HANSARD—House of Commons resolution, 25th May 1894.
The Parliamentary Election [Returning Officer's] Expenses Act, 1875—
Mr William Caine [Bradford E.]—
In 1885 he contested the Tottenham Division of Middlesex—one of the largest divisions in the United Kingdom. He did not know who the Sheriff was, but he had a lively recollection of the Under Sheriff—Mr. Wynne E. Baxter—who had charge of the three divisions of Tottenham, Enfield, and Hornsey. According to law this gentleman was bound to do the very best he could for the candidates to whom he was responsible; to expend the smallest amount of money practicable in providing what was necessary for the machinery of the election.
The Act, unfortunately, laid down a maximum, and this gentleman ingeniously charged each division the full maximum allowed by law, using the same machinery in each case, with, of course, the exception of printing. He charged him (Mr. Caine) and his opponent a good round sum for ballot boxes; then he sold the same boxes to Hornsey, and afterwards resold them again to Enfield, making a handsome profit in each instance. In one case he hired from the Guildhall a set of fittings kept in stock for all kinds of elections. He paid one guinea for the use of those fittings and charged him, as Liberal candidate, £52 10s.
But this gentleman was not content with that, for, having made all these various charges, he took care to send in his account just the day before that on which the account of the election expenses had to be returned. The consequence was, that only three courses were open—to pay and say nothing, to return the account as disputed, or else to have it taxed.
Having, after some difficulty, persuaded his opponent to take the matter into the County Court in order to have the account taxed, they asked for vouchers, and the only voucher Mr. Baxter produced was a voucher signed for the full amount by a firm called Baxter & Co., advertising agents. Investigation showed that Baxter & Co. was nothing but Mr. Wynne E. Baxter, who had created himself into a firm for the purpose of supplying the Sheriff with the necessary machinery of the elections. He produced a receipt for the full amount "as agreed," giving no details whatever, and this he had the impudence to tender in Court as a complete voucher for the enormous amount of money which he had overcharged the candidates.
On being pressed he was compelled to admit that "Baxter & Co." was no other than himself. The fact was brought out that Mr. Baxter, as Under Sheriff and solicitor, must have advised the Sheriff to make an agreement to pay Baxter, as advertising agent, double the legal maximum. There was a charge of £48 for professional services. On inquiry it was brought out that these professional services were for "advising the Sheriff in the conduct of the election." So that the House would see that he as candidate was called upon to pay his share of the £48 to this person for advising the Sheriff to enter into a contract with Baxter himself, on the pretext of his being an advertising agent. The Registrar of the County Court before whom the matter came characterised the document as a bogus voucher, and the result was that the Returning Officer's charges were cut down by some £670, and he was made to pay the costs besides.
He could assure the House that the cheque he received in respect of the over-payments he had been compelled to make to the Returning Officer was the sweetest bit of money he had ever put into his pocket. All that he could say was that he now regretted that when he was asked to pay such outrageous charges he had not proceeded against the Under Sheriff and sued him for the penalty of £500 for extortion.