HC Deb 31 January 1918 vol 101 cc1823-36

Lords Amendment:

In Sub-section (2), leave out the word "two" and insert instead thereof the word "three."


I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."


This Amendment deals with university representation, and what was unanimously recommended by the Speaker's Conference was that where a university was to be represented by two members that the election should be on the principle of proportional representation so that the minority might have one of the members. It was on that understanding that the compromise was arranged at the Speaker's Conference. That was the proposal which the Government made to this House when the Bill was introduced and that was when it went to the House of Lords. That was the position defended by the Government in the House of Lords, but they were beaten by one vote on a Division, and that provision consequently was struck out. I trust now that this House, not by any party division, but, I trust, with unanimity—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—but this is an entirely different matter. This was one of the unanimous recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, and it was part of the original bargain. The other matter admittedly gave rise to controversy within the Speaker's Conference, and it was left by the Government in this House an open question, and was the subject of much discussion. Yet this question does not stand in the same category, and it is in the position of all the original agreed proposals of the Conference. If any confirmation is needed of that I can give it in the words of the Government spokesman in the House of Lords, because Lord Peel, who was in charge of the Bill when the matter was before the House of Lords, said: On the ground, therefore, that this proposal of my Noble Friend upsets the compromise arrived at with regard to university representation at the Speaker's Conference, I regret that, speaking on behalf of the Government. I am not able to accept this Amendment. The Government Tellers told in the Division against the Amendment. Nevertheless, with that exhibition of independence which is sometimes seen, the House of Lords rejected the provision by thirty-one votes to thirty, and I trust now that this. House will have no hesitation in reaffirming the decision of the Speaker's Conference. That was the ground on which the House, against the desire of many of us, acquiesced in the system of university representation which is greatly disliked by a large number of Members of the House, and now the minority of Oxford and Cambridge are to be deprived of their chance of securing the representation which was recommended by the Speaker's Conference, and, if that is going to be the case, the whole question of university representation must be thrown open for discussion.


I desire to state my version of the decision of the Speaker's Conference in this matter, a decision for which I am partly responsible because I was a member of that Conference. I think I can make out that the state of affairs is very different from what has just been represented by the right hon. Gentleman. It is rather late in the day to bring up again the question, of general opposition to the question of university representation. There is representation of universities practically in all the progressive nations of the world, and there is no reason why we should be an exception to Italy, to the Central Empires, and even to France in certain other directions. They do not exclude from deliberative Assemblies which direct the progress of the country representatives of the learned professions or people who, by training and education, are more fitted to consider questions affecting national progress than any other class. What has been suggested is a doctrine which savours more of mid-Victorian politics than the fuller national life of to-day. My object is to give a description, so far as I know, of the events that occurred in connection with this question at the Speaker's Conference, and to show how the situation has been entirely changed since that time. When the Speaker's Conference first met, we were very soon up against the question of university representation. It was admitted on all hands that on the existing electorate there was a grievance, and it was felt that minorities had not been adequately represented. Many cases of exception could be quoted: Sir John Gorst, Sir Michael Foster, Mr. Lecky, and many other instances might be quoted in favour of my argument. But it was agreed that on the existing registers there was a grievance, and all members of the Conference were willing that something quite drastic should he done to meet that grievance. At that time the position was taken that the Parliamentary electors for a university should be the same as the persons who possessed the franchise for its internal administration.

The point was admitted that if you extended the franchise by registering all graduates, and if you upset the internal arrangements of the university, you would probably do away with a large source of university income which comes from the fees of those who take the higher degree which qualifies for the vote. It was admitted that the universities would find it difficult to enlarge the franchise, but later on that difficulty was overruled. The opinion prevailed that an electorate with 7,000 persons, like Cambridge or Oxford, largely confined to a few of the learned profession to whom a degree was most valuable, clergymen, doctors, and barristers, was too narrow and small an electorate for modern purposes, and it was agreed that universities must adapt themselves to a much wider and democratic electorate. Every graduate was to have a vote. The result was that, instead of the small electorate of 7,000 who have sent my colleagues and myself here, the next election will be decided by an electorate of 17,000 or 18,000 people. It will be a totally new constituency, and the electorate is trebled. The universities agree that the old constituency was too narrow and one-sided, and they have assented to the taking in of the whole body of graduates. Now, if you are going to have an entirely new electorate consisting of most of the educated people of the country, an electorate whose opinions have never yet been tested as to whether they are Conservatives or Liberal, surely you should not give the franchise with one hand and take it away with the other.

