HC Deb 12 July 1871 vol 207 cc1525-39

Order for Second Reading read.


, in rising to move "That the Bill be now read a second time," said, he was fully determined to take the sense of the House upon it, as it embodied a great principle. Although he had no hope of inducing any very considerable number of hon. Members to go into the same lobby with him, yet it would be advantageous to ascertain the sentiments of the House. No doubt it would be urged that they had had only one year's experience of the system of cumulative voting, and that, therefore, it would be premature to discuss an alteration of it; but, on the other hand, he believed the country had already come to a definite conclusion on the subject. He proposed to show—first, that the system did not secure an accurate representation of the opinions of the ratepayers; secondly, that the evils produced outweighed the advantages supposed to be derived from it; and, thirdly, that a much simpler and more satisfactory system might be devised. In illustration of these propositions, he would refer to the case of the recent school board elections at Birmingham, which had not been accurately understood. Although that case furnished an extreme example of the system, yet the evils there produced in an exaggerated form would exist in a modified form wherever the system was brought into operation. In Birmingham there were two great parties, the unsectarian party and the sectarian party, who, in regard to educational matters, were respectively represented by the "League" and the "Union." The Roman Catholics and Wesleyans somewhat disturbed the exact balance of parties; but that circumstance did not deserve much consideration, and, stated broadly, the "League" and "Union" parties corresponded with the Liberal and Conservative parties at elections for Members of Parliament. At the last General Election, the Liberals polled 22,500 and the Conservatives 9,000, the proportion being, therefore, as 5 to 2. In corroboration of that statement he might allude to a proposition made by the denominational party to the leaders of the League party prior to the school board election. They proposed that with the view to avoiding a contest, an arrangement should be come to, under which five members of the board should be nominated by the denominational party and 10 by the League. It turned out, however, that, instead of the Conservatives polling 9,000 votes they polled 10,000; while the Liberals, instead of polling 22,500 votes, as they expected, only polled 19,000, of whom 15,000 were of the unsectarian party. How was that discrepancy to be accounted for? The universal belief of the Liberal party in Birmingham was, that that unexpected result was owing to the fact that all the religious ardour which it was possible to evoke was brought to bear on the election, while the parochial machinery was used on behalf of the supporters of denominational education. On the other hand, the unsectarian party failed in these respects, and in one district found themselves entirely destitute of organization. Then, among the poorer and more ignorant classes, who usually belonged to the Liberal ranks, the system of cumulative voting was not understood, and it was very difficult for them to work it. In many instances, indeed, working men were practically disfranchised in consequence of the introduction of that new and complicated system. The result of the election was that there were 15,000 voters on the side of the unsectarians, 10,000 on the side of the denominationalists, and a little over 3,000 for the Roman Catholics; but, instead of the unsectarian party returning a proportionate number of members to the school board, they returned only six instead of eight, while the denominational party returned eight instead of five, and the Roman Catholics one instead of two. The unsectarian candidates were, without exception, men who had taken a leading part in all the controversies on the subject of education, while the denominational eight had no pre-eminence over them in that respect—one, indeed, being a publican who was never before connected with educational matters in anyway. Thus, the working of the Act was placed in the hands of men who were opposed in some respects to its provisions, the natural consequence being that there had been a want of harmony in the proceedings of the board. It might, perhaps, be urged that all that was very true; but that the Liberal party were greedy in putting forward so many candidates. That, however, was an entirely mistaken view of the case. Previous to the election, the unsectarian party had very good ground for believing that five-sevenths of the electors would be on their side, and they brought forward 15 candidates; but the denominational party, who according to their own showing were only entitled to return five candidates, brought forward eight. Consequently, if the unsectarian party were greedy, their opponents were still more so. The skilful men who had so successfully worked the Parliamentary election under the minority clause were of opinion that 15 candidates ought to be brought forward, and the unfortunate result was due to the badness of the system of cumulative voting, and not to the greed of the unsectarian party. It was said that if that system of voting were abolished, the smaller sects would be unrepresented; but he should like to know what advantage was gained by having one or two Roman Catholics on the London School Board, for example, as on all points at issue between Catholics and Protestants, the former would, of course, be unable to carry out their views, although they might display bad feeling and cause delay in the proceedings? He would now endeavour to show that the evils of the system far outweighed its benefits. In the first place, there was a very great waste of voting power. In the case of Miss Garrett, in London, and of the Roman Catholics at almost every election, twice as many votes were given as were required to attain the object in view. This evil would always prevail, though not, perhaps, to the same extent, and under the Ballot it would probably become exaggerated. It could only be avoided by the adoption of a system of wire-pulling. At the last election for Birmingham it was found that there was a great tendency to tamper with the voting papers. The moment a voting paper was left at the house of a working man the house was entered by an agent of one of the parties, and it often happened that when the working man returned home he found that his wife had been induced to allow the paper to be filled up. A considerable number of working men had thus lost their votes, because they were unable to procure fresh papers. Again, it was so difficult to fill up a voting paper containing the names of 30 candidates that persons who were unable to read were virtually disfranchised. At the late school board elections the question raised was not whether such and such candidates were the best men with reference solely to education, but whether they belonged to one or other denomination. The religions and sectarian clement was brought in, and almost every Member was returned on account not of his educational, but of his religious qualifications. The result was, that in most of the places where a contest had occurred Roman Catholics, Churchmen, and Nonconformists were placed in a position of antagonism to one another. The Times of that day, speaking of himself, said— He may think it not desirable that the educational council of a community should gather together in the exact proportions of their strength the best friends of education within it. The fact, however, was that it was because he desired this that he objected to the cumulative system; but he was certainly not in favour of constant strife on the subject of religion. The disestablishment of the English Church was a subject which would be kept permanently before the country, and he would remind hon. Members opposite that wherever a school board was established the Churchmen would, under the cumulative system, be arrayed on one side and the Nonconformists on the other; so that in every part of the country there would be a centre of agitation and opposition to Church institutions that would hasten the great catastrophe which hon. Gentlemen opposite so much dreaded. In substitution of the cumulative vote he would propose the system almost universally adopted at municipal elections. Let every school district be so divided that there should be either three members of the board or multiples of three, and let one of each three members go out annually, so that there would be in each section of the district an election every year for one member, and for one member only. The result would be that that one member of the board would be elected by a majority of the voters. In the case of Town Councils this system had been found to work very well indeed. ["No, no!] At all events, he was not aware that there were differences of opinion on that subject. In conclusion, he thought it was the duty of those who entertained the same opinions as he did to elicit the sentiments of the House of Commons on the subjects to which he had adverted. When he and his friends had ascertained accurately what their position was, they would go on working under the present system, which they knew had been approved by a large majority of the House. He did not wish to offer a factious opposition to a law passed by the House of Commons; but he should not give up the hope—especially as he might count on the support of his hon. Colleague (Mr. Bright), who would probably resume his seat in that House next Session—that the day was not far distant when the people of England would decide in favour of the old plan of representation by majorities, and sweep away all those philosophical excrescences and innovations. In conclusion, the hon. Member moved the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr, Dixon.)


, in moving "That the Bill be read a second time upon this day three months" said, the real issue was whether the majority were to be represented alone, or whether different sections of the community ought to be represented also. He had always advocated the principle of representation of minorities in that House; but he thought the application of the principle to school boards was still more advisable than to the election of Members of the House of Commons, for while hon. Members represented the whole of the people; of the country as well as their own constituencies, thereby indirectly representing minorities, on the other hand, a school board was an autonomy, and had a little Parliament of its own. Therefore, if there were no cumulative vote, the effect would be that the dominant section, and not the whole community, would secure the representation. In that House there might be a minority on the Government side agreeing with a majority on the Opposition; the consequence of which would be a majority of the whole House, and not merely of the Government. The principle of representation by a dominant majority eliminated out of its purview the whole of the rights and feelings of the minority; and that could hardly be regarded as a wholesome Liberal principle. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) argued that sectarian feelings were excited by the operation of the present system; but those whom the hon. Gentleman stigmatized as candidates for the Church party were mainly supported, not because they were members of the so-called Church party, but because they had proved themselves to be zealous friends of education. It was the hon. Gentleman who placed such men on a sectarian platform. The Elementary Education Act of last year was passed for the purpose of supplementing the existing system, by making use of every school it could, and only where a school was really needed to direct one to be built there. The feeling, at the time of the passing of the Act, was not to get rid of denominational schools bit by bit, but it was rather in favour of them, and he held that the large majority of the people were disposed to give fair play to such schools, especially to those which were in the hands of voluntary supporters. With regard to the election of Town Councillors upon the system applauded by the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Birmingham, his experience led him to believe that it did not always work satisfactorily, since it did not succeed in giving that representation which ought to be a miniature of the whole people, and not merely a picture of a section. If a parent wished his child to be brought up in a religious atmosphere, why should he not do so? If he wanted his child to be grounded in secular education only, why should not his wishes be carried out? All were on a level in that respect. If the majority of the ratepayers desired a secular education only they had the right to exclude from board schools all religion whatsoever. But to whom did they owe the present state of education but to people who were embued with religious feelings, chiefly members of the Church of England, but with a sprinkling of Wesleyans, Roman Catholics, and others? He opposed that measure on the same ground that he supported the principle of the representation of all sections of the people in that House. The school board ought to be formed so as to be a miniature picture of all classes of ratepayers. Dividing Birmingham into wards, a Roman Catholic could not be elected; but by taking the votes altogether every party might secure the return of a candidate. For these reasons he must move the rejection of the Bill.


