§ SIR WILLIAM STIRLING-MAXWELL
rose to call attention to certain defects of the Scotch Education Act; and to move—That it is expedient that the provisions of the Scotch Education Act relating to the transference 895 of Denominational and Subscription Schools to School Boards he assimilated to those of the English Education Act, in order that such transference may be facilitated, and the burden on the ratepayers thereby relieved; and that an effectual audit of the annual accounts of School Boards in Scotland be by Law provided.The hon. Baronet said, he rose with great reluctance in pursuance of this Notice, and he could assure the House that he should be as brief as he possibly could. He regretted that no steps had been taken to remedy the defects of the present Act during the present Session. It was only on account of the many representations that had reached him from persons whose opinions were well worthy of consideration that he took the liberty of calling the attention of the Government and of the House to the amendments he had ventured to suggest. In remarking that the Education Act of Scotland was at present in a very defective condition, he would not be supposed to speak with any Party bias. The changes which that Act made in the system of Scotch education were so numerous and so sweeping that it was hardly to be expected that such an Act could be passed in a state which would not be found to require considerable amendment. In the late House of Commons, in which it was passed, he had not the advantage of possessing a seat, and he took no part in the discussion of the subject out-of-doors. It was under these circumstances that he had the honour of being selected by the late Government as a member of the Education Board in Scotland—a position which gave him the opportunity of seeing the working of the Act more than perhaps any other person, except the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay). Since he had placed this Motion upon the Table, he had received a large amount of correspondence upon the subject—so large that he had been obliged to leave much of it unanswered. A number of the letters he had received came not from his own political friends, but from Gentlemen belonging to one or other of the parties composing the other side of the House. The Resolution that he had placed upon the Notice Paper alluded to what appeared to him the two principal and main defects of the Scotch Education Act, and those defects he proposed to notice in their order, giving his reasons for considering them defects which required 896 immediate legislation. But before proceeding to speak of them, he would mention other defects of the Act. He would take them at random, and as they presented themselves to his notice; and would remark, before alluding to them, that in nearly all the points he was about to refer to, defects existed in the Scotch Education Act which were not to be found in the English measure of 1870. He would deal first with the borrowing powers of school boards. As the House was well aware, school boards were empowered by the Act to borrow sums of money from the Public Works Loans Commissioners for the purpose of "providing and enlarging schools." Those powers in Scotland were not held to cover many items of expense which were very serious and important, and which in the aggregate sometimes amounted to as much as the cost of new schools. There were repairs, furniture, enclosure of ground, water supply, and there might be other charges. These items were not included in the Scotch Act, though he believed that they were in the measure applying to England. When sites were required by schools, there were no compulsory powers in the Scotch Act by which they could be obtained. The crotchets or unreasonableness of a single landed proprietor might put a whole district to very considerable inconvenience. This, he was sorry to say, was no imaginary case; such occurrences had taken place. Grave doubts appeared to exist whether it was legal for a member of a school board to sell a site to a board of which he was a member. It was obvious that in many cases no land could be obtained except by purchase from a member of a school board, unless, indeed, he presented it as a free gift. It was known, he believed, to the House generally—Scotchmen were certainly aware of the fact—that school boards were compulsory by law all over Scotland. No matter how remote the district, no matter how satisfied the inhabitants of a district might have been with the old system of education, still these school boards must be formed. One would have expected that an Act which compelled the election of school boards would have at least been careful and precise in its directions as to their procedure; but that was very far from the fact. Even in the most obvious matters they 897 had been left entirely without directions. One would have supposed, for instance, that such circumstances as death and removal would have been in the minds of those who framed the Act; but, strange as it might appear, they had not made any provision for those contingencies amongst a people who were, like other men, mortal, and beyond other men, migratory. He was not sure that it was unlawful for the chairman of a school board to die; but there were grave doubts whether his disconsolate fellow members might provide him with a successor. Resignations of members had not been unknown; but they had the opinion of eminent counsel that resignation was not legal. There were several cases in regard to this point worth mentioning to the House. In one instance known to him, four members out of a school board of five resigned. The survivor, contrary to all law, picked up four of his friends, placed them on the school board, and now conducted the educational affairs of the parish according to a law of his own making. In another case, a death vacancy having occurred, two of the members, without retiring from the board, expressed their intention of attending