HC Deb 21 July 1876 vol 230 cc1700-28

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

New Clause— (Dissolution of School Board under certain circumstances),— ("Where application for the dissolution of a School Board is made to the Education Department by the like persons and in the like manner as an application for the formation of a School Board, under section twelve of 'The Elementary Education Act, 1870,'and the Education Department, are satisfied, that no school and no site for a school is in the possession or under the control of the School Board, and that there is a sufficient amount of public school accommodation for the district of the School Board, the Education Department may, after such notice as they think sufficient, order the dissolution of the School Board. The Education Department by any such order shall make provision for the disposal of all money, furniture, books, documents, and property belonging to the School Board, and for the discharge out of the local rate of all the liabilities of the board, and such other provisions as appear to the department necessary or proper for carrying into effect the dissolution of the board. The Education Department shall publish the order in manner directed by 'The Elementary Education Act, 1873,' with respect to the publication of notices, and after the date of such publication or any later date mentioned in the order, the order shall have effect as if it were enacted by Parliament, without prejudice nevertheless to the subsequent formation of a School Board in the same school district. All bye-laws previously made by the School Board shall continue in force, subject nevertheless to be revoked or altered by the local authority under this Act")—(Mr. Pell), brought up, and read the first time:—

Question put, "That the Clause be now read a second time."


said, the action of the Government last evening in accepting the clause had taken hon. Members by surprise, and made it necessary that it should be carefully examined. He should be glad of a little information as to the extent to which the clause would be immediately applicable and how many school boards there were which would be likely to come under its operation. The noble Lord the Vice President of the Council was under a misapprehension as to the number of school districts and school boards the clause would effect, because the immense majority of those school boards had got no schools, having not yet had time to provide them, and he expected it would turn out that a very large proportion of those 541 school board districts mentioned in the Return had been not voluntarily, but compulsorily formed.


said, he did not think the question of the number, whether it was 530 or 540, was at all of the importance which his right hon. Friend attached to it. The Department had no means of knowing the number of those districts which had or had not schools at present. A large number had been compulsorily formed. As he understood the clause, its meaning was that school boards could be dissolved only where they had no school and no site for a school, and where the Department was satisfied there was sufficient school accommodation. It was not a question of number, but an act of simple justice to put the whole of the country in the same position and to give it the option of saying whether the law for securing that all the children of the country received proper instruction at school or elsewhere should be carried out by means of school boards or by the new authorities to be established under the Bill. He demurred entirely to its being considered that the question of the numbers of boards to be affected by the Amendment affected its desirability.


said, he very much doubted whether there were 40 school boards in the position described.


said, he did not assent to that number.


was rather surprised that the Education Department had not for their own satisfaction obtained some reliable information as to the number of school boards that would be affected. If there were only a small number of school boards that would be affected by the clause it was a great change to make for the attainment of a very small purpose. The great object of the Act of 1870 was to provide sufficient school accommodation in every school district. With that object an inquiry was made throught the kingdom, and where there was a deficient school accommodation it was the duty of the Department to issue orders for the compulsory formation of school boards. The noble Lord had stated that up to the 1st of June, 1876, 870 compulsory Orders for school boards had been issued; many more would in all probability be required—probably double that number—and in almost all these cases there had been opposition in the district to the compulsory formation of school boards. The noble Lord proposed that the school boards should be dissolved in every district where they had not done their work well. School boards were sometimes remiss; and if they were not remiss, it might happen that in certain districts influences would be set to work, and temptations would always be held out to those who disliked school boards to get up cases for inquiry year by year in order eventually to get rid of the school boards altogether. But it was the desire of the House even now—certainly it was the strong desire of 1870—where there was not sufficient school accomodation, that the district should be made to provide it, and he warned the noble Lord that he had no idea of the immense trouble he would be bringing on his Department by the passing of the Amend- ment. In many localities parties had been forced to establish school boards against their will, and those parties would be very glad of any opportunity by which they could have a chance of getting rid of them. It was not to the credit of the school boards that they should be reluctant to do their work. It should be further remembered that if they got rid of the school boards and further school accommodation was hereafter required, it would take three or four years before it could be accomplished. He wanted the Committee to understand that if the clause passed, a bonus would be held out to every one who disliked to have a school board in his district, to be constantly getting up fresh agitation against having a school board. This clause would apply in the enormous majority of cases to those who had been forced to have a school board, and who, in the opinion of both sides of the House, ought to have been so forced, and there would be immense administrative inconvenience in re-opening the question of school supply. He did hope that even yet the clause would not be allowed to pass.


said, he could not understand why so much warmth had been evoked on the other side by the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell). So far from the Amendment being unfavourable to the cause of education, it would, he believed, afford an immense stimulus to it. He denied altogether the idea of any insidious attack on school boards. He believed that hon. Members on his side of the House were as much disposed to advance the cause of education as hon. Members opposite, and he said with all sincerity that he had never expressed a word of hostility to school boards where they were wanted and where they were working efficiently; but when they were proved to be useless and opposed to the preponderating voice of the ratepayers, they ought not to be continued. That was all that was required, all the Amendment proposed, and he denied that in asking for it they were open to the charge of being re-actionary. On the contrary, it was strictly following up the leading principle of the Act of 1870, which recognized the opinion of the majority of the ratepayers with reference to the establishment of school boards where they were not wanted. If there was sufficient school accommodation what reason was there for continuing school boards, because at any time when there was a deficiency the powers of the Act of 1870 applied, and the Education Department could force the district to establish a school board. What possible functions could a school board have to discharge without board schools and with sufficient school accommodation for the district? He should support the Amendment.