The agreement was at an early stage, before ever the very wide extension of the franchise was thought of. I am speaking under correction—there are other members of the Conference who are present—and it is only because the right hon. Gentleman traversed the whole subject that I feel bound in defence to assert my view of the matter. At a later stage, to my great satisfaction, it was found possible to include the recommendation for the enfranchisement of a whole group of the more modern universities. A group was formed of the younger universities in the North of England and the -University of London, a third member was added to the Scottish group, and now I am glad to observe representation for the two more recent universities of Ireland is in a fair was to being included. The extension involved in the enfranchisement of the newer universities goes some way to doubling the number of university members, and it very largely removes any grievance that the university representation is one-sided. The Scottish minority member will be undoubtedly on the other side. The universities of the North of England will certainly not adopt very conservative members for their representatives. The Irish representation will be at least divided. I say that the enfranchisement of the newer universities was not thought of at the beginning, and it came as a totally new point. The third point that was introduced was the large proportion of minority representation that was included as a unanimous recommendation by giving proportional representation to 150 boroughs. I admit that at the final stage it was possible to protest against the recommendation made that fie voting for the ancient universities should be in this one-sided way, and, if for one, had ever thought that the proposal of minority representation for the borough constituencies would he rejected in this House, I should certainly have taken care to put in a caveat against the restricted franchise for the more ancient universities. It was because there was a grievance already to which the representatives of the boroughs had sub- mitted, in that they were grouped for proportional representation, that to my mind it was not fair to ask to go back upon the arrangements that had been made at the very early stage.

All those subsequent arrangements have now been set aside. One of the university groups has been broken up by this House. The University of London has been allowed to stand by itself without any restriction. That will leave the universities of the North of England with two members, and they will have to submit to the same sort of thing as is proposed for Oxford and Cambridge. As I have said, minority representation for other constituencies has gone. The only minority representation that is now left in the Bill is the case of only five constituencies. Four two-member university seats are to have proportional representation which is of a bastard kind, and which will discredit the system for ever if it is maintained in the Bill. The Scottish group is the one surviving constituency that is to have proportional representation for three members. The proposal is to load up this Franchise Bill for the whole nation by a small sectional proposal which gives proportional representation to one constituency and four others of a bastard type, when the ground for anything of the kind, a preponderance of one-sided representation, has been obviated by enacting new constituencies nearly three times the size of the old. I am not prepared to believe that this House would willingly put a slight upon the more ancient universities, but I would ask the House to reflect that the persons who are enfranchised by this new Bill are the men who are in the trenches. exercising their gift of the command of men, which they have learned at the universities, and doing medical, engineering, and other work in Palestine and Mesopotamia, and who, when they come back, after having saved the nation, so far as their share goes, will find that while they have been enfranchised by this House they have not been entrusted with the free exercise of that franchise. Why should they be thus restricted? Why should it be assumed that these people. who have won the commendation of the whole nation by the way in which they came forward at the beginning of the War in the nation's hour of need, will exercise their new franchise in such a one sided manner that it must be restricted, so that they shall have no real exercise of it at all, and so that the thing shall be decided between the political parties in the background?

If it were a matter of continuing the university constituencies which now exist, I would have nothing to say. The reason was legitimate as regards those constituencies. It was necessary to have either a remedy in terms originally put in the Bill, or the remedy of remodelling the constituencies and increasing their size three-fold, but to put in both is, to my mind, to stultify the whole matter. I observe that in another place—I was not sorry to see it—that the number of the new universities to receive the franchise has been increased by the inclusion of the University of Wales. On the ground of the number of graduates the University of Wales has no claim to separate representation, but on the ground that Wales is a separate element in the life of the nation. and on the ground that in this crisis in our history the Principality has come to the fore and has done her share in the national defence, I should be very glad to see the University of Wales have separate representation in this House. I would. however, point out that it is proposed to rive the University of Cambridge, with an electorate of 16,000—the same applies to Oxford—two members with a restriction on voting so that the electors shall have no free choice at all. It is proposed to give the University of Wales, with an electorate of certainly not more than 2,000, a member with complete free choice of the electorate. There can be no comparison between those two cases. The only possible way to put the matter right is to give a free choice also to the older universities which have been represented in this House for so many centuries and which numerically preponderate three times. If the new universities are to have free voting for their members, why tic up the two ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge and the University of Dublin, so that their very much larger constituencies cannot have a free choice at all?