, in rising to second the Amendment, said, he had listened to much of the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) who had charge of this Bill with surprise. His hon. Friend's proposal, if carried, would have the effect of electing to each school board men who were of one opinion. If at the last General Election no hon. Members had been returned representing Conservative opinions, hon. Members sitting on the Government benches would have been entirely unchecked by any wholesome criticism, and in all probability would have committed errors so numerous and grave that at the next Election they would, in a body, have given way to hon. Gentlemen opposite, who would be equally without control until another Election. Not only would the effect of his hon. Friend's proposal be analogous, but the proceedings of his hon. Friend and of the Birmingham League had proved that if they had got the power into their hands they would not have failed to use it. His hon. Friend not only argued that it could be no pleasure to a minority to be represented, inasmuch as they must be always beaten, but went even further, and appeared to think that a majority had grave cause for dissatisfaction if their opponents could be heard. Throughout his speech his hon. Friend had argued as if the Liberal party and the Birmingham League were synonymous. At the school board election the Birmingham League polled a little over 14,000 votes, or about one-half of the votes given; but they insisted as far as they could, that they should monopolize the representation on the board. His hon. Friend's argument was that minorities could have no influence, as they were certain to be beaten, a process never attended with any satisfaction. But that the opinions of minorities were not without their influence it would be easy to prove. Last year his hon. Friend was the able advocate of compulsory attendance at schools. In his desire to secure that result he (Lord Frederick Cavendish) for one, heartily wished him success; but the practical difficulties in the way were so great that it was thought better to leave the matter to the decision of the localities themselves. Nevertheless, although in the school board elections the League had been generally defeated, the principle had been adopted in the school boards in nearly every important town in the kingdom. That fact in itself was sufficient to show that a minority, if they had sound argument in favour of the cause they desired to recommend, would see their efforts crowned with success, and that, too, without having to wait for it any great length of time. The principle of compulsory attendance adopted by the boards as at present constituted, had commanded a cheerful obedience; but that obedience would not, he believed, have been cheerfully given if none but members of the Birmingham League had been represented on the school boards. His hon. Friend had stated that, owing to the complexity of the present system, a large proportion of the electors did not record their votes, but out of the 30,000 electors who voted at the last Parliamentary Election for Birmingham over 29,000 voted at the election for the school boards. [Mr. Dixox: The constituency has increased since.] In Greenwich, Chelsea, and Lambeth a larger number voted for the school boards than at the election of Members of Parliament. Then they were told that the present plan gave undue power to party organization, but, as the League candidates at the last election had each polled between 13,000 and 16,000 votes, that result was sufficient to show that the League had little to regret in the way of organization, and that but few of the votes of their supporters had been squandered. Finally, his hon. Friend had urged that the present system involved a great waste of voting power, but at Manchester, where 15 members were to be elected out of 44 candidates, the successful candidates secured 330,000 out of 399,000 votes. At Sheffield, with 54 candidates, the successful 15 polled two-thirds of all the votes recorded; and at Lambeth something like the same proportion was maintained. Looking at the results of the Act of last year, they might, he believed, say that the school boards would fairly compare with any other of their local bodies, and their quiet, practical, harmonious working afforded a fair prospect of their being able to remove the reproach, which had hitherto been too true, that they were the worst educated nation in the world.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Collins.)


