HC Deb 23 April 1931 vol 251 cc1177-239

The first three Amendments on the Order Paper—in page 4, line 40, to leave out the "words 'sixpence' and," and to insert instead thereof the word "word"; to leave out from the word "substituted," to the end of the Clause, and to insert instead thereof the words "the words 'fourpence halfpenny'"; and in line 41, to leave out the words "'fivepence' and 'fourpence,'" and to insert instead thereof the words "'threepence' and 'twopence'"—appear to me to cover the same point, and perhaps a general discussion had better take place on the first Amendment.


There is another point I want to put to you, Mr. Dunnico. I understand that if we get through Clauses 7, 8 and 9 before 10.30 this evening, when the Time Table ends this section of our discussions, you will allow us to go on with the discussion of the new Clauses and Schedules. I understand that the Secretary of State for the Home Department agrees with that arrangement, and Sir Robert Young, with whom I discussed the matter, also agreed, subject to the approval of the Committee; but I should like to have it clear at the beginning of our Debate.


I think that might be possible without any prejudice to the Rules. The only question is whether the Committee will agree to taking business not perhaps anticipated by hon. Members.


The point is that, under the Time Table to-day, we do not go further than the end of the Clauses. Supposing we get to the end of the Clauses before 10.30, then, I presume, we could go on with such new Clauses as are in order, and the Schedules?

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Clynes) indicated assent.

Captain BOURNE

I beg to move, in page 4, line 40, to leave out the words "words 'sixpence' and," and to insert instead thereof the word "word."

In submitting this introductory Amendment, I would point out that the effect of this Amendment and the next one on the Order Paper—in page 4, line 40, to leave out from the word "substituted" to the end of the Clause, and to insert instead thereof the words "the words 'fourpence halfpenny'"—would be to leave in the counties the present maximum scale, but to reduce the maximum scale from 5d. to 4íd. in the boroughs. It will be within the recollection of Members who sat in the last Parliament that I moved an Instruction on the last Representation of the People Bill to enable a reduction to be discussed. In that Parliament the matter was left to a free vote of the House, and there was a, general agreement that, as far as the counties were concerned, a reduction of the then maximum of 7d. to a maximum of 6d. was desirable. So far as the boroughs were concerned, there was a much more divergent opinion, and the decision was taken by a small majority to leave matters alone. The figure I am suggesting in my Amendment would have been accepted had the decision gone the other way.

I want to put the case more for the counties, because a reduction of expenses in the case of counties is in many ways much more important than a reduction in the case of the boroughs. As the Committee will remember, the scale of election expenses was considerably altered by the Principal Act in 1918, when the constituencies were largely increased in number when redistribution took place, and this had a considerable effect on the areas, while the charges of the returning officers were taken off the shoulders of the candidates. There were, I think, since 1918, four elections in the winter, and the experience of hon. Members who contested county divisions was that the sum allowed under the 1918 Act was unnecessarily large, and consequently, in 1928, the sum was reduced from 7d. to 6d.

The first point I want to make is this: In 1929, we had an election in May, not like the previous elections. It was fought when the days were long, when darkness did not fall until after the end of the day's compaign, and when it was very much easier for hon. Members, in the country especially, to hold their meetings out-of-doors and not in hired buildings. Those things do make a very considerable difference in the election expenses of a candidate, because we all know, especially in country districts in the winter—and I have taken part in more than one county election—that you cannot hold open-air meetings, and therefore you are compelled to hold your meetings in hired rooms after dark. Even if you use the powers conferred in 1918 and take for your meetings, as you are entitled to take, elementary schools for the purpose, you still have to pay the charges for lighting and heating those schools, as heating in the winter months in this country is essential if a meeting is to be held in comfort. Take the case of a very large county constituency. A candidate who wishes to make himself and his views known to the electorate may very easily hold between 100 and 180 meetings in the course of an election, and the probability is he will not get off with less than 7s. 6d. per meeting merely for heating and lighting, which, in the aggregate, comes to something between £75 and £100.

There is a second peculiarity with regard to counties. We must remember that in these days, when we are fixing a maximum of election expenses, we are fixing a statutory maximum, and not a sum which must he spent in all cases up to the limit. I submit to the Committee that, in fixing a statutory maximum of any sort or kind, we are bound to take into account what is really fair and reasonable in the most difficult cases. It is not fair to put a, difficult constituency upon the same basis as a comparatively easy one. In the course of the Debate last night, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) instanced the fact that he has a compact constituency, and that in regard to motor cars the maximum number proposed in the Amendment which stood in my name would be a great deal larger than he needed. I agree that in the case of a compact constituency the expenses may be a great deal lighter, but we want to consider what is fair in regard to big scattered county constituencies with a not very large population, but with very large distances to cover and great difficulty of getting any communication whatever between candidates and the electors, and where the number of meetings which have to be held in the course of a contest is very considerable.

It is an interesting fact that when, in 1928, we increased the electorate by granting the vote to women at the age of 21 and over, and at the same time cut down the election expenses in county constituencies from 7d. to 6d., the effect was that in certain county constituencies the total amount available for a candidate to spend in respect of a very much increased electorate was actually smaller than he was allowed to spend in 1924 on a smaller electorate. That is a point which requires to be taken into consideration in fixing the maximum charge per head of the constituency. I feel that there is a good case for leaving the counties alone at the present moment. Since the last reduction was made, we have only had one election, and it was an election held in the summer. When the light lasts long into the evening, and it is easy to get about, and outdoor meetings are easy and desirable, and in other ways, election expenses are not as high as they are in the winter. I submit to the Government that it is desirable to allow that reduction as far as the counties are concerned to remain in force a little longer until we have had greater experience.

I know the answer which the right hon. Gentleman will give—and it applies equally to counties and boroughs—is that the return of election expenses in respect of the last election in May, 1929, showed very few candidates had spent up to the maximum now suggested by the Government. I have been through that return with extreme care, and I agree that the figures bear out that result, but hon. Members must remember that the election of 1929 took place in the summer. If we had another summer election, I agree that the number of members of any party who would be likely to exceed these limits would be exceedingly small. But I do not think that you can argue in favour of the reduction from the experiences of a summer election. It has been my experience to fight four elections, two during the summer, and two in the winter. In both cases in the summer months I was able to cut my expenses very largely owing to the fact that open air meetings were possible, and that canvassers had far more opportunity of getting about. They had better weather, and had not to canvass on wet nights, which people dislike. For this reason the literature required to be distributed was infinitely less than was the case in the winter.


Let us have them all in the summer.

Captain BOURNE

I would remind the hon. Member—and it is a point worthy of consideration—that under the statutory limitation on time which is imposed in this House, a summer-time election is not a very easy matter. There are very strict limitations by Statute on the question of finance. It is very difficult to hold an election during the summer months because of the business which the Government have to get through during those months. There are these obligations under the Rules of the House, and therefore a summer election, except under exceptional circumstances, is, I believe, likely to be very rare.


It would be a good year in 1934.

Captain BOURNE

I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the election will not take place in the summer of 1934, but on some earlier and more sudden date, even if this Parliament survives until very near its legal limit. The easiest time for any Government to have an election, no matter what party is in power, is in the autumn, and the expense is likely to be as much in the future as it has been in the past. That is a point of view which should be taken into consideration.

There is another point which I want to submit on the question of election expenses generally. There can be little doubt that the ordinary Member of Parliament, no matter in what quarter of the House he sits, is desirous of keeping down his election expenses to a minimum. Many of us keep far below the sum which we are entitled to expend. It must be remembered that compared with candidates, and especially candidates who come forward to contest seats at the last moment, we, as Members, are in a very favoured position. It is one of the reasons why I am leaving the limit as at present in the counties. The ordinary Member who does his duty to his consti- tuents receives through his local Press a vast amount of gratuitous advertisement. When we go down to open a bazaar, to attend some public dinner, or to hold a public meeting, it is reported in the public Press and our names are brought before the electorate. Our constituents are in the habit of writing to us—which is a penalty we all have to suffer—and in various ways our names and our activities are brought plainly, week after week, in front of the electors whom we represent. Although perhaps we may not realise it, it is the greatest advertisement that our names should be known and be familiar.

Take the case of the candidate who is adopted shortly before a Dissolution. He has to make himself known to one of the big electorates—and our modern electorates are indeed very large—perhaps to some 50,000 or 60,000 people in a very short space of time. Although it may be true that a large number of the electorate vote on purely political grounds, I do not think that anyone will deny that there is a considerable section of the electorate who perhaps are not particularly attached to any political party and who give their votes at an election largely on personal grounds as between the contesting candidates. If a candidate is to have a fair chance, not only his views but his personality and his name must be fairly familiar to all sections of the electorate.

I submit to the Committee, very seriously, that anything which tends to cut down election expenses is a definite benefit to the sitting Member. As I have said, we have had the advertisement and are known, whereas a new candidate has to fight and make himself known over a large area in the county, and, in the borough, among a vast number of people. He has need for more posters, more literature, and more general advertising than is necessary in the case of any one of us. Have we the right to make the job of the man who comes forward and wishes to put his view in front of the country and believes that his view is the correct one, and that ours is the wrong one, for our own ends, more difficult than it naturally will be I put that point forward very seriously. I have said that we in the provinces get help from the local Press, but you must remember that the London Member is without that help. London is served largely by the national Press, and the local activities of the Member are far less distributed through his constituency than is the case with many of us. Most of our meetings are reported and generally largely read by our constituents.


I am going to place before the Committee the proposals contained in an Amendment standing in my name and the names of other hon. Members—in page 4, line 41, to leave out the words "fivepenee' and fourpence,'" and to insert instead thereof the words "'threepence' and 'twopence.'" I am urging a more drastic reduction in the political expenses than is proposed in the Bill. I have listened with very great interest to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), and I appreciate very fully his point of view on this matter. I am sure that the limits proposed in the Amendment which has been put upon the Paper are more than sufficient to meet all the difficulties that admittedly exist between winter and summer elections, between town and country, and also between the relative prospects of the sitting Member and the rising candidate who is endeavouring to displace him.

It seems to be rather a small thing to be arguing and fighting about, "four-pence halfpenny" and "threepence," and "fivepence" and "sixpence," but there is involved in the whole question the tremendous principle of democracy and how our political life should be conducted. It covers the whole way in which we approach the electors, it covers the way in which the electors apply their minds to the problems in front of them at an election, and it also affects our way of carrying on the procedure of this House. There is doubt in my mind, after sitting in two or three Parliaments, that the question of heavy election costs is one factor which is present in the minds of Members when they have to cast a vote which would mean either a Dissolution or not. I do not suggest that there is not in the minds of Members of this House questions of greater principle, but that fact is there. Personally, I should not have minded if this Parliament had lasted only six months. The Government ought to have appealed to the country for a wider and a more definite mandate. I think it would have been good for this country, good for the House of Commons and good for future progress. But there are 615 of us here, and we are involved in taking that decision. If I may say so of hon. and right hon. Members on the other side, although they breathe threats of slaughter against the present Government, there has been a very marked indisposition to put them out of office.



Lieut. - Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL

On the part of hon. Members below the Gangway.


I know about them and I know about us. I am speaking as a fairly unbiased looker-on, and the impression that has been conveyed to me is that the Members of the Conservative party have not been disposed to put the Government out. [Interruption.] Well, I am merely giving it as my individual opinion.


If the hon. Member is merely using that as an illustration incidental to his argument I will allow him to go on, but it must not develop into the argument.