The more ancient universities have even an Imperial mission. Their functions in the future will be to serve as the connecting links between the universities of the different outlying parts of the Empire. At this very moment negotiations are going on whereby the existing bonds between Oxford and Cambridge and the universities of Canada, South Africa, Australia, and even the universities of the United States will be strengthened. It is hoped that Oxford and Cambridge will take on a still newer lease of activity and become the post graduate schools which will link together all the higher educational institutions of the Empire. Universities have an influence far beyond what may possibly occur to Members of this House. I believe I am correct in saying that the present Chancellor of the German Empire was known internationally before he attained his present high office as the author of a standard book on John Locke and the Cambridge school of philosophers. If the universities of Cambridge and Oxford can thus extend their influence it is not for us to put them in a position inferior to that of the new universities. I think I have made out a very strong case for my proposition that the Conference assented to the restricted representation at the beginning, on the present franchise, bat that later on many other things came in. The universities did not protest because the borough constituencies were in the same boat. All that is now swept aside. Why, therefore, penalise a few constituencies whose electorate is so totally different from the past and so much more numerous that nobody can possibly predict what kind of political opinions they will represent in this House ten years hence.

7.0 P.M.


I should like to make clear to the House the exact position with regard to this Amendment. The Speaker's Conference recommended that in two-member universities no member should vote for more than one candidate, and, as I understand from my right hon. Friend (Mr. H. Samuel), and I accept his statement, it was upon that basis that the conference agreed to continue at all events the two - member universities. Those were the words which were put into the original Bill, but in Committee proposals were made for altering the form of the university vote. There was a long discussion, at which I am afraid T was not present, but I have obtained the report, and, as I under stand, the university Members, and especially the supporters of proportional representation, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. C. Roberts), instead of having the single vote for new universities, desired that there should be the single transferable vote. He and -others preferred that form.


The effect is the same.


I am coming to that. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I will deal with the matter quite fully think it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincoln who moved that Amendment and the House, apparently without any dissent, accepted it. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Larmor) and others did suggest to me a little while ago that this was not a Conference decision, therefore that the matter might be left to the House. I promised at his request that. I would listen to what he had to say on that point before coming to any final decision. That is the reason why I did not move on this Amendment, but left it to others. I have looked through the Debate which occurred in this House when the change was made, and I cannot find that anybody thought that in making the change from the single vote to the single transferable vote any kind of principle was being given away. It seems to me that the change was made as a matter of convenience and agreed to by all parties. I am sure that those on the other side of the House who supported the change did not realise that they were in any sense endangering the position which they held under the decisions of Mr. Speaker's Conference. If that is so, and if it is a mere change for convenience and not of principle, it seems to me that in fairness we must deal with the matter as if this proposal had been recommended by Mr. Speaker's Conference. In effect it was not, but in substance it is very much the same thing. More than that, I have no doubt that the effect as regards the return of members for the universities will be very much the same. I only wish to say that having proportional representation for two-member constituencies does not seem to me to be a very wise or sensible arrangement and on the merits I should not have supported it, but I feet that if I am right in my reading of the Debates and my construction of what occurred we are bound to give the same support to this provision as we should have given if the Bill had remained as originally introduced. I am very sorry that I feel bound to come to that conclusion. I have listened with great care to what my hon. Friend has said in order to see if he could produce a different impression on my mind, but I must say I maintain my opinion. If I am making a mistake, I would rather make a mistake on the side of keeping a bargain than in the other direction. It, therefore, seems to me that I am bound, on behalf of the Government, to decline to accept the Lords Amendment and to vote against the Motion.