no more meetings. The educational proceedings of that parish were paralyzed. No assessment was raised for the next year, and the schoolmaster had to go without his salary. Again, nothing in the Act vacated a seat at a school board. No neglect of duty would affect the tenure of a seat, or render its vacation necessary. Bankruptcy did not vacate it, neither did imprisonment for crime. He would beg the House to remember that he was not putting an imaginary case, but speaking of things which had actually occurred. One gentleman had the misfortune to become bankrupt, and he was requested to resign his seat. He replied that he would do nothing of the sort; and that having now no business of his own, he would have more time to attend to the affairs of the school board. Members of school boards were not precluded from holding places of profit under the boards to which they belonged. They might even enter into pecuniary contracts with their own boards. He thought it was only necessary to mention these defects to show how much the Act 898 required amending. He would say nothing as to the grievances of the teachers, but merely remark in passing that whereas the Act was devised, amongst other objects, to improve the status and position of those gentlemen, it had had a most unlooked-for effect. Any school-master that met with an unreasonable board had no way whatever of enforcing the rights that the Act gave him except by an appeal to the tribunals of his country. He thought that an Act which created such an elaborate machinery ought to have provided for such contingencies; and ought not to have left petty differences between schoolmasters and school boards to be fought out before the Court of Session. He had now exhausted the general remarks which he had to make upon the Act, and would turn to the two points touched upon in his Motion. The first of these, the House would observe, touched the transference of schools, and affirmed that—It was expedient that the provisions of the Scotch Education Act relating to the transference of Denominational and Subscription Schools to School Boards should be assimilated to those of the English Education Act, in order that such transference might be facilitated, and the burden on the ratepayers thereby relieved.After the passing of the Scotch Act, it might have been fairly assumed that all persons connected with the schools in question would be very desirous, at all events quite willing, to transfer them to school boards. The object they had in view was, the education of the people; and they might reasonably expect that when its superintendence was transferred to a body formed of the representatives of the people, that object would be carried out in a much more efficient manner. All the usual motives of human action—generous and selfish, patriotic and calculating—seemed to combine to suggest and prompt such transference. But what had been the result? The Church of Scotland, at the time of the passing of the Act, had 900 to 1,000 schools. Of this number 78 were transferred to the school boards, 420 were still in operation under their old management, and something like from 450 to 500 might be supposed to be discontinued. The Free Church had 548 schools in operation at the passing of the Education Act. Of this number 142 had been transferred, 95 were still in operation, and they might therefore suppose that 311 had been discontinued. 899 With regard to other denominations, he was not furnished with the figures, except that he knew that in the case of the United Presbyterian body only a single school had been transferred to a school board. He did not give the House these figures as being precisely accurate; but they approximated near enough to accuracy to give an idea of the working of the Act. The Act was passed, he contended, mainly for the purpose of promoting transference, but so far it had proved unsuccessful. It was not difficult to discover the cause of its ill-success. The cause was to be found in the stringent provisions of the Act. Instead of blaming the trustees of the various denominational schools because so few schools had been transferred, they had reason to thank them that so many transferences had taken place. The conditions with regard to the transfer were much more onerous in Scotland than in England. A small amount of debt on a school was sufficient to prevent a transfer. When there was debt on a school, some such negotiations as this took place:—The trustees of a Free Church school, that was to be transferred, said to the school board—" We are willing to transfer our school, but we have debt upon it to the amount of £100, which we think you ought to pay." The school board, however much they desired to acquire the school, were obliged to say—" We are precluded by the Act from assuming any debt." The result was that the building was converted into something else; and the parish, instead of obtaining the school for such sum as, say, £100, in many cases would spend from £1,200 to £1,500 in the erection of a new one. No doubt the stringency of this condition might be defended on the ground that it was meant to put down private jobbery; but he thought that in attempting to protect the public from pillage they had overshot the mark, and subjected the public to almost equal expense in the creation of new schools. Other conditions imposed upon those who desired to transfer their schools were also very onerous. Free Church schools were in many cases built in connection with manses and churches. He mentioned the Free Church on account of the large contributions it had for so many years made to the educational 900 prosperity of Scotland. The school, the church, and the manse often formed a group in a village, or the neighbourhood of a town. It was surely reasonable that the trustees in whom this property was invested, in transferring the school should wish to make some arrangement by which it should be maintained as a school and not be used for any other