HC Deb 18 April 1928 vol 216 cc303-32

The Fourth Schedule to the principal Act (which relates to the maximum scale of election expenses) shall have effect, as if for the word "sevenpence" there were substituted the word "sixpence" and as if for the word "fivepence" there were substituted the word "fourpence"—[Mr. A. Henderson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

During the discussions this afternoon on the Instruction and in several speeches during the Second Reading Debate the question of the cost of Elections was fully considered. We all know that many constituencies already are exceedingly heavy in this respect. We have places like Coventry and Kensington and Burnley. In Burnley there are nearly 52,000 electors and when this Bill passes into law there will be from 64,000 to 66,000 electors.


What about Rom-ford with 72,000?


I am merely taking these as examples, and I know there are a number of such cases. Under the existing law, the scale of expenses is 7d. in counties and 5d. in boroughs and the New Clause proposes to make those amounts 6d. and 4d. respectively. This is a matter, I think, that need not be looked at in any sense as a party question. I think that both sides of the House will agree that the heavy cost of Elections in recent years has been such as to make an impression upon Members of Parliament everywhere. You can run up to £1,100, £1,200, £1,300, or £1,400, and when we get, as I think this Bill will give us, something like 8,000 to 14,000 additional electors—the Home Secretary will correct me if I am wrong—that makes a very serious charge upon the individual candidate who may be engaged in the contest, no matter to which party he belongs. Then, as I mentioned during the Second Reading Debate, in addition to the maximum expenses that may be involved, there is the £100 limit for personal expenses, and £75 and £50 respectively in boroughs and counties for the services of an agent. That makes a very serious charge.

We have heard a great deal to-day with regard to the question of democracy. It is right, I think, to base the government of the country upon the broadest electorate possible, and if you are going to carry out democracy logically you ought to make it as easy as is possible for candidates to be returned to this House without any poverty bar. I have already shown that the expense, as the law stands at present, is exceedingly heavy, and no very great hardship can be inflicted upon any candidate if we try, even with the new additions to the electorate, to leave the expenses somewhere near what is the maximum to-day instead of allowing them to be increased on the 7d. and the 5d. pro rata to the increase in the electorate. No matter how long we debate it, that is the case, and without taking up further time, I hope the Home Secretary will see his way clear to accept this Clause.

Captain BOURNE

As I was responsible for moving the Instruction to the Committee which has enabled this Clause to be brought up, I wish to say that personally, shall support it in the Lobby if it goes to a Division. I do not say that perhaps it might not require certain amendments in detail, but in principle I am thoroughly in favour of not increasing the amount of election expenses falling upon candidates. The scale which at present exists was drawn up by the Ullswater Conference in 1917 or 1918, and it was calculated, I think, very carefully on what would be the necessary expenses of a candidate who wished to put his case fully before a constituency of average size. I do not think that anyone in the House will contend that a large increase in the electorate of necessity greatly increases the expense. After all, I have fought elections myself, and I have found that the expenses may be divided under about three heads.

One of your large items is printing, which does not increase in proportion to the number of copies of the document ordered. The main expense in connection with any printed document is the setting up of the type in the first instance. It is true that labour in striking it off and the amount of material used add something to the cost, but the cost does not increase with every thousand copies in proportion. The first thousand are far more expensive than the second thousand, and when you get into 30,000 or 40,000, the last thousand are a matter of very trilling extra expense to the printer and ought not to be a large item on the candidate. Another big item that we all have to face is in connection with meetings. Most of us do as many meetings as we possibly can in the time allotted to us, and the limit there is the limit which we, as human beings, can stand. I do not think that, where the electorate is increased by 25 per cent., as is proposed in this Bill, there should be any earthly reason why the bill for our meeting expenses should rise. Many people do four or five meetings a night right through an election, and nothing on earth will enable them to do more, except the invention of some kind of machine which may enable them to be in two places at once.

The other large item which we get is in connection with postal and miscellaneous expenses, committee rooms, and so forth. We cannot very well use more committee rooms than we do at present. It is possible that, if the electorate is increased, we may have one or two more polling stations, but it is not likely that there will be much extension in that direction. Most of those overhead charges are constant, and will remain constant whatever the size of our electorate. There are certain items which will go up. Our printing bills wilt slightly increase, but posters, if we use them, will be much the same for an electorate of 50,000 as for one of 40,000. and I believe the expenses of the agent are constant whatever the size of this electorate. Therefore, I submit that there is no necessity to raise the expenses in proportion to the number of the electorate.

As I said earlier this afternoon, these very high election expenses are a great deterrent to people coming forward, especially people who might make excellent representatives of constituencies, but who have, first, to ask what are the election expenses, and, when told the amount that they are expected to find, are very often scared away. This is riot a question that comes before the central party machine. It is only known to those who run the local associations, how many candidates are scared away by election expenses, especially if elections are likely to be held at fairly short intervals. I can speak with sonic feeling on this subject, because I know what it means to have election expenses time after time, as I fought three elections in 10 months. In my case, luckily, the expenses were not very heavy, but they come as a very serious burden when you have to face them at short intervals, and I feel that anything which adds to that difficulty and to the weight that the candidate has to bear is a thing against which this Committee should try and protect the candidate.

