Page images
PDF
EPUB

by the small majority of 13. The numbers were—for the motion, 166; against, 179.

A Bill to amend the Elementary Education Act had been promised by the Government for this session, but in consequence of the protracted debates on the Royal Titles Bill it could not be introduced in the Commons until the middle of May. Meanwhile Mr. Dixon, one of the members for Birmingham, brought in an Elementary Education Bill of his own, and the debate on the second reading took place on the 5th of April. The principal objects of the measure were to enforce universal compulsory attendance at school, and to establish universal compulsory school boards. Mr. Bright said he agreed with much that had been urged during the debate against giving too high an education to the children of the labouring classes, and laid it down that it would be sufficient to teach children to read so as to comprehend what they read, to write so that what they wrote could be read, and - so much arithmetic as would enable them to keep their accounts. The opposition to school boards he held to be a mere hobgoblin, and, as the system had succeeded so admirably in towns, there was no reason why it should not be extended to the rural districts. As to the expense, everything cost something, and the people could not be educated for nothing; while the horror of increasing local taxation was an entire mistake, which was due, he believed, to ignorance and political motives. The school board system had bitherto been most efficacious in carrying out the

principle of 'compulsion, which seemed now to be generally accepted; but he was not wedded to it, and if the Vice-President would only state what other plan he had to propose, he promised him an impartial consideration of it from the Liberal side. Lord Sandon, in closing the debate, protested against the conjunction of the cause of education with what he declared to be the fatal principle of universal school boards. Mr. Dixon's bill was lost by 281 votes to 160. The Government bill, which was introduced at a later period, led to many warm debates, its main proposals being considered reactionary' by the Opposition. The strongest contest arose over an amendment by Mr. Pell—accepted by the Government-providing for the dissolution of all school boards which possessed neither schools nor sites. Mr. Bright said that if the clause passed it would be widely accepted as the signal for the reopening of a question which was settled in 1870, and it would stir up intolerance and hostility in many parishes. The clause, however, was carried, the Government being supported all through on this question by an obedient majority. In Committee, Mr. Bright made another attempt to modify the objectionable new clause of Mr. Pell, by proposing to add to it the words, 'In every case where a school board shall be dissolved under this clause, all the powers conferred upon it by and under the Elementary Education Act, 1870, shall be transferred to and continued under the local authority of the parish or district for educational purposes created

33

VOL. II.

under this Act.' Mr. Bright said that if the state of things which this clause would produce in districts where school boards were abolished could be made general throughout the country, the whole object of Parliamentary legislation on this great question would be thwarted and entirely put an end to. Gentlemen opposite had never advocated justice to the Dissenting population of England and Wales; the time would come, however, when the judgment of Parliament, backed by an intelligent and free people, would reverse the unfavourable judgment to which that night they might come. The Government opposed the amendment, and it was rejected by 100 votes to 63. The Bill eventually passed through both Houses, and became law.

Mr. Bright is opposed to the extension of the suffrage to women. On the motion for the second reading of Mr. Forsyth's Women's Disabilities Removal Bill, taken on the 26th of April, 1876, he spoke against the measure. He confessed that he had changed his vote on this question, for 'he had voted with Mr. Mill in 1867. He had not really changed his opinion, however, though on one occasion he had voted with Mr. Mill out of general sympathy for him rather than from a conviction that he was right on this question. He thus concluded a very forcible speech :

My sympathies have always been in favour of a wide suffrage. They are so at this moment, and I grieve very much that a measure should be submitted to this House in favour of the extension of the suffrage to which I cannot give my support. But I confess I am unwilling, for the

sake of women themselves, to introduce them into the contest of our Parliamentary system, to bring them under the necessity of canvassing themselves or being canvassed by others. (Hear, hear.) I think they would lose much of that, or some of that, which is best that they now possess, and that they would gain no good of any kind from being mingled or mixed with Parliamentary contests and the polling-booth. I should vote for this measure if I were voting solely in the interests of the men ; I shall vote against it, I believe with perfect honesty, believing that in doing so I am serving the interests of women themselves. (Cheers.) I recollect that an hon, member who voted for this bill last year in conversation with me next day said he had very great doubts upon the matter, because he believed that the best women were against it. Well, I find wherever I go that all the best women seem to be against this bill. If the House believes that it cannot vote justly for our mothers, our sisters, our wives, and our daughters, the House may abdicate and pass this bill; but I believe that Parliament cannot be otherwise--unless it be in ignorance—than just to the women of this country, with whom we are so intimately allied. Believing that, and having these doubts-doubts which are stronger even than I have been able to express, and doubts which have come upon me stronger and stronger the more I have considered this question-I am obliged, differing from many of those whom I care for, and whom I love, to give my vote in opposition to this measure.' (Cheers.)

The bill was lost by a majority of 87, the numbers being—for the second reading, 152 ; against, 239.

On the 12th of May, 1876, Mr. R. Smyth brought forward a resolution in the House of Commons, proposing to stop the sale of intoxicating liquors on Sunday in Ireland. The hon. member showed by statistics that drunkenness was increasing in Ireland, and that this measure was universally desired. Sir M. Hicks-Beach, on behalf of the Government, proposed a compromise. He offered, if Mr. Smyth would withdraw his motion, to recommend the further restriction of the hours of opening on Sundays to two to five in the country, and two to seven in towns

Mr. Bright gave his warm adhesion to the resolution. He considered that the unanimity of all classes on this question was unparalleled, and described the proposed Government compromise as a mere nibbling at a great evil, and a falling back from the offer of the previous year.

The Irish people plead in no uncertain voice; but say distinctly what you should do on this occasion. Those who resist are not the people of England, but the publicans of England. Have we not all received papers from English publicans and their associations ? Do they not tell us what we should do in this matter? Have they not told Her Majesty's Ministers in no uncertain voice what they ought to do in this matter? It has come to this—Government must choose this day whom you will serve. Will you serve the conspiracy of the vendors of drink in England, or will you obey the will and the eloquent voice of the whole people of Ireland ?' Mr. Gladstone also pressed the House not to neglect the unanimous desire of the Irish people; and on a division the resolution was carried against the Government by 224 votes to 167. The result was hailed with loud cheering by the Opposition. A bill was afterwards introduced, founded upon the resolution ; but after passing its second reading, it was talked out at a later stage by Mr. Callan, for which feat he was generally and severely condemned.

Mr. Trevelyan's motion, in 1876, for the extension of the county franchise, brought forward on the 30th of May, was opposed by Mr. Lowe, who said he feared

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »