Morison, Thomas B. (Inverness) Worthington Evans, Major Sir L.
Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes (Fulham) Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert Yate, Colonel Charles Edward
Galbraith, Samuel Newman, Major John R. P. Young, William (Perthshire, East)
Gibbs, Col. George Abraham Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)
Greig, Colonel James William Nuttall, Harry TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Sir G.
Griffith, Rt. Hon. Sir Ellis J. Palmer, Godfrey Mark Younger and Mr. Gulland.
Anderson, W. C. Chancellor, Henry George Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.
Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.) Davies, David (Montgomery Co.) Gilbert, J. D.
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W. Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Lough) Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)
Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West) Outhwaite, R. L. White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Healy, Maurice (Cork) Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central) Whitehouse, John Howard
Hinds, John Rees, G. C. (Carnarvonshire, Arfon) Williams, Aneurin (Durham, M.W.)
Jacobsen, Thomas Owen Richardson, Albion (Peckham) Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Jardine, Sir John (Roxburgh) Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven) Yeo, Sir Alfred William
John, Edward Thomas Robinson, Sidney
Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade) Smallwood, Edward TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.
Marten, Sir John Henry Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton) Watt and Major Bowden.

Lords Amendment considered, and agreed to.

Lords Amendments:

Leave out the words "county election" ["in the case of a county election, to sevenpence"], and insert instead thereof the words "election for a county constituency or a division of a county returning one member."—Disagreed with.

After the word "borough" ["in the case of an election for a borough, to fivepence"], insert the words "constituency returning one or two members or a division of the borough returning one member."—Disagreed with.

After the word "register" ["fivepence for each elector on the register"], insert the words "In the case of an election for a county, or a division of a county, returning three or more members, to fourpence for each elector on the register. In the case of an election for a borough, or a group of boroughs, or a division of a borough, returning three or four members, to threepence for each elector on the register."—Disagreed with.

After the Fourth Schedule, insert as a new Schedule: