HC Deb 28 May 1878 vol 240 cc842-53

in rising to call attention to Clause 98 of the Act 33 and 34 Vic. c. 75 (the Elementary Education Act), and to Section "B," Article 7, of "Preliminary Chapter" of the "Code of 1878 of Minutes of the Education Department," and to the manner in which, the Committee of Council on Education are taking action thereon; and to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to be graciously pleased to direct the amendment of the New Code of Regulations of the Committee of the Privy Council on Education, by the omission of Article 'b' of section 7 of the said Code; said, there was a clause in the Act by which Minutes were to be in force only when they had been laid on the Table of the House for one month. And he thought that the Minute in the Code issued at the commencement of the year overrode the 98th section of the Act, which provided that the managers of any schools in a school board district, and not in receipt of an annual grant, might apply to the Education Department for a Parliamentary grant, which might, however, be refused in the case of "unnecessary schools." The assumption was that the grant would be made except in cases of misconduct and mala fides. He would, with the permission of the House, refer to several instances, which would show that the Education Department was unnecessarily strict in its inquiries into the school accommodation of districts, taking as the basis of an unnecessary school the mere fact of there being school seats in some other school. By this method, the children of Church attenders might be sent into Roman Catholic or Dissenting schools, or the children of Dissenters into National schools, the result of which was that the difficulty of carrying on the work of education in the country was increased. After alluding to various other schools in different parts of England, he said the strongest case occurred in Stanhope, a town in the county he had the honour to represent. In July, 1873, a deficiency of 920 in the school accommodation of the district was de- clared to exist. Before the close of 1873 the people formed a school board, which built five as complete schools as he had ever seen. He had the honour of opening two or three of them. In the town of Stanhope there was a very large Dissenting element, and the school board asked leave to build a school to accommodate 200 children. Notice, however, was given that besides the Barrington Church schools, a school which had been formerly closed, would be opened, and that another was also available; and the Department then held that there was sufficient school accommodation in the town. He had not one word to say against the management of the Barrington schools, to which he was himself an annual subscriber; but, practically, there was not a single Dissenting school in the place. The school board urged the Department to relax their rule, but they declined; then the Wesleyans, with their usual zeal, built a school to accommodate 200 children, and asked to be placed on the list for the annual grants. But the Department declined to sanction the proposed school, on the ground that such school accommodation for Stanhope was not required. The school, however, was opened, and the Government Inspector was pleased with the building and furniture, and said that the results of the examination were decidedly good. There were 182 scholars in attendance. In January, 1877, they again asked to be placed on the list for grants, and were again refused. He was told on good authority that about two-thirds of the people attended the Dissenting chapels. The cases which he had cited went to show that which he thought was indiscretion on the part of the Department in assuming too much local control. The effect of the Article in question was to make the power of refusing grants to certain schools compulsory, and to extend the operation of Clause 98 into non-school board districts, and he believed it was entirely beyond the powers of the Department, by an Article in the Code, to override the statute law. He did not advocate the total repeal of the 98th section of the Act of 1870. He thought it was right that the Department should have a certain amount of power, but it should be very cautiously exercised. He doubted if the powers the noble Lord was endeavouring to get were not illegal powers. It was not desirable that they should have too much centralized in Downing Street the control over the choice made by parents in this country of the schools to which they should send their children. It seemed to him that it made no difference to the State whether children were educated in a Board school, a National school, or a Roman Catholic school, provided they came up to certain Standards. The Code now on the Table was not, in his view, in accordance with the Act of 1870, and he thought that if the Education Department wanted further powers, they ought to come to the House for them by means of an Act of Parliament. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Resolution.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to be graciously pleased to direct the amendment of the New Code of Regulations of the Committee of the Privy Council on Education, by the omission of Article 'b' of section 7 of the said Code."—(Mr. Pease.)


