HC Deb 28 April 1897 vol 48 cc1205-19

SIR J. B. MAPLE moved, "That this Bill be now read a Second time." He said the object of the Bill was to assimilate the divisions at present existing for the School Board to the divisions now used in. Parliamentary and County Council elections. The present divisions were very large. Marylebone contained nine Parliamentary divisions, with a population of nearly 600,000 and an electorate of nearly 60,000 voters. The Bill abolished the cumulative vote, which practical experience had shown to be of little or no value. It was ludicrous to preserve this system of cumulative voting. The object of the cumulative vote was to give a representation to the minority; but the Roman Catholics were the minority, and they were not represented on the School Board, so no hardship would be inflicted by the change proposed. The Bill had been discussed by all the vestries and local authorities of London, and he had received from them resolutions in its favour. It would have the effect of reducing expenses; it was not a Party Measure; it would simplify the elections enormously, and would render it possible for the representatives to pay more regard to the interests of the neighbourhood for which they were returned. In an election in West Lambeth one candidate received no less than 48,000 votes, and the constituency extended from Camberwell Green to the Crystal Palace. With such enormous constituencies, it was impossible for any candidate to make himself really appreciated when he came before the electors. The Measure followed the lines of the Redistribution Bill of 1885. It would result in a more direct representation of the people, who would feel that they were more in touch with their representatives than they were now. The only Metropolitan Member, he believed, who opposed the Bill was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London, who objected to the abolition of the cumulative vote, which institution they knew was one of his pet subjects. One of the provisions of the Bill would reduce the representation of the City to two members. The City had only two Board Schools within its area, and although it contributed very largely to the expenses of the School Board he considered that the representation which the Bill would provide for it would be quite sufficient. If, however, in Committee it should be thought desirable to give the City four representatives instead of two, he would not himself oppose the Amendment. He concluded by moving that the Bill be read a Second time.

* SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)