, as a Member of the National Education League, said, he desired to oppose the Bill before the House. Of that opposition his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) had no reason to complain. His hon. Friend, and those who acted with him, had accepted the adhesions and subscriptions of many Radicals, like himself, who had always advocated a system of proportional representation, and had never concealed their opinions on that point. When, therefore, his hon. Friend and the Council of the League proposed to repudiate the cumulative vote, because it had failed at Birmingham, he entirely abjured his hon. Friend's leadership for the time being. That taxation and representation should go together was, he believed, an axiom equally dear both to himself and to his hon. Friend; but unless there were representatives of all parties on the school boards, to determine the extent and nature of the taxation to be imposed, that axiom was violated. Parliament last year, in dealing with the subject, had determined upon relegating to the educational bodies themselves the settlement of the various educational difficulties. That settlement had been aided by the very system of which his hon. Friend complained. Claiming as he did freedom for the religious opinions of all his fellow-countrymen, he could not but feel that under such a proposal as that now made by his hon. Friend, not a single Roman Catholic would have stood a chance of being elected to a school board in that country. Such elections he believed to be necessary for the protection of his Roman Catholic fellow-subjects, because he believed the consciense clause was of very little use, unless there was some watch-dog always ready to see it enforced. Again, without the cumulative vote, he believed it would be impossible for any working man to secure a seat at one of these boards, and even with that vote but one such had been elected in London. The effect of the Bill would be to return absolute majorities, destroy discussion, and make opposition valueless. Everyone knew that a good opposition was an admirable thing for the country, seeing that it prevented the introduction of immature measures, and made persons cautious in the expression of opinions. Accepting the axiom that the majority should govern, he still desired to see minorities represented; if the old system had prevailed the late election for the school board would have resulted in a fight between Liberals and Conservatives, or between Nonconformists and Churchmen; and it would have been impossible to secure the election of a single lady, though all must admit their presence on the boards was in many cases an element of great strength. He could not, in answer to the practical difficulty suggested by his hon. Friend, submit that cumulative voting was entirely satisfactory. There was, for instance, an enormous waste of votes in Marylebone to secure the return of Mrs. Anderson; but that defect could be cured by some system of preferential voting. He would not, however, detain the House upon that point, as he proposed introducing the subject on some future occasion.


, said, he should vote for the Bill, because it raised the question of proportional representation. He did not wonder that the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Collins) and the noble Lord the Member for the Northern Division of the West Riding of Yorkshire (Lord Frederick Cavendish), opposed the Bill, because they were the advocates of proportional representation. But that principle had never been adopted by the Liberal party. It had been denounced by the Prime Minister, by the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), by the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), and by all the most experienced statesmen in the House; and he, for his part, had not advanced so far as to adopt the new fangled system which was proposed as a substitute for the old clumsy system of election by majorities. He had noticed the hon. Member for Boston sitting on the Liberal side of the House below the gangway the other night, and could not help thinking he had better take his seat there continually as the leader of the philosophical Liberals. Propositions from that party had been numerous of late. Female suffrage, minority votes, payment of Members, and payment of election expenses out of rates, had been proposed by it. But the cause of Liberalism seemed to be going in a direction which was not desirable in the estimation of some; the arrangement it was proposed to put an end to had been carried by a minority of the Liberals combined with the majority of the Conservatives. Already that combination had saddled the country with three-cornered constituencies, and now the hon. Member for Boston had announced his intention to attempt to introduce the system into the municipal elections by means of the Bill now going through the House, with the avowed object of overthrowing the unjust preponderance of Liberals in the municipalities of the country. The principle that representation should go with taxation was older than the assertion in favour of minority representation; their ancestors had always been content with the old clumsy system of representation by majorities, and, believing proportional representation was contrary to the habits and sentiments of the people, he (Mr. Harcourt) promised it continual opposition.