Is it in order for the hon. Member to impute motives and to suggest that every action taken by hon. Members on these benches is insincere.


I would suggest that the hon. Member should not take the statement of the hon. Member too seriously.


I would certainly withdraw at once if I had made a charge of insincerity against hon. Members opposite. I am merely suggesting that there are gradations in the intensity of sincerity. The point that I wanted to make was that, in coming to a decision of that description, the question of whether a man personally is going to be faced by an expenditure, in many cases, I understand, a personal expenditure of £1,000, will be an influence of a different quality than it would be if the expenditure was £500 or £200. Therefore, this is a matter of considerable constitutional importance. In our approach to the electors it is our business to put a plain, straight case before them. There are two, or perhaps three, divisions of opinion which should be put to the electors plainly, simply and straightforwardly, without any attempt to arouse passion and heat or to make the people think that it is a great festival or an orgy of passion. I do not suggest that the late Secretary of State for Air, or the late Under-Secretary of State for India, or the late President of the Board of Education should go into the country and start telling the people what a lot of treacherous dogs and revolutionary—


I can see no possible end to this discussion if we proceed on those lines.


I respect your Ruling, but I know that there is an end in sight at 10.30, by means of the Guillotine. The point that I am trying to put forward is, that if you are going into a General Election that is going to be a great orgy of passion, a stirring up of hatred and so on, you will go into all sorts of expenditure for great posters that will play up to that passion. You will arrange great demonstrations, with loud speakers and gramophones and all sorts of things, and there will be a general resort to the rousing of mob passions, which will cost money, whereas if you go to the electorate on the assumption that there are two or three lines of political thought in this country that are each capable of demonstration by simple, intelligent men in a simple intelligent way—[Laughter] I am very serious about this—and with a realisation that the people that you are going t-? meet are simple, intelligent people, capable of forming an opinion, it is a different matter.

Then, you do not need any elaborate expenditure. You do not need the beating of big drums. What you do need is an opportunity of meeting your electorate face to face and an opportunity of the electorate meeting you face to face, to hear you propound your views, and an opportunity for the electorate to form an opinion on those views and as to whether you are the type of candidate capable of standing up to those views. You have the right to give the electorate an opportunity of seeing you, hearing you and reading your views in print. If you limit your conception of electioneering to doing these two things, you have more than ample room to do them within the figures that are proposed in our Amendment.

It may be said that I am thinking of a comparatively easy borough constituency. My election experience has not been limited to my own Division. Before coming into the House of Commons I was a full-time worker for my organisation and on many occasions I had to take responsibility for the running of elections. I know that other constituencies are not all as easy as my own. I can go the whole length and breadth of my constituency on a penny tram, and the electorate can come and hear me for a similar or less expenditure. It is a good constituency and they have a good candidate. Those two things are not always found together. Never in the course of the elections that I have fought in that Division has it been necessary to reach an expenditure of over £200. On the one occasion that I did go over £200, I was beaten. That taught me a lesson which has never had to be retaught. I have strictly kept my expenditure under the £200. On the last two occasions I brought it under the £100 expenditure. Therefore, I think that I am making ample provision in my Amendment, which allows £333 in a borough constituency with a 40,000 electorate, which more than compensates for the advantage that Members in Divisions like my own happen to enjoy.

The hon. and gallant Member for Oxford does not know in the whole of England a constituency that is more difficult from the point of view of transport than the Argyllshire Division of Scotland. There you have mainland and you have a peninsula. You have to get from the mainland to the Mull of Cantyre by road. To go a distance of 40 sea, miles you have a road journey of several hundred miles. You have islands remote from the mainland. Yet, when I was responsible for electioneering in that area in 1920, when expenses were heavy for motor cars, sea travel, etc., it was passible to cover that constituency adequately and effectively on an expenditure of £250. Therefore, leaving the margin as our Amendment does for a county Division of £500, on a basis of a 40,000 electorate, we are leaving a maximum which is well above all that experience has proved to us to be perfectly adequate to meet the situation. The hon. and gallant Member for Oxford also made a strong point about advertisement. It is a fact that we get a certain amount of advertisement. We get a lot of advertisement of a kind, but it is usually of the wrong kind. I do not know whether the pro-advertisement that we get for our activities in the work of this House is not neutralised by the anti-advertisement so far as electioneering is concerned.

The hon. and gallant Member made a point about the new man who is unknown in the constituency and who has to make himself known in the short period of three weeks' electioneering. That comes right up against my whole conception of democracy in politics. It reminds me of what we have called the "carpet bagger." That, of course, applies in all parties. Normally, the Member of Parliament evolves from the area to which he belongs, or he evolves in a movement that stands for the sort of idea for which he is proposing to stand on the Floor of the House of Commons. Generally he has a record of public service and is usually the type of man who has proved himself to be capable of doing public work in an effective and efficient way. Therefore, we need not be unduly sensitive about giving our possible successors a fair show. I have no doubt that in practically all the constituencies there are people to-day who think that they are more competent than any of us to do our job. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Marjoribanks) shakes his head.


I did not move my head.


Perhaps it was due to my astigmatism. There are men all over the country who are proving themselves by public activities of one kind and another to be capable men and their names are known to the people, so that when they go into a Parliamentary election they do not go in as unknown men who feel that they have to compensate for their anonymity by spending thousands of pounds. I would remind the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford that in the recent by-election in the northern part of the City of London there was a candidate who stood without the support of any of the great political parties. I refer to East Islington. The candidate's name was Critchley. In the short period of three weeks would he go beyond the expenditure that was permitted? [Interruption.] I hope hon. Members opposite do not suggest that there was any illegality. His name came to be known throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain. It shows that if a man comes forward for a great principle and is prepared to stand fearlessly for it the free Press of this country will give him all the advertisement possible. [Interruption.] I am sorry to have to end on what hon. Members opposite seem to regard as a humorous note. It is only in the last week or two that they have been able to regard it as humorous, they thought it was going to be a tragedy but, fortunately, right has triumphed, as it always does. I hope the Committee will recognise that while the lower limits to which expenditure can be brought is a matter for a man's personal control there are upward limits which this Committee should set, and the upward limits in the Amendment we propose are completely adequate for effective electioneering work in this country.


The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) is inclined in this matter to draw too much on his own experience. If a vote were taken as to the 12 most popular Members in this House he would be very near the top of the poll. He has no trouble in filling the halls in Bridgeton, no trouble in getting a hearing, such is the power of his personality here and in Bridgeton. But I am not quite sure that it is always as easy for his opponent to draw the crowds in Bridgeton or if he gets them into a hall quite as easy for him to get a hearing as it is for the hon. Member. Therefore, I beg him, when we are considering 615 seats and some 1,500 to 1,800 candidates, not to be too idealistic about the personal power and attraction of his opponents, or even of his friends, by considering them in terms of his own personality. We have not to legislate for the exceptional candidate like the hon. Member; we are fixing a limit for all candidates, and it is a serious matter for those who have to run elections.

The fact is that it is quite impossible for any party to run certain elections in this country on the limit now imposed. Take the case of a big county by-election in which the three parties are concerned, where the constituency stretches for 55 miles across the country, and where you have 120 villages. The supporters of all parties in that constituency expect to have prominent speakers from the House of Commons and outside to represent the views of the parties and they expect sometimes to have the leaders of the parties. I have myself seen a list of 20 and 25 and 30 Members of this House who have been down to such a by-election, and everybody knows that when such a by-election occurs in a county area like the limit at present in force is not adequate. If the law is broken it is a serious matter. Sometimes it is broken, and sometimes agents are found out; and that is a very serious thing for an agent.

We have to fix a limit so that a reasonable campaign can be carried out in all types of constituencies by all parties. That is our problem. The boroughs I think might be less, although I am not quite so sure about London. The point made by the hon. Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) that it is sometimes difficult for a candidate to make himself known to the electors in a provincial constituency without a higher range of expenditure is one which should receive consideration. Hon. Members opposite are not quite fair sometimes as regards other parties when they are discussing this matter. I have been in some elections in which it has been said that the Labour candidate has been supported by voluntary workers. In fact, they were actually official trade union leaders, drafted into the constituency from outside, seconded by their trade unions and paid by their trade unions. Their expenses never appeared in the election expenses of the candidate; yet the claim was made that their work was voluntary. I have actual cases in mind and, therefore, it is no question of one party throwing stones at another. Our job is to make the law so that no party should spend more in these elections than the legal limit.

Take a great County constituency like Galloway. You have Dumfries, and then to the Mull of Galloway it is 100 miles by road with a great stretch of wild country in the centre and a large number of polling stations; and if you get a winter election it will take any candidate all his or her time really to do that constituency as it should be done inside the limit provided in the Act of Parliament. If it is a by-election the demand of the constituency is to have a great debate between the three parties not merely in the terms of the personalities of the candidates but of the leading members of the parties, and I am quite sure that it is a difficult thing for any party thoroughly to organise such a campaign inside the present county limit. The hon. Member for Bridgeton will be well advised, when considering his own Amendment, to realise the differnce there is between a wild county constituency and his own and, indeed, between one county constituency and another.

I have fought all kinds of constituencies myself, and I have never exceeded the limit, but I am perfectly certain that there are many constituencies so large, so scattered, and so varied in their needs that it puzzles the candidates and the agents in making a return of the costs to the Home Office to bring the total expenditure within the limits laid down in the Act of Parliament. I am sure that 3d. for a county constituency will be admitted by the agents of every party to be thoroughly insufficient to run a normal general election and quite outside the range of possibility for any by-election. I am rather inclined to take the view of the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne). The limit in the Bill for boroughs might perhaps stand, with some thought as to London; but I am not quite sure that the minimum on which you can fight allowing for every type of constituency, is the sum which is proposed, and, allowing for the greater expenditure in by-elections, I think that the figure of the hon. Member for Oxford should not go into the Bill.


The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) assured us that he approached this question without any bias and, of course, we accept that assurance, but it really was a little like Satan reproving sin when he suggested that it was quite unnecessary to go tub thumping. Does the hon. Member suggest that no one has ever voted for him because of the gross dereliction of duty on the part of his hairdresser?


I have no information.


We have to deal with facts and not with ideals. The electors have to be approached, and they are not always approachable with the barren arguments which are so skillfully put forward by the hon. Member when he addresses his electors. This is a question which has to be approached on the basis of real facts. No one will think that I am one who wants an unduly heavy expenditure on elections. I went through the experience of fighting three elections in 12 months, and my bankers have not yet got over the shattering effect. I am not looking forward to spending more money than is necessary even for the privilege of adorning the benches on the other side of the House. It is not my own point of view that I am voicing. The hon. Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) has pointed out that we have to consider not only the conditions of well known hon. Members in their own constituencies and weather conditions in summer but the worst possible conditions in the worst possible constituencies in the worst possible time of the year.

Surely the Committee is not going to fool itself by putting in imaginary low limits which are very desirable but which we know are going to be departed from, and which agents will get round. That is the case with all legislation which cannot really be carried out. There is a great difference between an election in a county constituency fought during the summer and fought during the winter. We in the West Country divide these times into Lloyd George's time and God's time, and it makes a great deal of difference to the amount of your election expenses under which of these dispensations you happen to appeal to the electors. The question of distance has been mentioned. It would be an excellent thing if hon. Members opposite could swop constituencies with those who sit for rural areas. It would be an extremely good experience for them, and they would realise the actual difficulty of fighting such constituencies. You have long distances to go through these tremendously scattered areas, to get to these little centres, a hamlet, a little group of cottages, consisting perhaps of a dozen or 20 cottages, not big enough to have a parish hall or a church; but you have to have a meeting there, and if you get 50 people at the meeting you have got the entire population. It costs just as much time, and, money, and transportation to have that meeting as going to your big centre and addressing 5,000 or 10,000 people. 5.0 p.m.

