HC Deb 16 June 1869 vol 196 cc1959-72

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the numerous Petitions which had been present ed approving of the provisions of the Bill afforded dear and conclusive evidence of the feeling existing in the country on the question. Some persons might think the matter was one of light moment; but he was bound to say that, in his opinion, it was one of very grave importance, and involved interests of a national character. He was glad to see that in this House there was no question attracting greater attention and interest among hon. Members than that which had to do with the education of the humbler classes of the community. It might not be generally known that there was an institution in this country influencing and controlling large masses of the population—an institution which was effecting very great results, and which now, for the first time in its history, came to the Bar of the House of Commons, not to ask for any favour, or exemption from any liability hitherto resting upon it but; to ask that no burden might be placed upon it from this time forth, and that it might be allowed to do its work with the same advantage and success that it had hitherto done to the community at large. He should not exaggerate this matter when he said that the Ragged and Sunday (Schools of this country were a power in the land. They were the outgrowth of pious zeal and spontaneous benevolence. They belonged to no party, and although they were certainly supported by different denominations, they were emphatically the institution of the people, and they comprised an educational apparatus to which the people were very much attached. Ever since the great Act of Elizabeth, upon which our Poor Law had been based, schools had been free from liability to local rates, and in the 3 & 4 Will. IV. there was an exemption for all churches, chapels, and schools. In the Towns Improvement Clauses Act of 1847, it was expressly provided that no church should be rated, nor any building exclusively used for the purposes of the gratuitous education of the poor. They knew that in Birmingham that Act had come into operation, and no rate had been allowed to rest upon these institutions, and no question would have arisen but for the judicial decision pronounced by Lord Westbury, and subsequently confirmed by Mr. Justice Blackburn, which declared that all buildings of a charitable or eleemosynary character must be rated to the poor. Now this decision had swept away the prescriptive right of centuries, and had involved these schools in great embarrassment. The teachers had been slow to believe it, and he was glad to say the local authorities had been slow to act upon the decision, and still continued to excuse many schools from the rate. Parliament was therefore now asked to decide that question which was at present left open to the local authorities to determine. In 1866, when this question first arose, two inquiries were made in that House. If he did not mistake, one was raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Bromley Davenport), and the other by a Gentleman on his side of the House; and the answer distinctly given by the Secretary of Stale for the Home Department in the late Government was that the subject was under the consideration of the Government, but he could give no promise of a Bill that Session. Now this was rather less ambiguous than many answers given by the occupants of the front Benches, and the Sunday School teachers of the country understood those words as meaning that although the Government had not time to deal with the question then, there was a high probability that they would hereafter bring in a measure to settle this question of difficulty and embarrassment. He held therefore that the late Government did pledge themselves to the teachers of the country that they would give consideration to the settlement of this question. Some deputations had since waited upon Ministers but nothing had been done; and now that a new House of Commons had assembled it was thought, by the friends of these institutions; that the whole question should be brought to a settlement by a Bill. The Government was not to decide the matter; but this House was called upon to declare what the will of the people was with regard to these institutions. In 1782, Robert Raikes — a name not to be mentioned, and especially in the House of Commons, without the greatest respect and reverence — formed the first Ragged School, from which had arisen the whole body of Sunday Schools, at present occupying so high and important a position in the country. Mr. Raikes with a wonderful amount of foresight gathered the children together from the streets of Gloucester, where they were creating the greatest amount of mischief. He lured persons to take charge of them and teach them, and his institution grew until it became so considerable as to be attacked in both Senate and cathedral as one of a dangerous character to the country. But what had happened? That institution, which began in 1782, acquired such strength, that in 1818. there were 5.463 schools in the country with 1,500,000 scholars. By the Census of 1851 there appeared to be 23,498 of these schools. with 2,407,000 children. On March 30, 1851, which was the Sunday upon which the Census was taken, there were present 78 per cent of the whole number of children on the books. This proved that these institutions were no visionary matter. Taking the same basis, he calculated that, in 1869, taking the whole of the schools of the United Kingdom, there would be 3,897,000 children visiting them, their gratuitous teachers numbering no less than 498,000. He could not help thinking the House would view this progress as something wonderful, and, as far as he know, it had no parallel in history. He quoted, from the Report of Minutes of Evidence taken on Education of the Lower Orders of the Metropolis, 1817, a statement of Mr. Butterworth (Member for Devon), in these words— The political benefits of Sunday Schools to society is incalculable; for not only the principles of loyalty and obedience to the laws are instilled into the minds of the children, but they are fitted to serve the State in various ways by being taught to servo themselves in an industrious and honest course of life. The attachment of children to Sunday Schools and their improvement in them is very considerable. There are a great number of poor children who are