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Elementary Education Bill—Bill 218—Consideration

Volume 203: debated on Thursday 21 July 1870

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( Mr. W. E. Forster, Mr. Secretary Bruce.)

Adjourned Debate

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment [19th July] proposed to be made on Consideration of the Elementary Education Bill, as amended in the Committee, and which Amendment was,

To insert in the Second Schedule, page 37, line 10, after the words "provided that any poll shall be taken by ballot," the words "in accordance with the principles upon which a poll is taken under 'The Metropolis Management Act, 1855.'"—(Mr. William, Edward Forster.)

Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

Debate resumed.

defended himself against any imputation that he wished to impede the progress of the Bill, and said that the proposal of the Government would give the Ballot only in name, and would make it as ridiculous as the hon. Member for West Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbotson) said he wished to make it when he proposed the insertion of the word "open." The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council had spoken of those words as having been accepted on both sides of the House; but he should like to know who had expressed an opinion favourable to them except the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert), and the right hon. Member for South Hampshire (Mr. Cowper-Temple), the latter of whom was opposed to the Ballot, while the former seemed to have a facility for suggesting compromises which were considered untenable by hon. Members sitting in that portion of the House, but which were commonly accepted by the Government. The present Amendment, however, was suggested not by the hon. Member for Oldham, but by the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Collins), who would frankly admit that his intention was to make the Ballot as ridiculous as it was the intention of the hon. Member for West Essex to have made it. The Act was passed at the time when Lord Palmerston was Leader of the House, and at the time when the anti-Ballot party was in a majority in the House; and it was never intended to give the Ballot and to provide for secret voting. The working of the Act in London had certainly not developed anything like what was known as the Ballot; and the very fact that the churchwardens were to nominate the Inspectors under the Act was a very strong reason for regarding the application of it to elections under the Education Bill with suspicion; not that churchwardens would take any unfair advantage of the powers intrusted to them, but in people's minds they would naturally be associated with the Church, and in that way the religious difficulty would be imported into the elections. With regard to the nature of the Ballot which would be established under the alteration which the Government wished to adopt, it was a secret Ballot only in the sense that the Ballot for places in the Ladies' Gallery were secret. Coloured papers were continually used in order to give facility to terrorism. The right hon. Gentleman said it would be his business to improve the working of the old Act. Why, then, put down the words which were on the Paper, for the insertion of which there was no necessity whatever. He believed there had been an agreement arrived at between the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington), and that that explained the course which had now been taken. He (Sir Charles Dilke) had never been one of those who asked for the insertion of the Ballot in that Bill; but if the Government had decided to give that security to the country, it was of the greatest importance that the Ballot should not degenerate into a sham. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, in opposing the insertion of any words in regard to the Ballot, used the ordinary argument that it was un-English and sneaking. But he would call their attention to the fact that all the supposed disadvantages of the Ballot would be as certain to occur under the form now proposed, while those advantages which so many hoped for—such as security against intimidation—would have no chance of being secured.

denied that there was the slightest foundation for the statement made by the hon. Baronet that there was an understanding between the hon. Member for Oldham and himself.

said, that what led to his suggestion was this—that the other night, after 10 or 11 Divisions on the present subject, it struck him that it would be well if some steps were taken to get rid of the opposition of hon. Gentlemen opposite; and it appeared to him that this might easily be done if they confined themselves to principles already embodied in an Act of Parliament—namely, the Metropolis Local Management Act. He had had no consultation whatever with hon. Gentlemen opposite. Shortly after he had made his suggestion the Government expressed their readiness to act on it. The Government, not having decided to omit the Ballot, or adopt what was called a perfect Ballot, had no other course open to them but that which they were now taking. For his part, though a friend to the Ballot, he thought more of the Education Bill than of the Ballot, and if it was necessary to sink the Ballot he would do so rather than sink the Education Bill. It had been said the Ballot of Mr. Hob-house's Act was not worth having; but, whatever might be done in Chelsea or elsewhere, there could be no doubt that if the conditions of the Act were complied with anybody that liked might secure perfect secresy, those who might try to contravene it being subject to a penalty of not more than £50, and not less than £10. It was not fair to leave to the Education Department, as the hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) wished to do, the determination of the mode by which the Ballot should be taken, for it was quite possible they would then be one day calling the representatives of the Department to account. Ear better was it to legislate according to a principle already embodied in an Act of Parliament.

