HC Deb 04 August 1913 vol 56 cc1203-10

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.


I beg to move, "That further consideration of this Bill, as amended, be postponed for three months."

This is a course which I have to take in order to get the opportunity of making the remarks which I desire to make on this Bill. It is not in order on this Motion to go into the question of the merits. The history of this Bill is as follows: In the autumn of last year the School Board of Glasgow considered the desirability of taking action on the lines indicated by this Bill. The Bill was introduced by the hon. Member for Blackfriars and supported by the other Glasgow Members. In the early part of this year somewhere about May it was read the Second time. On the 2nd of June it was committed to the Committee on Scotch Bills. It came down from that Committee two or three days ago as a Private Member's Bill. Since then it has been put on the Paper as a Government order. It is not a party Bill at all. It is presented by Mr. Barnes, and supported by Mr. Scott Dickson, Mr. Watt, Mr. Dundas White, Mr. Mackinder and MacCallum Scott. But it does raise an issue about which there is great divergence of opinion in this House. It raises a direct issue of whether or not the existing system of voting in school board elections in Scotland is to be stereotyped, nay more, is to be extended, under this Bill, or whether the first idea of the school board election embodied in the original draft of the Bill is to receive the attention of the House, namely, proportional representation.

Whether or not at this time of day we are to extend the cumulative vote, or whether we should go in for some system of proportional representation, the House, I think, will see that between the two there is room for great divergence of opinion, though not on party lines. In any case, I would suggest that this is hardly the time of the Session to take a Bill of this character. When the Leader of the House was making his statement, on the 22nd July, as to the business which was to be taken, the question was put to him, what about the Private Bills? Are there any Private Bills for which the Government are going to assume responsibility? In order to put the matter afresh, I would point out that the Prime Minister was dealing with the various Bills. He said:— I do not think there are any of the others, with a single exception to which I will now refer, which require special treatment. The exception is Order 37, which is not 'starred,' and appears below the Government Orders—the Extension of Polling Hours Bill. That is a Bill which has now passed through both Houses … and I hope we may treat that as a measure which will pass into law. My Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) asked:— Is the right hon. Gentleman going to star any other Private Bills? The right hon. Gentleman said:— No, Sir, not as at present advised. I know of none"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, col. 1880, Vol. LV.] The right hon. Gentleman said that at the moment this particular Bill with which we are dealing to-night had obtained its Second Reading, and was well within the cognisance of the House. As a matter of fact it was upstairs in the Scottish Committee. It is not a party Bill at all; it does not raise a party question, but it does raise a big question—the question whether or not we are to stereotype the existing system, which I think bad, or institute something which is better. The Leader of the House is the custodian of the rights of private Members in every part of the House, and I submit that under these circumstances it would be giving fuller rein to what I believe was the general understanding in all parts of the House to proceed with the consideration of this Bill.


I beg to second the Amendment.


I am rather surprised that this poor little bantling of a Bill should have been assailed by a representative from Ireland. Surely, in a matter of domestic concern the people of Glasgow might be allowed to manage their own business in their own way. This is not the Bill of any party or section of the Glasgow School Board, nor does it stereotype the existing system of voting. It takes the existing system of voting, and, in order that interest may be taken in the Glasgow School Board election and in educational matters generally, the Bill simply provides that the divisions should be smaller. As to the need of it, I think the hon. Gentleman will see the need on the face of the Bill. In spite of the interest in educational matters in Scotland being more than in any other part of the United Kingdom, we find that in Glasgow out of a possible total of 3,127,850 votes in the last election, there were only 1,018,127 votes cast or a per- centage of 37. The reason for that is that the whole of Glasgow is one electoral area, and it is almost impossible for any ordinary man to make any impression upon such an unmanageable constituency.