proposed to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months." He observed that he would leave the duty of defending the interests of the City to those who represented that constituency. He, however, asked the House to bear in mind that, although it was true that there was not a large number of children or schools in the City, that part of London, nevertheless, contributed very largely towards the educational expenditure of the Metropolis. It was, therefore, in his opinion, only fair that the City should be adequately represented on the School Hoard. He regarded the question with which the Bill was concerned from the point of view of education, and thus viewing it he earnestly hoped that the House would not consent to read the Bill a Second time. The question of the cumulative vote was carefully inquired into hi 1885 by a very strong Committee of that House. Mr. Forster himself gave evidence, and. being asked what was his opinion of the working of the cumulative vote, said, "I think the first working of the Act was much facilitated by it," and he went on to point out that Nonconformists in rural districts were mainly admitted by it. Without the cumulative vote, it would not have been easy for Roman Catholics in London to secure a representative on the School Board. He was not a Roman Catholic himself, and held that it would be a great advantage if every one in this, country were a Protestant; but as many of their fellow-subjects were Roman Catholics, it was only fair that they should be represented on School Boards. In some parts of the country even members of the Church of England would have very little chance of being fairly represented if it were not for the operation of the cumulative system. It was therefore to the advantage of the Church of England, of Woman Catholics, and of Nonconformists alike to retain this system, which insured to all of them some share, at any rate, of representation upon our School Hoards. Sir Francis Sandford, who was permanent Secretary of the Education Department when the Act passed, was also examined before the Committee of 1885, and gave strong evidence in favour of the present system. He said:— I think it (the cumulative vole) has succeeded in securing the return of a very varied representation of all interests, which was the avowed object of its introduction. He was then asked: — Do you think it has made these differences easier to be got over or not? and he answered:— Much easier to be got over." "Was there any extensive wish for a change?"— I never heard of any such extensive wish to get rid of the clause." "You would rather have it than not? "—"I should rather have had it than not." "Would compulsion have been more difficult?"—"Much more difficult." "You believe that the working of the cumulative vote has largely contributed to the success of the Act?"—"I think so. Sir F. Sandford was succeeded by Mr. Cumin, who was permanent Secretary when the Committee sat. He took entirely the same view. My opinion," he said, "is that it would not have been possible to have carried the Act into effect, and certainly there would have been more friction if the cumulative vote had not been in existence. He was asked "Do you think the same argument applies now?" and he replied "I think so." Asked as to change he said, "I should prefer very much to keep to the present system." Mr. Birley, Chair- man of the Manchester School Board, was asked as to the Parliamentary system of voting, and said: To my mind it would not so well represent the feelings of those especially interested in education"; and Mr. Kennedy, Clerk to the School Board of Glasgow, was asked:— Are the Committee, then, to conclude that you are of opinion that on the whole the cumulative vote has worked will in your constituency? and he answered, "Yes, I think it has." Again, Mr. Ewing, Chairman of the Dumfries School Board, being asked, "Are you satisfied with the working of the cumulative vote?" said "Quite satisfied." Strong evidence to the same effect was given by the hon. Member for Donegal, who said that in his opinion the working of the cumulative vote had had the most important effect in securing fair play on the London School Board for the Catholics. But those were not all the authorities in favour of the cumulative vote. Later still a large Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the operation of the Education Acts. Their final Report was issued in 1888, and they said:— We are in favour of retaining some form of proportional representation in our School Board elections, and we should be glad to see the adoption of the single transferable vote, which possesses the advantages of the cumulative vote, without the inconvenience which sometimes arises in the operation of the latter. This was signed by Lord Cross, Cardinal Manning, the Duke of Norfolk, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Sir Francis Sandford, Lord Harrowby, Lord Norton, Dr. Rigg, and others, while those members who signed the minority Report expressly pointed out the points on which they differed, and made no allusion to this important paragraph, so that the Commission may be said to have been unanimously of this opinion. ["Hear, hear!"] It was most important that differences of opinion, educational and religious, should be fairly represented on School Boards. That was to some extent obtained under the present system; but the security would be entirely swept away if the present Hill became law. ["Hear, hear!"] It was clear, therefore, that the weight of educational authority was in favour of the present system and against this Bill; but on general grounds also he maintained that it would be a great mistake. The most important point to be secured in any electoral system was that the majority should rule, and the second, that the minority should be heard, ["Hear, hear!"] The system proposed by the Bill failed in both. He need not occupy the time of the House in proving I hat if the majority was equally spread over the Metropolis they would secure all the seats, and would represent, not London, but only the majority in London. On the other hand, the system of single member seats, as proposed in the Bill, did not secure a majority of seats to ii majority of votes. There was a remarkable illustration in the last Parliamentary election. On the uncontested seats the Unionists had a majority of 72 seats. But there were 481 which were contested. And what happened? In these constituencies the Home Rulers polled 25,000 votes more than the Unionists. [Opposition cheers.] That ought to have given them a majority of two seats, reducing the total Unionist majority to 70. [Opposition cheers.] As a matter of fact, though Unionists polled 25,000 fewer votes, they obtained 79 more scats. Of course they were pleased, but it must in candour be admitted that it was a mockery of representation. [Opposition cheers.] This was no isolated case. Take the last two London County Council elections. At the last the Moderates polled 12,500 more votes, but the seats were exactly equal; while in the previous election the Progressives had the same majority of votes, but it gave them a large majority of seats. He would give one more illustration. In the last Canadian election, Sir Charles Tupper's Party polled 25,000 votes more than Mr. Laurier's; and yet Mr. Laurier's secured a large majority of seats. In fact, under the system of single member seats, the result of a General Election did not depend on the number of the votes given to either side, but on the manner in which they were distributed. ["Hear, hear!"] This was no doubt the main reason why proportional, representation was gradually making its way in advancing communities. It had long been in operation in Denmark; it had been adopted in Belgium. A few years ago it was introduced into the Swiss Canton of Ticino, and was found so great an improvement that it had since been adopted by the Cantons of Geneva, Neufchatel, Basle, and Zug, and seemed likely to be adopted in others also. Another objection to the Bill was that the present system tended to secure some continuity of policy. This Bill was of more importance than might at first seem to be the ease, because if the change was made in London it would probably be extended elsewhere. He believed with the Education Commission that the single transferable vote was the best system; but that lo abandon the cumulative vote for that of single member constituencies would be a great mistake. He thought he had shown that in the opinion of most educational authorities, including four Ministers of Education, the present system had especial value from an educational point of view, and that as regards the importance of securing a faithful representation of the electors, the Bill now before the House would be a step backwards. ["Hear, hear!"] He begged to move that the Bill be Read a Second time that day six months.