purpose. Here, again, the Act came in and stopped them. The school board was obliged to say—"We think your school is a very good one; we may not be able to build such a one for double the money; but we cannot enter into any negotiation. We must have full power over the building, and the only condition we can make with you is that while it remains in our hands you are to have the use of the school when it is not required for teaching purposes." Thus the negotiation fell to the ground; the trustees very properly declining to take the risk of the school being appropriated to other uses—being turned, perhaps, into a public-house or a music hall, or some purpose which would damage their adjacent property. Here, again, the Act failed—the school was not transferred, and a new school had to be erected at great cost. He thought it would be obvious to hon. Gentlemen that in these points the Act required amendment, and should be assimilated to the English Act, where a school might be transferred to a school board, if the debt with which it was charged did not exceed the value of the building. He was not sure that the people of Scotland would ask even so much as this. He thought that if the debt were to be restricted to half the present value of the property, that might be a very fair and reasonable compromise. But he maintained that the public, as represented by the school boards, should have the opportunity of acquiring these schools for what, he believed, would turn out to be reasonable terms. Let the Government, in dealing with the question, take proper precautions against jobbery and institute a searching scrutiny; but let the great waste of public money which he foresaw in the ensuing year be, if possible, avoided. The reason why he especially pressed this point upon the Government was that even if in a future Session the remedy which he sought should be provided, it would come too late; the new schools 901 would have made considerable progress towards completion; and many of the present schools would have been applied to other purposes. He now came to the last point of his Resolution—namely, the question of audit. This was a case which only required stating; and he need not trouble the House with any argument on the subject. By the provisions of the Act the Edinburgh Education Board were empowered to appoint an accountant, and they had accordingly appointed a very efficient officer, with a competent salary. This gentleman entered upon the course of his duties last year, when the accounts of the school boards were presented to him, and he, of course, criticized them carefully, and pointed out various items which he conceived violated the law and which ought to be disallowed. But upon examination it turned out that no power existed anywhere to disallow any item, however it might contravene the obvious letter of the Act. He would give the House some examples of cases which had actually occurred. The first that he would take was that of a rural parish. The high charges which the returning officer had made for the election of a school board in that parish attracted the notice of the accountant. The items themselves were high, and the list was closed by a gratuity to the returning officer over and above the high charge at which that gentleman had appraised his services. The auditor naturally disallowed this; but it was found that he could disallow nothing, and the ratepayers had to pay for the ill-judged generosity of the school board. The next case was that of a Northern burgh. It appeared that opposition had arisen to certain acts of the school board. The inhabitants and the ratepayers were not pleased with what was being done, and a public meeting was called. Placards were posted all over the town, and a demonstration was made against the school board. The school board did not like the aspect of things—in fact, it became frightened. It entered into negotiations with the leaders of the opposition, and the result was that it agreed to pay, out of the pockets of the ratepayers, the expenses of their opposition. £30 were handed over to these gentlemen, and the school board charged it in their accounts. In another town, a sum of no less than £100 was given 902 to the clerk of the deacon's court of a Dissenting chapel, in consequence of "his valuable services in the transfer of schools "—services, the House would observe, which were rendered not to the school board, but to the court of which the deacon was the clerk. Here, again, there was no redress. The next case was in a well-known seaport. There the school board, some time after the election, received the accounts of the election expenses incurred by some of their own members, and defrayed these expenses, in plain defiance of the 3rd section of the Act which had constituted them. The last case was in a burgh in the North of Scotland. There had been some extraordinary change of opinion in the school board of that burgh, on the question of maintaining two separate schools or making them into one school. The school board had decided the case both ways; and its business had consequently got into a muddle, causing great excitement. Hoping to escape from its dilemma, the school board conceived the scheme of holding a sort of plébiscite of the ratepayers. A hall was hired; there were placards, cabs, and even a band of music; all the excitement of an election prevailed, and the plébiscite was taken. The school board met next day, and voted that their proceedings were legal and regular; and charged the expenses on the rates. All these cases were, he believed, brought under the notice of the Education Board of Edinburgh, but neither the accountant nor the Education Board in Edinburgh, nor the Department in London, over which his noble Friend (Viscount Sandon) presided, had been able to disallow a single item of these absurd and ridiculous charges. He thought he had said enough to show that the ratepayers of Scotland really had a right to be protected against such charges. It was not a very extravagant request to ask that the same protection should be afforded to them as was afforded to the English ratepayers. He would remind the House and the Government that these school boards would lapse under the Act in the course of next year. Early next spring new elections must take place, and there was every reason to expect that when it was known—as by this time it must be pretty well known in the country—that accounts were subject to no sufficient audit, the extravagance which took place 903 in 1873 would be repeated, if not exceeded, in 1876. He believed that most of his hon. Friends from Scotland in that House, to whatever Party they belonged, or whatever their own private opinions might be as to this Act, would admit that more than a year ago it began to excite considerable discontent in Scotland. The assessments had given rise to very great dissatisfaction, and he was sure that all hon. Members who went through a contested election last year, must be perfectly aware of this fact. He did not say this was of itself a conclusive reason for altering or amending the Act; but he thought that considering how well disposed his country-men were to education, and what sacrifices they had shown themselves capable of making for it, it was not likely that in that country, at least, any ignorant clamour would be raised against the just and necessary expenses of education. Thanking the House for the patient hearing it had given him, he would entreat the Lord Advocate and the Vice President of Education to take this grievance into their consideration, and remedy it by some short Act during the present Session providing a power of transferring of schools on fair terms, and an efficient audit of accounts—things which he believed he had shown to be urgently required. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving his Resolution.
§ MR. RAMSAY
said, that the able statement to which the House had just listened had rendered it unnecessary for him to occupy much time in making any remarks on the Resolution before them. He thought, however, that it might satisfy the minds of those who had taken an interest in the subject of education in Scotland if he explained that the Board of Education had been guided by the opinion of eminent counsel, which was obtained about 18 months ago at the instance of a committee of the General Assembly of the Free Church, who were appointed by that Assembly for the purpose of carrying out and facilitating the transfer of the Free Church schools to the school boards in the various parishes and burghs throughout Scotland. That Committee addressed to the counsel the following questions:—Would it be competent under the Education Act for the school managers to stipulate as a condition of transfer, and for the school board to accept the same 904 —First, that in the event of the school and other buildings ceasing to be used by the school board for the purpose of the Act, the property shall revert to the congregation; or, secondly, that in the event of a sale the congregation shall have a right of pre-emption? Would it be competent to the school managers to stipulate and to the board to agree that in the event of a school being sold the board shall be bound to provide the same accommodation as at present furnished by the existing school, and to make such stipulation a real burden affecting the property? Would it be competent for a school board to accept the use of schools, not by way of lease, but for an indefinite time? It was unnecessary that he should read all the questions addressed to counsel, as some of them had no direct reference to the terms of the Resolution before the House; but the questions which he had read were answered—all of them in the negative. On a subsequent reference to the Board of Education, that Board had held that while it was not competent for a school board to accept the lease of a school for an indefinite time, there might be cases in which trustees of existing schools might grant the temporary use of them which a school board might accept. He thought he had sufficiently shown the necessity for a change in the law, and therefore would not take up the time of the House with further illustrations. There was another question which affected the ratepayers very much, and although he concurred with the hon. Baronet in saying that their countrymen would not object to any reasonable expenditure for educational purposes, yet he thought it could not be the will of the Legislature that any unnecessary expense should be put on the ratepayers or the Treasury. Now, there were several points in regard to which something might be done in the direction of economy. The elections, which were numerously contested on the last occasion, were likely to be contested again in the same way next year, and the total expense of the first election was found from the Return obtained by the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) to be above £28,000. Now, this was an expense which he thought might well be mitigated, by making the elections not triennial, but once in every five years. If the schools were once properly or- 905 ganized and the teachers doing their duties efficiently, it was not necessary that the school board should do much, and there was no reason for a change. Then there was another point. He did not see the necessity for making a new electoral roll, but thought the roll made up for Parliamentary elections might very well be taken, and although it might diminish the number of electors, yet the persons left out would be those who paid the least towards the rates, and took the least interest in the matter. There was good reason why greater facilities should be offered to persons interested in denominational schools to transfer them to the school boards of the country, rather than that they should be shut up or converted into dwelling-houses, as they certainly would be. He thought it might reasonably have been contended that, with