§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The present situation is that in Britain the amount that may be spent by a Parliamentary candidate is, in counties, 2d. per elector, plus £450; and in boroughs, 1½d. per elector, plus £450. On the other hand, at present in Northern Ireland the amount that may be spent is 2d. per elector, without the £450. Your Lordships may want to know the reason for this difference. It lies in the fact that in Northern Ireland the constituencies are larger; and the reason for that, again, is that as we all know, the people of Northern Ireland have representation at Westminster as well as in their own country.
Under this Bill, all the differences between Northern Ireland and Britain in respect of these scales will be removed. In future, therefore, the scales allowed in Northern Ireland will be what they are now in Britain, which I have already enumerated to the House. I think I should just mention the significance of paragraph (c) of Clause 1. That refers to payments to election agents. Previously, in Northern Ireland, a payment to an election agent by a candidate, provided that it was below certain specified limits, was excluded in calculating the total; but that was not so, I understand, in this country. In future, if this Bill is passed, there will be no difference; in other words, the payment to the election agent in Northern Ireland will no longer be excluded. That is all I need say about 882 this small Bill. I should perhaps mention that the reason for its introduction is simply this: that it has been found in practice by candidates for Parliament from Northern Ireland to Westminster that the present scales laid down under the Representation of the People Act, 1949, are inconveniently low. It is therefore sought to raise them.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Merthyr.)
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
My Lords, I rise merely to say that we on this side of the House have no objection to the Bill. We regard it as quite a useful measure and we give it our support. I was a member of the Speaker's Conference which originally drafted the figures to which the noble Lord has just referred for these constituencies in England, Wales and Scotland. I can quite understand now the desirability of extending the same provisions to Northern Ireland. Therefore, we on this side, as I say, fully support this measure.
My Lords, from these Benches we also should like to support this very small but clear Bill, which has been so ably moved by the noble Lord. He did not touch on the point whether the people of Northern Ireland are in favour of this Bill, but I feel that they are not likely to have any objection to it. It brings about a very desirable uniformity. I am sure that we on this side of the House wish it a successful Second Reading.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I have only to say, on the subject of this Bill, which has been introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, with his customary and most commendable clarity, that your Lordships appreciate that it is a matter which affects only honourable Members in another place. It passed through that other place without any opposition and, as Her Majesty's Government view it as a measure which is reasonable and equitable, we hope that it will commend itself to your Lordships.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.