observed, that it was one thing to alter the Code, and possibly to deal with the 98th clause of the Act of 1870 so as to create what was called a free trade in voluntary schools, and it was quite another thing to arm an ambitious school board with the power of establishing a new school, even where sufficient accommodation had been provided. The hon. Member opposite had mentioned about 26 cases in which he thought the present state of the law and the action of the Department had worked injustice; but he would remind him that there were in England and Wales considerably more than 14,000 public elementary schools; therefore, the grievance, even if it existed in the cases named, was not a very large one as compared with the total number of schools in the country. If, however, the action of the Department inflicted wrong in only very few instances, of course, the wrong ought, if possible, to be set right. But he thought it was very undesirable that they should have constant changes in their Education Code, and still more in their Education Acts. His own experience was that the 98th clause of the Education Act of 1870 was a very valuable one. It said— If the managers of any school which is situate in the district of a school board acting under this Act, and is not previously in receipt of an annual Parliamentary grant, whether such managers are a school board or not, apply to the Education Department for a Parliamentary grant, the Education Department may, if they think that such school is unnecessary, refuse such application. The sub-section of the Code, which the hon. Member wished to cut out, said that no grant was to be made for any school which had not previously received an annual grant if the Department thought such school unnecessary. Thus, the powers given by Clause 98 of the Act were simply incorporated in the Code in order to carry out the provisions of the clause. There was no difference between the 98th clause of the Act and the sub-section of the Code, and the two must stand or fall together. He hoped Parliament would not deprive the Department of its veto in regard to unnecessary schools, for the indefinite multiplication of schools would cause a deterioration of the quality of the education. It might be fair, even when there was sufficient school accommodation, to relax the rule, so that the Department might not exercise its veto. This might happen, for instance, where Roman. Catholics, or Wesleyans, or members of the Church of England, having no school suited to their requirements, were willing to build one at their own cost; but, in cases such as that of the London School Board, where, at least, 10d. in every shilling was paid by the public, any such relaxation would be a change tending very much to the disadvantage of the public.