regard to bodies like the Free Church, which had expended large sums in the erection of schools when no adequate provision was made for educational purposes, the sale of these schools should be sanctioned. But the hon. Baronet did not proceed so far, and only contended that the school board should be authorized to pay the debt of any school it took over. He thought this proposal was a very reasonable one. Under the law of 1870, as amended in that of 1873, English school boards were authorized to take on lease any existing school, subject to restrictions or not, as might be arranged, and were authorized to pay a nominal rent, an understanding which he found was very liberally interpreted. In Scotland they could not rent any existing denominational school, and he thought it, therefore, of very great importance that something should be done in the direction indicated in the Motion, and he joined in the appeal that something should be done to give relief on this and other points to the people of Scotland. In conclusion, he gave Notice of his intention to propose that Amendments with this view should be made on the Sutherland and Caithness Bill. He begged to second the Resolution.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it is expedient that the provisions of the Scotch Education Act relating to the transference of Denominational and Subscription Schools to School Boards be assimilated to those of the English Education Act, in order that such
transference may be facilitated, and the burden on the-ratepayers thereby relieved; and that an effectual audit of the annual accounts of School Boards in Scotland be by Law provided."—(Sir William Stirling-Maxwell.)
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, he thought the people of Scotland were very much indebted to the hon. Baronet for bringing this matter forward; and, for his own part, he thoroughly agreed with the Resolution before the House, although he confessed he did not agree with some of the reasons and illustrations by which it had been supported. It appeared to him that the main evil which existed under the administration of the Education Act in Scotland was the extravagance of school boards, and the absence of any efficient audit. The Resolution of the hon. Baronet, however, struck at the root of the evil. In Scotland an auditor merely meant a person who should add up the accounts and certify that they were clerically correct. He had had some experience of auditing, and never once found an item struck off. In England the Poor Law auditor not only added up the accounts, but examined them in order to see that the items of the expenditure were in accordance with the provisions of the Act of Parliament, and if they were not, then he struck them out; and what they wanted in Scotland was an auditor who should in like manner disallow all items which came in contravention of the School Board Act. The amount of expenditure incurred by the school boards during the last year or two was perfectly appalling. They had heard a great deal about the good Education Act, and especially about its being a good deal better than that for England. The expense of education before the Act was passed was £50,000 a-year. Now, the expenditure for elections alone, as shown by the Return which had been alluded to, was £28,000, and some of the places where disputes had arisen had not given any Returns. The city which he had the honour to represent—Edinburgh—was pre-eminent in its extravagance; and, in consequence of the auditors refusing to pass the accounts, the expenditure of that city, amounting to £2,500, was not included in the Returns. Salaries, too, had been largely on the increase, and £270,694 was now given in salaries formerly mainly included in the £50,000. 907 Schoolmasters, in many cases, had been exceedingly rude in setting the school board at defiance, and refusing to admit them to the school; and he was sorry to see that a judgment of the Supreme Court seemed to sanction this overbearing and highly reprehensible conduct by the teachers to their superiors. Scotland prided herself on having a school for every parish in the country; but on reference to the Estimate for the present year it would be seen that new schools had been erected in rural parishes alone to the cost of £500,000, and in burghs to the extent of £250,000, making altogether £779,000 that had been estimated in the current year for building school-houses in a country which was supposed by those who knew little about it to be so amply furnished with school-masters and schoolmistresses. This was a startling statement, and it seemed to him necessary that Parliament should put some check on this expenditure. He knew of no method so good as the system of audit. The mere odds and ends of the expenditure of the present system amounted to more than the whole cost of the former parochial schools. The total expenditure for the present year was estimated at £1,137,832. This was a startling sum for a small country like Scotland to spend in one year for educational purposes, on a population not much exceeding 3,000,000. The expenditure for salaries of teachers, &c, was £295,694; for salaries of other officers £33,254, and the estimated general expenditure, which did not come under specific heads, £50,896. It appeared to him that one great cause of this new state of things was the new mode of electing members of the boards. In place of taking men who would manage economically, they looked for men who were supposed to be educated men, and who did not care a straw about expenditure or where it came from, and they had managed matters in the extravagant way to which he had alluded. By the use of cumulative votes he defied any man to have the least idea of how the elections would go in large constituencies; but had the elections been under the ordinary system, men much more given to economical views would have been appointed. The hon. Baronet had mentioned the difficulty of getting denominational