said, he wished to explain the reference which, he understood, had been made by the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council to a school on his (Mr. Knachbull-Hugessen's) property where it was stated that the school board had been discontinued. He certainly could scarcely recognize the case from the manner in which it was described. What occurred was this—In the parish in which he resided, the greater part of which belonged to himself, a school was built and carried on upon the principles of the Church of England. There were two or three other considerable ratepayers in the parish not connected with his estate who declined to contribute any more to the National School. It was, therefore, proposed to have a school board, so that all might be rated alike. A school board was established, and matters went on; four Churchmen and one Nonconformist minister were elected. The Nonconformist minister, he feared, had not perfect confidence in the incumbent belonging to the Church of England, and the incumbent did not appear to have been altogether pleased with the conduct of the Nonconformist minister. Expenses were also much increased, and it was therefore unanimously agreed that the school board should be discontinued, and the school was re-transferred to the old managers, there being a clause in the original transfer to the school board which enabled them to do so. There was a British School within a quarter of a mile, so that everybody was satisfied. The difficulty then arose that the school board could not be abolished, and his noble Friend got rid of that difficulty; the members of the school board became in default for non-attendance; the Education Department appointed the new school board, who were the same persons as the old managers; and now, whilst they carried on the schools in the latter capacity, they remained a dormant school board, without expense, able to frame compulsory bye-laws if they should deem fit. Therefore, by the kind action of his noble Friend, they had everything which this clause would give them. It was a very difficult thing to carry on two educational systems side by side, but the House must remember how this had arisen. We found in 1870 a number of voluntary schools existing which had been doing the educational work which the State had not undertaken. It would have been unfair to sweep them away, and therefore board schools were only established where efficient voluntary schools did not exist. But it was a very different thing to give facilities and encouragement to those who wished to abolish board schools now that the latter had been deliberately established by Parliament. He feared that this—which would be done by the clause—would create strife and discord throughout the country, whereas the action of the Education Department, in the few cases which might arise similar to that of Smeeth, would give all that was wanted without any such danger.


pointed out that the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen's) illustration rather confirmed the policy of the Amendment, and expressed his obligations to him for having given it to the Committee. The House wanted this new compulsion to be carried into effect effectually. His right hon. Friend's little board, which he must remind him, he (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had himself asked him shortly after he took office, to abolish, had had all the powers possessed by school boards in general of carrying compulsion into effect, but as they had not thought proper to make any bye-laws, it was an argument in favour of the scheme now proposed. The Smeeth School Board had for a long time done nothing, it had transferred its school back to the Voluntary Managers—all its members had been declared in default because they had not attended the requisite number of times. It had not passed bye-laws to provide for the regular attendance of children at school, and it was considered so useless, and had so little support in the locality, that his right hon. Friend, the leading person in that locality, had requested him to abolish it. Surely, this board, and those similar to it, were not the au- thorities to whom it would be wise to entrust the working of the new proposed Educational Law. He must consider the question from the point of view of the Government Bill. He wanted the Bill to work well, and under boards in the position of Smeeth he could not think that that object would beattained, and he must totally object to the treatment which the Department had been obliged to adopt to Smeeth—namely, to nominate a school board—owing to the Act of 1870 having made no provision for such cases—being considered to be at all a course which it was desirable to pursue.


said, that was not the fair conclusion to be drawn from the words of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen), and he warned the Committee against giving its sanction to a system which would prove costly and injurious in practice, and which would go far to destroy the good results they had already obtained. He feared that if the noble Lord had trouble now, he would have exactly the same difficulty under the Bill. One of the arguments of the noble Lord was, that they would get rid of a constant cost, and also the inconvenience to the Department. But if the noble Lord would adopt the recommendation that had been made, there would be absolutely no inconvenience to the Department when the election took place. When an election was appointed it would take place, and the only trouble to the Department would be simply that of sending down an answer to the letter they would receive.


denied that the clause would attack one of these schools, because the Education Department would have to satisfy itself. It was said that this clause would cause an agitation throughout the country; but was not that the first object of the right hon. Gentleman in proposing the establishment of school boards in 1870? The clause, however, would not apply to school boards which had built schools, or to which schools had been transferred. The second object in establishing school boards was compulsion, but it was now admitted that school boards were not wanted to carry compulsion into effect. The country had too much of compulsion under the Bill. He supported the clause because he was for the liberty of the people and local self-government, and he demanded that no Old Man of the Sea should be placed round the neck of the ratepayers in the shape of a school board. The noble Lord now proposed to cut the school boards in half. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Forster), in raising his voice against the proposal, reminded him of the judgment of Solomon, because he said, "Do not cut the child in two," and thereby proved that it was his own child. This clause should be supported by those who were favourable to the liberty of the people; and he called upon the Liberal Party in that House to be in favour of liberty, and to knock an odious yoke off the necks of the rate paying community. If a locality wished to get rid of a school board, they would do so if they were unanimous, and they might attain the object by transferring the school to a denominational body.


said, it was remarkable that one line of argument had run all through the present discussion—namely, that the ratepayers had a right to decide for themselves whether they should have a school board or not; but that argument had not been carried to its proper issues. If it was the right of the majority of ratepayers in every place to decide that point, what was to become of the right of ratepayers in those districts where school boards existed, and where owing to board schools having been built, the boards must continue in spite of the majority against them? He regretted that the noble Lord at the head of the Education Department had not come down to the House after the night's reflection, and announced his intention of withdrawing the clause. If this proposal, which had correctly been described as a stab in the dark at school boards, became law, from that moment wherever a school board was unpopular with the minority, all the discontented would set to work to turn the minority into a majority for the purpose of getting rid of the objectionable school board. The effect upon the boards themselves would be most discouraging, because they had already, a mass of prejudice to encounter, and their opponents would now say—"We will get rid of you before long."