Those are situations that hon. Members opposite do not appreciate. At the last election I read the Riot Act to my agent, in view of my financial position, and said, "You have got to cut down my expenses to the bone." I am glad to say that I was able to get away with a great deal less than the limit that was allowed although it was a terrific expenditure; but I remember when I first fought a by-election. The hon. Member for Bridgeton said that nowadays the general tendency was that the constituency, as it were, produced its own representative and threw cold water on what it called the carpet-bagger. I do not think that is fair. After all, what the constituencies want is to have a good representative in the House of Commons, and, while I think it is true that if you can have a local production, it has its advantages, a so-called carpet-bagger, if he is a more able representative, is a better Member for a constituency than the home production who is a dud, without saying which category I fill.

On the occasion of my first by-election, I had lived in my constituency for some few years. I had tried to do a job of work of a semi-public nature, but I was' not known. Circumstances happened that I was called upon to fight a by-election, and I had to get known. Talk about the rural amenities! I absolutely ruined the beauty of the countryside with a reproduction of the front of my head in every available spot. It cost a lot of money, but it achieved its purpose. It got to certain electors who took a different point of view from those who calmly accept the logical arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Bridgeton, but the reproduction was so unlike me that I won the election. The expense was just the same, whether the reproduction was good, bad, or indifferent, but I have not had to incur that expenditure again. My constituents have never forgotten the shock, and the result is that now I am able to fight an election within the law and at a cost—I wish it were half what it has to be now—that is a great deal less than the limit now proposed.

I should like to draw attention to the fact that it is not very long ago that we reconsidered this question and made a considerable reduction. Do not hon. Members think that it is rather soon to make a still further drastic reduction, such as is suggested by the hon. Member for Bridgeton and his friends? I think it is quite possible, though I hesitate to give a figure, because I have never represented a borough, to reduce the cost per head in the boroughs, but I am quite sure that, if we cut down the cost per head in the rural constituencies, we shall be losing sight of the questions of by-elections and of new candidates, and shall therefore set for all cases a maximum which will be impossible to live up to.

Hon. Members opposite, as they showed yesterday also, want to have exact equality of opportunity in all the different parties, and therefore we are to legislate down to the lowest. They would do away with the use of motor cars and therefore cut down to an absurd minimum what is allowed to be spent. It is impossible to deal with it in that way. After all, one candidate is probably better than another. Do they want to legislate to handicap them? Do they suggest that the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) shall only speak with one lung in order to equalise another candidate who is not so blessed by Providence in his way of getting a message across? The thing is ludicrous, and therefore we have to think on a much wider basis and take into consideration the exceptional cases, because limy must come under the maximum which you are putting down.

I suggest that while it is the object of all of us, particularly in these hard times—and we have in our minds what we are going to hear next Monday—to cut down our expenditure in every possible way, we must appreciate the fact that our constituents, particularly the very scattered ones, have a right to hear the point of view, the message, of the candidates, and to do that, in many of these constituencies, is unavoidably expensive. Therefore, it is absurd to deceive ourselves by putting in an Act of Parliament a maximum sum for all conditions, which we know under special conditions cannot really be lived down to. I support the Amendment very strongly.


I hope the Committee is going to vote for the Bill as it stands with regard to expenses. I should be very glad indeed if one could say that the limit suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) was a practicable proposition Perhaps it is for a General Election, but it is a very small amount indeed for a by-election, with all the particular circumstances that surround a, by-election and make it more difficult to fight. I have no sympathy whatsoever with those who want to keep to the present higher limit or with the more modified view of the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne). I have, however, very great sympathy with the hon. and gallant Member for Yeovil (Major G. Davies), because he made a somewhat careless statement in addressing the Committee. He told us that his first elections were extremely expensive, but that on the occasion of his last election he said dramatically to his agent, "Cut it down to the bone." Unfortunately for the hon. and gallant Member, I have here the election expenses return published on the 16th April, 1930, which gives in detail the expenses of every Member who was returned at the last General Election, and as the hon. and gallant Member made that dramatic statement, I turned to the page which gives his election expenses. The permitted amount of his election expenses was £1,133, and the total of his election expenses returned was £1,008. The cutting down to the bone left a good deal of meat still on!


I very carefully stopped when I said that I had told my agent to cut it down to the bone. I did not say what his idea of a bone was. He heard from me afterwards.


The impression that the hon. and gallant Member left upon us was that on the last occasion he got off a bit more lightly, but the difference, as I say, is not very large for that very bony election. The hon. and gallant Member for Oxford suggested that we should have more experience of elections under the present limit. As far as hon. Members on this side are concerned, they do not require more experience in that matter, and I hardly think that the country would agree to a continuance of the present level when it is definitely proved that you can run elections at a lower figure. It is, after all, a wasteful expenditure of money to make elections cost more. If you take the figures of the last election, it is no use saying that that election was in the summer and that therefore you did not have to have indoor meetings, because on the whole, while the expenditure of Labour candidates was very much lower than that of the candidates of other parties, especially of the Tory party, actually their expenditure on public meetings was often more than that of the Tory candidates. Therefore, there is no sign whatever that the expenditure of the party which has by long habit made a, speciality of open-air meetings, was decreased during that election, and our elections are run for a very much lower figure.

I will give the difference. On the whole, if you take the average expenses of all the candidates in the English and Welsh counties, which are the highest, you get the figures of 3.14d. and 3.29d. Those are the highest figures, and the average for all candidates. As far as Labour candidates are concerned, these are the figures—and I am quoting the returns from the official report. They show the following figures for the boroughs: London, 1.80d.; the English boroughs outside London, 2.04d.; the Welsh boroughs, 2.03d.; and the Scottish burghs, 1.35d. Take the counties. The average per Labour candidate in the English counties is 1.91d., in the Welsh counties 2.15d., and in the Scottish counties 1.81d. You get a very different picture when you look at the expenditure of Conservative candidates. The highest figure there is for the English counties, 4.7d., and the next highest figure is for the Welsh counties, 4.53d., the Scottish counties' figure being 3.47d. With regard to the boroughs, the figures range from 3.25d. for the Scottish burghs up to 3.88d. for the English boroughs; the Welsh boroughs are 3.4d. and London boroughs, 3.7d.

It is perfectly clear, that, on the average, Conservative candidates can fight their elections within the figures suggested by this Bill. It is a fact that there are cases in which they fight at a much higher figure, but, in our opinion, it is a very good thing to bring those who conduct election work up against the problem of getting their message to the electors with a smaller expenditure of money, and as it is quite clear that even in the Conservative party they can manage their elections at a lower cost, we think it is reasonable to say that they must bring them all down to a lower cost. Their average is well within the figures suggested, and I submit that there is no need to make those special proposals put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford.

If hon. Members look at the details of expenditure, they will find, it is quite true, that a great difference exists between Conservative expenditure on printing and literature and for assistance by clerks and so on, and Labour expenditure. The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) suggests that that is because, in an election conducted by the Labour party, numbers of trade unions officials are brought in to do that work. As a very experienced person in running Labour party elections, as the hon. Member for Leith was kind enough to point out, may I say that it is an extremely unusual thing to have help on that side of election work from any trade union officials and that such trade union officials as give that help, give it, like other members of the Labour party, freely and voluntarily, in their own time?

I myself have fought only one election as a candidate. In that election, with over 100,000 electors, we fought with a legal limit of over £2,000, but spent just £800, and in spite of the fact that by far the majority of the people assisting us were unemployed people, many of them receiving Poor Law assistance, our total sum for expenditure that kind was less than £50. I have had it suggested to me that we were employing blacklegs, because we did not pay people to do work like that, and that other parties paid for such work. All I can say is that Members of the Labour party consider that as citizens part of their duty is to give their time freely, and that they have a vast deal more of this assistance from those who give their time, instead being paid to do a little bit of writing, as apparently they would be by other parties.

Captain GUNSTON What is the difference between the parties in the expenditure on speakers?


I said, with regard to meetings, that our expenditure was in many cases higher than the expenditure a the Conservative party. We have not paid speakers, but our speakers' expenses must be paid. That is the ordinary method of all parties. But it will be found that much Labour party work is done freely and voluntarily. That can be seen in the returns. The expenses of meetings are shown in the ordinary way in the election return, and as far as I know the return which I have quoted is available for anyone who likes to ask for it. Let me revert to the question of paid help. As I said, we have been considered as acting unfairly. Those Members who make that suggestion belong to a party which has an enormous number of supporters without occupation—persons of leisure, persons living comfortable lives, persons able to give their time without any sacrifice whatever to themselves. It is surprising that, in spite of that, so much money is paid for help which has to be obtained on an ordinary financial basis. My ideal of a party is a party which at any time of crisis, such as an election, has hundreds of thousands of people ready to come forward and freely to give every possible effort to bring their cause to success, and that a party which cannot so rely upon workers from its own ranks ought not to ask for special concessions in regard to the amount of expenditure permitted in order to give as paid employment what in our opinion they should seek to get freely from the members of their organisation.


Is the hon. Lady not forgetting that we are legislating not merely for the two or three, big parties in the House now, but that a candidate may not be a member of a party at all? We ought to provide sufficient expenses to cover a reasonable amount of work to be paid for at a reasonable rate.


I do not think we should contemplate persons who belong to a line of thought or to a group which has not sufficient support in the constituencies to conduct the work of an election. I do not think we should specially provide a scale of expenses for everyone in order to meet extravagant needs. Such persons are not fit to run candidates on that basis. They should wait until the support of the country is such as to enable them to make their way with the assistance of electors who believe in their policy. If I go back to the old times when the Labour party was making its way, we certainly never wanted to reach and never could have reached a limit of expenditure higher than that now suggested in the Bill. There is one more point that I want to mention. Hon. Members have dealt with the great expenditure in county divisions in getting candidates known. I am very largely in agreement with what the hon. Member for Bridgeton said about that. If a candidate is a stranger in a constituency that candidate ought at least to be someone who by his or her public work has become sufficiently known, and no great expenditure should be necessary in making him or her known. But that does not apply to a by-election where the field for candidates is necessarily a narrower one. You must have someone to come forward just at that moment, and it may be the case that the candidate is new to the constituency. Therefore, unless you are going to adopt a completely different scale for by-elections and general elections, you must have a little more margin allowed in the Bill in order that you can cover the needs of both occasions.

I hope that hon. Members opposite will agree with the conclusion to which we on this side have come, that the less money spent on elections the better for the community and the better for the elector. The ideal is that we should have to do no more than publish an election address and hold meetings throughout a constituency. The fact is that parties are apt to spend a great deal too much in stunt work during an election. The smaller the amount allowed in expenditure during the contest the more the parties will be driven back to an endeavour to rouse the interest of the constituency during the period between elections, and so to develop an interest amongst the electors which will not need all this whipping up when the time of an election comes.


The hon. Member for Sunderland (Dr. Phillips) has made a very interesting speech. She has quoted her own experience in Sunderland. In view of recent events it is open to doubt whether the methods that she adopted at the last election will be equally successful at the next.

Dr. PHILLIPS Why not?


I am judging from the by-election.