schools transferred to local 908 school boards. The hon. Baronet had rather misled the House in saying that the United Presbyterian body, numbering several hundred thousands, had only transferred one school to the school board. The explanation was that the United Presbyterians disapproved altogether of having denominational schools. They held that the parish school was the national school, and that the United Presbyterians had the same right as Churchmen to those schools. This accounted for the fact that the United Presbyterian body transferred so few schools. The objection was, in his opinion, well founded to giving up the schools of the religious bodies to the parishes without having the use of them for religious classes for young men or girls, or prayer meetings, or purposes for which the school-houses were erected by the religious denominations. Schools transferred should be held to be the property of the parish to be used for any parochial purpose—for temperance meetings, religious meetings, political meetings, and other purposes. He rejoiced exceedingly at this Motion having been brought forward by the hon. Baronet, and he hoped the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate would endeavour to do something, either in the Bill now before the House or in another Bill, to remedy this state of things. The Act provided that the school accounts were to be concluded on the 15th day of May in each year, but were not to be sent in until the 1st day of January. It appeared to him that this period of nearly seven months was too long an interval. He would venture to say the largest establishment in Scotland would balance their accounts in one week. When kept over in this way there was great temptation to manœuvring and dishonesty. He had only now to say a few words on what the Americans called the "one-man system of legislation" which prevailed respecting Scotland. The Lord Advocate for the time being, and not the members, performed the legislation. It was so in the passing of the Education Act, and however unwise some of the clauses were, Members knew that to rise in the House and point them out would be useless. This was the cause of so many bad working clauses being in the Bill, which would have been rejected had the common sense of Members of that House been allowed to 909 operate in giving effect to changes which might have been made.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
said, he found some difficulty in making himself heard by reason of the hoarseness under which he was labouring, but he would endeavour to do as well as he could. It must be understood that the Government who now sat on his side of the House were by no means responsible for the provisions of the Scotch Education Act. He himself availed himself of opportunities for taking exception to many of its provisions; but, unfortunately, he felt his voice had not much weight in the discussion, and his objections, which were such as had arisen in the course of the present discussion, were not entertained. He felt it his duty at an early period of the Session to bring under the consideration of the Government the question whether there should be any amendment of the Education (Scotland) Act in the course of the present Session. The general impression was that it would be premature to bring forward any amendment of the Act of 1872 until a longer opportunity had been afforded to watch the working of the Act. Therefore, it was that the Government did not authorize him to bring forward any amendment. It could not be regarded as anything but reasonable action on the part of the Government that they should decline to rush into the amendment of an Act which had been so lately passed. They preferred to give a fair amount of time for its defects and its advantages to be fully ascertained. Nobody was more entitled to express an opinion on the working of the Act than the hon. Member for Perthshire (Sir William Stirling-Maxwell), and he could appreciate the feelings under which he had acted in bringing forward his Resolution. He would, however, beg the House to remember that the Resolution was only placed on the Paper that morning; and therefore it was really not known what were the points to which the hon. Member intended to direct the attention of the House. It now appeared that there were two points in respect to which he thought it was necessary to ask for immediate legislation. He must tell his hon. Friend that the representations and complaints made to him had been by no means confined to those two points. There were many other points in reference 910 to which dissatisfaction had been expressed. The difficulty the Government had felt was this—that if they brought in a Bill now, stirring up anew the questions which were dealt with in 1872, there was no saying to what extent they might not be called upon to extend their amendments. His hon. Friend had confined himself to the two points; but if a Bill were brought forward for amending the Scotch Education Act of 1872, they would find that those two points by no means comprised the whole of the objections, but that many others would be brought forward. That was a circumstance which must be taken into consideration. The Government felt that there were details in the Act of 1872 in regard to which some amendments would eventually be necessary; but the question was, whether the time had yet arrived for such amendments to be made? The Resolution asked, in the first place—That the provisions of the Scotch Education Act relating to the transference of Denominational and Subscription Schools to School Boards be assimilated to those of the English Education Act, in order that such transference may he facilitated, and the burden on the ratepayers thereby relieved.But he was afraid his hon. Friend could hardly have understood what the provisions of the latter Act were as interpreted by the Privy Council. He would find, on reference to the provisions of the English Act, that