intended to give his vote in favour of the clause, but trusted his doing so would not be interpreted as a censure on his part of school boards generally. He denied that the clause was re-actionary. Progress had been made in public opinion since 1870 with respect to the working of school boards, and there was now a strong feeling that localities should exercise their own judgment as to the most suitable and efficient educational machinery. He believed the clause would greatly improve the present school boards, and he repudiated the notion that it could in any degree be regarded as a censure on those institutions. The question was simply whether ratepayers might not disencumber themselves of school boards which, having been in existence for five years, had created to themselves no schools, and had done no act in fulfilment of the purpose for which they were intended.


said, that the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council had said that the Amendment was a very simple one, and that it was one which had been pressed with great force upon the Education Department. If that were so, and if the clause were likely to prove of such benefit and advantage as the noble Lord predicted, why had it not formed part of the framework of the Government Bill, rather than have been first brought under the notice of the House as an Amendment of a private Member. He opposed the clause on the ground that it would prove injurious to the cause of education. A school board, if it did its duty, was sure to make enemies, and in the event of the clause being carried the result would be to keep a sword constantly hanging over the heads of school boards, which would paralyze their action and prevent them, from working with their usual efficiency, from the fear of raising up enemies among those who wished to see them abolished. Many hon. Members opposite were supporting the clause on account of the religious difficulty, but he wished to point out to them that that difficulty would not be got rid of, but increased, if the control of education were transferred to the Town Councils, which were not elected, like school boards, by the cumulative vote, and in which, therefore, those religious bodies which were in a minority would probably not be represented at all.


said, the religious difficulty was not raised by the clause, because it only applied to school boards which had no schools, and consequently the remarks just made by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Herschell) were altogether irrelevant. He had been surprised to hear so much wild and incoherent talk from the other side on the previous night as to the clause being dangerous and re-actionary. The amount of temper then displayed could only be excused by the lateness of the hour. He considered that the clause did not touch the principle of the Act of 1870 in the smallest degree. This clause did not affect the educational functions of school boards, because those which it affected had no educational functions, but merely functions of police. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham had charged hon. Gentlemen on that (the Ministerial) side with stimulating hostility to school boards by the course they were now pursuing. But what had the right hon. Gentleman been doing all his life but stimulating hostility to something or other? The right hon. Gentleman had said that the unpopularity of school boards was greatly exaggerated; but if he wanted to understand the feeling with which these school boards were regarded, he had only to turn to the Reports of the Inspectors. There was a catena of evidence in those Reports as to the odium which attached to school boards. Thus they were described in different passages as being "viewed with widespread dislike;" as "held in extreme dislike;" as "dreaded;" as "neglecting their opportunities;" as "doing worse than nothing;" as "injuring other schools by taking less fees;" as "soon sinking into inefficiency;" as "becoming careless in their work;" and as "soon dwindling into perfunctoriness;" and being the subject of a "general feeling of aversion as a terrible infliction." There were many other expressions to the same effect. If the right hon. Gentleman would read the Blue Books on this subject, he would not again state that unpopularity of these school boards had been exaggerated. The fact was, that there was no institution in the country which was so unpopular, and he thought hon. Gentlemen opposite were giving themselves a great deal of unnecessary trouble in opposing such a gentle, mild, and salutary clause as that which had been proposed by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire.


said, his right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster) had just been accused of introducing into the country an element of confusion and perturbation by the establishment of school boards. A certain amount of confusion and perturbation, however, was the necessary consequence of representative government, though the object of Parliament should be to reduce that inconvenience to a minimum. His hon. Friend had endeavoured to do that by proposing that school boards should be liable to be dissolved, which, however, would only add to whatever excitement and confusion now existed. The effect of the Amendment would further be to throw back that steady progress in educational matters which ever since the Act of 1870 had been going on. He demurred to the argument that because some of those school boards had as yet done nothing they would not in the future have anything to do. The fact was that many of those institutions struck at some of the most cherished prejudices of hon. Members opposite, for they provided undenominational education in the rural districts, and popular representation in the question of education, and that explained the cheers with which speeches declaring these boards to be unpopular were received. He urged that oven if some school boards were doing nothing now, they might do something in a year or two. Municipal bodies were not liable to be dissolved at the request of the electors, nor could boroughs get rid of Parliamentary representation. Once they could, and there was a story at Newbury, that when Henry VIII. had been right royally entertained by the celebrated Jack of Newbury he asked what he would do for the town. To which Jack of Newbury replied—"Relieve us of the odious privilege of having to elect two Members to serve in your Parliament at Westminster." And the King granted the request. The noble Lord the Vice President would be recollected as the 19th Century Jack of Newbury. There was something to him very offensive in the way in which hon. Members opposite took religion under their patronage. Religion had existed before they were heard of, and would exist when they were forgotten; and to identify the Nonconformist party, the party of which an open Bible was the watchword, which had laboured and suffered for its sake, with secularism, was as absurd as it was unjust.