If we restrict the expenditure—and, after all if this Clause is carried, it will pretty roughly keep the expenses at about the same as they are to-day; it will not substantially increase the amount that the candidates are entitled to spend—it may be urged that we shall, in consequence, be in grave danger of losing our seats on petition, owing to over spending of the allotted amount. There is probably no Member in this House who runs a greater risk in that respect than I do myself. I have entered this House after a petition on election expenses in my own constituency, and T know that, if I make, or if my agent makes, a slip of a single halfpenny in the return, I shall have a petition against me. I am willing to face that risk, but T do not think that that is any reason why people should not carry their expenses through within the limit provided in this Clause if they will exercise a reasonable amount of caution. A great deal of money spent in elections is wasted and many of the things on which it is spent come down to us from the Eatanswill Election. To-day, those expenses are no longer necessary, and I feel that for this large electorate, which is literate, and not illiterate as it used to be, half the posters and half the things on which one's money is spent are not necessary. We could largely carry on with no loss of efficiency on the scale proposed in this Clause.


I hope that the expenses for boroughs will not be altered. With an increased electorate, we shall need all the money available. [Laughter.] Though there may be certain constituencies that can well afford to diminish their expenses, there are others that will undoubtedly need the money for various extra expenses that are bound to crop up with an increased electorate. The hon. Gentlemen who laughed just now can well afford to laugh, for the principal reason that, when they speak at their meetings, they are heard; when we speak at our meetings, we are very often not heard. For that reason, it is necessary for us to send round more publications and more pamphlets, and to do various things which may at any moment crop up. There are members of my own party who tell us—only a few—that they will be able to get on just as well on the lower basis. That is good for them, but why, because a few are able to do it, should the whole be penalised? It is a matter of arrangement. You have a certain amount which you may spend, and if you do not wish to spend it, well, do not spend it. I do not know how the Socialist party manage these miracles, but in my last two elections they held as many meetings as I did; they had as much propaganda as I had, and, as far as I could see, our elections were run on similar lines. Yet, while my return was something like £600, that of my Labour opponent was something in the nature of £350. [Laughter.] The Labour party can afford to laugh. That being the case, surely it is all the more reason why we should maintain the present rates.

There are doubtless sources of voluntary labour and other methods by which the Socialist party are able to keep down their expenses. I do not think any of us need make any bones about it, but our party, as a party, do not give that amount of voluntary work that we would like them to give. I am not giving away a secret; I admit it is a shame, and it is true, and we have to face facts. I am convinced that, if we reduce the costs in the boroughs, we are making a present to the Socialist party. It is a pity that the Franchise Bill should be dealt with on party lines. I have always been in favour of the vote for women, and I am still more in favour of it to-day after the various amusing speeches that we have heard from those who seem to be a little afraid of the ladies, in this House at any rate, if nowhere else. Apart from that, I consider that this particular question does touch the question of politics, because, whereas elections are run on comparatively equal lines, the amount which is spent by Members of my party are possibly in the region of £600, while the Opposition are able to get the same result, except that in their case they do not always get in, for about half the cost.


Has the hon. Member ever tried to rouse the enthusiasm of the members of the Primrose League for the magnificence of their cause?


Perhaps that would be an advantage. I certainly admit that I lost the first election, and then I got more enthusiasm and won. I maintain that it will be a disaster to the Conservative party if they reduce these rates. If people do not wish to spend the money, they need not do so, but there are constituencies—and every Member will admit that mine is one of them—where it may be necessary to spend up to the last farthing.


I hope the Committee will give this new Clause a Second Reading. I speak as a county Member, and I do not profess, like my hon. Friend who has just sat down, to be able to say what is best for the boroughs, or for any particular party in the boroughs. As regards the counties, I have been into the matter carefully, and I have had considerable experience of electioneering, both on my own behalf, and from having taken part for a good many years in the work of the Central Office of the party. My deliberate opinion is that, if the reduction per head proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite were effective in the case of the counties, it would still be possible to work elections perfectly sufficiently and efficiently on the money that would be produced by the 6d. per head, because the increase that would come if you left the amount at 7d. per head is a great deal more than the increase of expenditure that would be necessary to compensate for the extra outlay.

After all, a good many of the expenses which we have to pay are constant, and to give a large extra sum for election expenses, as would happen if the rate of 7d remained unaltered, would mean that there would be a considerable sum available in regard to which there would be no expenses to meet. It may be said that you need not spend that sum, but my experience is that if your agent is worth his salt, you generally do spend the whole, or pretty nearly the whole of what you are allowed to spend. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I know that hon. Members opposite do not do it, but that has been my experience. Take the constituency with a very large number of electors. I dare say it is different there, because the necessary expense does not increase in proportion to the number of electors, and a great many of your expenses are constant whatever the number of electors may be. When you are fighting in rather small constituencies of under 30,000 or thereabouts, however, my experience has been that it always works out that you spend pretty nearly what your election expenses are allowed to be.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) has already gone through the various items of elections, and I need not do so again. The largest item is generally that for printing and stationery. That is an item that would increase to a certain extent but not pro rata to the additional number of electors. There may be exceptions here and there in one or two constituencies where the sixpence per head would not produce, on the extended franchise, appreciably more than the 7d. per head does now. If you work the thing out, wherever the increase is over 16└ per cent., you will get an increase in your money to spend if you reduce the 7d. to 6d. In the great majority-90 per cent. I should think—of the constituencies, you will get a greater increase owing to this new legislation than the 16└ per cent., so that, in the vast majority of country con- stituencies, you are going to get an increase in spite of the reduction of one penny. As far as I can see, that increase will be enough to meet the extra expense. That is with regard to the counties. As to the boroughs, it seems to me that the whole question is absolutely different, because if you work it out, you are working not on a margin of 16⅓ per cent. but on a margin of 25 per cent. In a great many of the boroughs, if you reduce the 5d. to 4d., you will get an actual diminution in the expenses which are allowed, and that puts the case on a different footing altogether. You cannot say that there will be a certain amount of extra money in the case of the boroughs that will compensate for the extra expense, because in a great many cases there is no extra money at all, and undoubtedly there will be some extra expense. Therefore, I am not going to say, at this moment, that the boroughs may not have a case for maintaining the old scale. I want to hear further arguments about that. From what I have heard up to the present, I shall certainly support the Second Reading of the Clause, but I hold myself quite open, and as at present advised I should support the Amendment to be proposed by some of my hon. Friends to let the scale in the case of the boroughs remain what it is at present.