the Education Department was precluded from agreeing to the transference of voluntary or denominational schools to school boards except for a mere nominal consideration, and not on a valuation of the schools as they at present existed. The policy of the English Education Act of 1870, for which the present Government were not responsible, was that wherever they found schools which had been instituted for the purpose of affording education to the poor, those schools should be made available as board schools without any payment being made to the owners by way of price. The reason of that was apparently the feeling that where buildings had been erected by means of Government grants and public subscriptions for the purposes of education, when a school board assumed the responsibility of supplying education for the poor, the buildings in question should be transferred to the board without 911 any price excepting such payment as might be considered fair on account of charges or burdens actually affecting the buildings at the time of the transfer. The 23rd clause of the English Act laid down the rules by which existing elementary schools might be transferred to the school board, and the 38th and 39th clauses of the Scotch Act provided for the transfer of existing schools on similar principles. The opinion of counsel had been taken on this very point. One of the counsel was the right hon. Gentleman the author of the Act, the late Lord Advocate. He said that, in his opinion, it was intended that schools which had been erected by subscriptions and Government grants should not be the subjects of acquisition by purchase, but that they fell under the 38th and 39th sections of the Scotch Education Act, and that it was deliberately intended such should be the effect of the Act. The hon. Member for Perthshire was mistaken in supposing that Scotland was placed in any worse position than England. It was contrary to the intention both of the English Act of 1870 and the Scotch Act of 1872 that existing voluntary schools should be taken by school boards for any other consideration than the charges actually existing in regard to them. He wished to remark that it was not till that morning he knew of the nature of the first Resolution; and he would point out to the hon. Baronet that so far as the audit was concerned the present Government were not responsible for the system which had been adopted, but when they came to consider what amendments ought to be made in the Act this was a matter which would deserve very careful attention. If, however, they were at the moment to open the question, he was at a loss to say where they would have to stop. Ought they not to wait to see the result of the election which would take place in the course of the next year? If they once opened a sluice there was no saying what the rush might be. He was afraid that quinquennial instead of triennial elections would not be satisfactory to those who found they had got a board of whose policy and proceedings they disapproved. The last part of the Resolution had reference to the question of audit, and if that question could be separated from that of the general revision of the Act it might 912 be perhaps possible to deal with it this Session.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
said, he thought they might make a distinction between the amendments which were, in a great measure, new to the House, and which had not been much ventilated in the country, and those which were urgent. He did not think it would be wise, after the statements made by the members of the Board of Education as to the abuses which had arisen, that they should wait for the new election to see what might happen. He thought the hon. Member for Perthshire had made out a strong case, and he would put it to the Government and to the House whether they might not meet his proposal at once. He would submit that the subject might be further followed out by Committee in a written Report, so as to bring the facts clearly before the Government, the House, and the country. Something had been said about the way in which the Scotch Act was carried through the House; but he thought it was unfair to cast upon the Lord Advocate of the day all the responsibility which ought to be borne by the House, which passed the measure, including the Scotch Members.
§ MR. LYON PLAYFAIR
said, he thought they might depend on it that if there had been a large expenditure amongst the prudent and economical Scotch, it was because such an expenditure was required. His hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) spoke as if the whole expenses of the education in Scotland was represented by the cost of the parochial schools, amounting before the Act to £50,000 a-year, but that did not represent anything like the cost. Then, it had been said that the denominational schools were being slowly absorbed; but his conviction was that they were being absorbed as rapidly as could be expected, although he would be glad to see some of the difficulties to transference removed. In the very first year of the existence of the Scotch Act 415 schools were absorbed into the national system, of which 228 were subscription schools and 186 schools belonging to separate denominations. He quite agreed with the Lord Advocate that it was a very dangerous thing to open the flood-gates by a complete alteration of the Act at present. It was perfectly certain that 913 in working such a large new system, making it, in fact, national over all Scotland. defects would be found. The defects were such as could not have well been foreseen. There was one thing they were all agreed upon, and that was that a system of audit would be of great benefit; and if the Government would give them a short Act on the subject, it would be very much valued. He thought it would be desirable to let them derive more experience from the working of the Act generally, but to bear in mind the suggestions which had been brought before them.