If the hon. Baronet will look at the vote on that occasion he will see that we have been amply repaid. For the moment we have had a misfortune, but we fully expect that that misfortune will be redressed.


The future will decide between us. I think we can all approach this question on non-party lines. It is a question upon which every Member of the House has an equal right to express his opinion and to give his vote. We are talking about something that we all know within our own experience. So far the Debate seems to me to show at least a certain measure of agreement. We all wish to keep elections as cheap as possible; there is no question about that at all. The cheaper the better, from everyone's point of view. Secondly, we all wish that there should be no corruption at elections, that elections should be carried on honestly and above board. There is no difference of opinion between us on that point either. Thirdly, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said earlier, the case of the parties should be put to the electors with the greatest efficiency and the least possible expenditure. The difference between us, if difference there is, arises when we come to apply those three principles. Hitherto we have had a fairly high maximum—a maximum, after all, and not a minimum—within which candidates have been free to spend at election times. There has been no compulsion that they should spend up to that maximum. Indeed the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Sunderland show that a great majority of Members spend well below the maximum. The figures for the last election and the 1924 election show clearly that the great majority of Members spend far below their legal maximum.

If you bring the maximum down too low you will get what we hoped we had got out of our public life—a recurrence of the corrupt practices that were abolished during the nineteenth century by a whole series of Corrupt Practices Acts. It is no answer to point to the average expense of elections. I admit that the average expense is much below the legal maximum, but there is a substantial number of seats in which a reduction of the expenditure would place the candidates in great difficulty. If we have the legal maximum proposed in this Bill there would still be no fewer than 80 seats, judged by the expenditure at the last election, that would come above that maximum. The risk, therefore, is that if you put the maximum too low you will have what we have not now in our public life—evasion and secret corrupt practices, and a recurrence to the bad old state of affairs in our public life. Moreover, it is not a sufficient answer for the hon. Member for Sunderland to tell us that the expenses of the Labour party are low because more work is done voluntarily than is done by Members of the Conservative party. I do not believe that that is so. I believe that the difference between the returns of the two parties is not due to the fact that the Labour party has more voluntary workers than we have, but is due to the fact that we return certain expenses that are very often not returned by Labour candidates.

Let me tell hon. Members what I mean by that statement. I am not now making vague charges or charges of corrupt practices, but I am pointing to the fact that there is quite obviously a different procedure with election returns between the two parties. Indeed, during the course of the Ullswater Conference we discussed this question. It was clear to many of us, when we discussed the question with the organising agent of the Labour party, that there was this divergence of procedure between the two parties. For instance, at the last election, nine Socialist Members in London returned no expenses for clerks and messengers at all; 23 returned amounts of between £1 and £25, and eight returned amounts of between £100 and £200. Obviously those great divergencies show a considerable difference of procedure even within the Labour party. Take the English counties. There, 32 Labour Members returned no expenditure under this head at all, whereas 11 returned amounts of between £100 and £200. I could go through the various categories of contests at the last election and give other instances, but it is quite clear to anyone who studies, impartially, these figures—which are public property—that there are to-day many Labour candidates not returning in their election returns an adequate amount for expenditure on clerks and messengers. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Hon. Members say "No." Let them, in the course of this Debate, justify the kind of figures which I have just quoted. I could add several more instances, if I had time, taken from the public return in connection with the last election. That consideration has to be taken into account. It is quite obvious, at any rate to me, that expenses have not been in the returns of certain candidates which ought to have been in those returns.


Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the clerks in these instances were paid but that the payment was not put into the return?


I suggest one of two things. Either they were paid and it was not returned, or they were not paid and they ought to have been paid. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] For this reason. The hon. Lady the Member for Sunderland ought to know, in view of her great experience of political organisation, that there are certain items against which actual sums of money have to be placed in an election return. For instance, a candidate cannot have his committee rooms for nothing. Even though a friend may offer him the use of committee rooms, he has to put expenditure into his return against the item for committee rooms, and so it is in the case of clerks and messengers. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I understand that the hon. Lady says "No." That is a legal point between us, and, possibly, the Solicitor-General or the Home Secretary will deal with it later, but, certainly, according to the information which I have and which appeared to be confirmed during the discussions at the Ullswater Conference, it is quite definite that expenditure ought, legally, to be included for these items.

Let me proceed to another feature of the problem which we ought to take into account before coming to a decision. During yesterday's Debate various suggestions were made which were excellent in themselves but which would certainly increase the expenditure on elections. For instance, there was the interesting suggestion of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) that there should be a travelling polling booth—that motors should go round from village to village, bringing, as he said, the poll to the elector, instead of the elector to the poll. That may be a very good suggestion but if it were adopted it would involve heavier expense. Again, an appeal was made for more polling stations, particularly in the county constituencies. That is a suggestion which is sure to be made every time we discuss electoral reform, and it is a suggestion which probably, some time or other, will be carried into effect, but it will entail raising the expense of elections. In coming to a decision to-day we must contemplate the possibility of these further items of expenditure being imposed on candidates and agents.

Having put those views before the Committee and my own opinion upon the subject, may I sum up by saying that all the facts seem to point to the necessity for acting with caution in this matter. The Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) seems to be a wise and cautious proposal. It leaves the counties as they are, but makes reductions in the boroughs. I am prepared to go as far as that, but I should not be prepared to go anything like the length suggested by the hon. Member for Bridgeton, and I have great hesitation in going as far as the Government's proposal in the Bill. Past experience shows that we have need to go cautiously in a matter of this kind. The last change made was only made a short time ago. Only one election has lien fought since that change was made, and, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford showed, it was fought under very favourable conditions as regards expenditure. It was a summer election, in which open air meetings took the place of meetings in halls. I suggest that we have not yet had sufficient experience to enable us to go further than the cautious proposal which my hon. and gallant Friend has made this afternoon and if he presses it to a Division I shall certainly support it.


We have had a number of very interesting and helpful speeches, but there was one point in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) with which I must to some extent quarrel, because there was in it the implication that Labour candidates incurred expenses which they did not enter in their returns, or, that on the other hand, if they got certain assistance without payment it was labour of a kind for which payment ought to be made. I can say from personal experience that under the head of clerks and messengers the Labour party does get a great degree of assistance, for which the said clerks and messengers would never think of accepting anything. With that exception, I think the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was delivered in terms of reasonableness and moderation, in contrast with certain of the rather explosive utterances of yesterday afternoon.

I suggest to the Committee that in the course of this discussion no formidable case has been made out against the terms of the Clause as it is submitted, and, by implication, much has been indicated in its favour even by those who may be disposed to support in the Lobby the first Amendment on the Paper. As has been pointed out, one very large item, if not the chief item in connection with these matters is the item for printing—for that enormous weight of literature, most of which we know must be left unread by those who receive it. I think there has been in the last 20 years less tendency to plaster the walls of our constituencies with huge posters than was the case some years ago. We know that the efforts of competing candidates in this respect only cancel the effect which each one desires to produce, and we are beginning to feel that we reap no advantage from much of the money which is lavished in those encounters. My own experience in the Platting Division of, Manchester is that the halls there are so small and so few, that even with the greatest physical exertion, addressing two or three meetings at least each night during the two or three weeks of an election contest I find it impossible to reach more than about one-half of the electors. Certainly one cannot reach more than one-half, even allowing for the margin of people who congregate around a hall and to whom one has to deliver some of the scraps of one's oratory under the auspices of what is termed an overflow meeting. We are bound therefore to try to convey our message more and more by means of the printed word, and, in view of the very large electorate to-day, that is bound to involve candidates in very heavy expenditure.

The right hon. Gentleman gave a figure which says much in favour of the terms of the Clause as it stands. I understood him to say that only 80 of the candidates at the last election exceeded the figure in the Bill. Surely that is a proof of the fact that our proposal would not impose any great disability on the general run of candidates. I do not know the exact number but I think about 2,000 candidates must have gone to the poll at the last election, and if only 80 would be placed under any disability through the figure of expenditure which is in the Bill, it indicates that the vast majority of candidates have a quite acceptable and sufficient maximum here, in respect of the expenditure which they desire to incur. I have, however, secured some more figures bearing on this point, and they show that, taking the case of the counties and' the rate of 5d. per elector—which we propose—at the last General Election this rate was exceeded only in the case of 162 candidates and of these only 80 were successful, that is two Labour, 60 Conservatives and 18 Liberals. Of the successful candidates, only 28 exceeded the figure which we propose, to the extent of 100. There are corresponding figures with which I need not trouble the Committee in relation to the boroughs.

There is one matter upon which I must differ from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea, and that is as to the suggested increase in the number of polling stations. I leave the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) to make out his own case and offer his own reply with respect to the proposal for a travelling polling-booth. But I have great sympathy with what was said on this point of additional polling stations yesterday and even though it would be costly, it is not a monthly cost or an annual cost, but a rather exceptional cost, which the State might very well bear in meeting the exceptional disadvantages which arise in this connection in widely scattered areas. Indeed it may be said that it is not fair that one candidate, as in my own case, should be able to cover his constituency from one end to the other with a 2d. tram fare, while another should have almost a little country to cover in his efforts to reach the electorate. In the matter of more polling booths, I find that there is in our law provision for meeting many of the claims under that head, and for removing what are real grievances in cases where they have been urged. If I can do anything by administrative action, or by drawing the attention of those concerned to the disabilities which the present law might remove, I shall be happy to take that matter into consideration.

There has emerged from this discussion a general admission that the present figure is, on the whole, too high, and though it is true that it has not existed for very long, this is an opportunity for lowering it. A similar opportunity may not occur for very many years, and, in face of the facts that have been produced, I suggest that the Committee might very well agree to lower the figure now. There are variations of experience according to the area or whether the election is held in good weather or bad. The question of the season is all-important, and all of us as candidates, however much many may mourn the result of the last election, will be agreed that we enjoyed an exceptionally favourable advantage on account of the election being held in the summer time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) submits in his Amendment a figure which is far too low for the purpose, and I can assure him that it would impose upon Labour candidates a very serious disability if the figure were reduced to the amount he proposes. That is particularly true in the case of by-elections, as has been stated by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Dr. Phillips), and if Labour candidates have to conduct their fights under the figure proposed by the hon. Member for Bridgeton, they will be under a very great disability. My hon. Friend submitted himself to the Committee as a simple, intelligent man. Of course we know he is that, but we know that he is something more also. I appeal to him in his capacity of the simple, intelligent man to recognise the case that has been made out against his Amendment, and not to press it to a Division. On the whole, the Government have good reason to be content with the discussion, and I trust that the Committee will be agreed that a case has been made out for the moderate reduction which the Government propose.


I was glad to observe the favour which the Home Secretary showed to the proposal of the travelling polling booth. It emanates from these benches, but, unfortunately, it cannot be moved into the Bill, as the Title is drawn so strictly, and I am informed it would be out of order. I hope, however, that at some future date the Government may take steps to bring that proposal into operation, and that the observations made by the Home Secretary to-day are a precursor to action being taken on a suitable occasion. With regard to the point which is directly before the Committee, the question of election expenses was examined by the Ullswater Conference, of which I had the honour to be a member; the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) and other hon. Members who are here to-day were also members. The Conference did not arrive at any conclusions on the point, but it heard some evidence with regard to it, and also examined a number of statistical returns showing the expenditure by Members of various parties in various types of constituencies. The Liberal members of the Conference came unanimously to the conclusion that the maximum expenses could safely be reduced by one penny, both in the counties and the boroughs, and that the figures now proposed in the Bill could properly be accepted. We made it clear that if the Conference had been invited to come to a decision, we should have supported that proposal there, and we are prepared to support it here to-day.