* MR. BRODIE HOARE (Hampstead)

said he was strongly impressed with the urgent necessity for a redistribution of electoral areas, but not of the necessity for abolishing the cumulative vote. Speaking for his own constituency, he could say that it was absolutely essential that the large electoral areas for School Board purposes in London and the suburbs should be readjusted. In 1870 the population of Hampstead was about 25,000, and it was then not improperly made part of the constituency of Marylebone. Now the population was over 70,000, and as a population of 70,000, it seemed absurd that it should be lumped with St. John's Wood, Padding-ton, and other places with which Hampstead had no more connect ion than it had with Lambeth or Poplar. A population of 70,000 was surely entitled to a representative of its own on the Board. Other parts of London must be in a similar position to Hampstead. He supported the Second Reading of the Bill on the ground that it was essential that at an early date, if possible, there should be a redistribution of electoral areas in London. At present there were overlapping areas of most inconvenient size, and in many eases the people had not the slightest idea where or for whom they were voting. He acknowledged the authority of the right hon. Member for London University on the subject of proportional representation, and would not go into that subject, but he respectfully urged on the promoters of the Bill that the abolition of cumulative voting was unnecessary, and that the Bill should be confined to the redistribution of electoral areas in and around London.


desired to support the Second Reading of the Bill, which was originally proposed from the Liberal side of the House, and would have been introduced into the last Parliament had its promoters been able to obtain the concurrence of hon. Members for London on the Conservative side. It was felt that it would not be possible to alter the general law of the land unless there was a consensus of opinion among hon. Members representing London constituencies on both sides. But whatever view was taken, there was no blinking the fact that the logical outcome of the Bill would be a Measure for the rest of the country. Undoubtedly there were difficulties in London which, did not exist in other places, because of the want of unity in London as a whole, and the great difficulties of drawing lines of demarcation. But in Manchester, for instance, there were just as large electoral areas as in London or anywhere else. He supported this Bill, believing it to be a step towards a better electoral system for School Board elections. The basis of the argument of the right hon. Member for London University seemed to be that there should be denominational representation upon the School Boards.


remarked that what he said was "that the majority of the electors should secure the majority of representation," and this Bill would not provide for that.


thought much harm had been done to elementary education, not only by denominational strife, but by the fact that this strife had been distinctly encouraged by the system of elections to School Boards, and he would welcome the assimilation of the electoral areas for School Board elections to those for Parliamentary elections, because then the education given and its details would be more the subject of contest than the denominational character of the instruction given. He regretted that the Bill left the School Board constituencies unaltered. One of the troubles under which they laboured—and every one knew it—with respect, to School Board elections, was that there was no register. The absence of this made it difficult for people to know where, when, and how they were to vote. It very much complicated elections, and he wished the Bill had introduced not only a change of area, but a definite statement as to the register on which the elections for School Boards should be taken. It was an essential reform which he regretted had not been introduced into a Bill the general character of which he approved.


said that he seldom troubled the House on any matter on which he had not special knowledge, and this was one on which he had special knowledge both, as senior Member for the London boroughs and as a Member for six years of the London School Board. He could assure the House that the School. Board electoral areas were much too large at present. Good candidates were often prevented from standing at School Board elections because of the enormous area. When he stood, 16 or 17 years ago, for the Division of Greenwich, he found it comprised four boroughs. Marylebone comprised nine boroughs, and there were many other divisions in London comprising seven boroughs. There was no identity of interest between many parts of these large divisions. But this Bill was for the alteration of the areas, and declared that the present divisions were to be abolished and new divisions created. It would, therefore, be quite within the principle of the Bill to retain cumulative voting. In 1891 he himself introduced a Bill to lessen the School Board areas and retain the cumulative vote in a modified form. At present, in some of the divisions, seven votes could be cumulated, but under his Bill, which was approved by the Government of the day, the highest cumulative vote was four, and the lowest two. Still the principle of cumulative voting was maintained, and it was done by grouping two or three boroughs, instead of seven and nine. Owing to the exigencies of legislative business at the end of the Session, his Bill was not passed. He was so disappointed that he had not introduced the Bill since. By a schedule and an alteration of the fourth Clause, the Bill now before the House could be amended to meet the views of the right hon. Member for London University, and while reducing the electoral areas, retaining the cumulative vote. In Marylebone there were 90,000 Parliamentary voters, but he presumed there were even a greater number of School Board voters. A new register of ratepayers had to be prepared for every School Board Election, and no heed was paid to the County Council or Parliamentary registers, although prepared at enormous expense. An Amendment to the effect that the County Council register should be the School Board register might with advantage be accepted. The London School Board had suggested a schedule which proposed to retain the same number of members—55—distributed in fours, threes, and twos over groups of two and three boroughs only. He was satisfied that if an hon. Member were called upon to tight nine boroughs he would hesitate at the expense. His first election cost him £600, and it was not good enough to spend so much to get on the School Board. In consequence of the large areas, they had to take those candidates who were willing to do the work of the Board, but who did not much care whether they were elected or not.


