HC Deb 21 February 1862 vol 165 cc595-8

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the case of the Derby Road School, Nottingham, to which the provisions of the Revised Code had been partially applied, notwithstanding the announcement that those provisions would be suspended until they had been submitted to the judgment of Parliament. The managers of the school in question had applied in the ordinary way for a grant of books and apparatus which would have been given as a matter of course under the operation of the old Code to all schools which had not received any grant for three years. The managers, in making the application, observed that it was more than three years since they had received a similar grant, adding that as the new Code, which cut off all book grants, had not come into operation, they apprehended there would be no difficulty on the part of the Committee of Education in complying with their request. In reply a printed form was sent to them—a circumstance which showed that the same answer was generally returned to similar applications—and in that communication, which was dated 29th January, 1862, they were told that the Committee had ceased to make grants in the shape of books and maps. Now, the matter might be a very small one, but it nevertheless involved a direct breach of faith with the House, the managers, and the public generally; and he could not but complain that the school in question had been dealt with as he had described on the mere fiat of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lowe), who had acted suddenly and precipitately, before Parliament could be invited to express an opinion on the subject. He might add that the managers of the schools might have been able to get on without the assistance of pupil-teachers, had it been deemed expedient to dispense with their services; but they could not do equally well without books and maps, which, though cheap, were more essential to the working of a school than anything else. The breach of faith involved in the proceeding was, therefore, he could not help thinking, quite as great as if the £250,000 expended on pupil-teachers had been withdrawn. There was another matter also with re- spect to which the Revised Code had been brought into operation, though no direct breach of faith was involved—he alluded to the circumstance that pensions were, under its provisions, refused to all masters. Now, under the old Code it lay within the discretion of the Committee of Council to grant those pensions, which were, he believed, invariably given in cases in which a good claim to them could be established, while it seemed the order issued at present was that they were to be invariably refused. But, be that as it might, he felt he had said sufficient to prove that the Committee of Council had observed only in a partial and limited manner the promise which they had made to Parliament.


said, that as the noble Lord had not given him notice that he was about to advert to the question of pensions, he was not prepared to furnish him with those details connected with the subject which he should otherwise have been in a position to supply. The noble Lord, however, was mistaken in supposing that these pensions were invariably granted, but the time for dealing more particularly with such claims would not arrive until after the period fixed for the Revised Code to come into effect. So far, however, as he knew, there had been no refusal of a pension on that ground; indeed, he himself had entertained several claims for pensions since the beginning of the present year. In reply to the other question to which the noble Lord had called his attention, he might observe, that although no doubt book grants were very generally given at the commencement of the present educational system, yet the aid thus afforded was exceedingly small. Those grants had become burdensome and expensive, rendering necessary the employment of a large staff of clerks, and the Royal Commission had reported strongly against them, and it was the wish of the Committee of Council to put an end to them. That wish could not, however, be carried at once into effect, inasmuch as it was necessary to give a somewhat long notice to the Messrs. Longman, who were the agents employed by the Committee in carrying out the necessary arrangements. That notice had been given, and when the Minute was introduced, one of its provisions being the abolition of book grants, the Messrs. Longman, who had behaved exceedingly well in the matter, had offered very liberal terms to the managers of schools, who, in fact, lost comparatively little by the change, by which a considerable saving to the public was affected. The operation of; the Minute had, it was true, as the noble Lord said, been postponed, and technically: that portion of it relating to book grants had of course also been suspended. The Committee of Council had, however, found it to be impossible to retrace their steps. The matter had got into the hands of the trade, and the greatest inconvenience to the public and the managers of schools themselves would have been the result of adopting any other line of action than that; which the Committee had pursued. They had, therefore, in the exercise of that administrative discretion which was vested in every Government office, taken upon themselves the responsibility of with-holding these grants. A public department was not like a court of justice bound to carry out in every instance the strict letter of the law, without reference to the mischief which such a course might involve, and he, for one, was of opinion that more mischief would be occasioned by continuing the grant than by declining to give it in future. The Committee of Council, in short, acted to the best of their judgment in the matter. Their object was to obviate unnecessary confusion, and it never entered their minds to break faith with the public.


said, he would beg leave to ask, When the notice of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke had been given to the Messrs. Longman?


said, he thought in April or May last.


said, he thought no sufficient answer had been given on the part of the Government to the question of his noble Friend. The right hon. Gentleman opposite did not deny that under the existing regulations the application for books made by the managers of the school at Nottingham ought to have been complied with, and his defence for having met the application with a refusal was unsatisfactory. It was, he said, necessary to make some arrangements with the publishers, but then those arrangements ought not to have been anticipated on the presumption that the Revised Code would be adopted by Parliament. That was the ground of the complaint then made. The case adduced by his noble Friend was not, it was true, one of primary importance, nor so great as many others involved in the Revised Code; but, if there was one thing more remarkable than another in the mode in which it had been attempted to force the new Code on the public, it was the want of tact and conciliation with which the minute had been introduced to public notice. For his own part he could not help thinking that, as the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to make considerable demands on the forbearance of the public, it was desirable he should not have gone out of his way unnecessarily to alarm and offend them by taking any steps involving a great violation of the still existing minutes. The right hon. Gentleman ought to have waited to see whether the new scheme was sanctioned by the approval of Parliament and of the country. They were not then considering whether the existing Minutes were good or not. The House had sanctioned them, and the people were acting upon them; and certainly, so far as the law was concerned, the right hon. Gentleman had not a leg to stand upon, and had given no answer whatever to the question of the noble Lord. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the administrative discretion which was necessary in public affairs, but in this matter there had been a total want of discretion. That, after arrangements had been made for the discussion of this important question by Parliament, the feelings of the public should have been so unnecessarily offended by the violation of the existing Minutes, showed a great want of that administrative discretion upon which the right hon. Gentleman had dilated.