said, he could not understand what had raised all this opposition to the Amendment of his hon. Friend. He was as anxious for the reading of the Bible as the Nonconformists. What he complained of was, that the money of the State was paid to a board which had power to exclude the reading of the Bible, and he would endeavour as far as lay in his power to remove that blot from the Education Act. Power was given to continue school boards, but none to dissolve them; and if the country objected to a system of that kind, although it had been established by a large majority in the last Parliament, he considered that Parliament was bound to undo the most objectionable parts of that system. A great deal of fuss had been made about re-actionary measures; but there was no re-action in the case. It was merely the recognition of the right of the majority. When he sat in that House in 1870, he had many measures poured down his throat which were most distasteful to him. The Irish Church was disestablished, and a third of her land was taken from her; the Army was destroyed, not by Act of Parliament, but by an arbitrary exercise of the Royal Prerogative. For his part, if he had the power, he would undo the work which was then done.


resisted the clause, because it would enable Town Councils, by a majority of 1, to abolish school boards. In his opinion, the effect of the Amendment would be, by means of a side-wind, to get rid of the principle of the Act of 1870. His contention was, that if school boards were to be abolished, they ought to be abolished in a straight forward way, and not by such a hole-and-corner fashion as was proposed.


, on the contrary, said, he did not oppose school boards generally, but he contended that, where a school board had lost the confidence of the local ratepayers, or had become useless and unnecessary, it ought not to be maintained. The people of a district were the best possible judges of whether a school board was or was not performing its functions properly and to the benefit of those who had established it. Should those people feel that it was useless to maintain a board, it would clearly be wrong to force one upon them unwillingly. A board, like a crutch, ought to be thrown away when it could be dispensed with, and not saddled for ever on reluctant parishes which preferred to rely on voluntaryism. All success achieved under the Act of 1870 had been gained by consulting the wishes and feelings of local populations, and now the Opposition said, they were to be disregarded.


contended that an extraordinary change had come both over the Bill itself since its first introduction, and the temper of the House in discussing its provisions. When it was introduced there was little reason to complain of it, for it was thought to be merely an amplification of the principles of the Act of 1870, and as such was gratefully accepted on that, his own, side of the House. But the acceptance of the Amendment under discussion by the Government had entirely altered the character of the Bill. At the eleventh hour the Government had changed their whole policy, and had hoisted the standard of re-action. ["No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen might deny the assertion, but the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmund's (Mr. Greene), who was one of the honestest men in the House, had let the feline animal out of the bag. Judging from what that hon. Gentleman had said, he (Sir William Harcourt) would be inclined to say that there never had been such a flag, or rather oriflamme, raised as the one hoisted by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmund's. He had told them quite frankly that he objected to the Act of 1870. He also told them that he objected to school boards altogether, and was prepared to destroy them and undo what he termed the mischief of the past Government. Well, that showed that the Government were only beginning their progress on the road of re-action. If the noble Lord approved of the Amendment, why had he not introduced it himself as a new clause, instead of accepting it at the hands of a private Member? The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmund's had been rather too outspoken. He had told them that a good many measures which he did not like, such as the Irish Church and Land Bills, he had been compelled to accept at the hands of a dominant majority, and that now the Tory Party in their turn had got a large majority they intended to use it. Well, if the Conservatives were about to make a reactionary battle-cry of education, they must expect that their Bill would be received in a very different spirit from what it was at the commencement. The policy which the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmund's had announced was a very serious policy. If one Party as soon as it obtained a majority were to set itself to overturn the acts of its Predecessor, a Continental state of things would be in fused into English politics which it was very desirable to avoid. By so doing they would embark on a policy of reversal and re-action, and enter upon a course of proceeding of which there was no telling where it would end. His hon. Friend was a young and hale man, and his life might be protracted until there was again a Liberal majority, but when that time did arrive did he think that the cause he had at heart would be benefited by the establishment of a principle that he had been contending for that evening? The principles he had laid down were carried out on the Continent; the consequence was that no political parties were ready to accept the principles of compromise. When they found the noble Lord declaring open war, and acting up to, if not declaring openly, the principles of the Amendment, when he was accepting alterations in his Bill which would overthrow the Act of 1870, they were entering upon a war at which two could play, of which the beginning was obvious, but of which no man could see the end—a war of which the battle-field was the education of the people. Did they think that because the Government might obtain a majority that evening that it would be accepted, or that, after their defeat, they would rest one single moment until they had restored the principles which the Government would have withdrawn, or that they would desist for a single moment to repel that injustice which was sought to be thrust upon them. What was the meaning of the Amendment? The denominational schools found themselves beaten day by day in open competition with school boards, and therefore their supporters cried out to strangle school boards. The noble Lord opposite (Viscount Sandon) was not strong enough to resist the cry from those behind him; but, of course, the matter had to be done decently, if possible, and the first step was the Amendment of the previous day. The Government was too wise, too cautious, to propose open and avowed war on the school boards; but the party of re-action behind them wanted to bow string the school boards at once, as was proposed in the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Leicestershire. It was because of the pressure from those who sat around the noble Lord that he had thought it necessary to depart from the policy which the Government originally undertook, and to consent in an evil hour to make this war upon the policy adopted in 1870. The noble Lord, in consenting to the Amendment, had given his sanction to an attempt to destroy board schools throughout the country, and he had thereby landed the discussion of the Bill in a spirit and temper altogether different from that in which it had hitherto been conducted. [Viscount SANDON: Hear, hear!] The noble Lord said "Hear, hear;" but did he think that the Government could introduce a Bill with an avowed object, and then change it, and not change the spirit in which that Bill was being discussed? They should be utterly unworthy of the position which they held as an Opposition if they did not enter a protest against not only the substance of that policy, but also the manner in which it had been conducted.