said that the speech of the hon. Member for Shoreditch must have opened the eyes of hon. Members opposite to the real character of the Bill, it was very surprising to find such a proposal emanating from the Conservative side of the House. When reading the Bill, he had such serious misgivings as to the political latitude and longitude of the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill that he consulted the volume they had for their information as to whether he was there described as a Conservative, and he found he was so described. This proposal hardly harmonised with the character. Certainly the result of such a Bill as this would be that in all districts in the country where School Boards were in most active operation, the Conservative Party would immediately lose in representation. The result of the operation of the Bill would be disastrous to the Catholics in London, who were at present paying heavily for their religious opinions. They were under religious disqualifications or religious disadvantages of a pecuniary kind simply and solely because they were Catholics. There were in the Metropolis 11 districts in which members were elected. Each of those districts had some four or five representatives. Under the cumulative system of voting, the Catholic voters could concentrate their suffrages upon one or more candidates, with the result that now and again they could return a member who fully represented them, and in the great majority of cases they were able to exercise such electoral pressure that a very considerable section of the members of the School Board were only too glad to come to some kind of terms with the Catholic interest. But if each of the existing areas were divided into two or three portions, and if, instead of having power to cumulate four or five votes upon any particular candidate of choice, Catholics had only two votes to use cumulatively, their electoral power would be diminished 50 per cent. Though the cumulative vote system might be retained under the new division of areas, the effective force of the Catholic voters would be entirely dissipated. He trusted that before the House came to a decision upon the Bill, they would give full consideration to the hardships under which Catholics now suffered, and to the hardships still more grievous under which they would suffer if the Bill passed. The Government would have the determining voice in this matter, and therefore, especially in view of the loyal and consistent support in educational matters which he and his hon. Friends had given them, he could fairly appeal to them to protect the Catholic interest in this matter. If the Government should fail them, he trusted that those energies which had for some time been dormant might possibly with some justice be roused into renewed activity.


said that the Bill would put an end to proportional representation in School Board elections, and on that ground he could not support if. Upon consideration hon. Members must admit that on the whole the system of proportional or cumulative voting had answered exceedingly well. It had prevented, especially in the large towns, minorities from being entirety excluded from representation, with the result that, on the whole, there had been very harmonious working. The hon. and gallant Member for Greenwich told them they might vote for the Second Reading, and then introduce clauses which would alter its character. He ventured to think the hon. Member's gallantry had overcome his learning in giving that advice, for it was very doubtful whether the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees would permit such an Amendment. Not only would an injury be done to the Catholics and other religious bodies, but the elections for the School Boards would practically be converted into political elections. This would be very undesirable in the interests of education.