The Bill has been assented to by all parties to reduce the area to more manageable areas. I believe that the hon. Gentleman or some of his friends smell brimstone out of this and a sort of anti-popery. Let me assure him there is nothing of the kind. It is not a Bill promoted by the Roman Catholics of Glasgow. On the contrary, the Roman Catholics stood out against it. This Bill is promoted by the educationists of Glasgow for the purpose of getting a larger degree of interest in educational matters and getting a larger percentage of voters to vote in the school board elections. If the Roman Catholics were allowed to follow their bent they find no fault with the existing system, and they do very well out of it. As a matter of fact, five out of twenty-five members on the School Board of Glasgow are Roman Catholics. The average number required to return a member to the Glasgow School Board is 40,000 and the Roman Catholic candidates range from 44,000 to 43,000, and it is perfectly obvious that they have correctly gauged the situation and put up the exact number of members their strength warrants. It is the same with regard to the Socialists. I know the hon. Gentleman or his friends have the idea that this Bill is being promoted by Roman Catholics and Socialists. There never was a more wild and weird idea as that.


I did not suggest anything of the sort. The hon. Member is really giving and making suggestions as to what I said, which are entirely unfounded. I will state my objection again to this Bill, which extends the cumulative vote and does not contain the principle of proportional representation. The original draft of the School Board's Bill did.


I did not misrepresent the hon. Gentleman. I never said anything with regard to what he said but what is in his mind or the minds of his friends and which is at the back of the Opposition to the Bill. This is an Ulster opposition to Scottish people doing their own business in their own way. The Socialist party put two members on the school board, and there again they correctly gauged what they could do under the existing system, one of the two being fourth from the bottom and the other at the bottom. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's point, so far as he has any point beyond seeing stars at this time of night, that the Prime Minister gave a pledge that no other Bill was to be starred, as a matter of fact the Prime Minister gave no such pledge as is proved by the extract read by the hon. Gentleman. The Prime Minister did say, that at that moment he knew of no other Bills, but he left himself a convenient back door, as he generally does, by saying that as at present advised he was not going to star any other Bill. Since then he has been advised to star this Bill for a very obvious reason. As everybody concerned wants the Bill and as the only means of getting it to the House of Lords is for the Government to take it up, the Bill, for that simple and obvious reason, has been starred and I hope that, as the Bill has been assented to by all parties in Glasgow, and is a matter upon which the Glasgow people feel very strongly, and, as I think everybody will agree, it is a good thing to reduce the electoral areas to manageable dimensions so as to lessen expense as well as to get increased interest in the elections, the Opposition will subside.


I will not enter into the very debatable point raised by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Barnes). Any doubts I have with regard to this Bill have nothing whatever to do with the representation of either Roman Catholics or Socialists. I want to ask the House to consider the position of the Government with regard to the Bill. When the Government last introduced an Education Bill they omitted the cumulative vote in the first draft, although it is true they subsequently changed their view. When this Bill was first promoted by the School Board for Glasgow it proposed proportional representation instead of the cumulative vote. We now have the cumulative vote repeated in a more marked form. It is a matter of considerable inconvenience that a Bill like this, introducing a very serious change in the electoral system, should be introduced by a private Member and "starred" by the Government at the last moment. If the Government desire to state that they have changed their opinion with regard to the cumulative vote they had better do so by a measure of their own.


The reasons why the Government. have "starred" this Bill can be very shortly stated. First of all it is a matter of administrative convenience. No one has ventured to deny that it will be very convenient for both electors and candidates at school board elections in Glasgow that the enormous constituency should be divided into three. The expense will be less, and the power of reaching the electors will be greater. The second reason is that it is an agreed Bill by all parties in Glasgow and by all sections in the House. It is "backed" by a Member of the Labour Party, by a distinguished lawyer who was Lord Advocate in the previous administration, by another Unionist Member for Glasgow, and by all the Liberal Members for Glasgow except myself. I did not back it because I was not a private Member. The Bill passed the House without opposition; it passed through a Committee of Scottish Members without a single word of criticism or objection. It was reserved for an Irish Member, who would have denounced with impassioned indignation such a course when he was a Scottish Member, to take the line of opposing the Bill. The hon. Member had the grace not to give any reasons. I cannot dignify by the name of a reason the allegation that the Bill introduces a new principle, because no one knows better than the hon. Member that it introduces no new principle. The principle of the cumulative vote is the principle which obtains at the present moment, and the Government is expressing neither agreement with nor dissent from that principle when it approves a Bill which leaves the method of election exactly as it is, and merely divides an unwieldy constituency into three parts. The House will understand that all this Bill does, with the approval of all the Members for Glasgow and of the Glasgow School Board—which is a fairly Protestant institution, I may remind the hon. Member for County Down—and with the approval of people of all religious persuasions in Glasgow—is simply to alter an administrative inconvenience. I really think that in a matter of this description and so small as this, that at least the people of Scotland might be allowed to have their way—or even the people of Glasgow—without any Orange combination.