thought it was high time they should take rather a cooler view of things. He had observed that his hon. and learned Friend always came forward when there was a forlorn hope to lead, to throw in the charm of his somewhat imaginative eloquence, heated and warm as it always was, to rally the troops that were beginning to fall away. He (Viscount Sandon) had had the misfortune of sitting there for seven days, during which time he had not had the pleasure of hearing his hon. and learned Friend's voice once upon the Bill, and that fact rather accounted for the extraordinary misapprehension which he had shown as to its whole scope. If his hon. and learned Friend had been present 36 hours ago he would have heard the high testimony borne to the Bill in its great and main features by hon. Gentlemen of the greatest experience in educational matters on his own (the Opposition) side of the House. He would not then have rashly condemned the whole of the Government measure. For his own part, he (Viscount Sandon) was a little disappointed to find such warmth suddenly arise, because he had invited from hon. Members opposite that calm judgment on the Bill which was accorded to the measure of 1870; although it was notorious that it offended the feelings and opinions of many hon. Members belonging to the Conservative ranks who were then in Opposition. Up to that time, though the Bill had received the formal opposition of some hon. Members on two set occasions, and had passed the ordeal of two leading divisions on the Motions of the hon. Members for Sheffield and Merthyr, it had received very large support from the House generally, and, on the whole, a marvellous harmony had been maintained; but he supposed this state of things had been felt to be unnatural, and hon. Gentlemen opposite had said—"We must have a little excitement before the Bill passes." But it was really worth while to consider whether the clause was of such a portentous character as had been represented. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford had argued that only half-a-dozen schools could be affected by it, and though he (Viscount Sandon) did not give his assent to this view, still no one supposed the number of boards to be affected by it would be really large, and if the influence of the Amendment was thus allowed by his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster) to be reduced to such a small point, surely an immense amount of indignation had been wasted. The assertions of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford showed that he had not attended much to the subject. He talked of the voluntary schools rapidly decreasing, and of the necessity of bolstering them up, when, as a matter of fact, they had largely increased. Then he said they were going to strangle board schools—[Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: No, no!]; but he seemed to be unaware of the fact that the abolition of the reduction on the 17s. 6d. grant applied equally to board and to voluntary schools, and that it would relieve the rates in many places which were already complaining bitterly of their pressure under the school board system, and demanding that the State should, in accordance with the hopes held out by the former Prime Minister (Mr. Gladstone), give a larger proportion of aid in consideration of its higher requirements from the schools. It would give a fresh life to board and voluntary schools alike, and set them free in the race to bring the children forward as much as possible, so as to earn to the schools as large a grant as they could under the Code without fear of the present discouraging deductions. In proof of what he said he must remind his hon. and learned Friend that the most important School Board in the country—the School Board of London—had specially urged the exemption as desirable for the promotion of education. His hon. and learned Friend also said the Amendment desired to make voluntary schools purely denominational.


said, that what he did say was that under the operation of the Amendment such would be the tendency.


Yes; that they should destroy the voluntary character of the schools, and make them purely and simply denominational. Was the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that a considerable number of the Nonconformist schools were supported by fees and by the Imperial grant only, and did he not call them voluntary schools? He was taunted with having accepted the Amendment from his own side without giving previous Notice that the Government intended to take that course; but he received no taunts when he accepted without Notice important Amendments from the noble Lord the Member for the West Riding, and from the hon. Member for Newark. He remembered that in 1870 very considerable Amendments were accepted by the Government of the day from their own supporters, which altered the character of that Bill more seriously than the present measure could be affected by this comparatively trifling alteration as to unnecessary school boards; and he must remind his hon. and learned Friend that when, on going into Committee, he announced various leading Amendments which the Government proposed to bring forward, principally in the early clauses of the Bill, he stated distinctly that the Government must be held quite free to introduce any other Amendments, as well as to accept any Amendments from either side, and the Committee would remember that this particular statement was received with assenting cheers, specially from the Opposition benches, in a full House. The right hon. Member for Bradford, who spoke of the proposal as a great blow to school boards, seemed to forget that the Education Department, the moment a deficiency was proved, could and must, if the deficiency was not duly met, order a board to be formed just as much under the new system of this Bill as under the old system of the Act of 1870. And the districts which the Education Department forced to have school boards, just as much as every other part of the country, would be obliged to carry out fully the Act of 1870, as well as the provisions of this Bill, if it became law. He could not therefore see the bearing of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. On the contrary, he thought it was quite possible that the Amendment would tend to promote rather than to discourage school boards, for this reason. At the present moment many localities would not dream of putting their heads in the noose of a school board, because they knew it was an indissoluble tie, whereas if it was felt that it was a mere temporary connection, it was not impossible that a great number of places would be willing to try the experiment. He was unable to discover any further arguments in the speech of his right hon. Friend, who, he hoped, would on further consideration be led to support the proposal on account of the strong educational advantages which he had mentioned. The hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell) was mistaken in supposing that the new authorities would have educational duties. As a proof that the Government felt no hostility to school boards, he must remind the Committee that they had strenuously resisted the proposals of the noble Lord the Member for Bury St. Edmund's (Lord Francis Hervey) and the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Hamond), when they offered Amendments which would prevent a locality from having a school board, unless there was a deficiency of school accommodation, because their schemes were opposed to the principles of the Bill, which was perfect freedom to the country to adopt whichever scheme it liked best, whether that of a school board, or of using the existing autho- rities as provided by this Bill. The course, he repeated, of the Government showed no hostility to school boards; but, when the proposal was once brought forward, it must be felt that it could not be resisted, as, if they considered the Bill, it certainly followed logically that the country should have perfect freedom to get rid of school boards where they were unnecessary. He was quite sure that the change would be held, on calmer consideration, by hon. Gentlemen opposite, to be a trifling one, entirely consistent with the spirit of the Bill. If he was asked again why the Government supported it, he had simply to say that when they looked at the Amendment they were unable to find any valid arguments which they could assert against it. He hoped, therefore, that the Committee, after that full discussion, would consent to put this matter to the test.


said, the noble Lord had omitted to reply to some observations of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Hayter) with regard to the operation of the clause upon Town Councils, which was an important one.


said, it was obvious that the same authority which had the power of asking for a school board must have the power of asking to get rid of it. In that respect the clause would follow the lines of the Act of 1870, and upon those lines the Government meant to take their stand.


said, it was clear from the noble Lord's answer that Town Councils would be able by a bare majority to petition the School Department to dissolve school boards. Was the noble Lord prepared to abolish the school boards of Manchester, Stockport, and other places? ["No, no!"] Hon. Members said "No, no," but abolition was the logical conclusion of his hon. Friend's Amendment. That Amendment placed in the hands of municipalities a power which would be extremely dangerous. If a proposal were made to abolish Town Councils, or Boards of Guardians, or Highway Boards, it would be scouted by hon. Members on both sides of the House. What had been done by school boards having no schools? According to Returns laid upon the Table of the House, 510 of them, out of 541, had appointed attendance officers and visitors, and were enforcing the principle of compulsion laid down by the Act of 1870. He therefore hoped that they would not be interfered with or disturbed in the good in which they were engaged, and that the noble Lord would pause before he accepted the Amendment. They were all grateful for the courtesy and kindness shown by the noble Lord when he introduced the Bill, but now he said that he would accept an Amendment which they must regard with extreme hostility.


remarked that hon. Members on his side did not seem to have even yet succeeded in making the noble Lord understand the ground upon which they so strongly objected to the Amendment. The noble Lord seemed to treat it as a mere matter of administrative detail, and called it a small affair, whereas the Opposition considered that a most important principle was involved. That principle was the continuation or the abolition of school boards. The noble Lord disclaimed all intention of attacking school boards, but he put it to the noble Lord, did he seriously think that the effect of the Bill would be to encourage them? On that side of the House they felt that the very opposite would be the result. The adoption of the clause would be a departure, not only from the principle of the Bill, but also a departure from the representations made to the House on the second reading. Did the noble Lord think that he would have had the majority that he did had it been known that there was to be a direct attack upon school boards? If the noble Lord did not actually provide for the extinction of school boards by the action of the Department, he at least provided the means of self-extinction known in Eastern countries as the "happy despatch." It was stated by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the clause would apply only to school boards which had no schools and no property, and the noble Lord asserted that he had much sympathy with school boards which had done their work well and were efficient. But was the division of school boards into those which were efficient and those which had property an exhaustive division? What about such school boards as those of Burnley and Stockport, which had no schools? He feared it was an attempt to reverse the policy of the Act of 1870. Gentlemen on that (the Opposition) side had not yet forgotten the metaphors used by the noble Lord in introducing his first Endowed Schools Bill, when he spoke of leading on the forces of the Establishment against the entrenchments of the enemy, by which term he referred to Nonconformists. That language of the noble Lord had united as one man what was then a divided minority, and in that contest they were victorious all along the line. He would now tell the noble Lord that, by every constitutional means, they were determined to oppose the passing of the clause. He hoped that the Government would all remember the lesson of their Endowed Schools Bill. Possibly the Prime Minister might repent himself on this occasion and be induced to read the proposed Amendment. If he were to do so, and to find now as he did then that it was perfectly unintelligible, he would materially expedite the passing of the Bill. But the noble Lord had himself found that there was no necessity for the clause, and that all that it could effect might be done by resorting to the simplest legal fiction, so that surely he might persuade the hon. Member for South Leicestershire to allow this bone of contention to be taken away, by which means, he believed, that business would be greatly facilitated, and that a soreness would be removed from the minds of many which was quite incommensurate with any advantage which hon. Members opposite could expect to gain from the passing of the clause.


