I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
This one-clause Bill has been pressed on all parties of the London County Council. In consequence of the growth of the electorate candidates for municipal elections would incur increased expenses. I may say that under the old scale there is an average of 14,000 electors to a division; now there are 26,000. The expenditure allowable to a candidate was £197 at 3d. per elector. If it were on the same scale now it would amount to £349, and great difficulty is found in getting candidates to expend that large sum of money. It is felt that that expenditure is more than they ought to be called upon to incur in this class of contest. The authorities, the London
County Council particularly, are requesting us to give him the sum allowed per elector reduced from 3d. to 2d. That would mean on the existing electorate that the average expenditure would be £241 per division as against £197. If this is to apply to the coming elections in London it must become law in a few days. There is only a single Clause which I will read to the House:
Sub-section (1) of Section five of the Municipal Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Act, 1884 (which prescribes the maximum amount of the expenses of candidates at a municipal election), shall have effect, both as originally enacted and as applied by any other Act, as though 'twopence for each elector' were substituted for 'threepence for each elector.'
It is confined to one point, and I hope the House will give it a Second Reading this evening at very short notice. If any Amendment is suggested, we will consider it so as to get it through as soon as possible.
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir F. HALL:
As the right hon. Gentleman said, this is a very small Bill, and it looks a, very innocent Bill, but I was wondering whether the right hon. Gentleman has recognised the fact that many candidates have already entered into the necessary contracts as regards printing, and I can quite realise that if, for instance, this Bill becomes law as it is, there will be a great many petitions brought forward after the elections have been fought, with the natural result that many candidates will have to be unseated. It was my intention to move the rejection of the Bill, but, after the olive branch which the right hon. Gentleman has just held out, it would be very invidious for me to do so. But I am going to see whether he will meet us in this way, if, for instance, when the Bill comes to the next stage he will undertake, on behalf of the Government, to bring forward an Amendment making omission from this Bill of those who are fighting the county council elections on 6th March. If he is prepared to bring forward a Clause which will make it perfectly safe for those candidates, then, so far as I am concerned, I shall not take any steps to stop the progress of this Bill; but, if he is not in a position to give that undertaking, I am afraid we shall be very reluctantly compelled to move a drastic Amendment in Committee. Perhaps he will say whether he is able to bring in an Amendment to that effect?
By the leave of the House, and if the hon. Member will allow me to confer on the matter, I think it may be possible, quite fairly and in accordance with his desires, to meet the point so far as he wishes, and I shall be glad to discuss with him and his Friends an Amendment to be moved in Committee. It has been represented to me by the county council that certain candidates may, for example, have entered into contracts for printing on the old London standard before the passing of this Act, and I am sure none of us desire to cause any hardship. I think it will be possible for me to avoid that.
Would the right hon. Gentleman also consider an Amendment to provide that a deposit shall be paid by candidates in the same way as at the recent Parliamentary election, which should be forfeited in the event of candidates not obtaining, say, one-eighth of the votes? This would save unnecessary expense being incurred through freak candidates who have no chance of securing election.
On that matter I can again only speak by leave of the House. I am sure the House will agree that there are a good many points in connection with this measure which we might deal with if we have time, and I think that very possibly there will be some other occasion when these matters will require attention. I think, however, that this particular Amendment would be outside the scope of the Bill, and I hope that as far as possible the House will agree to confine it to the specific matter involved.