Therefore, I hope the Committee will give the Clause a Second Reading. The Amendment with regard to the boroughs will come up later. That is a separate case, and I hold myself quite open to vote—and I shall probably do so—for leaving things as they are in the case of boroughs. I hope that a Second Reading may he given to the Clause, and I put it to the Home Secretary that I do think this is most emphatically a Measure that ought to be left to the free vote of the House. We may have been wrong or right, but certainly we did understand from what had been said from the Front Bench before, that this question was to be left to the House to speak for itself. What I wish should be done is that. a Second Reading should be given to this new Clause and that, if it is so wished, the boroughs may be cut out, and both these matters may he left to a free vote of the House.


Like the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, I hope that the Government will see their way to accept this new Clause. It becomes very important, especially in view of the arguments underlying the Clause, namely, that it is based on a democratic basis and that this House itself shall be elected upon a fully democratic basis. I called attention to this fact on the Second Reading of the Bill, and the opportunity is now given to reinforce that position. Unless the House is so elected, as the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) said in the early part of the Debate, and unless there is a free selection by the divisions made possible, then the democratic principle which we seek to extend by the Bill is nullified by the increase in the powers of the caucus or by the limitation on the selection of candidates.

The new Clause seeks to limit the expenditure upon election expenses, and that becomes highly necessary with the increased electors. In the boroughs, particularly, the problem will be increased to a larger extent than in the county divisions. As it is now, the expenses amount roughly to £1,200 for an electorate of about 35,000. An increase of £300 upon that becomes a serious item for the candidate to meet. Unless he is a rich man, he has to find the money from the party funds, and if he is an honourable man, and he turns to the party funds for assistance, he must then give absolute allegiance to the party Whips and cannot exercise an independent vote. After all, men are sent to this House to represent the views of a constituency, and to exercise a free and an independent opinion in accordance with the views of the people who send them here. It becomes a serious matter for the constituency to be asked to put their hands into their pockets for every election, and particularly if elections are to come as frequently as every two or three years, as has been suggested. To find about £100 becomes a serious matter to every Member of the House. If you tie the hands of hon. Members of this House, you are striking a serious blow at the prestige of the House.

It was said by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) that with the increase in the electorate in recent years there has been a corresponding decrease in the prestige of this House itself, and a corresponding decrease in respect for the decisions of the House. There is some degree of truth in that, and to the extent to which you tie Members to the party chest or limit membership of this House to rich men so you will give still greater force to that criticism. You are aiming a direct blow at the chief free institution of this country. For that reason I hope the Government will see their way to accept, at any rate, the Second Reading of this Clause, if not necessarily accepting the Clause in its present form. To do so will assist to enhance or maintain the prestige of this House, and we can scarcely accomplish that unless we do accept this new Clause in sonic form or another. I understood from the Home Secretary that when he intimated to the House that there was to be free discussion he was prepared to accept this new Clause in some form because it undoubtedly meets the desires of the vast majority of Members of this House and, equally certain, the desires of the vast majority of the constituencies.


I am one of those who are rather doubtful whether it is wise to cut down the amount per head which a candidate is to be allowed to spend in an election at the present time. I am speaking particularly on behalf of the boroughs. I quite realise that there may be a case for cutting down in county constituencies. I feel that the main Debate will take place on the question that the Clause be read a Second time, and I think it would be much easier for all of us to say what we have in our minds now, and, if necessary, move Amendments later. I have an Amendment later to exempt boroughs from this Clause, and to permit the same expenditure per head as at present in boroughs. The first question I ask myself is, is this the right time to alter the sum per head which can be expended by a candidate in an election? The figure of 5d. for boroughs was fixed after very careful consideration by the Speaker's Conference of 1918. We are now to have a vastly increased electorate, and in the same Bill by which we are creating all these new voters we are asking Members voluntarily to cut down the amount which they are to be allowed to spend as candidates at elections. Personally I think it would be very much better if we kept the sum at its present figure until we have seen what happens in the next General Election, when the new electorate will have a chance to express its views and we can see exactly how these young people from 21 to 30, and a lot over 30, will vote, and how the election has been conducted.

Another point to which I would like to refer was that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Camberwell (Mr. Campbell), when he told us that there have been occasions in the past, in borough constituencies particularly, when it has been practically impossible for a Conservative candidate to make his views known by speech owing to the rowdyism at his meetings. That particular candidate has no alternative but to see that his views are made known to the bulk of the electorate by other means. He has to resort to printing, and that costs money, both the printing and the distribution. I am glad to say that has not been my experience in my own constituency, but this possibility has to be borne in mind in the case of borough constituencies, and we ought to pause before we compulsorily cut down the amount which a candidate is permitted to spend. The party opposite, the Socialist party, have a very efficient machine of which they make use at election times, though it does not appear in their election expenses, and that is the trade union organisation, and they may be perfectly entitled to use it, but I do not see why we on the Conservative benches should voluntarily cut down our expenditure while at the same time leaving them free to use that machine, as they undoubtedly do use it and gain advantage from it.


What about the "pubs"?

Captain HUDSON

I assure you that the people who go to the "pubs" are not all Conservatives.


But that is where the dirty work takes place.