employed by their parents during the week, who have no other opportunity than that afforded on Sunday of receiving instruction. The history of that class of efforts was well written by the pen of a Quarterly Reviewer, in these words— Patience and principle have conquered all difficulties, and now we see on each evening of the week hundreds of these young maniacs engaged in diligent study, clothed, and in their right mind. Ladies and gentlemen who walk in purple and fine linen and fare sumptuously every day can form no adequate idea of the pain and toil which the founders and conductors of those schools have joyfully sustained in their simple and fervent piety. Surrendering nearly the whole of the Sabbath— their only day of rest—and often, after many hours of toil, giving, besides, an evening in the week, they have plunged into the foulest localities, fŒtid apartments, and harassing duties. All this they have done, and still do, in the genuine spirit of Christian charity, without the hope of recompense of money, or of fame—it staggers, at first, our belief, but, nevertheless, it is true, and many a Sunday School teacher, thus poor and zealous, will rise up in judgment with lazy ecclesiastics, boisterous sectarians, and self-seeking statesmen. He would say, in the strictest Parliamentary sense, that non-interference in this matter would be unfair, impolitic and oppressive. He said it would be unfair, because churches, chapels, and some other places were exempt from payment of these rates on the ground that they were places of religious worship. He had himself been a Sunday School teacher for forty years, and he spoke in the presence of hon. Gentlemen who had acted in a similar capacity, all of whom would bear testimony that these Ragged and Sunday Schools were conducted upon religious principles, and religion was taught and religious worship carried on within their walls, in the most decorous and proper manner, adapted to the wants of the children frequenting them. It might be asked why did not these schools take a license as places of worship? But that was not what they wanted; what they asked for was a declaration from the House of Commons that they should not lose the exemption hitherto enjoyed by them. These schools had often been held in confined and inconvenient places simply to avoid rating. He had seen one in the belfry of a church; and it did seem hard, when a separate building was procured, there should be a liability to pay the rates. There had been a great extension of school accommodation of late years, and separate buildings had been erected; everything, in fact having been done for their improvement. But what was the reward which they were to get? Why, if they were connected with a church or chapel they were not to be taxed, but if they had a separate; building the rate collector would come and make his demand upon them. The cost, of these institutions was borne by the teachers; there was no common fund from which money could be taken to any this tax, and therefore, he said, to make them liable to pay those, rates would be most unfair. Further, he contended that it was of national advantage that these schools should be preserved, and nothing; done to discourage Their development. It was the first duty of Parliament and of statesmen to repress the growth of the criminal classes as much as they could, and to attack, wherever they met them, ignorance, improvidence, intemperance and vicious habits. This, he believed would be best done in these schools, where children were brought together to get instruction based upon the highest principles of religion am morality. He noticed that there was a tendency in the, House to foster purely secular education in our day schools and if this were done it would render it more necessary to preserve Sun day Schools, where religious instruction would continue to be given. The day school dealt mainly with the mental and the intellectual—the Sunday school with the conscience and the heart; the children would be taught what was their duty, and the Word of God would be set before them as the highest standard of duty. He Mould quote the opinion of the Dean of Chichester, who, as Vicar of Leeds, had had so ample an opportunity of observing the influence of Sunday schools— The religious education of the people is given in our Sunday Schools. The mainstay of religious education is to be found in our Sunday Schools. The most earnest, the most devoted, the most pious of our several congregations are accustomed with meritorious zeal to dedicate themselves to the great work. All classes are blended together—rich and poor—one with another, rejoice to undertake the office of Sunday School teacher. Many young men and young women who have no other day in the week for recreation and leisure, with a zeal and charity— for which may God Almighty bless them!—con-secrate their little leisure on the Lord's Day to the training of little children in the way they ought to go. It is here that we are to look for the real religious education of our people. He would quote also the opinion of Sir James Kayo Shuttle worth, who avowed that in the Sunday School forty-five years ago he received the first impulse to observe, inquire, and ponder on the methods and discipline of schools for the people, and says— The Sunday School was the root from which sprang our system of day schools. The force which makes religious training the chief aim of the elementary day school was derived from this root. The congregational organization of our school system had the same origin. Long before even enlightened statesmen and leaders of public opinion card for the education of the people, the congregations had begun the work in the Sunday School. When the Government first attempted to organize national education, it not only found machinery ready to its hand, but it also, after various experiments in other directions, found that the churches and congregations contained within themselves a zeal and a purpose as to public education which existed in no civic body, not even in the Parliament itself. He referred to the opinion of the President of the Board of Trade, who averred— That in the North of England the whole spirit of the working classes had been touched and moulded by the influence of Sunday Schools. How much did the criminal classes cost the country? In the district of Lesson Grove, there was a small place which had earned for itself the name of "Little