said, he agreed with the Resolution of the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Pease); but, as he was responsible for the Act of 1870, he wished to say why he did so. He thought there was a great difference between the power to be given to the Education Department by the 98th section of the Act of 1870, and the power allowed by the Article of the Code. The section of the Act of 1870 said that in school board districts, and in them only, the annual Parliamentary grant might be refused for a new school if the Education Department thought that such a school was unnecessary. The Minute, on the other hand, said that no grant might be made in respect of any new school if the Education Department thought the school unnecessary. By the section the Department might use their discretion if they thought it unnecessary; but by the Minute, if they thought it unnecessary, they were bound to refuse it. There was a difference between the two, and an intentional difference. Besides, in order to guard against a too frequent use of the power of refusal, and to make it evident that its purpose was of a very special kind, for a special purpose, the section of the Act demanded that in each case a special Report should be made, showing the ground on which the grant was refused; but the Minute required nothing of the kind, and there was this other and great difference—that the section was confined to school board districts. The Minute introduced a perfectly new system into the Education Act, and, till it came before the House, he had no idea that the Department considered they had legally the power to assume to themselves the duty of deciding, with regard to every new school throughout the Kingdom, whether or not it was wanted. This, however, was what the Department was really doing. A great evil might follow on that new principle. He had always understood that the Vote was distributed in annual grants to all schools that fulfilled certain conditions laid down originally in the Code, and now, in the Act of Parliament, as to masters and buildings. Every school was invited to earn what it could, and that, briefly, was the principle on which the Vote had been apportioned among them. There was a provision against extreme cases; but, so little had he supposed the Department could take upon themselves the power to refuse a grant, simply because they thought a school unnecessary, that he had constantly, while refusing assistance from the funds of the Public Works Loan Commissioners, said that a school would have to be built, if at all, by the rates levied for the year. That, he had always thought, was a sufficient protection, and that he had taken to be practically the only power they had. He said—"You can build the school at your own expense if you think fit." If that screw were kept, they need not be uneasy that there would be unnecessary schools. He might think some schools not wanted, but if a school was once set up, he would never refuse the grant, except in cases of mala fides, against which provision was made in the Act. The new power was certainly very arbitrary, and, without entering into the merits of the special cases that had been brought forward, it was clear that in all these cases persons thought they had been hardly treated. His hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. A. Mills) seemed to suppose it necessary to check the action of school boards; but hon. Members must not support this Minute on the supposition that it would merely tell in favour of school boards. If this Minute were allowed to remain, it might be turned against any fresh denominational schools whatever. This he should be sorry to see, because he thought that taxpayers had a right to have a special denominational school if they fulfilled the conditions, and were willing to run the very severe risk of having to pay their share of the rates and subscribe to their own schools as well. He could not help taking a great interest in the actual work of the Department; and he did feel that, in undertaking to decide whether a school was wanted or not in any particular district, they imposed on themselves an amount of anxious labour of which they had little conception, while it would create heartburning and opposition in almost every district in which they exercised this power. There might be Departmental reasons for the change, but they could not be aware of the labour they were undertaking. With regard to the legal question, he thought, quite unintentionally, his noble Friend had somewhat strained the law. When he (Mr. W. E. Forster) was bringing in the Education Bill, he was of opinion that the Department had no power to refuse the annual grant to schools, and, therefore, thinking it necessary, in very extreme cases, that they should take that power, he put in the special section so often alluded to; but the very fact that the House passed it, was, to him, a very strong argument, if not a proof, that there was no power to go beyond that section. In Section 9, the Act laid down the conditions to be fulfilled by elementary schools, in order to obtain an annual Parliamentary grant. Surely, when they had decided by law that certain conditions should be fulfilled—which conditions were to be contained in the Minutes of the Education Department—it was stretching that section to say that the Education Department should have the power in their discretion to say what schools should be wanted or not. Surely, it was almost a mockery to say by Act of Parliament, that grants should be given on certain conditions, and then to say that really meant nothing at all, because the Department had the discretion of refusal. He hoped his hon. Friend would not push this matter to a division. It was a case which might fairly be left to the Government to consider. No doubt they would fairly consider it, and perhaps he was not asking too much when he asked them to give some consideration to the arguments he had brought forward. He would say one word with regard to the Scotch Act. New schools in Scotland were treated differently from new schools in England. The former merely developed the rate system, which was quite in accordance with the educational genius of Scotland. The provision with regard to new schools was that all new voluntary schools, or schools not public schools, should be refused a Parliamentary grant, unless the Department consented to a special grant to them, either from regard to the religious opinions of those who wanted them or the special necessities of the district. There was to be a special report in every case in which a grant was made to a new voluntary school; but there was nothing in the Scotch Act about refusing a grant to any public school, and he felt convinced, if it had been stated that in passing the Scotch Act power had been taken to give to the Education Department the discretion to refuse grants to any new school board school, such a provision would not have been passed. In the Scotch Code of this year, however, the Department had inserted a Minute in which, they had taken the words in the Scotch Act, omitting only these words, "not being a public school;" and thus, by a stroke of the pen, the Department had taken on themselves the power to refuse grants to every new public school. The Department might have thought it advisable to make this change to prevent the multiplication of small schools. He did not think this change necessary for that purpose. He thought it better for the Department to rely on the obstacles to the erection of unnecessary schools arising from the expense involved in building and maintaining them than on the reports of its own officers. He believed that not one school in 1,000 would be started if not wanted. If, however, the Government, on a re-consideration of the whole question, thought it their duty to claim this power, in his opinion, the proper Parliamentary course incumbent upon them would be to propose an Amendment of the Act, giving them the additional power which they thought they ought to possess.


approved of the Resolution brought forward by the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Pease), especially as there was no desire manifested to interfere with the 90th section of the Education Act. He trusted the Government would see that it had gone further than was necessary either to guard the public purse or in the interests of education. If they wished to avoid heart burnings, discontent, and dissatisfaction, they would have the law amended. If the hon. Member pressed his Motion to a division he should support him.