Captain HUDSON

We are here fixing a maximum scale and not a minimum scale, a point which is often lost sight of by hon. Members on these benches. We have a large number of hon. Members who are keenly in favour of reducing the amount to be spent per head, because they feel that the cost of their own elections should be kept down. Well, it is entirely in their own hands; they have their own election agents. Nobody is saying they must spend a minimum sum, merely that they must not spend more than a certain amount. It is not fair to argue that because a maximum is fixed a Member is bound to spend up to that maximum. If a Member is run by his agent that is his own fault; and he ought not to come to Parliament for protection against his own agent. Again, on what is the money spent? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members opposite cheer that, but the money cannot be spent corruptly. HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The law is very strong. If any hon. Member opposite knows of money being spent corruptly in a constituency which returns a Conservative Member he has got his redress. The law is very strong indeed, as all hon. Members know, and therefore it is ridiculous to say that the maximum is to be cut down in order to prevent corruption.


The law is very costly as well.

Captain HUDSON

By this new Clause it is proposed to cut down the maximum but is that quite fair? What about new candidates, who are seeking to get into this House for the first time? It is perfectly obvious that a new candidate will have to spend very much more money, or will have to work very much harder than will a man who has been a Member of this House for four or five years. The new candidate has to make his views known, and if we decide to cut down the amount to be spent at elections he will say that sitting Members will have an unfair advantage over new candidates in different constituencies. As regards myself, I believe my electorate will rise from 34,000 to 44,000, and the extra amount of money required under this new Clause would be about £50. I do not believe that is enough in case I want to spend the maximum amount.

Captain FRASER

I think the hon. Member has left the Committee in doubt about, the calculation made by him.

Captain HUDSON

If this new Clause is accepted, I shall be allowed £50 more for 10,000 extra electors, and I do not think that is sufficient. Hon. Members opposite say that we shall not require anything except a few extra thousand election addresses, hut I am told by my own agent that I shall require new Committee rooms because it will be impossible to deal, in the case of a borough, with such an enormous number of people in the existing Committee rooms. I think it is very unfair to cut down expenses in this way. The old argument has been used, that the present system favours the rich man as against the poor, but I believe that to be completely untrue. Is there anybody who is ready to argue that it will make the slightest difference to anyone standing for Parliament if this particular sum is altered as suggested in the new Clause? We all know that the main expenses of being a Member of Parliament are not the election expenses, but the expenses as a Member of running a constituency. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, Oh!"] That is a well known fact on both sides of the House. The only difference is that in the case of Government supporters we have to run it ourselves, and in the case of hon. Members opposite the expenses are paid for them. I do not believe this Clause would be a wise one to pass at the present time, because it is unjust to candidates and Members. If the House accepts this new Clause, I hope we shall also accept the Amendment to exempt boroughs, and let them go on under their present scale, which was carefully considered by the Speaker's Conference and has worked very well for a number of years.


The hon. and gallant Member for North Hackney (Captain Hudson) seems to have forgotten that Elections are often won before the Election campaign commences, and it will make no difference whether this Clause is accepted or rejected. The adoption of this new Clause will make no difference as to the amount of money that can be expended except during the short time the Election is taking place.

Captain HUDSON

Does the hon. Member deny that there are hundreds of candidates who come before the electors only about three weeks before an Election takes place.


I am alluding to desirable candidates who endeavour to make themselves acquainted with the constituency and the needs and desires of the people they are seeking to represent. A reference has been made to the figures settled by the Conference of 1918, and it is argued that the figures determined by that Conference should remain for all time. Surely the value of money in 1918 as compared with its value in 1928 makes some difference. When one examines the figures that would be permissible under this Bill as it now stands, or if this new Clause is accepted, the figures of 1918 can be dispensed with, and we ought to come nearer home in reference to the actual cost of running a Parliamentary Election. We have been asked to assume that approximately 25 per cent. increase will take place in the electorate over the whole area of Great Britain. There will be changes here and there. The increase will be larger in some constituencies and less in others, but taken as a whole, the average increase will be approximately 25 per cent. Assuming that the electorate of a borough is 30,000 to-day and the increase reaches 25 per cent. the expenditure permissible under this new Clause will be exactly the same as the amount of money which is permitted to be spent to-day. It is true that the electorate may be 25 per cent. larger, but an examination of the figures at the last three Parliamentary Elections shows that only a small number of candidates required the actual amount which they were permitted to spend.

It seems to me that for hon. Members to plead that candidates should be permitted to spend more money upon their Election expenses in the future than they have been permitted to do in the past is lending this House to a system of bribery and curruption which ought not to be allowed to enter into Parliamentary Elections. If we take the County constituency and the normal increase is 25 per cent., even if this new Clause is accepted, in a constituency where the electorate to-day is 30,000 and in future will be 37,500, the candidate will be permitted to spend £100 more at the next Election. I think that sum of money is sufficient to enable any candidate to run any Parliamentary contest quite efficiently. Whether the Socialist party have a better electoral machine than either the Conservative or the Liberal party makes no difference. There is, of course, one slight difference, and that is that the Socialist party believe in their policy and the others do not. [Interruption.] There is, however, no reason why the House of Commons should allow the Conservative party the use of large sums of money to buy electorates which they have not been able to educate into becoming their willing voluntary supporters, as the Socialist party are able to do.

This Clause, from every point of view, ought to be accepted, not only for the purpose of reducing unnecessary opportunities for outrageous expenditure, and making it possible for the poorest candidate to have an opportunity, but also for the purpose of reducing the unpleasant things that one notices at by lections. The sums of money that would be allowed under this Clause are large enough for any candidate to spend, and I think that, notwithstanding the increase in the electorate, the actual expense will be very little larger than in the past. It would be a step in the right direction if the Clause were accepted.


I desire to support this. Clause, especially as my name was attached to the Instruction passed by the House earlier in the day. I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) is correct in saying that this really is a non-party question, and, because I believe that to be the case, I should like to add my voice to the appeal that has been made to the Home Secretary to leave this matter to a free vote of the Committee. I gather that at the moment we are not discussing any question of amount, but rather the question of principle, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley was in substance correct when he said that those who support this Clause want to see the general level of expenses, in spite of the increased electorate, left more or less where it is to-day; that is to say, they desire that this additional electorate should not impose a substantial additional burden upon candidates.

10.0 p.m.

Everyone admits that, owing to the size of the electorate, this question of expense has become a very serious matter to all parties. Personally, I believe that in many instances the best men are deterred from coming forward as candidates—I mean the type of men, no matter to what political party they happen to belong, whom we would desire in the national interest to see Members of the House of Commons—because they are unable or unwilling to accept the financial burdens entailed. I agree that the ideal which we should all desire to see would be that the constituencies throughout the country should be responsible, not merely for running their local organisations and so forth, but also for the election expenses. I am afraid, however, that we have a long way to travel before we attain to that ideal, but, personally, I strongly dissent from the view which seems to be held in some quarters that the mere expenditure of money is the primary asset in winning elections. I do not deny that in these matters, as in most other spheres in life, money is a considerable asset, and I am sure that no one on the benches opposite will dispute that, because we understand that a certain amount of grievance is expressed now that Members opposite are being deprived of the enforced contributions of Conservative and Liberal working men. What really counts in winning elections, far more than expenditure of money, is, firstly, of course, the nature of the political appeal which a candidate is able to make to the constituency at the time; secondly, the personality of the candidate himself; and, thirdly, the efficiency of the to al organisation.

Here again, I do not believe that the efficiency of a local organisation depends upon the amount of money that is spent. It depends far more on the amount of voluntary work that can be obtained. Voluntary work is undoubtedly far more valuable than any paid work can possibly be. We have all had many opportunities of appreciating the wonderful nature of work that is done voluntarily, and never more so, I think, than during the days of the general strike, when the amount of voluntary work done, to a large extent by those who were supporters of the Conservative and Liberal parties, was remarkable. I support this Clause because I believe that, looking at the matter from a party point of view, it will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the support that we on this side shall be able to obtain. In 1918 the electorate was, as we know, enormously increased, but at the same time the scale of election expenses was very substantially reduced, because it was obviously considered that the cost under the new conditions would be far too great, although one would have imagined that a better case could have been made out for an increase of election expenses at that time, when so many millions were being added to the electorate, than at the present time.

I believe that it would be a step in the wrong direction if we were not to make some provision in this Bill for keeping the election expenses at about the same level as at present, and I hope that in the course of time it may even be possible to reduce them further. From the experience that I have had—and I believe that many other Members will agree with me—in fighting the three elections in a county Division, I am satisfied that there is a great deal of useless expenditure at election times. There is the expenditure on posters and so forth, and there is the fact, also, that enormous pressure is put upon candidates to spend up to the limit of what is permitted. That, in many instances, does not come from one's agent, but very often from some of one's most enthusiastic supporters, especially if the election is a keenly contested one. As the interest grows, and the days pass, pressure comes to increase the intensity of one's campaign, involving the expenditure of more and more money. It is pretty well known by one's supporters how much has been expended up to any particular moment, and, consequently, if it is known that the candidate has a considerable sum still in hand, that pressure becomes very great. At any rate that is the experience of myself and I believe of many others, and it is a condition of affairs against which there should be some safeguard. If this new Clause is not accepted, there will be an increase of permissible expenditure, in practically every constituency, of £200 or £300 as compared with the present amount. As to whether an alteration should be made in connection with boroughs, I do not feel competent to express an opinion, but I am convinced that there is room for a reduction of expenditure in county constituencies, where the conditions are somewhat different. The borough Members can, of course, speak for themselves on this question, but I believe that if this Clause is accepted, and the principle which it embodies is put into this Bill, it will not in any way entail a reduction of efficiency. Foe these reasons, I desire to support it.


I wish to support the new Clause. If I have any fault to find with it, it is that the reduction is not greater. The suggested differentiation as to the reduction being required in the counties and not in the boroughs is something I cannot understand. I have heard attempts made to explain it by some hon. Members opposite, but not one of them has given a reason why there should be even the amount of money that is at present expended. The abuses, which one can see, particularly in by-elections, of the opportunity of spending as much money as is now allowed is a clear indication. I notice that the hon. Member with whom I contested a by-election points his finger across here. The hon. Member in front of hint speaks of conditions being ideal when a constituency itself raises the money for its candidates. The constituency of Yeovil was able to find the money for its candidate—not the present Member—on three occasions without asking for any assistance from outside. As for the expenditure of the hon. Member, T am trusting to memory, but, so far as that by-election went, I think his expenses ran to somewhere about £1,100, while the Labour candidate got through on something like £400. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who got in?"1 The wrong man. I would ask: What is the justification for even retaining the expenditure at the present level?

The hon. Member for North-West Campbell (Mr. Campbell), a division in which I have lived for some years, has asked the Committee to allow an even greater expenditure, and the only point he could put forward is that it is difficult for Conservatives to make themselves heard—or understood. That would be a better way of putting it. But that is not new. I remember before Labour came into the field to the extent of its present strength, and when it was even more difficult for the two rival parties to make themselves heard in many constituencies, and in this House too. One would imagine that this difficulty of public meetings is something that is quite modern. It was much more extensive before the Labour party became anything like as numerous as we find it now. The suggestion is that because they cannot be heard, or understood, they require to expend more money in order to send literature round. Probably, as one hon. Member suggests it is for the provision of loud speakers in the home. I do not know that that comes within legitimate expenses at a Parliamentary election. Surely it is not suggested that Conservative and Liberal Members intend to send more pamphlets and circulars into the home than at present. As a matter of fact, it is not counted. The Conservative and Liberal headquarters always speak of the number of tons of paper sent round, and the hon. Member for North-West Camberwell suggests that we should be allowed to spend still more and to send ever more of this paper and what passes for literature from the other two parties.

I trust the Government will accept the Clause, and will not listen to the suggestion of increasing the figure of 5d. which now operates. I hope the Committee, by accepting this, will help to make elections something else than an opportunity for wealthy men to spend a great deal of money. The hon. and gallant Member for North Hackney (Captain Hudson) suggested that we on this side of the House have the funds of trade unions to depend on while hon. Members opposite find the money for themselves. But, judging by the number and the type of people who are sent to constituencies, particularly at by-elections, I should imagine there is a very strong central fund for that purpose. The trade unions finance many men and women who are not able to find their own election expenses, but that assistance has always been limited, and they do not spend considerable sums between elections as the hon. Member suggested. Another hon. Member spoke of the independence of those who are able to find their expenses out of their own pockets. We hear a great deal of this. I hope the expenditure is going to be kept down to the figure that is mentioned in the Clause. I wish it was much less than the figure suggested, but the fact of having expenses found, even by the trade unions, does not tie the hands or the opinions of Members on this side of the House. We have sat under this for a long time without giving the answer that ought to be made to these suggestions that are flung about. There is no condition attaching to the funds that are found by the trade unions. I hope the Clause will be carried, and I hope it will be the beginning of even greater reductions in expenditure at elections.


I have taken considerable interest in this Debate, and I cannot help thinking, from the attitude of the Socialist party; that the Government, or, at any rate, a great number of the Members on this side of the House, ought to begin to realise that at least there is some political interest taken in the attempt to curtail the activities of the Conservative party. I cannot help thinking that it is almost entirely agreed that there is absolutely nothing to be gained by saying to a man: "You must not spend more than a certain amount. You are to be limited, not because you cannot do it on the amount which we are going to stipulate, but because we think that, if you are limited, it is going to have the effect of preventing you from taking the necessary precautions to secure your return. "I have had a very considerable experience of elections. I fought many elections before the War, and I can say without fear of contradiction that I have never spent the maximum amount that I have been at liberty to spend. I do not think those hon. Members opposite who are able to fight an election on one-third of what it costs any Member on this side of the House should have taken up this attitude. It does not affect their pockets if the limit is 5d. in boroughs or 4d. in boroughs. They only spend about 2d.

They seem to be very solicitous about the pockets of the Conservatives. We appreciate their kindness in bringing forward this new Clause, but I do not think they and the Conservative Members who have put down an Amendment to this Clause, realise the difference, as was pointed out last night at the meeting, between the minimum and the maximum. [HON. MENBERS: "What meeting?"] I do not feel inclined to gratify the curiosity of hon. Members opposite. The discretion of incurring the maximum or the minimum amount of expenditure must lie entirely in the hands of the candidate. A candidate, if he has any ability at all to manage his own affairs, can tell his agent that he will not exceed a certain amount. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Rentoul) stated that sometimes the friends of the candidate forced him to incur expenditure up to the maximum amount, and he stated that there were people who knew what had been spent up to a certain period. In all my experience during the course of many elections, at any given moment I have not been able to ascertain nor have I troubled to ascertain what my agent had spent. I discuss with my agent what is necessary to be done, and if he exceeds that it is my business to deal with him, and I should take very good care that he would not act as my agent very much longer.


You would be generous.


Very generous, so long as my orders are obeyed. The question of expenditure is a very serious matter. No man is obliged to spend more than he wishes to spend. You can fight an election and win it on a very small expenditure if you are properly organised, provided that your opponent plays the game and does not at the eleventh hour spring some surprise upon you; some false charge. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite realise exactly what I mean. I always have the very unfortunate knack of saying what I mean. I have had experience of many elections and I know that the necessity sometimes arises which compels a candidate to put his hands into his pockets, no matter how reluctant he may be, in order to find more election expenses. The candidate who says that he is unable to control his election agent in the expenditure for an election is incapable of carrying on any business.

Many candidates, especially young men coming to the House of Commons, have the ambition to get into the Government. When they tell us that they cannot control the expenditure of one man, what is going to happen if and when they are put in control of a Department and of the different officials in that Department who have to spend the money of the country? If the experience of the head of the Department is such that he cannot control his agent, how can he control a Department and check the excessive expenditure of his Department. I hope that the Government will repudiate the assertion or the suspicion that they are unable to control the various Departments, through lack of experience or through lack of being able to tackle their agents. I hope they will prove by making up their minds this evening, or what they are pleased to call their minds, and deciding to give strong opposition to this curtailment not of what the expenditure must be but what in case of emergency the candidate might be compelled to spend in the interests of the country. I consider that the Conservative party is vital to the country. I hope the Government will not on this occasion be weak enough to try an experiment at the expense of the nation.