said, the noble Lord (Viscount Sandon) had pointed out the contrast between the somewhat animated aspect of the debate at present and the happy calm which pervaded the House only 24 or 36 hours ago; but he must remind the noble Lord that, in the words of a very high authority, "a great deal had happened since then." Since then the Government had shown the cloven foot, for since then the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Leicestershire had been proposed and had been accepted by the Government; since then, to adopt the metaphor of the noble Lord, the Government expressed their willingness to scout the honourable and permanent matrimony of the school board and prefer a questionable temporary connection. He congratulated the noble Lord on the appositeness of his metaphor, but still more he must congratulate hon. Members opposite on the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmund's (Mr. Greene). There had been a frank honesty in the policy expressed in that speech which was quite refreshing, accustomed as they were to the reticence of Conservative Members generally, and it had therefore won those approving cheers from the Liberal Benches which seemed to delight the hon. Member. He (Mr. Anderson) had himself for a couple of years been doing his best in a humble way to show the country that the policy of the Conservative Party was always retrograde; that they were always ready to go backward when they could, and as far as they dared; but his utterances had been weak indeed compared with the bold avowal of the hon. Member. The House knew the honesty of the hon. Member, and that when he denounced all that the last Parliament had done and declared he wanted to undo it, that really was what the hon. Member and his Friends meant; and it was well that the country should know it, for he was very sure it was not for that purpose the country had sent a Conservative majority to occupy those Benches. He only wished to say a few words to the Committee regarding this Amendment, from a Scotch point of view. He wanted to know if the noble Lord succeeded in carrying the Amendment would he venture to introduce a similar measure for Scotland? As the House was aware, in Scotland they had universal school boards. He was not prepared to say that, in all cases, those had worked to the entire satisfaction of the people. In some cases they had not; in some cases they had been unnecessarily hasty in building expensive schools and spending too much money; but even that error was only excess of zeal in a right direction, and though many ratepayers might complain, he did not think there was a parish in Scotland that would not reject with contempt any proposal to disboard themselves. And why should it be different in England? He would be apt to think it was not creditable to the intelligence of Englishmen, if he did not know that there was a strong sectarian element underlying the proposal, which accounted for the anxiety of hon. Members opposite to adopt this retrograde measure. The House fully believed in the honest intentions of the noble Lord, but if the Amendment contained a point which he deemed of real importance, why was it not in the Bill? Why did it appear now as a new discovery? Why was the 13th clause postponed to the very end without a word about their intention of so changing it? The country would be very apt to think that this blow at school boards was the real principle and raison ďetre of the Bill; that all they had previously done so complacently was only introductory to this Amendment. They would conclude that it was kept out of the Bill lest it should unduly alarm their sensibilities and rouse a general opposition. Hon. Members opposite said it was only an attempt to give effect to the popular voice as expressed by majorities. He had been much amused at the sudden appreciation of the popular vote thus shown by hon. Members opposite. It was a tenderness quite new to Conservative opinion. He would like to know how far they were willing to go in that direction. If a narrow majority wanted to abolish a municipality as well as a school board, would they be equally willing, or would they consent to a Parliamentary burgh voting its extinction, or when his friends of the Home Rule party pointed to the large majority across the Channel in favour of a Home Rule Parliament, would they equally defer to those majorities? They knew they would not; they knew they supported this particular retrograde measure only because it seemed to suit their Party views, and now that it had been made apparent that the Bill was intended as a thoroughly retrograde measure, the Opposition were bound to resist it by every constitutional means, and to that end he was willing to give his assistance.


opposed the clause. He believed it would have a most injurious influence throughout the country. It went entirely to condemn the Act of 1870. He was not so much afraid of the disestablishment of school boards as of the mischief that would be done to education. If the clause succeeded, it would be said by a certain section of the working classes—"We thought you were wrong at the time you passed the Act establishing school boards, and now you see Parliament is of the same opinion too." He was of opinion, further, that there had been something like indecent hurry in this matter. The Government should have waited till they had gained some experience as to how school boards under Town Councils and Boards of Guardians answered before bringing this proposition before the House. He hoped the noble Lord would re-consider this matter.


also opposed the clause. The desire to educate the children of the humbler classes up to a certain Standard, without the means of the people to pay for it, was productive of feuds in families and of disobedience in children to their parents. With regard to school boards he cared nothing for them, and he did not care how soon they were done away with. In his opinion, the State should not have anything to do with the education of the children of the country. That was a thing that should be left to the parents of the children. He regretted that the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) had thrown that "torpedo" into the arena. He regretted he was contending, not with an honest and open foe, but against enemies who were a disgrace to the country—men who were expending millions of the public money in spreading the doctrines of Popery, and in favouring the conversion of men who were passing over the bridge from Protestantism to Popery—a doctrine which was hostile to the Crown. He regarded the men who were favouring such a policy, not merely as secret enemies of the Church, but as the reverend "sepoys" (the parsons) who were sapping her foundations. He was decidedly opposed to any clause that could favour such a system, and it was the duty of every hon. Member to do his utmost to prevent a Bill passing into law that would hand over the children of this country to the clerical party.


I will make no frantic appeal to the emotion of hon. Members, but attempt a calmness which ought to be brought into discussions on this subject. The noble Lord who has charge of this Bill has said that by the adoption of the clause, he is merely proposing to put into the hands of a majority a power which they ought to have, and which they will exercise in the best interests of the country. But I beg him to consider that the word "majority" is an ambiguous one. A majority of a parish is not a majority of a county—a majority of a county is not a majority of the country. This Bill is a sort of supplement to that of 1870, which was passed after much difficulty and against much opposition by a very strong minor- ity. This Bill was brought in, no doubt, with the very best intentions on the part of the noble Lord, but he may still be misled as to what are really the feelings of the majority. I beg him very carefully to consider what the word "majority" here means. Does he believe that is the opinion of a majority which is contrary to the wishes and feelings of the majority of the people of England? I think he ought to be very careful until it is decided what a "majority" is. Does the hon. Member for South Leicestershire suppose that his proposal is one that will meet the wishes of those who are anxious for the education of the people? Does he not know that the establishment of school boards throughout the country has been brought about through much opposition, and that the effect of the Motion will be to set up a standing agitation and opposition, and that thereby it will weaken the efforts of those who are anxious for the education of the people? I was very much struck with the observations of an hon. Gentleman behind me, who said there was a large body of the working men who are opposed to the education of their children. These are the very people we want to conquer—we want to overcome their ignorances and prejudices, and to persuade them to believe that the high efforts which we are making are not only for the benefit of themselves, but for the benefit of the country to which they belong. After grave consideration I rise for the purpose of expressing to the noble Lord my strong opinion that the effects of the clause will be most mischievous to the cause of education, and to the measure of 1870, which has already been so greatly beneficial. Last year I saw at Sheffield a spectacle rarely witnessed. When His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales visited that hotbed of democracy I saw among the working men a spirit that I am sure was greatly influenced by the education of the children; for it must not be thought that the education of the children does not affect the parents. Education not only goes downwards but upwards; and I believe that no greater measure was ever passed for the benefit of the people of England than that great measure of 1870. I believe, too, that the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford will pass down to posterity as that of one who has conferred a large meed of benefit upon his country than any man who has preceded him. I most earnestly entreat the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman on his right (Mr. Disraeli) to re-consider their deliberation in the matter, and to believe me when I say that by what they now propose they will be doing the greatest possible evil to the great principle of education in this country.