Hell," because it was so pre-eminent for its wickedness, and in that place in the space of fourteen months there had been twenty-eight convictions of children. A Bagged School was now opened in the district, but it had a hard struggle to maintain its existence; and if the collector were to call there for the rates, who could be found who would be able to pay them? In Agar Town there were 464 houses, which contained 698 families, consisting of 2,960 persons. Of these people there were 1,200 under the age of twelve years, and of that number 200 odd went to day schools, while 960 went only to the Sunday and Ragged Schools, and derived there all the education they got. The work of these schools among these most degraded classes was of the utmost value to society. If they desired to check hereditary pauperism and crime, they had no more powerful means at their present command than these Ragged and Sunday Schools. They developed a self-reliant and independent spirit, in proof of which he might mention the case of a boy who had often been convicted, but was induced to attend a Ragged School. Having then applied himself to honest industry, lie brought his father and mother out of the workhouse to live with him in his own home. If these schools were to be taxed, where was the money to come from, for there were no school-pence to rely upon? He had returns from a number of districts, stating that the sums the schools would be called upon to pay in consequence of the late legal decision, would be from £5 to £10—a sum equal to the entire annual cost of most small schools. In Manchester and Salford upwards of 10,000 children were regular attendants at the Ragged Schools; but half the present number of schools would have to be shut up if they were to be called upon to pay rates. In the opinion of the best judges, to have to pay these rates would be a most embarrassing thing for most of the schools, and they would be placed in a position of the greatest difficulty. Most of the schools were now in debt, and such a thing as a surplus at the end of the year was an unknown quantity with them. At this moment the Ragged Schools of London, for instance, owed £4,200; and to cast this new burden upon them would be to prevent the planting of new schools where they were most wanted, to retard the advancement of education, and rather increase than diminish the poor rates of the country. There was another element of good in these schools. They promoted a fusion of classes, developing the sympathy of the rich towards the poor. The admission of the lay element in giving instruction in the schools was most valuable in that respect. How was it that the poor could not be got into the church in Bishopsgate, now about to be abandoned? They had been told that the poor would go to the school with their children, and therefore it was thought better to erect schools leather than to build a new church. The daughters of the wealthy classes gave regular instruction to these poor children, and exercised a most useful influence, through the children, upon the parents. When the Lixes of the Lord Chancellors came to be extended, it would be recorded to the honour of the present Lord Chancellor, and as a bright example for imitation, that for four and thirty years, in the midst of his and onus professional labours, he had devoted his Sunday mornings to leaching some of the poor children of Westminster. He would quote a passage from the Quarterly ReviewIt is a fact that some 2,000,000 of families from the humbler classes in this country are intrusting their children every Sunday to the affectionate and pious cave of 250,000 of young persons. This bond of pure moral confidence which unites those millions of parents with those myriads of teachers does not a little to diffuse) through the land the wholesome conviction that religion, alter all, is not a thing of mere convention, or only another form of human selfishness, but a generous reality. Anything that should tend to disturb 'his course of unpaid, unbidden, self-denying effort on the one hand, or to take away occasion for this moral response so strong and natural on the other, would not only be a national calamity, hut one, the extent of which no man could limit. It was difficult to exaggerate the influence of these Ragged Schools, and an attentive observer — the Commissioner of the Daily Telegraph—noticed their power and that of Sunday Schools during the cotton famine in Lancashire. To tax these schools would be a most oppressive tiling. It had been, said that there was a difficulty in drawing a line with regard to the payment of poor rates, but the line was drawn already. The exemption applied to Government buildings, places of worship, University buildings; and if the great training places for the richer classes were exempted, why should these schools, in which the lowest classes in the country were trained, be made to pay? The greater the inability to meet the demand, for payment of these rates, the move merciful should be the consideration shown. This was to a great extent the people's own effort, for of the teachers in Sunday and Ragged Schools 80 per cent had been scholars there, and now showed how much they felt the value of such institutions by giving their gratuitous services in extending to others the benefit they had received themselves. They pleaded that payment of the tax would involve an increase of 50 per cent in the expenditure of the schools. It should be remembered that the Sunday Schools had been the pioneers of' education in this country, and, as the Dean of Chichester had said, they were the mainstay of our religious education. Yon might as well tax the lifeboat, the lighthouse, or the fire-escape, as schools which, tried to rescue poor children from the temptations of the streets. Those schools, although they were denominational, were not used for the purposes of sectarian teaching. The children who attended them received scriptural instruction; virtuous habits were inculcated, and that appeal to the Word of God which had been declared to be the source and guarantee of our national prosperity— This lamp From off the Everlasting throne, Mercy took down, And in the night of time stood evermore, Beseeching men, to hear, believe, and live. He desired that this instruction might pervade the length and breadth of the land, and on all these grounds he trusted the House would support him by voting for the second reading of the Bill.


