§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND (Mr. F. C. Thomson)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill raises no point of principle and I do not think it involves any controversy. It embodies proposals agreed upon at a conference of representatives of the five great cities of Scotland, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow 860 and Greenock, and is designed to effect certain improvements in the machinery of town council elections in Scotland. The first Clause proposes to fix the time by which nominations for town council elections must be made and the time by which nominations must be withdrawn respectively four days earlier than at present. The municipal elections in Scotland are held on the first Tuesday in November, and as the law now stands the nominations may be made up to the Tuesday previous, and can be withdrawn up to the afternoon of the Thursday, which leaves a very short time in which to make the necessary arrangements for the employment of presiding officers and so forth. That often means working at high pressure and involves considerable additional expense, and we propose to ante-date the period fixed for the nominations and withdrawals by four days in each case. This Clause applies only to the five great cities, but all other burghs can adopt it, by resolution of the town council, if they so desire. The second Clause empowers the returning officer in a burgh which is divided into wards, to appoint a deputy returning officer or officers. This power is already possessed by returning officers at Parliamentary and county council elections. A returning officer may have a good deal of time taken up in connection with spoiled papers and so forth, and the declaration of the poll may be delayed by the fact of there only being one returning officer, and it is therefore proposed to apply, to municipal elections, the same rule in this respect as that which now applies to Parliamentary and county council elections.
Clause 3 proposes a slight amendment of the law. As the law now stands the votes cannot be counted after the hour at which the poll closes until 9 o'clock on the following morning, unless the agents of the parties or, if there are no agents, the parties themselves, agree otherwise. The Town Councils (Scotland) Act of 1900 provides that the poll shall be declared on the following afternoon and it was found that in some cases this led to delay. In the majority of cases, the parties or the agents gave the consent indicated, but it is felt that in cases where that consent is not forthcoming, the returning officer should be authorised to proceed with the counting 861 of the votes during the hours between the close of the poll and 9 o'clock on the following morning to prevent any delay in the declaration of the poll. In Clause 4 we propose that it shall be possible to have a polling station outside a polling district. This rule prevails in connection with Parliamentary elections. There may be a school or a hall available within the polling district, but nevertheless inconveniently situated for the great bulk of the electors, whereas one immediately outside the polling district might be conveniently situated. It is allowable, as I say, in Parliamentary elections to have the polling place outside the district, and we propose that the same rule shall apply to municipal elections. The fifth Clause applies to Glasgow. In the rest of the country, parish council elections take place on the same day and under the same conditions as the town council elections, but in the case of Glasgow, there is a special and separate parish council election under the Glasgow Corporation (General Powers) Act, 1896. We propose to make the necessary Amendment to enable the returning officers in Glasgow to have the same powers as those conferred on returning officers in the rest of the country by the proposals of Clauses 2 and 3. It is a short and unpretentious Measure, and I hope the House will be prepared to give it a Second Reading.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.