Mr. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

said that if the Bill had been one for revising the present divisions of London and for preserving in each division some method of securing proportional representation, much might have been said for it. But the Bill was not of that character, nor could it be so transformed. It was a Bill for dividing London into single Member districts, with the exception of the City; and the only method of election which could prevail was that followed when one Member only was to be elected. Cumulative voting was out of the question. The proposed change was a very large one if London alone were considered; hut it was still larger if the whole country was taken into account; and it would be impossible to have the School Board in London elected under one system while the Boards of other large towns were elected under another system. The change would prejudicially affect not only the Roman Catholics—who under the cumulative system were able to return some members of their own communion, and powerfully to influence the elections of others—but also members of the Church of England, Secularists, Jews, and Nonconformists. In many a country parish it was the cumulative system which secured the presence of a Nonconformist on the School Board; and in Welsh parishes that system often prevented the entire Board from being ex- clusively composed of Nonconformists. If a variety of interests were to be represented on the School Board, and the different sections of the community were to be brought into play in the dispatch of School Board business, the present principle of election must be retained. The hon. Member for Shoreditch would not have the composition of the School Board in any degree affected by the religious opinions of the different sections of the electorate. He would not have any representation of the different sections of educational thought on the School Board. What the hon. Member would have was a great struggle over the question whether the School Board should be wholly denominational or wholly undenominational. He altogether denied the position taken up by the hon. Member for Shoreditch—that the problem of education could be considered without reference to those questions which the hon. Member wished to put aside. During the present Session Parliament had been engaged on Bills the whole principle of which was the recognition that religious education, in the minds of a considerable portion of the people, was so essential that it must be maintained. What narrowness of view, then, it was to suggest, as did the hon. Member for Shoreditch, that his particular definition of education could be imposed on the rest of the world. The hon. Member would not allow other people to have any influence on primary education unless they put aside altogether opinions which the hon. Member did not share. Society was not so constituted that these particular elements could be dispensed with. The work of education could not be efficiently discharged unless the diversity of interests was properly represented. This was not an opinion nursed in the closet—the mere dream of the philosopher or the man with a hobby. Eleven years ago a strong Select Committee was appointed to inquire into the subject. They examined the Vice President of the Council—the man who brought in the Education Act of 1870—and he said that that Act could not have worked without the cumulative system. Lord Sandford, long the permanent Secretary of the Education Department, said the same; and witnesses from all the big towns actually interested in School Board work declared that they could not have carried out the work imposed by the Education Act without the co-operation on the School Boards; of members of different views and religious convictions. No doubt it was very pleasant for the hon. Member for Dulwich to reflect on the character of the Parliamentary representation of London under a system of single-member constituencies. But would the hon. Member assert that the Parliamentary representation of London at the present moment corresponded to the division of political opinion among the electors? It was notoriously not so. The: London County Council was elected under a single-member system; and the constitution of that body showed at one time an enormous overplus of Progressives and at another time almost an equality, although the number of Progressive voters was the same in both cases. The electorate would not: necessarily be at all truly reflected in the body elected under this Bill, as was shown by experience both in large and small areas. For example, twice in its Parliamentary history Leeds, as at present constituted, had had a majority of voters one way and a majority of members the other way. If this were a question of simply cutting down the present School Board areas something might be said for it, but, even looked at from that point of view, he did not think the proposal was one which should be accepted by the House. It was not always a disadvantage to have a large area to appeal to. It was not desirable that every area should be canvassed. It was far better to use the resources of civilisation in the way of distributing leaflets in order to bring a candidate's views before the electors than to conduct a house-to-house canvass. The experience of the School Board for London itself showed how powerful the present large areas, coupled with the system of cumulative voting, were in securing the representation of comparatively small minorities and the presence on the Board of persons of different classes. The result was that, whatever might be the defects of the London School Board, it had maintained much the same policy for the past 25 years, and there had been a continuity of action on the part of the Board which would not have happened had the Board been elected by the methods proposed in the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"]


said there was not much time left for him to state the views of the Committee of Council on Education in regard to the Bill—[laughter]—but: he would state those views in a very few words. The Committee regarded the Bill not merely as a Bill to alter the boundaries of the districts by which the School Board for London was elected, but a Bill for the abolition of cumulative voting. The Committee of Council on Education had the same opinion now in regard to cumulative voting that they had had in the days of Mr. Forster, Lord Sandford, and Sir Patrick Cuming. The experience of the past 25 years was that the Education Act could not have been so well worked, if, indeed, it had been worked at all, were it not for the protection that cumulative voting gave to minorities. ["Hear, hear!"] He would not be led into a discussion on the representation of minorities, and would express no opinion as to whether the method of election adopted in the Education Act was the most philosophic method that could be conceived; but at any rate it was one that was now in existence, and it was not one that the Education Department could recommend Parliament to alter. The opinion of all educational authorities and experts had been in favour of some method by which minorities could find their way on the School Boards, and, so far from agreeing with what had been said by the hon. Member for Shoreditch, that the abolition of cumulative voting would put an end to party spirit, he was afraid that if the Bill were passed, School Board elections would become purely party elections. ["Hear, hear!"] It was a significant circumstance, stated by the right hon. Gentleman in moving the Second Reading, that all the Radical political associations and all the Conservative political associations were in favour of the Bill. To his mind that consensus of opinion on the part of the political associations on both sides was the strongest possible condemnation of the Bill. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] Nothing could be more unfortunate than that the School Boards should be made arenas for political discussion. [A laugh on the Opposition side.] He supposed the hon. Member who laughed cared a great deal more for party than for education. [Cheers.] Already, as thing's were, party spirit prevailed a great deal too much in the discussion of education questions, and he was sure that if they made the School Boards, instead of what they were now in a great majority of cases, bodies where men of all parties, men of all religions, men of the most divergent views on questions of State policy, could act together for the benefit of education—if they were to turn the School Boards into mere party bodies, the interests of education would seriously suffer. Therefore, while the present system might be unpractical and unphilosophic in some respects, it secured on the School Boards the presence of nonparty, non-denominational, and non-sectarian elements, and for that reason the Committee of Council on Education would view the abolition of cumulative voting with very great regret. [Cheers.]

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

The House divided:—Ayes, 80; Noes, 127.—(Division List, No. 188.)

Words added.

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

Second Reading put oft' for six months.