, said, this was the 21st night of the Education Bill, and he would beg their attention while he explained why the Government had adopted the Ballot question at all in this Bill, and also why he had introduced certain qualifying words. It was not the wish of the Government to raise any other question by the side of such an important one as that of Education; but hon. Members would recollect that during the debate on the second reading many observations were made as to the mode in which elections were likely to be held in the country. He then explained why the Government proposed to introduce the Ballot into this Bill—namely, in order to afford the utmost possible security that the Board which would have to deal with the education of the children should be freely elected by the parents. To insure that being done they struck out the provision relating to plural voting and they introduced the Ballot, and hon. Members ought not to be surprised that the Government had in that way fulfilled their promise. At a later stage his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department alluded to the fact that vote by Ballot was in the Bill, and it was on that understanding that the House went into Committee on the measure. The first re-printed Bill contained clauses providing how the Ballot should be put in operation; but great changes were made subsequently, one of which was the result of an Amendment by the noble Lord the Member for the West Biding (Lord Frederick Cavendish) by which the Committee adopted with unanimity the principle of the cumulative vote. The Government had then to decide whether they would, in a great hurry, draw up a scheme for the working of the Ballot together with the cumulative vote, or whether they would ask to be intrusted with power to provide a plan in their discretion. They drew up clauses which would probably have carried out the views of the Government and have given satisfaction to the House, yet they felt that it would be dangerous to deal with such a difficult matter in so short a time as they had at their disposal. He (Mr. Forster) therefore, gladly accepted an Amendment of the hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke), who thought that discretion should be given for one year to the Government to make regulations about the Ballot which was to be adopted. There was, however, another remark he might make in reference to the question of the Ballot. When they first proposed to adopt the Ballot in reference to this measure, it seemed certain that during the present Session that question would have been settled by Parliament upon its merits. That was, he knew, an argument against the action which the Government had taken, and although his saying so might seem to give an advantage to his opponents, yet he thought it would be the best policy to state the case fairly. When, however, it became doubtful whether the Ballot question itself would be settled this Session, they considered whether they ought to strike it out of this Bill; but the Government felt they could not do so—firstly, because of the pledge they had given on educational grounds to introduce the Ballot; and, secondly, because the metropolitan Boards would be elected under a system the principle of which was already voting by Ballot. They, however, thought it was their duty to prejudge the question as little as possible, and they, therefore, proposed that their regulations as to a Ballot should last for one year only. These were the reasons why the Government had adopted the Ballot, and they had since introduced the qualifying words in order to meet a suggestion which was made by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) and accepted by several hon. Members opposite, and which seemed to carry out the object which the Government had in view—namely, that the poll should be taken upon the principle of the Metropolis Local Management Act. That principle he understood to be that a Ballot should be taken by means of papers, containing the names of those candidates for whom the electors voted being put into a Ballot-box. His hon. Friend (Sir Charles Dilke) had called that "a sham Ballot;" but he (Mr. Forster) maintained that it was not so. It was established by the 1 & 2 Will. IV., commonly called Hob-house's Act; it was made use of at Maryport; and in reference to its adoption there, Mr. Francis Taylor, of Manchester, the chairman of the Liberal Association of that city, had been examined. When he was asked—"Does it secure secresy?" he replied—"Yes, certainly." That was the evidence of a gentleman who had paid great attention to the system, which was the foundation of the Ballot as carried out in South Australia. He had himself seen the plan in operation. No one know the object of his visit, and it was clear to him that, if he pleased, any voter could insure secresy. The mode in which he saw an election carried on was this—On a table in the room where the voting occurred there was an official list containing the names of the candidates. Several gentlemen and some ladies, who voted in his presence, entered the room, and, without anybody being able to see what they did, they struck off the papers which they received the names of those for whom they did not wish to vote; those papers were then folded up and put into a Ballot-box, and he defied anybody to find out how those persons voted. Some others came in with coloured papers which showed how they were going to vote; but it was evident that no one cared whether the voting should be secret or open, for there was no excitement; but that was no fault of the plan, while nothing could be easier than to make a regulation to the effect that none but the official voting papers should be used. He had, on behalf of the Education Department, to solve the very difficult question as to what kind of Ballot ought ultimately to be adopted in reference to the election of Boards. There appeared to be two kinds of Ballot—in one the voter might have secresy if he pleased; but in the other secret voting was compulsory, and it was because he understood his hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) and those who thought like him, to mean that secresy in the election of Boards ought to be of the compulsory kind, that he felt it would not be desirable for the Government to be hampered with that condition. He, however, maintained that the plan on which the election of vestrymen in the metropolis was conducted was one by which the voter might secure secresy if he pleased, and therefore the hon. Member for Oldham was right in saying that there was no sham or deception about that system. He submitted that the Government had not gratuitously imported the question of the Ballot into this Bill, while it was due to his own personal character to say that in proposing a particular form of Ballot he did not intend to be any party to a deception. The Government made this proposition for only one year. In conclusion, he appealed to hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and to his hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) whether, after the explanation he had given them, they would not allow the Bill to proceed.