said, he must, having taken part in school board elections, express his belief that there never was a system better calculated to bring together in one room the best men of each town to constitute a school board, and he therefore hoped that the Bill would be rejected. A school board was not only a deliberative assembly, but an assembly which had permissive power to make laws for the purpose of carrying out the wishes of the population over whom it was placed. In his opinion all parties ought to be represented on such boards, and thus secure the sympathy of all sects and denominations. The little dissatisfaction which had resulted from the late school board election had been occasioned not by the system of cumulative voting, but by divisions in the parties to whom seats had been lost.


said, he hoped that when the hon and learned Member for Oxford (Mr. V. Harcourt) offered to the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Collins) the leadership of the philosophical Liberals there was no spretœ injuria formœ which led him to do so. The hon. Member for Birmingham had discovered no inconveniences resulting from this new mode of voting which had not been expected. The way to meet the waste of votes was to go further and introduce a system of preferential voting. Wire-pulling might be objectionable, but it was almost a necessary consequence of the existence of great public interest in a subject. Surely the hon. Member did not want to get boards formed of persons having identical opinions, and at the same time do great injustice. If he was unrepresented on the school board, and he was compelled to send his children to a school to be educated on a system he disapproved, it was no satisfaction to him to know that another man in the next district was in precisely the same situation. Though an earnest advocate for State education, he always allowed it was a defective remedy for a bad state of things, for if parents were sensible of their responsibilities school boards would be unnecessary. He advocated the continuance of the present system on grounds of tolerance and forbearance. The danger of the future was that one party should get the government into its hands without check and use it for themselves without regard to the rights of the rest of the community. Nothing could save the country from that danger but the encouragement of a general feeling among the people that government must be carried on in the interest of all.


said, he wished to look at the matter in a practical point of view. One remarkable and almost universal result of the cumulative vote was the return of persons of different creeds and classes who had shown an interest in the work of education. The candidates generally who had been rejected were theorists, and not practical men. The new system had brought together great numbers of men of practical experience, who were a true representative of every class and every denomination in each locality. He had carefully watched the proceedings of the London Board, having the honour of being a member of that body, and he was convinced that the result of the elections had been to bring together a mixture of opinions which had been productive of a wonderful feeling of toleration and harmony, and he might safely say that the spirit of religious dissension had hardly shown itself at their meetings. That could only have been brought about by the system of cumulative voting, and he believed that when the time arrived to solve the difficult problem of compelling the attendance of children at schools the mixed representation would have a very salutary effect. He thought it very objectionable, after only one year's experience, to change a system of voting which had produced such beneficial results, and that it ought not to be tampered with until it had had a fair trial.


said, he thought it exceedingly desirable that all political parties and all religious sects should be fairly represented on the school boards, and could not consent to the adoption of any system which would establish monopolies in different parts of the kingdom. The present system had worked most satisfactorily in Leeds. No doubt the majority of the board consisted of Nonconformists, there being nine members of that body against six Churchmen. There were also eight Liberals against seven Conservatives. There would have been a greater preponderance of the Nonconformist and Liberal element had it not been for the attempt to obtain rather more than it was judicious to do. If there had been a great controlling majority of Nonconformists in Leeds, what would have been the result? The members of the Church of England had raised funds for the education of no less than 19,000 children, and it would have been almost impossible to have carried on the education system if the members of the Church had been excluded from the school board. In the small towns and villages the result might be different, where the majority were Churchmen and Conservatives. But he thought it would be unjust to establish a monopoly in any part of the country, and trusted that the system which had proved so successful would still be continued.


, in the unavoidable absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, stated that he had not the less hesitation in expressing his right hon. Friend's sentiments disapproving the Bill, because it happened that that was the only question upon which he (Mr. Winterbotham) thoroughly agreed with him last year. He did so, not because the cumulative vote was philosophical, whatever that might mean, but because it was just. Being so, it had grown in favour with the country, and the experience of the school board election had settled the matter finally. It had produced the end desired, and none of the evils feared. It signally succeeded in Birmingham in securing the just proportion of representation, and preventing a monopoly of representation by one party, as it always should do; and although a staunch leaguer and secularist in education, he could not help saying that the rebuke his friends in Birmingham had received was thoroughly well deserved.

Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Bill put off for three months.