Further economies could be made in electioneering, particularly with regard to posters, as was suggested by the Home Secretary. The important thing is that everyone should be on the same footing. Each of us, of course, is unwilling to effect economies of that character if his opponent is free to continue as before. It is like the limitation of armaments; if only it could be simultaneous, it would be to everyone's advantage. So it will be with a statutory limitation of this kind. Let us remember, in comparing the elections of to-day with those of an earlier day, that the heavy expenses of returning officers, which used to be a charge upon the candidates, is now removed to the public purse. It is now nearly 30 years ago that I introduced the only private Bill that I have ever introduced into this House, to remove returning officers' expenses from being a charge upon the candidates, and we had to wait for nearly 15 years before it was done by a Government Measure. That was a great relief to the candidate's expenses. Furthermore, there is the free postage which is now allowed, and that again is a relief to the expenses which candidates have to bear.

In these circumstances, the figures which are suggested are adequate to enable candidates and the views they wish to propound to be brought adequately to the notice of the electorate. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), in his charming but not very convincing speech, suggested figures which were too low. It is essential to have an adequate stimulus in order to create a sufficient interest, and, it may be, excitement in the country to induce the great bulk of the electorate to take the trouble to go to the poll, and we ought not to fix our figure so low that adequate and reasonable propaganda is impossible. The figures suggested in the Bill are those which occupy the happy mean between excessive expenditure on the one hand, and an inadequate allowance on the other, and, for our part, we shall be glad to support them.


I do not feel very strongly one way or the other on this matter. A great many of ray bon. Friends think that we should have a little more experience of the last change that was made before embarking upon another alteration. Many of us spent far below the maximum amount allowed: I spent some £400 below, and I hope on the next occasion, whatever the maximum may be, to spend even less than that. Nevertheless, fairly forcible arguments have been put forward, particularly by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) to show that it is not a very good thing to make a change of this sort in a hurry. He rightly argued that we should have the experience of more than one general election before we decided whether this was the right amount or not. The last election occurred in the summer, and we have not yet had the experience with the present figure of an election in the winter. That consideration should be taken into account by the Committee when it is settling the maximum amount of election expenses. You cannot argue from one constituency as if it were the same as another, and the same considerations arise here as in the case of the motor car Clause. The counties are different from the boroughs, and the expenses of the last election show that nothing like the same amount of money is spent, as a rule, in the boroughs as in the counties.

On the whole, I would rather that the amount of expenditure for the candidates remained for a few more years at what it is to-day. This is not the amount up to which everybody has to spend; it is the amount beyond which a, candidate may not spend. There are times, such as by-elections, when it may be essential to have two postages. I used only the free post, but if I had had two postages, it would have cost me another £240. I would remind hon. Members that we are dealing not only with general elections, but with by-elections, and on all sides we are sometimes up against that powerful organ, the Press. If you have a violent Press campaign in a by-election against a candidate, no matter on which side he may be standing, he has, in the nature of things, to spend more money in combating that campaign than if he were merely fighting a normal election. We are laying down now as the law of the land the expenditure which is not to be exceeded at any time. This expenditure is laid down for every election that will take place in future, whether a by-election or a general election, no matter what local or national circumstances may have arisen. Therefore, there should be a good deal of latitude. No ordinary Member desires to spend any more than he possibly need at an election, and the great bulk of Members look forward financially with horror to the next time they will have to face their constituents. Therefore, it is to the advantage of everybody that they should be able to keep their expenditure as low as possible. Most of us do.

6.0 p.m.

Most of us do not go anywhere near the limit to which we are allowed, but there may be occasions on which a candidate, in face of a Press or other campaign, may have to meet excessive propaganda, and may quite properly desire to spend more money than is actually allowed under this Clause A certain amount has been said about voluntary work. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) said that, on the whole, the Labour party had a different point of view in regard to election expenses than we have. He did not mean to charge the Labour party with an attempt to get round the Corrupt Practices Acts, but that there may be legitimate differences in the idea of what the law is as between one party and another. I well remember about two elections ago having given to me two or three committee rooms, for which I did not pay, and which I did not enter in my election return. I now find, after the Oxford election petition, that I cannot have a committee room given to me, and whether I pay for it in cash or not, that room has to be entered in my election return. That, I understand, is generally agreed after the Oxford election petition, to be the law of the land. There is grave doubt as to what the law is on a great many other matters affecting elections. A great deal of election law has never been interpreted. We may think it means one thing, and hon. Members opposite may think it means another thing. I have my own idea as to what the interpretation of the law would be in the case of messengers—I do not know whether the point has actually been before the courts—and that is that, whether you pay messengers or whether they work voluntarily, nevertheless messengers should be returned as one of the election expenses. I believe the view taken by some hon. Members opposite, and, for all I know, by some of my hon. Friends, is that if the work is done voluntarily there is no necessity to enter it; but if one view on this matter were taken by one party and a different view taken by another party there would, of course, be a great difference between the sums they returned for election expenses.

On the question of voluntary workers, I would like to say that while we get a great deal of voluntary work done for us hon. Members opposite may have had more voluntary work done for them in the last few years. I think I may be able to explain why, up to now, they have had the advantage of this vast amount of voluntary work. They have been a young and a growing party, and have never before really had the experience of being in office. Everybody in this House, whether Conservative, Labour or Liberal, knows that all parties in office disappoint their supporters, and in proportion to the extent to which they disappoint so do they get less voluntary work done for them. After the Labour party have been in office several times, and have had as long a period in which to disappoint their supporters as we have had during the long years we have been in power, they may find they will not get more voluntary work done for them than we get. Looking at the future, therefore, I think they had better make some provision for payment of messengers and clerks, such as has been the case in the past.

The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said it was quite easy to win an election. All one had to do was to put a plain case before the people, hire halls and make speeches. That is very nice for the hon. Member for Bridgeton; but I venture to submit that in the past his opponents have found a certain amount of difficulty in putting their case before the people of Glasgow. There have been rather rowdy meetings, and if a candidate's meetings are broken up all he can do is to resort to the printing press and put his ideas into the printed word. That may not be such an effective method of appeal, and, personally, I do not think it is, for I agree with the Home Secretary that a great many of the posters and pamphlets which we all circulate at election time go to wrap up the fish, and are never read at all. Nevertheless, one must have some way of getting one's ideas before the electorate if it is not possible to hold meetings. The remarks of the hon. Member for Bridgeton suggested that in the future an election in Glasgow would be a sort of tea party. He envisaged a prospect in which we should see nothing very different in Glasgow from what we see at ordinary times. I do not think elections will ever be conducted quite in that spirit, in Glasgow or anywhere else. There will always be excitement. At election times people do and say things which they would not do or say on ordinary occasions, and things will not be much different in the future. As I have said, I do not very much mind whether the Clause as submitted by the Government goes through, or whether it is amended in the sense that the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford has suggested in his Amendment. My view is that as it is not necessary for anybody to spend up to the amount which is allowed we might well await the experience of a few more elections, in various months and under all conditions of weather. Nevertheless, I do not think any great harm would be done if the Clause were to pass as it is now. However, as I think we might wait a little longer, particularly as regards the boroughs, I shall vote for the Amendment.


I propose to vote for the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). I believe that election expenses can be considerably reduced if an attempt is made to curtail the enormous and wasteful expenditure on posters. Of all forms of useless expenditure that upon posters at election times is the worst. I have fought three Parliamentary elections and five elections for lesser bodies, and I have always felt that the distribution of election literature, and particularly posters, was a waste. The division which I represent is an extended one, reaching from the north-west corner of Birmingham right up to Burton-on-Trent. At the last election I gave orders to have this huge area plastered with the conventional bills—because my opponents did it, and not because of any desire on my part. I am satisfied that a great deal of bill-posting is wasted. Let hon. Members test it by their own experience and that of their Friends. Many hon. Members pass along streets lined with posters. How many of them read the posters, how many of them remember them, and how many of them act upon them? How many buy things because they are recommended by posters? I am satisfied that at the last election the Conservative party spent an enormous amount of money on posters for which they got no return. I took the trouble to inquire about it. It was said that the Conservative party spent £200,000 on bill-posting in the last election. They covered the country with posters, setting forth long series of figures. I made many inquiries about how many people read those figures, which set faith the merits of the Conservative administration, and I am satisfied that not one person in 10,000 read them. One poster in particular did the Conservative party an infinity of harm.


We cannot discuss the contents of the posters of the Conservative party.


May I not comment on the posters of the Conservative party?


That would be entirely out of order. The hon. Member may discuss whether posters are necessary or unnecessary, but he must not make any comment on the contents of them.


I am afraid that Ruling curtails considerably what I was proposing to say. May I say, then, that I hope the day will come when posters will be made illegal? I am not prepared to say that the time for it is ripe now, but I hope the abolition of posters will be one of the things on which all parties will agree.


It is a great pity that we have been deprived of the eloquent denunciation, which we were about to hear, of a very important industry. I will leave hon. Members opposite who belong to the trade unions concerned to exact the proper retribution from the hon. Member for his intended attack.


I was not going to attack the unions.


I will leave the hon. Member to explain that in the proper quarters. I was glad to hear from the Home Secretary, who always speaks with moderation, and always has a mind open to conviction, that he had been persuaded by yesterday's discussion upon motor cars that that Clause would be rendered unnecessary if travelling booths were provided. I propose to approach this Clause from a similar point of view to that which I took up on the Clause yesterday. I think the Clause envisages the whole matter in the wrong way. There is something unsavoury about writing in a modern Bill that the cost of an elector is 5d. if he be a county elector and 4d. if he be a borough elector. In a more affable and more cynical age we had a price list for the suffrages of the people, and 4d. or 5d. would have been a very moderate payment to make in return for a vote. We live in a much more moral age Instead of making direct payments to electors we combine ourselves into parties and offer to use the Parliamentary machine for favourable class legislation as an inducement to the electors to vote for us. That is a far more moral way of doing things; and if any undue advantage is gained by that method of corruption we ought to put a Clause in the Bill to lay some restraint upon political programmes.

What does this Clause seek to do? Of course, like all Socialist legislation, it follows a Conservative precedent—and follows it very closely. This Clause seeks to make it impossible for a man to obtain an advantage at an election because of his wealth, and to remove any disability suffered by a candidate for Parliament on account of his lack of wealth. That is what it pretends to do, but it does nothing of the kind. How can that end be achieved? We have a precedent. For many years' membership of this House was looked upon by hon. Members opposite, who are now so numerous, as being a burden that an ordinary individual, even if he were fortunate enough to be elected, could not himself sustain, and accordingly we adopted payment of Members. That was based upon the theory that government, being a national need, those who served the Government of the country should not be put to any personal cost on that account. Why cannot that principle now be carried to a more logical conclusion? If the service of the State should not place a personal liability on a Member of Parliament, why should access to this House place any liability upon a prospective Member of Parliament, if he be seeking to perform only what the nation wishes him to perform? You will never achieve that object by a Clause of this kind, because, after all, you have to remove a fundamental difficulty which can be approached only in a whole-hearted way and from an entirely different angle.