said, he had heard in the discussion compliments paid to the school board of the place that he had the honour to represent. It was a mixed board, and was essentially a denominational board; and he must say, although it was not in all respects what he should like to see it, that that board had already effected great service to the cause of education in the borough of Stockport. There were Roman Catholics and men of various religious denominations on the board. Would the noble Lord propose to dissolve that board—a board which was accomplishing the greatest good, and which was productive of the best feeling among the people of that important borough? It must be remembered that the board was elected by cumulative voting which had given the Denominationalists such great strength; but by the proposal before the House, the board might be dissolved at the request of a mere majority in number who were impatient of rates. The proposal to destroy the Bill of 1870 did not come from the people, but from a sectarian class who wished to put down the best measure that was ever passed for the welfare and elevation of the people. He was convinced that if an appeal were made to the country there would be an overwhelming expression of feeling against the proposal to put an end to the best part of the Education Act of 1870. If the Government thought so highly of the principle of appealing to a majority of the ratepayers, why did they not apply it to questions affecting sanitary administration or confidence in the county magistrates?


said, he certainly should not have voted for the second reading of the Bill if he had for a moment supposed any proposal would be adopted as a part of the measure that would in any way imperil the existence of school boards in places where they were at present established. He could not but speak in high terms of the working of the Scotch Education Act, a measure which was productive of most valuable results in Scotland, and which, considering the education given in many of the board schools was worked at a reasonably cheap rate per child. Many who were qualified to teach them did so as "a labour of love." In many isolated districts there were children in those schools who, at 13 years of age, were reading Greek, and were otherwise remarkably forward in various branches of useful education. The expense of the election of school boards was complained of, but that rested very much with the inhabitants of the districts. In the parish in which he resided, and which had a population of above, 2,000, the cost of a school board contest was only 16s. School boards covered every district in Scotland, and he should like to ask the noble Lord whether he intended to apply the principle of the clause moved by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire to Scotland?


said, it was clear that the discussion on the clause could not be brought to a close then, in consequence of the profound feeling which had been aroused on that side of the House. The acceptance of the clause by the Government had created a feeling which he was sure could not be allayed till the clause was withdrawn. As there only remained 10 minutes before the debate must be brought to a close, and as a dozen Members near him wished to speak, he would beg to move that the Chairman should report Progress.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Mundella.)


said, he wished to say a few words before the Motion was agreed to. He was very glad indeed that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had been in his place during the latter portion of the discussion that afternoon. He most sincerely wished it had been in the power of the right hon. Gentleman to have been in his place last night when the discussion commenced, for he believed that the deep impression which was at once created on that side of the House by the announcement that the Government intended to support the clause of the hon. Member for South Leicestershire would have led the right hon. Gentleman to the conclusion—whatever his own private opinion or the private opinion of his Friends might be—that it was not worth while to encumber the passage of the Bill by accepting this clause. He doubted whether, among his numerous avocations, the right hon. Gentleman had had time to make himself master of the clause. A day had been unfortunately and unnecessarily wasted in this discussion. It had, however, been wasted, not by the discussion of the clause, but in consequence of the adoption of the clause by the Government. If the clause had not been adopted by the Government he believed the Committee on the Bill might have been concluded that day. But although the day had been wasted, he did not think it was too late, even now, to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether it were absolutely necessary to force the clause against what he must feel was the unanimous opinion of that side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman could not believe that the clause was essential to the Bill which the Government had introduced, for if it had been essential it would have been proposed by the Government. The Government had had an opportunity of considering the question for a long time, and they had deliberately introduced a well-prepared and well-considered measure which did not contain this proposition. Again, as the hon. Member who proposed the clause had informed the Committee that day, the proposal had been on the Paper for a considerable time, and consequently the Government had had ample opportunity of considering it. It was not included, however, in those important Amendments in regard to which the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council made a statement the other day. For those two reasons, he thought he was justified in coming to the conclusion that the Government could not deem it to be a matter of such vital importance as to consider it necessary at all hazards to insist upon introducing it. After the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman last night it was impossible that he could regard the expenditure of two or three days at this period of the Session as a matter of no concern. The convenience of the House and the prospect of many of the measures of the Government becoming law must be involved in the decision of the Government on this point. He trusted that before the discussion was resumed, the right hon. Gentleman would carefully consider whether it were necessary to force on the divided opinion of the House a proposition which the Government did not think it necessary to introduce, and which, if the right hon. Gentleman had been present last night, he would have heard supported by the Vice President of the Council in a hesitating manner and really as a matter of small and trifling importance.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 120; Noes 175: Majority 55.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.

And it being now Seven of the clock, the House suspended its Sitting.

The House resumed its sitting at Nine of the clock.