§ MR. DALRYMPLE
said, he thought that during the present Session it would be well not to meddle with the Education Act, although no one could be more sensible than he was of the force of some of the complaints made in regard to its operation. He was never a great lover of the measure; but, at the same time, he was of opinion that the Bill was drawn with such remarkable skill that any Amendment made at the time when it was before Parliament would have been fatal to it. He hoped it would be allowed to remain in operation undisturbed a little longer, in order that the country might thoroughly understand the mischief caused by some parts of the Act, and the probable incidence of the rate for the future, which at present acted very oppressively in some districts. The absence of a proper system of auditing hitherto might have led in some cases to an unnecessary burden of taxation. He hoped that his hon. Friend the Member for Perthshire would be satisfied with having called attention to the subject, and that hon. Members who sympathized with the Motion would not be called upon to vote against the Government, and thus place themselves in a false position, at all events, with reference to the Lord Advocate, who was fully conscious of the importance of the complaints which were made, and who, when the proper time arrived, would no doubt be prepared to deal with them.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, the Scotch Members ought to thank the hon. Baronet for bringing forward this subject. Although he could not agree with all the remarks of the hon. Baronet, particularly those respecting the grievances of teachers, still on many other points he had made out a very strong case in-deed, which was not met by the Lord 914 Advocate saying it was too soon to make any amendment of the Education Act. The present Government had not shown the same caution in regard to other measures of the late Administration, as might be seen in the glaring instances of the Endowed Schools Bill, and the Regimental Exchanges Bill, in both of which they had been eager to upset the legislation of their predecessors. Greater facilities ought to be given for the transfer of schools, or irreparable evils would take place. He considered a better audit desirable, and if the Motion was pressed to a division, he should give it his support.
§ MR. KINNAIRD
suggested to the Government that, although it was out of the question to attempt to re-model the Education Act this Session, they would have no difficulty, after the unanimous expression of opinion by Scotch Members, in passing a Bill to deal with the question of audit.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
said, the earnest wish on both sides of the House was to make the Scotch Education Act work as efficiently as possible. With regard to the transference of schools, the Government were not prepared to hold out any hopes of putting the powers of transference of denominational schools in Scotland on a different footing from what had been accorded to the denominational schools of England. The subject had been watched with great care in England, and there were more dangers to be avoided than hon. Members who had not watched the matter as attentively as the Government, were aware of. There was considerable difficulty, for instance, in dealing with the subject of tests, because when a school received the Government money a declaration had to be made that it was free from any tests whatsoever. Objections were also entertained to paying the money of the ratepayers to the denominations to which these schools belonged. With regard to the matter of audit it was a very grave fault in the Scotch Education Act that there was no means of checking the expenditure of the school boards. The complaints which the Government had received were of so serious a nature that they shrank from opening up the whole subject of the Act during the present Session, but sooner or later a satisfactory audit must be provided. He asked the House to leave it to the discretion of the Government to deter- 915 mine when would be the best time for dealing with the question of audit, which he assured the House would receive their very best attention. The Government would consider very carefully whether the matter could be dealt with either this year or in a short time; but it must be dealt with soon as the grievance was too serious to be neglected.
§ SIR WILLIAM STIRLING-MAXWELL
, in reply, said, that after the favourable reception his proposal had received, he thought it would not be fair of him to put the House to the trouble of a division. His noble Friend acknowledged the urgent need of an audit in Scotland; and the Lord Advocate had made the same admission. Therefore, he hoped the Resolution he had placed on the Paper had not altogether failed of its object. He admitted that the transference of schools required more consideration than was required by the audit, and it might receive it sooner rather than later. He urged his noble Friend to do something this year, as next year would be one of exceptional expense arising from the election of school boards.
§ Question put, and negatived.