I would like hon. Members to take notice of this wonderful return of election expenses. The average cost of an election is some hundreds of pounds. Supposing you have a better distribution of wealth in the community—on Monday, I notice, the Government are going to take away most of what remains of the capitalist system—it is suggested that unless a man cannot spend some hundreds of pounds upon an election he cannot get into this House? In an average constituency, whatever your politics may be, you can never hope to be elected to this House without the expenditure of a large sum of money. What results from that? Members have to put themselves under the protection of some outside organisation, some vested interest whether it be an industrial or a capitalist interest, or a trade union. Often a man cannot fight as an independent candidate because he has not the resources—in fact, very few men have—and he has to enlist the support of the very powerful propaganda that comes from some central body on behalf of the candidate. A man cannot fight an election at the cost of 4d. or 5d. per elector in a constituency containing 60,600 electors. This House is supposed to be a deliberative assembly and we are supposed to come here to listen to arguments and then make up our minds. That ideal is rendered nugatory if those who are Members of the Senate are under obligation to respond to the dictates of an imperious interest. Therefore, I appeal to the Socialist party, above all parties, to tackle this question in a fundamental way, and create in this great country for the first time a genuine democracy, and give us a free Parliament which shall represent a free people.


The whole Committee will be ready, I think, to join with me in congratulating the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) on the excellent speech which he has just delivered. I agree with the theory of democratic government which the hon. Member has so lucidly and forcibly laid down. May I point out that the capitalist system is inherent in the Clause which the hon. Member is so anxious to abolish? Able and eloquent though the speech of the hon. Member was, I think some of us noticed that there were also complications which the hon. Member did not seem to realise. I can imagine a Government undertaking the election expenses of independent candidates in a truly democratic State in order that those candidates should be under no difficulty, and in order that they should have the same opportunities as other candidates. In those circumstances I can imagine that a large crop of independent candidates would arise in the hope that the State would aid them in their election fight, and not merely pay their expenses, but, on the offchance, land them into Parliament where, in relation to their then circumstances, they would be much more comfortably off. I am sure the crop of candidates that would arise in those circumstances would not induce us to vote in favour of a proposal like that.

The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) was a powerful argument in favour of a further reduction of the amount of money mentioned in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that he thought we ought to keep the maximum fairly high in order that, as candidates had to spend a considerable sum of money, they would not exceed the maximum, and not cheat in the returns and not contravene the Corrupt Practices Act. That argument is unconsciously a plea for further expenditure, because the logical conclusion is that we should raise the maximum so high—say £50,000—as to make it utterly hopeless for any candidate to evade the Corrupt Practices Act. The speech of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Lord Erskine) approached the question from a very different angle, and yet his speech had a, similar effect, because he said that sometimes one candidate adopted such excessive propaganda that it was necessary for his opponents to reply, with the result that things went on in the same vicious circle. An enormous proportion of money spent on propaganda at elections is utter waste. I will give an example which occurred in my own constituency. The Conservative Association had an office in the main street, and above that the Liberal Association had an office. The Conservative Association placed in the window a large but not a very flattering picture of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin). Whereupon the Liberals put in the window a picture of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and placed upon it a caption "Lloyd George tops Baldwin." The Conservative reply to that was another caption, "Baldwin undermining Lloyd George." This kind of thing went on, and it was a source of amusement, but in regard to the electioneering purpose of getting any "forrader," they were hopeless and an absolute waste of money.

There is one other aspect of this question which has not been named in connection with this Debate. The Home Secretary said that we were legislating for a number of years. The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) referred to the difficulties in counties of candidate's getting into touch with remote areas. No previous speaker in this Debate has taken cognisance of the development of the cinema and the wireless and all their implications, the use of which would meet the difficulties which arise in remote areas, because hon. Members or candidates could cover a whole county in one speech by wireless. Consequently, there is no difficulty in regard to that matter. I agree with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) that a great proportion of the money spent by the candidates of all parties is sheer waste. It would lead to a much more healthier citizenship if that expenditure were reduced, and in that case I should be inclined to support the Amendment.


Contrary to the view which has just been expressed by the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. McShane), I have always held that it was far more moral to pay out of your own pocket than try to ray something out of the pocket of somebody else. In this particular instance, unlike some of my hon. Friends, I feel strongly on this matter. Strange to say, I feel strongly in support of the proposal of the Government in regard to this question. I feel that anything that can be done in the direction of limiting expenditure at an election is a good thing not only for the country, but more particularly for the candidate who takes part in the election. Unless the amount is fixed, what happens? It is not the candidate who actually spends the money but his election agent, and an election agent, like others, when he is spending other people's money is more generous than when he is spending his own. What happens is that your election agent tells you that in some little village in a corner of your constituency the Liberals have put out a very important poster, and that the Conservative party must have a poster in that village to reply to it, otherwise the Liberals or the Socialists will capture the votes. Then the candidate, who is busy making speeches, agrees to the suggestion. Every candidate must have had the experience of his agent saying during an election: "This is going to be a very close thing; I think the result depends upon how many votes we get in a certain area." When a candidate is told by his agent that such an expenditure is a matter of winning or losing the election, naturally the candidate agrees to it. In, this way many candidates are persuaded, often against their will, to spend up to a very large limit. I think all hon. Members will agree that very often a number of items of expenditure at an election do not find their way into the public returns. No doubt these expenditures, limited as they are, will continue in the future, and, therefore, such limit as can be put on the official amount that any candidate may spend is, I think, greatly to the advantage of the country and of the candidate.

I found myself in much sympathy with the speech and the arguments of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). As has been pointed out, he is, perhaps, in many ways, not only an ideal candidate, but an ideal Member. He fights his elections with a minimum of expenditure, and I believe he also lives on the salary that he receives as a Member of Parliament, which is probably even rarer than the smallness of the amount that he spends on his elections. I only regret that he has not been in his place since he spoke, to hear the numerous compliments which have been paid him from every section of the House. But, however sympathetic one may feel towards his arguments, many of them were knocked on the head by the practical difficulties raised by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown). I have every reason to appreciate, almost more than any other Member, the power that the Press can apply in a by-election, hut, although it is quite possible for an extensive Press campaign to deflect good Conservatives on certain occasions, and bamboozle a certain section of the electorate, I think that in the end the common sense of the public reasserts itself in one way or another—


Much later.


—and I do not think that you can legislate for by-elections, but that you must rather legislate for what take place in a General Election. I appreciate that in a constituency like that of East Islington, which has been mentioned, there are various difficulties, where you have a population of some 60,000 constituents, many of them absent in other parts of London during the day, many of them absent in other occupations during the evening, and where it is necessary to spend more on distributing literature than it may be in other parts of the country. Again, in my own constituency there are 120 villages, some 70 polling stations, and a very small number of electors. I think the average has been taken as 40,000, but in my case the number is only just over 30,000. But all the difficulties which prevail, and all the expense which is necessary for diffusing the political views of a candidate in a constituency of 40,000 or more, are just as great and just as necessary in my constituency with a smaller number. Therefore, if we were to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bridgeton, and limit the figure to 3d. instead of to 5d., it would give rise in country constituencies to real practical difficulties in spreading the doctrines of the various political parties at a General Election. To-day the general diffusion of knowledge is much greater than it has been in the past. There is a much greater distribution of newspapers, general and local; speeches are made by various prominent members of political parties on the wireless; and I am sure the day is not long distant when every Member will arrange to address his constituency on his own particular wireless set. I only hope that that day will soon arrive, so that we shall be able to reduce our election expenses to a far lower figure even than that suggested by the Government to-day. For the reasons I have given I intend to support the proposals of the Government in this matter.


I welcome the suggestion of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) with regard to the payment of election expenses by the State. I feel sure that, if that were done, there would be little chance of evasion in regard to the cost of elections.

No doubt a great deal of evasion goes on to-day, in spite of the very heavy allowances that are made. Surprise has been expressed that the hon. Member should put forward a suggestion of that kind, but we are, indeed, gradually approaching that stage. It is not so very long since candidates were compelled to pay the expenses of the returning officer, but since that time we have gained free postage, and I suggest that, if we want to make elections free from the excitement that some hon. Members opposite seem to desire, but which I want to avoid, the limitation of expenses, in conjunction with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Devonport, would greatly assist in bringing that about. The last speaker rather made out a case for a differentiation between counties and boroughs, but I do not think he made out a case for an increase in the amount allowed in the present Bill.

Personally, I am strongly in favour of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), and I think that the amount set forth by him is amply sufficient for conducting any election, either in a borough or in a county. In my opinion a tremendous amount of money is simply thrown away in elections to-day. It has been suggested that more money is required in a by-election than in an ordinary election, but I cannot understand that. Having fought five consecutive elections myself, and having acted as a an election agent as well, I can claim to have some experience as to the costs that are necessary. I quite admit that in the case of the Labour party a tremendous amount of work is done voluntarily. I do not like the suggestion which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), that evasions take place because in the returns made by Labour party agents they do not necessarily mention committee rooms or messengers or clerks to whom no payments have been made. I have yet to learn that it is necessary to set forth the names of clerks and messengers who have not received payment. It is the fact that an enormous amount of voluntary work is done by members of the Labour party, whereas the Conservative and Liberal parties have to pay for a good deal of that kind of work. I should have thought it would have been better for the Conservative and Liberal parties to approach this question from the standpoint of coming up to the high standard of the Labour party in this connection, rather than to want to keep very high amounts in order to pay for these services.

The hon. Member for Sunderland (Dr. Phillips) quoted her own case, and said that, while the allowance in her constituency for election expenses was somewhere in the region of £3,000, they actually spent—the two candidates together, I suppose—somewhere about £880. I think I can quote a better case than that, namely, the case of my own constituency of Southampton, which is also a two-Member constituency. The amount that was allowed, according to the estimate in the return, was £3,239, and the expenditure, which was the highest of any election with which I have been connected, amounted to £668 for the two candidates. If any evidence were wanted as to whether that was sufficient, I think it may be said that the mere return of the candidates ought to be evidence that the amount spent was sufficient. At any rate, it achieved the result that we desired. Will anyone suggest that it was really necessary for the Conservative candidates to spend £1,982, and for the Liberals to spend nearly as much, namely, £1,711?

It may be suggested that printing accounts for a large amount, and it is true that, of our £668, we spent £480 in printing, but the Conservative spent—as I think, wasted—£1,144, and the Liberals £661. With regards to clerks, we spent £2 for clerks and messengers. [Interruption.] I should like to say that the £2 was not distributed over the total number of clerks and messengers that we employed; probably it was paid to an errand boy for assisting, in order that he should not go without receiving something for his labour. The Conservatives spent £280 on that item, and the Liberals £298. I suggest that the other parties could reduce these amounts just as easily as the Labour party. The hon. Member for Sunderland made out an overwhelming case for the reduction of costs by the figures which she gave, namely, 1.86d. for London, 2.4d. for the boroughs, 2.03d. for Wales, and 1.35d. for Scotland. I am of opinion that there is no need whatever for the expenditure of vast gums of money, and I do not think that it assists the candidates very much. I hope that the Government will consider leaving this matter to a free vote of the House. Of course, Members on this side are bound to vote with the Government if the Whips are put on, but, if the Government cannot agree to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bridgeton, I think some compromise should be arrived at between the sum suggested by him and the amount in the Bill at present. They must know that all this expenditure is sheer waste, and helps no one in the long run.


Everyone, I think, must have been impressed by the eloquent appeal of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). Many such speeches have been made from time to time, but this is the first time that I have heard the hon. Member make a revivalist speech. He was calling the House to a revival of independence. One has heard the doctrine of the independence of Members throughout the House urged before, but there is nothing in it whatever. If you are to have political parties, everyone, in order to get elected, has to sink a good deal of his personal prejudices and views, and what a collection of 615 independent persons, all elected to this House by the generosity of the State, would amount to, one hesitates to think. I must say that on this occasion I am impressed by the arguments of the Government, and I intend to vote for the Government on this issue.