, in seconding the Motion, said, that unanswerable reasons had been given by the hon. Member (Mr. C. Reed) in behalf of a principle which he (Mr. Graves) believed would commend itself to the sympathy and support of the House. It would probably be objected against it that it was only piecemeal legislation, but I here was nothing which was more convenient for escaping the necessity of immediate action than to go off with the pretext of piecemeal legislation. This Bill simply sought to lay down a law which had been in operation for three centuries, and to set aside the decision of one of the tribunals of the country with regard to it. Another objection urged against the Bill was that it was most desirable to adopt a broad and intelligible principle in assessment to the poor—that we should have no exemptions whatever, but should lay down one hard and fast line for every class and description of property to whatever purposes it might be applied. No doubt that would be a convenient and advantageous principle. Some of the exemptions under the statute of Elizabeth had been carried to such an extreme that the owners of private property had not unnaturally sought to have the area of chargeability extended to more public property. But why, because they had gone to one extreme should they now go to the other? There was no wisdom or force in such legislation. A system which failed to distinguish in the rate ability to the poor between that which created and that which prevented pauperism, was questionable, if not entirely wrong. These schools were a power in the State, and greatly tended to diminish pauperism and crime. It was only those who resided in large towns who were aware of the great benefit conferred by Bagged Schools, and he trusted therefore that; the voice of the representatives of largo towns would be raised in favour of giving the relief prayed for. What was the Sunday School but the outwork of a place of worship? And what was the Bagged School but the outwork of a poor-house? The Act 3 & 4 Will. IV. specially provided that schools in vestry rooms, whether attached to places of worship or not, should not be liable to be rated for the relief of the poor, and this conceded the very principle they were now contending for. In Ireland, by a still more recent Act, all charitable institutions were exempt from rating to the poor; in Scotland the Crown lands and all institutions connected with science, literature, and art were similarly exempt; and even in England, collegiate institutions, places of worship, and Imperial buildings were, exempted from rating. What, then, became of the hard and fast line? Not one shilling of State aid had been given to the Sunday or Ragged Schools. The present Bill, not of a compulsory character, only sought to enforce the law — it only sought to give permission to support these institutions in this most indirect and paltry way. He hoped that the Government would not, by opposing the measure, in which he was sure they would not be supported by the country, take upon themselves a responsibility which he did not covet.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. C. Reed.)


said, he must admit that the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. C. Reed) had not said a word too much in praise of the advantages to be derived from education, and of the services rendered by the teachers of these schools. At the same time, he thought the principle involved in the Bill was an unsound principle, and one which, if once recognized, it would he-found most difficult to limit in its operation. The House should remember that the exemption of one class of property from poor rates meant the increase of these rates on another class; and why should the rates on other schools be increased by the exemption of Sunday and Ragged Schools? The measure was not a progressive, but a retrogressive measure; for the tendency of recent legislation, as in the case of mines, had been to rate all descriptions of property, instead of multiplying exemptions. He believed that the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) was mistaken if he supposed that the College? were not rated; and if he meant only that the University buildings devoted to science or literature were exempt, the best thing would be to remove that exemption. Believing that to concede the exemption of Sunday and Ragged Schools would only be to create a similar demand in the ease of other institutions, which some might believe as useful as these, he begged to move that the Bill be read a second time upon this day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Perry Wyndham.)