Captain FRASER

Having had the indulgence of the Committee for some little time already to-day, I propose to say but a very few words on this question. It is assumed by hon. Members who are opposing the Clause that in the boroughs at least it will do the Conservative party very grave harm. I do not believe that to be the case. I believe with the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Rentoul) that the principle factor in winning an election is not the money that is spent upon it, nor do I believe, as was suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Hackney North (Captain Hudson) that the best way to prevent your meetings being broken up and yourself being shouted down is to spend money. There are, I frankly confess, some divisions—the division of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. S. Samuel) is not one—in which a reduction in the amount to be spent per elector may produce a slight handicap on certain Conservative Members, but against that disadvantage, if it can be considered a disadvantage from a party point of view, there is the ultimate and very important advantage that you are widening the field of choice for candidates and giving the Conservative parry an opportunity of appealing to the electors more on its merits than on its inherited advantages. I submit with all earnestness that this is a point of great importance to which the leaders of the Conservative party, as statesmen rather than politicians, should give their attention.

So much has been said as to the various advantages and disadvantages of giving a Second Reading to this Clause that I do not propose to go over that ground again, but I should like to emphasise the neces- sity for taking off the Whips. I hope the Government will allow the Committee a free vote in this matter. It does not affect Government policy at all; it is a matter in which the Government need not take the responsibility. I believe a majority of hon. Members would like to see election expenses per elector reduced and I hope the Home Secretary will be able to take the Whips off and give us the opportunity of a free vote. There are some hon. Members who have come into the House within the last few moments, and I would beg them to note that we are now determining, not the final form in which election expenses in boroughs and counties will be charged, but rather the principle that some reduction can be made without any detrimental effect and with manifest advantages. It has been suggested by some that there is almost a large measure of agreement as to the need for reduction in the counties, and on that ground alone I hope that many right hon. and hon. Friends of mine will vote for this Clause. There are others who believe with me that the reduction should be made in the boroughs too. But I would point out to those who do not believe that a reduction should be made in the boroughs that they are not finally settling that matter by voting for this Clause. The Chairman has pointed out that Amendments can be moved excluding the boroughs. I earnestly hope that no such Amendment will be moved, or that, if moved, it will not be carried. But the vote which will be taken very soon is not to determine that; it will determine merely the principle that some reduction can usefully be made and should be made.

Finally, I would urge this point: Unless it can be shown that the increased money —which amounts to some £200 in the average borough and nearly £300 in the average county—is necessary. I submit that to a great number of hon. Members who fight for their seats at half or three-quarters of the limit it is very difficult to show that; and when in the elections of 1922, 1923 and 1924, with an increasing electorate, you had decreasing expenditure, it is very difficult to show that this increasing sum, or at any rate the whole of the 25 per cent. of increase, is necessary. It has been stated by other speakers that under no circumstances could the full 25 per cent. of increase of expenditure take place merely because there is an addition of 25 per cent. of electors. I submit that unless it can be shown that the money is necessary in the public interest, no party argument, no personal advantage, no other reason should stand in the way of a Second Reading of this Clause.


I hope the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) will acquit me of any desire to be discourteous if I say that his intervention in the Debate, welcome though it was, has rather diverted attention from a speech which ought to have been given a little more attention than it has received. That is the speech made by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. S. Samuel). I invite the Home Secretary to take his mind back to that speech, in order to realise the kind of argument that he is asked to adopt if he should think fit to reject the Clause. The hon. Member for Putney referred to this new Clause as an attempt to curtail the political activity of the Conservative party. Are we to understand by that, that the political activities of the Conservative party are measured, or are to be measured, by the amount of money that they spend in the constituencies?


I referred to the election where at the last moment it was necessary to contradict false statements.


I thank the hon. Member for having stated, perhaps even more clearly, the point of view which he has already expressed. The hon. Member was repeating the speech which he made apparently upstairs or in another place yesterday. [Laughter] I have no objection to the hon. Member repeating himself downstairs.


I may say that I never repeat myself.


Then all I can say is that the lion. Member ought to do so, because the more he repeats himself the more we shall be pleased. He suggested that some people on this side—I do not know whether above or below the Gangway—were incapable of knowing the difference between a maximum and a minimum. May I point out to him that those who, as a general rule, only enjoy a minimum can appreciate that difference just as clearly as those who enjoy a maximum. When the hon. Member talks about maximum and minimum ex- penses, and suggests that the person who does not wish to spend the maximum can spend less than the maximum, he, with his considerable commercial experience, must know perfectly well that your expenditure is very often largely controlled, not by what you desire but by the expenditure of your competitor.


Mine is not; yours may be.


On a point of Order. I wish to know whether it is in Order for two hon. Members to continue a private conversation?


It should be done through me.


I did not hear your ruling, Sir, but I gather that, so far, I have not gone outside the bounds of order. I am trying to follow the argument of the hon. Member for Putney and I am going to suggest that the hon. Member would not have attained the position which he has attained, unless he had followed to some extent the rule in commercial life that your expenditure is controlled by your competitor's expenditure.


Certainly not.


If one candidate is in a position to spend a, great deal more than another candidate, he must obviously gain an advantage. The hon. Member cannot expect us on this side, either those above or those below the Gangway, to follow him.


You will go in front of him.


I think I hear an hon. Member asking me "why" and my answer is that the speech betrays with only too cruel certainty what is in his mind. The hon. Member for Putney cannot expect us to follow him in the argument that it is only the Conservative party who may be called upon at the last moment to answer something and may, therefore, require to spend a large amount of money. This question of the amount of expenses touches a very important point of principle. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), when he says that this is not a question of the comparative efficiency of the three party machines. He went on to say, in parenthesis, that the difference was that the Labour party believed in their policy and that the other two parties did not. Of course, he meant the Independent Labour Party when he said that, but that, as far as I can understand it, did not really affect the question which we are discussing.