I should very much have liked to vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), because I am impressed by his arguments, and I have always thought that in a way it was a terrible scandal that a person of ability who really desired to go into public work, and who could bring himself within the purview of any political party, should not be able, either independently or under the auspices of a party, to stand for election on behalf of a constituency in which he may be in interested. Of course, he cannot do so. He is handicapped, especially on this side, by the question of means. It is perfectly true that, as hon. Members opposite have said, we have, in the nature of the case, to spend more on our elections than they do. They are very fortunate, and should appreciate their good fortune, but for very good reasons, which are well known, we have to spend more. Therefore, a young man with ability, with power to express him self, and with a real interest in public affairs, who takes a Conservative and Imperialistic point of view, is at a great disadvantage, and probably cannot enter Parliament until he is past middle age. I do not disguise the fact that I am extremely fortunate. When I look back to my university career, I know that there were others much more qualified than myself who ought to be sitting where I am sitting, but who lacked the ordinary influence to enable them to do so. On the face of it, that is a great outrage. Of course, it is easy on the other side of the House, in theory, for a young man to come into the House, but in practice it does not seem to me particularly easy. If you look round the House, you see more evidence of youth on this side than on that, and one can only consider, therefore, that youth is very heavily handicapped on that side for some reason which we poor Conservatives, being uninitiated in the mysteries of the Labour party, are not able to understand.

On this slide it is a matter of finance. We all understand why we have to pay more to enter this very expensive club. With the poor people who work for us, it is a matter of tradition. They expect to be paid by a Conservative candidate, and they think they have a right to be paid. I should be the last person to withhold that right from them. The other side represent the new idea. They say that they are the party of the people and are out to save society, and, naturally, with the extravagant promises that they are accustomed to give to the electorate, they get a great deal of credence and a good deal of free assistance. In my constituency—it must be the experience of many—a poor widow went to the post office a week after the Labour party came into power expecting her additional pension, which she thought had been promised. If you make that kind of promise, you are going to get a great deal of free labour. It will not be given to the poor, wretched Conservative who tries to explain what his party has done in the last four years. People are not impressed by what has been done in very difficult times, but they are deeply impressed by what they are told is going to be done for them almost on the morrow of the election. It is perfectly fair for Conservatives, when they consider the allegations that are made against them in regard to expenses, to consider the promises that are made by the other parties.

There is one point of view which has not yet been expressed. I am all in favour of reducing election expenses. There are a number of ways in which it might be done. The State might give free postage. So far, I am prepared to go with the hon. Member for Devonport. Instead of using posters, you might use the local Press and then, I suppose, you would make your constituents buy the papers and read what you have to say. That is another suggestion. Wireless is a third element which might make for greater cheapness. If we on this side adopted the open-air meeting policy of the other side, we might be able to do it a good deal more cheaply. All these are practical suggestions. But there is this one argument against making it cheaper for any candidate to stand, that you would be bound to have a number of frivolous candidatures—a number of people getting up and saying, "I am worthy to stand as a representative and put forward my own particular view." That would lead to a great deal of confusion of thought. Independent candidates would spring up everywhere. I am forced to the conclusion that it is a good thing that it is, to some extent, expensive to stand for Parliament. Another remedy that has been suggested is that there should be a heavier fine in case of failure to get the requisite number of votes. That would not apply to a man of straw who had no money or standing. It is an unhappy and imperfect world in which we live, and I am forced to the irresistible conclusion that, unless you make rules for the limiting of candidates in each constituency, it is a good thing that elections should be expensive, either to some organisations or to some individuals.


I desire to support the Clause because it reduces the limit now allowed for expenses. I want to deal with the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet), because he maligned a very estimable set of men of whom I was one, and for whose work since I left their ranks I have nothing but admiration, that is, the election agents. My experience, both as an agent and as a candidate, is that the person who forces up the cost of elections is not the agent but the candidate, who generally gets the wind up about three or four days before the election and comes along and says: "The other people are making a tremendous splash in certain parts of the constituency. We seem to be doing nothing. Is it not time to do something over there?"

At the last election I had a very good agent, but I came to the conclusion that he was far too economical. He assured me that, with the money he was spending, we were going to win, and although we spent less than a third of what the Conservative candidate spent, after the returning officer had been counting the votes for seven hours, we at last found that we had a majority of 40. When we came out from the election, the agent said to me, "Do you not agree that our policy of being economical was right?" He ran the election with an absolute maximum of efficiency, because he could not have been accused of over-spending a penny, yet he had managed to secure my return. I believe a great deal of unnecessary money is spent, and has been spent for a good many years, in the course of elections by all parties. All parties put so much literature out that all they do is to prevent the electors reading their opponent's literature by providing so much of their own that the elector says in despair: "I cannot read any of it. I shall vote for my party allegiance or for some other reason not connected with the literature at all."

I should like to see tried the system of public advertisement that prevails in France. Just before an election in France the State erect in every polling district a hoarding, and every candidate who is nominated is allowed his proper fraction of the hoarding. If there are two candidates he gets a half, if there are three he gets a third, and so on. In France, it has this peculiar result, that, between the first ballot and the second, a candidate who has been eliminated has the power of letting his fraction of the hoarding to one or other of the candidates who have survived the first ballot. I believe there are occasions when an unsuccessful candidate has gone a considerable way towards meeting his expenses by the rent he has received for his fraction of the hoarding. It seems to me that such a system would be justified in this country because it would prevent a good deal of the iniquitous fly-posting, as it is called, that goes on, in which posters are placed upon telegraph poles and on the windows of opponents prior to the election in a frenzied effort to secure as much publicity as possible.

There can be no doubt that the limit that was imposed in 1918 was imposed with a knowledge of the costs as they then were, and no one can suggest that the difference in cost between running an election in 1918 and running it now is really represented even by the proportion by which the Government now propose to reduce the expenses. I believe even a lower limit could quite well be set, and I would not even be averse, if there are cases of very scattered constituencies where expenses may tend to be higher than in more compact areas, from special arrangements being made in limiting expenses. But unnecessary money is wasted, and the cost is made so high that independent candidates are practically debarred from standing. It is all very well to say that people are benefited by the present proposal, but very few men indeed who have independent minds and who are not prepared to ally themselves with one or other of the political parties have any chance of being elected, because of the difficulty of finding the necessary money to run the election in competition with the money available in one form of another for the Members of the three parties. I hope, as time goes on, the cost of elections will be progressively reduced. In some constituencies now there is agreement between the parties that no posters shall be used. I have not heard that those constituencies are less interested in the general affairs of politics than others in which hoardings are covered with posters. I hope one effect of the Measure will be to reduce the amount of money that is spent quite unnecessarily on elections.

7.0 p.m.


I wish to say a few words on this matter, because the Debate has been interesting for the very genuine attempts which have been made in various parts of the Committee to express really original opinions as to what is wrong with democracy, how we ought to run our elections, and so on. I am afraid that those opinions have been a little vitiated by being cast in this kind of mould: "Why cannot we change our methods? If Conservatives and Liberals would only act up to the high standard of the Labour party, everything in the garden would be lovely, and democracy would be really given effect to." As the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said, if only passionate spellbinders like my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) and myself could restrain our eloquence and our exaggerated statements, and adopt that tone of calm, cold, and unimpassioned statement of fact which the hon. Member for Bridgeton and his colleagues adopt in Glasgow, we should be approaching the atmosphere which should really prevail. I am very much interested, and I hope that the next time I address an election meeting at Glasgow a rather larger portion of my remarks will be audible. The whole trend of the argument of Members opposite is that, by adopting a very low limit of expenditure for elections, you can get something more like true democracy and, if only the Government would pay the election expenses of candidates, we should get nearer to democracy. The hon. Member for Bridgeton assumed that it was most desirable that no one should stand as a candidate unless he had taken a considerable part for many years in local public life or in the management of a national movement which brought him into touch with local public life. Until he had had that kind of experience, he should not be able to stand for Parliament. What would that mean? That the man who spent the first 10 years of his working life in the public service of the country, or in work which was quite remote from party politics, but which, perhaps, had been very intimately connected with industry or various branches of administration, would not be able to stand. It would be improper for him to stand and it would be improper, therefore, that he should have those aids for putting his views to the electors which are given by election expenditure. That simply means that you are wanting to strengthen the power of the machine in politics, and especially in elections to this House.

The hon. Member for Bridgeton proposes an Amendment which would reduce election expenses to a very low level. Even so, it would be too high a price for most of the working men in this country to pay, and they would still be obliged to get into Parliament, as now, exclusively through the machine. I remember in a previous Debate the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. Bowen) protested against the exclusion of Civil Service unions from politics on the ground that because the Post Office Union had been excluded, he had been obliged to get into the House of Commons, as he put it, by hook or by crook, and that represents the facts. Practically no man can get into the House of Commons as a member of the Labour party except by devoted service to the machine and by active experience in the running of the Labour movement, which is very largely political in character.

That is the real evil of our democracy, and is what is really threatening the existence of the home of our Parliamentary life. It is the power of the machine, and this question of election expenses is comparatively unimportant. The hon. Member for Devonport realised that the evil is the machine, but he seemed to think you could deal with the power of the machine simply by reducing the amount of election expenditure, or having it paid by the Government. The power of the machine extends much further than that. No matter what the expenditure may be, within reasonable limits, unless you are a really rich man, you cannot, in these days with large electorates, set in motion a sufficient volume of propaganda unless you are part of a machine and enjoy all the advantages, quite apart from expenditure, which accrue to the propaganda continually conducted by that machine and the opportunities for publicity which the machine gives you.

If we are going to be unorthodox and original, let us face the logical conclusion to which the arguments of the hon. Member for Bridgeton and the hon. Member for Devonport lead us. You want elections carried on in an atmosphere of calm, deliberate thought and consideration. The reason why any of us go down to the constituencies at a general election is not to convert people to our political views in the last fortnight before the poll—for very few are converted at that late date—but to arouse warmth and excitement. Of course, we do! We want to make people keen, and if you think it would be better that people should consider the issues of a general election in a cooler spirit, you had better propose that candidates for Parliament should not be allowed in the constituencies during the last fortnight before the poll. That would really be contributing something to make the ordinary processes of democracy dignified, and possibly more useful.

Therefore do not let us ride off on any of these half-measures and little items of self-satisfaction and personal predelictions, and represent them as if they were some great, original method of reform. They are nothing of the kind. For instance, in regard to election expenses, the truth of course, is that the effective way to limit expenses is that of the real revolution which took place in 1918, namely, the restriction of the time, far more than the actual amount. When you come to the expenditure of the candidate himself, I share every view which has been advanced in this Committee that the less expensive it is to get into Parliament, the better. It is one of those things which will take place much more speedily and rapidly than it can be brought about by law. The whole tendency at the present moment is to reduce election expenditure and to agree that a great deal of the expenditure is useless and a waste of money. New inventions like wireless have already revolutionised the American elections. At present, the Presidential elections in America are conducted almost entirely on the wireless, and the Presidential candidate can hardly get a hall filled for a public meeting. Those processes are going to take place far more rapidly than you can bring them about by statutory limits.