I must say that the answer that the right hon. Gentleman has given to my hon. Friend is hardly fair, in view of the very moderate speech of my Ion. Friend, whose objection is not to the Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman rather angrily assumed, but against the procedure which the Government have adopted in bringing forward this. Bill at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway both seemed to me to deal rather unfairly with my hon. Friend. The speech of the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway was very amusing to anyone who attempts to reply to it, because the hon. Member claims to be a thought-reader. It is fairly easy sometimes to reply to all a man says, but very difficult to reply to an hon. Member who professes to deal with what another hon. Member thinks. I make no claim to know what was passing in the mind of my hon. Friend, but I am perfectly clear that all he said was not what he was stated to have said by the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway. What was the view of my hon. Friend? He did say—and I think it was a reasonable thing to say— that this Bill, which is not a party Bill, as he was careful to point out, does raise an important point, though not one that divides us on party lines, was a Bill that should have been brought forward at a time when hon. Members who were interested in the question had a fair opportunity of discussing it. The Prime Minister, perhaps unintentionally treated my hon. Friend, and I think the House, with something less than his usual courtesy. My hon. Friend was dealing with the statement made by the Prime Minister, and was reading the words that the right hon. Gentleman used a short while ago in the House.

Instead of listening the Prime Minister was engaged in conversation with the Home Secretary, and before my hon. Friend had finished speaking, the right hon. Gentleman left the House. One of the misrepresentations of my hon. Friend by the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway was that my hon. Friend had stated that the Prime Minister had given a pledge. My hon. Friend never said anything of the sort. What he did was to quote the words of the right hon. Gentleman and stated that he had said only a short time ago that it was not the intention of the Government at that time to star any private Bill to be taken up by the Government. The question my hon. Friend asked was a very reasonable one, and I think the right hon. Gentleman might have answered it in a little more courteous spirit. What he asked was, why the Government had changed their mind? The right hon. Gentleman dealt with quite a different point. He told us that the Bill was an important one from the administrative point of view. It maybe important but it does not necessarily follow it is urgent. The right hon. Gentleman did not say what occurred to make the Government change their mind. If it is important for the administration of education in Glasgow that this Bill should be passed, it was equally important a short time ago when the Prime Minister said it was not going to be taken up by the Government, and, considering the important questions it does raise, it should not be brought forward at this time at the very close of the Session and almost at midnight when there is no opportunity for hon. Members interested to discuss the matter. It does appear to me to call for a much more full and courteous explanation than that given by the right hon. Gentleman opposite.


I have been trying to find out, from what has been stated by hon. Members opposite, what is their objection to this Bill, and I cannot possibly do so. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken says it raises new and important questions. There is only one question this Bill raises, and that is the question whether the School Board of Scotland, containing something over 120,000 electors, should be in one large, unwieldy, constituency, as it is now, or should be divided into three constituencies. The hon. Member who has just spoken also raised the question of urgency. I should like to answer that question. The urgency for passing this Bill is this, that the roll is now being made, up and that the next triennial election takes place in the autumn, and if you do not get this Bill in this Session you must wait for another three years. In these circumstances I hope the hon. Gentleman opposite will withdraw his Amendment.


The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, in great distinction to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland, has treated me with great courtesy. I thought it only right, not in the interest of any party or sect in this House, but in the interest of private Members who take strong views on these matters, to call the attention of the House to the action of the Government, and in order to do that formally I shall move later on to leave out Sub-section (3) of Clause 2, which stereotypes the cumulative vote. In the meantime I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.