said, the suggestion did not originally come from the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert). He (Mr. Collins) objected on all occasions to increasing the power of the Executive, his maxim being rather to cripple it. He did not like a set of clerks prescribing to the country the mode in which they were to be governed. There was no constitutional objection at first, when clauses were proposed to be inserted embodying the mode of Ballot to be adopted, nor was there any objection on that ground when the hon. Member for Oldham suggested a mode authorized by an Act of Parliament. He regarded it as unfortunate that the Ballot had been introduced into this Bill, for he did not doubt that had the House passed the Parliamentary Elections Bill, the adoption of the Ballot in reference to the election of education Boards would have been a natural consequence.

said, he had no hesitation as to the course he should pursue after the explanation of his right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Council. The settlement now proposed would in no way interfere with what should be done next year when they came to deal with Parliamentary and municipal elections. All that was now proposed was such a mode of election as should be accurate and efficient to meet the necessity of the case. He should vote with the Government.

said, he was not satisfied that the ratepayers in the rural districts would have what was promised to them by the right hon. Gentleman — sufficient protection. It was said this was a temporary measure, and would not in any way govern the future application of the Ballot to Parliamentary and municipal elections. But they should now either have a real and honest Ballot or none at all; and he would be content to see the Ballot struck out of the Bill altogether rather than have the proposal now submitted to them carried into law. It would give no protection whatever. In rural districts it would leave matters very much in the hands of the churchwardens. There was nothing to prevent them from determining that the votes for the clergyman's candidates should be on red paper and the Dissenting minister's candidates on blue paper. [Mr. W. E. FORSTER: That will be prevented by our regulations.] He would then ask why the regulations were not put in their Amendment. He did not wonder that the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Collins) was in favour of the Amendment. In fact, out-of-doors it was called "Collins's Patent Open Voting Ballot." He should be no party to such an arrangement. They would either have a Ballot that would give security or no Ballot at all.

insisted that protection would be given to voters by the proposal of his right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Council.

said, that some Gentlemen scorned to think that the rural districts were the proper ground for ex-perimentalizing with respect to the Ballot. For himself, he could not see why these districts should be selected more than the town districts. Such a proposal was based upon the old squire and parson argument, which had long ago been exploded. He himself believed that an unfounded prejudice existed against the parsons and squires, and the idea of trying the Ballot in the rural districts as an experiment was based upon that prejudice. He protested against such a procedure.

observed that the position in which they found themselves was not a very agreeable one, owing to the course which had been pursued by the Government. If it was the case, as had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, that the metropolis was the only place in which there would be an election within a limited period, it might have been sufficient to provide that it should be held under the conditions of the present law. But they were now in a different position. The right hon. Gentleman did not ask them to adopt the Act in force in the metropolis, but something which he believed to be in accordance with the principles of that Act. The right hon. Gentleman not only asked them to grant larger powers than he thought ought to be accorded to any Education Department, but wanted to select what constituencies he pleased and to impose upon them what rules he pleased. He found himself, therefore, compelled, though entirely disagreeing from the opinions of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Charles Dilke), to support his Motion in preference to that proposed by the right hon. Gentleman.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 185; Noes 115: Majority 70.

, with a view to preventing a secret candidate being foisted upon any district and carried without the knowledge of the ratepayers, moved an Amendment, requiring that public notice should be given of the nomina- tion of a candidate seven days before taking the poll.

Amendment proposed,

In the Second Schedule, page 37, at end of first paragraph, to add the words "but no person shall be elected unless he shall have been proposed for election in the manner prescribed by such regulations, and public notice of his nomination shall have been published by the officer appointed to conduct such election, not less than seven clear days before the day appointed for taking the poll."—(Mr. Cawley.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."

said, he hoped his hon. Friend would not press his Amendment, remembering mat this power was given to the Education Board only for one year. He would bear the suggestion in mind, in order to prevent any election being made without proper publicity.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

moved, Fifth Schedule, after "Marylebone," insert "Paddington, Saint Pancras." The noble Lord observed that, by adopting the Parliamentary divisions of the metropolis, they would be placing the election of school Boards in the hands of those who managed the Parliamentary elections. The borough of Marylebone occupied 5,000 or 6,000 acres, and contained a population of 600,000; and the object of his Amendment was to divide that immense constituency into the three well-recognized and long-established divisions of St. Marylebone Proper, Paddington, and St. Pancras, for the purpose of facilitating the election of a school Board.

Amendment proposed, in the Fifth Schedule, page 42, after the word "Marylebone," to insert the words "Paddington, Saint Pancras."—( Lord John Manners.)

reminded the noble Lord that the principle adopted by the House was not school Boards for each division, but a school Board for the whole metropolis; and it would be impossible to carry that principle into effect if the divisions suggested in the Amendment were to be made. The objection with regard to the danger of these elections following in the same groove as Parliamentary elections would be removed by the operation of the cumulative vote.

Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and negatived.

Bill to be read the third time Tomorrow, at Two of the clock.