This attempt to assess the value of the individual elector is really unimportant, like the rest of the Bill, and is really not worth while wasting time upon. It stands aside from the real forces which are tending to reduce election expenditure. I only warn hon. Members who mention the wireless, for instance, as a new thing which was brought in at the last election, and which tended to make the election laws obsolete, that they should be very careful how, by any new prohibition and attempts to redress the balance, in order to improve the position of their own party, they restrict the use of such inventions, because it is the progress of these new methods which is really going to reduce election expenditure.

This is not a Bill about which we can exert any original ideas. It is a Brobdingnagian Bill which must be allowed to wind its slow reptilian length along the Floor of the House, and it is impossible to make it the occasion for any real formative change in our election laws or democracy. Within the narrow limits of the Clause, I will vote for the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), simply because I think, on the whole, it is more reasonable than the Government proposal, and a good deal more reasonable than that of the hon. Member for Bridgeton, but it is not going to make any considerable difference. What is going to make the difference is the development at elections of new methods which will proceed far faster than any alteration of the law.


One's only desire is to put down election expenses, and nobody desires it more than I. I have a very large constituency and the maximum sum allowed is £1,740. I know that at the last election but one my agent spent up to the last penny, and last time we were very near the mark. It is so difficult to generalise about constituencies. Although you may be doing something perfectly reasonable to a great number of constituencies, you may be doing something unfair to others, have about 17 different places in my constituency, and propaganda and meetings in one place do not help at all in the next place. Therefore, one has different sets of expenses, which, in the end, amount to a great deal.

There is a point of great difficulty to myself and to others which I should like to make. There should be a little margin, for the reason that you plan out your expenses as best you can. What happens with many of us is that two or three days before the election a pamphlet is published by your opponent or somebody containing some completely untrue statements, which may be personal ones, and which it is most important to contradict. What happens? I have 70,000 people on my register, and how are you going to communicate with 70,000 except at very great expense? A penny a head comes to almost £300. You cannot send out a circular except at very great expense, and there is no other way of removing the effect of what has been done.

For that reason, you ought to have a reserve of expenditure, and if you are going to cut down the maximum unduly, there will be nothing in reserve to enable you to meet these emergencies. I remember very well that a number of us had to sit up the whole night, I think for two nights in succession, trying to meet statements which had been circulated and with which it was necessary to deal, and that was the reason why, I think, I almost reached the maximum. If a change had been made, and it had been 5d. instead of 6d. I could not have done it. My expenses were something over 5½d. If the amount had been cut down in this way, I might have been so handicapped that I should not have been able to meet those statements. That is the only reason I have for urging that there ought to be a fairly liberal scale. Nobody spends more than he feels bound to spend when the election comes, but, if you are going to cut the expenses down in this way, there may be occasions in constituencies covering large arears where candidates may be in the very greatest difficulty and find it almost impossible to meet statements which may have been said about them. I have that one fear that we may be going too far in reducing the expenses.


I have listened with very much interest to the discussion and it is not the first time that I have heard discussions in this House upon this matter. I remember that in 1918, when a reduction was made, we had, practically speaking, the same kind of speeches, a little different in form but more or less on the same lines as the speeches that we have heard to-day. If one looks through the list of expenditure at the various elections it will be seen that some candidates spent nearly the full amount to which they were entitled and that others spent considerably less. No candidate in these hard times wants to spend more than he can possibly help, but at the same time he wants an opportunity of bringing his views with regard to the situation before the whole of the electorate. As has been indicated this afternoon, there may be as many as 110 of 150 villages in a constituency extending for many miles from north to south and from east to west. Expenditure has to take place in each of these small places. It does not matter how small they may be, expenditure has to be incurred in order that the electors may be made conversant with the views of the various candidates. I am a great believer in allowing a reasonable amount to be expended. I know that some hon. Members on this side of the Committee think that the proposals of the Government are such that, as far as they are concerned, they are prepared to support them, but a certain amount of latitude should be allowed. It is not a question of any candidate desiring to spend more than is necessary, but one set of circumstances is not the same as another set of circumstances. Our constituencies are not all governed by the same conditions. It is advisable to leave the amount as it was in 1918.

I have fought a good many elections since 1910 when I was first elected to this House, and I have had to expend a lot of money upon those elections. I have not been in the fortunate position in which perhaps hon. Members on the other side of the Committee have been of having big trade unions behind them. It is a well-known fact that many hon. Members on the other side of the Committee have had behind them and have been supported by trade unions, and they and their trade unions naturally want to see a considerable reduction made, if possible, and a very laudable desire, too. I do not happen to agree with them, and therefore I have to pay the money out of my own pocket. I want to see a reasonable latitude allowed to all candidates who come along. I well remember on one occasion just before an election took place that the policy which I was advocating was put in a very different manner from that which I thought was the correct version, and considering that I have 42,000 electors, it meant that I was called upon at the last moment to spend l½d. per head on postage. If you are going to reduce the amount in the boroughs to 4d., you are not going to leave a candidate much latitude to send out some notification which he may think necessary at the last moment contradicting, perhaps, something that may have been said by his opponents.

The hon. Lady the Member for Sunderland (Dr. Phillips) called attention to the expenditure which took place in her double-barrelled constituency. The position is quite different with regard to double-barrelled constituencies. You have the one meeting house for two candidates. You have the same printing where the printing is on behalf of two candidates. Only one poster is required for the two candidates. That reduces what I call the personal expenses. Where there are two candidates fighting under the same regime, one poster does for both. Therefore, with all deference to the hon. Member for Sunderland, I think that she will readily realise that the opportunities in the double-barrelled constituencies are not applicable in single-member constituencies. In the county constituencies the position is much easier in the summer, because you can have outdoor meetings, and all that sort of thing. You have not to meet the indoor expenditure which is so necessary in the winter. We ought not to legislate on the basis of summer elections, as the bulk of the elections, or at any rate those which I have had to fight, have been in the winter. Only twice have I had an opportunity of fighting an election during the summer months.

We are not affected as much in the London constituencies as the county constituencies. We have a smaller radius. Personally, I am not wedded to the Amendment because as long as you give a reasonable amount of expenditure all well and good, but for goodness sake do not take it upon the basis of a summer election because the figures show a considerable reduction. You are making regulations now, not for one election but, in the ordinary course of events, for years to come. You are going to decide as to what shall be the ultimate expenditure allowed to any candidate who comes along. Although the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said that as far as he was concerned the amount of expenditure was very small, yet he considered that it was the duty of a candidate to make himself both seen and heard in every part of his constituency. As in my case, he has not a very wide radius in his constituency, and he can get round, as I can, much easier than those who re- present county constituencies. It is proposed by this Clause that the cost shall be so considerably reduced that it will, in my opinion, seriously handicap those who fight, county constituencies. It is not only Members of my party who fight county constituencies. The same circumstances apply to hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the Committee. They have to make themselves known to their constituents. I sincerely trust that the Government will leave the matter as it is at the present time. I hope that they will not press for the revision contained in the Clause.

Rear-Admiral BEAMISH

I consider that the present allowance is distinctly too high. I maintain that a great many admirable candidates desirous of a seat in this House are kept out because of the tendency which has continued for so many years of spending such vast sums of money on elections. I confess that I have made it my business steadily to reduce my election expenses step by step wherever it has been possible. I think that Members of this House have a great deal to do to live down the rather bad things which have been done at elections in the past. I have never forgotten two things which were said to me within the first, hour or two of my first campaign. One was, "What are you expecting to make out of being a Member of Parliament?" and the next was, "You are not much of a candidate. I can remember a candidate in this constituency dropping as many as a dozen shilling cigars at this corner and not taking the trouble to pick up any of them." That was indicative. I came to the conclusion, that a good many people seemed to think that the proper thing to do was to cause you to spend the largest amount of money possible, and I maintain that that is a bad principle. I heard just now complaints from the other side of the Committee of the way money was wasted by Conservative candidates, but I want to remind those who feel like that that one of their tenets is the distribution of wealth.

The travelling booth was one of the first things which appealed to me. In country districts it would be a great help to constituents, and, I believe, would save a great deal of money and a great deal of trouble. We heard from the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) of the difference between Members on this side and on the other side in regard to messengers and clerks. It is far more important to ensure that proper expenses are duly included than to make the limit of expenditure too high, and thereby save candidates from the possibility of being accused of corruption or of spending more than they ought. We ought to aim in the direction of reducing expenses. I am certain that more money is spent on elections than need be.


This is the only Clause in the Bill which is worth having. The only thing that I like better is the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). One regrets that the Government, if they really do believe in getting cheap elections and in giving more people a better chance of getting into this legislative assembly, did not bring in this Clause in company with another Clause that would have simplified elections and would have prevented the kind of misstatement about which the hon. and learned Member for Altrincham (Mr. Atkinson) spoke, and would have made it easier for people of all classes to get into the democratic assembly. As I listened to the hon. and learned Member for Altrincham, I thought that the real answer to his conundrum was not to provide means for spending more money in order to contravert lies, but to tighten up the law regarding lies at election times. I have never been able to understand why it has not been treated as a punishable offence to circulate lying statements at elections, which can only be countered by the expenditure of a great deal of money.

I did not find myself in agreement with the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy). What he said was, and it is a recognised fact, that you can only get into this House through the machine—the Unionist machine, the slowly disintegrating Liberal machine, the numerous Labour machines, or the trade union machine. Where I differ is that I think it is a thousand pities that people should have to get in through the machine. It is the machine that crushes out individuality and initiative and that fills this House with grey and bald heads, that deprives this House of the drive and power to cope with emergencies, and results in the emergence of arrivists like the hon. Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley). It is a great mistake to adopt the view that you must only select candidates through a kind of sifting machine. What we want is to give more scope for the young and energetic men to get into Parliament. The machine does not look at anybody until he is too old to be any good, whether he be a trade unionist, a Tory or a Liberal.

It is perfectly fantastic that one should have to spend these appalling sums in order to have the honour of representing a certain number of one's fellow citizens. If you take the average constituency as 45,000 (and that is well under the mark), the cost at 1d. per voter works out at £187, but at 5d. per voter it is just under £1,000. In these days it is practically impossible for people unless they are in contact with wealthy organisations, which are going to stifle their initiative in one way or another and to exercise a sifting effect, to get into the House, and it is almost impossible for young professional men to get into the House. That is a bad state of affairs. I do not see any need for the expenditure of these vast sums of money. They are spent in vulgar, blatant, self-advertisement in nine cases out of 10. A large amount of the money is paid to useless people, who wait from one election to another in the hope of getting a job. Coupled with any reduction of expenditure there ought to be special measures aimed at the method by which elections are conducted, in order to prevent expenditure in these wasteful and useless ways. Is the money thus

spent justified? Does anyone really believe that it adds very much to the majority one gets when you spend so much? I know one member of a party, who shall be nameless, who lost his election because he came from a sick bed to an eve of the poll meeting, and the constituents heard him. If his doctor had only been able to keep him in bed for another 24 hours, the election would have resulted in a victory for his party; I will not say which party.

This is another case in which the Government might have taken their courage in both hands, if they really believe in democracy and progress and in giving everybody a chance to represent his fellowmen. To achieve that end they might have taken much more deliberate steps. It is more difficult on this side of the House to do it. It is much more difficult for those of us who are "the inheritors of unfulfilled renown" and who represent seats where money has been easily come by in the past, to alter these scales of expenses. If the party opposite really have any desire to do a service to democracy they will withdraw this miserable Bill and bring in a Bill for better and cleaner elections, with the expenses reduced to something like the reasonable figure that has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton).

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out, stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 258; Noes, 68.