said, he felt confident that, however anxious hon. Members might be that the Bill should be read a second time, they would see the propriety of the Government stating their views with regard to it; for it would be admitted, after the able speech of the hon. Gentleman who moved the second reading (Mr. C. Reed), that the matter was one of considerable importance; and deserving the patient consideration of the House. It was the pleasant privilege of private Members to look at such a Bill as this simply from the point of view of the good which that Bill would effect, and not at its general bearing. It was the duty of the Government, however—though sometimes a hard and unpopular duty — to see how far a Bill which, taken by itself, might be beneficial, ought to be adopted by Parliament, having regard to the general scope of legislation. Now, the House had requested the Government to undertake the consideration of the whole question of local taxation, and no branch of that question was more important than that of exempting particular descriptions of property from rating. It would be necessary in such a ease to consider the question of the exemption of Government property, as well as of charitable institutions and of schools generally. He entirely concurred in all that had been said by the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. C. Reed) with regard to the importance of these charitable institutions, and he (Mr. Goschen) did hope, that whatever criticisms might be passed upon the course which the Government would feel it their duly to take on the present occasion, it would not be said that they undervalued the benefits conferred by Sunday and Ragged Schools. The hon. Gentleman had, no doubt, made out a strong case on behalf of these institutions, but he (Mr. Goschen) contended that the case made out by the hon. Member was just as strong in favour of giving direct aid to Sunday and Ragged Schools out of the rates as it was in favour of relieving them from rates. [Mr. C. REED: We do not ask for a rate.] His hon. Friend said they did not ask for a penny, but they really did. What was more, he (Mr. Goschen) thought it was an open question whether direct aid should not be given to them. Whenever the general subject of supporting schools by rates came to be discussed, then would be the time to consider the propriety of giving them direct aid. At present, however, they wished to be considered as relying on voluntary contributions, while indirectly they were securing public aid. Now, it was only right that we should know on which of these principles they rested; because, if they were to have public privileges, they must assume public responsibilities; the public would have a right to know how these schools were conducted; and it would be a question how far they ought to fall in with any system of assisting schools from the rates which might come before the country. At all events, they could not be viewed as solely supported by charitable contributions, if they enjoyed exemptions from taxation which other institutions did not enjoy. No machinery was provided in the Bill for carrying out the object of the measure. The Bill simply asked that Sunday and Hugged Schools should be exempted from raring. Was this exemption to apply to all buildings, whether used occasionally or exclusively for this purpose? [An hon. MEMBER: Exclusively,] That was an important admission, but it was not in the Bill. The position, then, would be this—if a building was used exclusively for a Sunday School—that was, once in seven days— it was to be exempted from rating; but if it was to be put to other uses during the week, it was not to be so exempted. So that the School Committee would be placed in this dilemma — that if they used this building for any other purpose—say, for a day school—they would forfeit their claim to be exempted from rating. With respect to Ragged Schools, many of them were held, not in separate buildings, but in houses which were rated. There was no definition given of a Sunday School, and none could be given except that it was a school which met on a Sunday. It might be a school held on Sunday in which no religion was taught at all, or might be irreligious. There were different schools that met on Sundays for secular teaching. A number of workmen might meet to hoar a person read history for them, which would be instructive, and might be considered a Pun lay School. He did not wish to base his opposition to the Bill on these grounds, because it might be that such objections might be mot in Committee. The Bill exempted Ragged Schools as well as Sunday Schools from rating, but did not define what a Ragged School was: and he asked whether all schools where gratuitous education was given wore to be considered Ragged Schools? It was his business to place these practical difficulties before the House, and if the Amendment were pressed to a division he should feel bound to vote against the Bill, otherwise he would have been content to move the Previous Question, looking on this subject as one of a class which must come under consideration when the whole question of local taxation was dealt with.


said, he had always understood the object of the Act of Queen Elizabeth was to tax the "beneficial occupation" of a building; but those schools wore not, in the legal sense, beneficially occupied, although they were productive of immense advantage to the public, through the spread of education and the suppression of crime. He represented between 100 and 200 parishes in South Nottinghamshire, and he did not believe there was a single individual in the whole of that constituency who desired that these schools should be rated.

Question put. "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 228; Noes 71: Majority 157.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday next.