There are only two real points that affect the question that I have heard, and the first was made by the hon. and gallant Member for North Hackney (Captain Hudson), and the other was made by another hon. Member opposite. I cannot for the life of me understand the reason for the argument that the expenditure should not be increased in the county divisions but should be allowed to be increased in the boroughs, because, although I have never fought a county division, so far as I understand it, if there is any likelihood of or necessity for the expenditure of money being increased, that will be so in the counties more than in the boroughs, the reason being that in the boroughs it is true—as was said, I believe, by the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) earlier in the day, or by some other hon. Member opposite—that there is very little chance of your normal channels of expenditure being increased except in the direction of literature.

I will not follow the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) into a discussion of the comparative weights, either physical or moral of the literature issued by the different parties, but in the boroughs the main channels of expenditure, apart from literature, can scarcely be increased under this Bill. I think there is nothing in that argument, but the hon. and gallant Member for North Hackney said that the rates which are at present in the Bill were fixed as a result of the Speaker's Conference of 1918, and that there was no particular reason why they should be altered. Surely, however, the hon. and gallant Member realises that those amounts were fixed not only as the amount per elector, but also in relation to the total expenditure which would fall upon each candidate at an election, and if he is going to use that argument, we can equally say that as a result of the rates that were then fixed, a certain average maxi- mum of expenditure for a candidate was fixed at the same time, and there is equally no reason why that should be altered to the disadvantage of the candidate. But these are matters of detail.

I am going to ask the right hon. Gentleman, and I am going to plead with him, not to take the Whips off for this Division, but to keep them on and use them to urge an acceptance of this Clause. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary occupies a unique position in the politics of this country to-day. I heard him say a few weeks ago at a lunch, when he was contrasting himself with a colleague of his in the Government—and he made a very complimentary remark about his colleague—"I am what Low has made me." The right hon. Gentleman did himself less than justice, and we, on these benches, recognise and are grateful for the change which has come over the right hon. Gentleman. We are grateful for the several democratic utterances that he made this afternoon, and I am going to ask him this: Are not the main lines of the argument that was used by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Rentoul) perfectly sound? Is it not a simple and good principle that, as our democratic system is extending, the money payments of candidates should remain at as low a level as possible? That seems to me a very sound principle on which to base a decision, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman in the interests of candidates who may not otherwise be able to stand for membership of this House, if it is not a good principle as a whole that money payments should be as small as possible in order to maintain the standard of our politics at as high a level as possible?


I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

I would like to put before the Committee some facts and figures which I have had worked out, as far as they possibly can be got out, as to what the effect of the present expenditure applied to constituencies would be. Assume that the figure is roughly correct that the constituency is increased by 25 per cent. In a county constituency, where there are at present 30,000 electors, if they are increased by a quarter, the increased sum which would be provided for expen- diture would be £208. If the electorate is one of 40,000 constituents, of which there are a great number, and it is increased by 10,000, the increased expenditure allowed would be £291. Similarly, in a borough constituency of 30,000, an increase of 25 per cent. in number would give an increased expenditure of .156, and a borough constituency of 40,000, which is increased by 25 per cent., would have allowed an increased sum of £208.

The Prime Minister, in the speech which has been quoted and in other statements, stated that what we wanted was a full discussion in this House in order that the Government might receive the views of hon. Members in all sections of the House. We have had to-night a very remarkable Debate with very little, real agreement on the main lines, and I find, from the Amendments that are down, proposals made by different Members of the House ranging in counties from 7d. to 6d., 5d. and 4d., and in boroughs from 5d. to 4d., 3½d. and 3d. It must be exceedingly difficult to arrive at any decision between these very conflicting figures, and the opinions of hon. Gentlemen in all quarters of the House seem to be almost as conflicting as those figures. There is one point which I think I ought to mention, because it was made by the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), and I am sure he made a mistake, but it is a remarkable point which tells strongly against him. He was remarking about the value of money, but, if the value of money means anything, and we know there has been a great change in the value of money, and that £500 cannot buy as much printing to-day as in 1918—


That was his point.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

It will buy more now.


The whole cost of living has gone up.


Not since 1918.


I mean 1914. There are a large number of questions to be considered. There were points raised by hon. Gentlemen representing the county constituencies in regard to the question of whether it is necessary that extra expense should take place. All these questions are difficult ones, and I would ask the House, as we have had a very long and complete Debate, to allow the discussion to close and to report Progress in order that I may report to the Prime Minister the result of this discussion, and that, on Monday, when it is proposed to resume consideration of this Bill, I may be prepared to come down and state to the House the considered views of the Government after having heard the very full and clear expression of views of hon. Members in all parts of the House. I think that will meet the views of all sides.




I am not going to make a speech, but I was wondering whether the Home Secretary would not meet the Committee thus far. I think it is within the recollection of the Committee that, however much diversity of opinion there may be about the details, there has been a general agreement that the question of expenses should he dealt with. We may find ourselves, when we come to the Amendments indicated by hon. Members, in different lobbies', but I think there will be very few in a different lobby on the Second Reading of this new Clause. Would it not be very much better to get the Second Reading of the Clause—[HON. MEMBERS; "No!"]—and then report Progress and deal with the details on Monday?


I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept the suggestion I have made. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not hear all that has been said. There have been speeches on the other side in regard to the Bill.


I heard every word of it.


I am very glad, because then the right hon. Gentleman will have benefited, as I have done, by the diversity of opinion. I hope he will not press his suggestion and that the House will adjourn now. I will see that all the questions raised are most fully considered by the Prime Minister and the Government, and I hope that we may be able to arrive at a decision by Monday which may carry the opinion of the great majority of the House on both sides.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next, 23rd April.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Forward to