I cannot for a moment find fault with the attitude which the Home Secretary has taken on behalf of himself and the Government. It is a chivalrous arid honourable attitude, and I do not for a moment say that they are not doing the right thing in taking that position. But having recovered a freedom which I have not enjoyed for many of the years I have sat in this House through being on one Front Bench or the other, I propose on this occasion to vote as a free man, and if the hon. Member for my university goes to a Division I shall support him. This is the last remnant of minority representation left in this Bill. It is really the reductio ad absurdum of the principle we rejected last night. You profess to give to a great constituency two members, with a certain knowledge that the result will be that that constituency expresses no opinion on any of the main political issues which divide the nation, unless there is a sudden overwhelming majority of thought in one direction, such as none of us can conceive to be likely. With the old university franchise there might have been something to be said even for that absurdity, but, now that the franchise has been extended as it has, extended by no longer requiring the payment of the higher fees which were necessary to qualify for the Master of Arts degree, extended even in the passage of the Bill through this House far beyond what Mr. Speaker's Conference had contemplated by the admission of women qualified by degrees or the equivalent—now that you have a. wide franchise of that kind, now that you are going, in addition, to enfranchise the newer universities, no one will pretend that there is any likelihood that the representation under this new system will all be of one party complexion. I cannot see any reason for introducing a special exemption and excrescence applied only to these great universities, nowhere else appearing throughout the Bill, and applying to them a system you apply to 110 other two-member constituencies and a principle which, when it was put forward as a principle, we rejected by a large majority last night.


Not, as applied to universities.


I did not say we rejected the particular application, but we did reject the principle.


We did not reject the principle altogether. We have never rejected the principle for the universities. It has always stood for them.


We have rejected the principle every time there has been a Division, in spite of the persuasive arguments and great zeal of the hon. Member. There has been a rumour, or it has been suggested to me, that even now we may not have done with the question, and that either the arrangement we have already rejected or some other arrangement may yet come back to us from another place. If that be the case, and if this House should decide to-day that this principle of minority representation is to apply to two member seats, it will greatly facilitate a Motion I shall then have to make to bring certain particular two-member seats which I have in my mind within the purview of any system of proportional representation or the alternative vote which may be proposed.


After the statement made by the Home Secretary there is not very much to say, and I should not have risen to speak at all had it not been that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) evidently thinks that we are to have a revision of this question. I regret very much that this matter has been raised at all. I have been very much astonished at the attitude which has been taken by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Larmor). I do not want to bring in any recrimination at this moment, but it must be clearly understood—and I cannot understand how he has come to any other conclusion—that when this question was before the Conference the question of the continuance of university representation as a whole was dealt with as a whole, and we decided to retain the peculiar representation of a university only upon the distinct understanding that the representation of two members from each of the two great universities of Oxford and Cambridge should be such that the two political parties, if one of them possessed at least one-third of the voting power, should be represented. That was perfectly clear. I really listened with great astonishment to the speech of the hon. Member with regard to that point. I am perfectly certain that no other member of the Conference would fail to bear me out in what I am saying now.


Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the extension of university representation to the other newer universities came at a later stage?


Yes, but I understood front the hon. Member's speech that there was not the agreement at the Conference to which reference has been made. I say that that agreement was absolutely essential. I am very glad that the Home Secretary has taken this view, because if fie did not take this view there must be an end to good faith in Parliamentary matters. I noticed that on several occasions the House of Lords have taken the attitude that it does not matter what the Conference said and that compromises do not affect them. After all, this compromise was based upon a mutual understanding. I am perfectly certain that a very large number of the Conference, I do not know about the majority, would have refused to have anything to do in any sort of way with the continuance of the representation of the universities unless those who represented the universities had agreed to these two compromises. I am very much astonished at what the hon. Member said, because when this matter came before the House on the. 9th August it is quite true we were discussing how it was to be adapted and applied—the hen. Member himself spoke and the Amendment was agreed to by this House without a Division. I cannot say whether I am or am not misrepresenting him, but I will read his words. He said: The Clause which has been passed with reference to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge leaves the voting there in such a way that the Members of those three universities—I can speak myself for Cambridge, and my hon. Friend can speak for Dublin and I. know the view of the Member for Oxford—all wish to have an election of two members for each university conducted on the plan of proportional representation. Any other plan would be extremely inconveuient, while there would be all sorts of arrangement, that would be automatically avoided if this Amendment, with others, were adopted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th August, 1917. col. 695, Vol. XOVII.] I read his speech as meaning that he himself agreed that the representation of Oxford and Cambridge should allow of minority representation.


Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to explain again? That was an Amendment on the text of the Bill, which said that in a two-member constituency- each elector should have one vote. We were discussing whether the text should stand as it was, and whether each elector, having only one vote, the surplus of votes of a successful candidate should be transferable to the next candidate. I had an Amendment of my own on the Paper to make it possible to transfer the surplus of votes for one candidate to the next candidate. That was an Amendment to the Clause as it appeared in the Bill, which provided that a person was to have one vote and to express no other preference at all. I said that if the Clause rested as it was it would be extremely inconvenient, and when the advocates of proportional representation got in a prior Amendment, which said that proportional representation was to apply, I recognised that that was practically the same as the one of which I had given notice, which was to modify the Clause in the Bill, so that the extreme inconvenience of arranging beforehand that no candidate should have too many votes, and thereby imperil his colleague, should be got rid of.


I do not wish to follow this too far. All I say is that my hon. Friend has sat still until now on the main principle. He has not, as I understand, raised this objection to the principle of applying proportional representation to the two-member constituencies of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge for the simple reason that he assented to it as part of the compromise in the Speaker's Conference. He has assented to it, as far as I know, up to the present moment, when the House of Lords has said, "It does not matter what the compromise was. It does not matter upon what terms you obtained it, we are going to deal with the whole thing." That is the position we are brought into. I very much appreciate the action of the Government, because I think they are really doing the only thing that is fair and square in this matter; and with regard to the right lion. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain), whatever may be our views on proportional representation in ordinary elections by ordinary electors, it does not apply to the position of universities. The only reason why some of us would assent to university representation being continued is that it affords an opportunity for bringing into this House men of high educational and scientific attainments and a particular grade of man, like my hon. Friend opposite, whom we welcome in this House. But to leave the universities as they are at present, in a position in which they can return two members of one particular party, is to condemn the whole system of university representation, and that is the real reason why we press for this difference with regard to Oxford and Cambridge. I hoped that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) would not challenge the matter at all and would let it go through, as it was a perfectly clear, open understanding at the Conference, clearly understood in this House, which the House agreed to without Division, and is only challenged now by a very small number of Lords voting in another place.


I do not quite understand what the hon. Member for Cambridge. University means by his proposal, but I am still more puzzled at the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain). He described himself to-day as a free-lance. I was under the impression that he was a member of the Government at the time when this Bill was first brought in, and that the Government determined that this Bill should be brought in. on a certain basis. I hold in my hand the Report of the Speaker's Conference, and in the light of what we have been told by the hon. Member behind me it makes rather remarkable reading. He says because we have altered the electorate since we made these arrangements there must be some rearrangement of the number of votes given to each member, but according to the very words here, when this arrangement was made about the one vote for each candidate, a widening of the electorate was actually contemplated: The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge shall continue to return two members each, the electorate shall be widened, and, in order to secure a proper representation of minorities, each voter shall be allowed to vote for one candidate only. Upon that statement and that honourable agreement I supported university representation, which I have always opposed and which I absolutely detest. I believe there are hundreds of Members in this House who have all through supported the conpromise arrangement of university representation although they and their leaders for a good many years have been consistently against university representation at all. I agree with the Home Secretary, who has consistently in all these matters treated us with the greatest possible fairness, that the Government has simplified the matter, hut I really cannot understand how the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) can consider that his hands are not tied either. I think he has got the question of proportional representation for the moment rather on his mind as he sees something here equivalent to what we were discussing yesterday about the division of Birmingham into constituencies of four members each. The compromise should be honourably carried out and we should stick to it throughout.


I wish to make an appeal to my hon. Friends who are moving the Amendment. I am sure those members of the Speaker's Conference who found the greatest difficulty in accepting university representation have done so on the understanding quite loyally, and have defended in this House and outside it the retention of university representation. After what the Government has said, we all know what the result of a Division will be. It would surely be more helpful to the cordial acceptance of this Bill, which is in essence a compromise, if this point, taken so lately alter the unanimous decision of the House, were not pressed at present, and I earnestly appeal to them not to press it.

Question put, and negatived.

Lords Amendment disagreed with.

Lords Amendments:

Leave out Sub-section (3).—Agreed to.

In Sub-section (4), leave out the words "or of the alternative."—Disagreed with.

Ordered, "That the consideration of the remaining Lords Amendments be postponed until after the consideration of the postponed Amendments."—[Sir G. Cave.]

Lords Amendments to Clauses I to 18 [consideration postponed, 30th January] considered.