thanked the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster)—and he thought the people of Scotland would be equally grateful to the right hon. Gentleman—for the remarks he had made with reference to Scotland. He hoped that, so far as Scotland was concerned, the Education Department would re-consider the matter, for the change made in the Scotch Code had set aside the provisions of the Act of Parliament. He understood that the Code should be framed in such terms as to carry out the express provisions of the Statute; but the omission of the words "not being a public school" virtually repealed one of these provisions, and, if so, involved such a change of the law as he thought it was not competent for the Department to make. He suggested that the hon. Member for Durham should not insist on a division, and hoped that the noble Lord (Lord George Hamilton) would admit that this subject deserved consideration, and that he would see that the Code should be altered so as to make it conform with the terms of the Act of Parliament.


said, he entirely concurred in the views expressed by the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Pease), and in the object which he aimed at by his Resolution. The Government should find no difficulty at all in steering a clear way between the different courses which had been suggested. He, however, differed from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) and the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. A. Mills) on the distinction which they drew between the 98th clause of the Act and the 7th section of the Code. He thought the difference consisted in this—that the Act of Parliament was directory and the Code was affirmative. There was no essential difference between the two. He thought the principle of religious liberty should be the guide in matters of this sort, and he trusted that the Act of Parliament would be so interpreted by the Education Department as to enable them to give the necessary assistance to denominational schools, no matter what their religious character might be. There was one particular which should be kept in view—namely, that the principle of confidence which they extended in this respect to denominational schools, for which persons actuated by religious zeal and charitable motives made large sacrifices and considerable efforts, did not apply to board schools, which were not the offspring of religious earnestness, which involved no sacrifice on the part of the managers, but were institutions worked by means of the money of the ratepayers.


said, he wished very briefly to undertake the defence of this sub-section which had been called in question to-night. Having only recently acceded to his present Office, he would have been quite willing to leave its defence to his Predecessors who framed it; but he thought it right to state why, in his opinion, the House ought not to assent to this Motion. In doing that, he must acknowledge the temperate character of the speeches of hon. Members opposite who had addressed themselves to this question. The subject under discussion was somewhat larger than would appear at first sight. The sub-section had been placed in the Act for the purpose of asserting that a discretion was placed in the hands of the Privy Council in this matter. He was glad to find that all the great voluntary associations interested in the promotion of religious education had acknowledged that the past action of the Department had given satisfaction. Therefore, unless this sub-section indicated some departure from the principle upon which the Education Department had administered the grants, he did not see how it could give offence to any religious community. The two points upon which the hon. Member had dwelt the most were—first, was this sub-section legal? and secondly, if legal, was it wise and expedient? Upon the first point, the Education Department contended that they ought to have the same discretion as to making these annual grants as they possessed before the passing of the Act of 1870, and which was merely strengthened by that Act. By that Act, the Education Department was made the instrument by which educational deficiencies of different localities were pointed out, and discretion was given to the Department to call upon the different localities to make good those deficiencies. The sub-section in question was inserted for the purpose of making it known that the Education Department would permit rivalry and competition among schools in all parts of the Kingdom, but within certain limits. Hon. Members who had spoken on this subject had made no suggestion as to the alternative action that should supply the place of that pointed out by this sub-section. In his opinion, the only other alternative action that could be adopted was that of free trade in schools. As regarded school board districts, the school boards were bound to supply the deficiencies of school accommodation, and in that case the Education Department could not consent to the establishment of denominational schools afterwards; but in non-school board districts the Department was willing, within certain limits, to allow competition between all classes of schools. If, however, free trade in schools were to be established as a general principle, essential changes must be introduced in the Act of 1870. By the Act of 1870, school boards were established for the purpose of exercising the primary duty of providing for educational deficiencies in the localities over which they had authority, and of even providing for prospective deficiencies in those districts; and, therefore, if it were not for the control of the Education Department over the school boards in the way of expenditure, the latter would have the power of establishing ad libitum as many schools as they chose. Under the Act, the Education Department had the right to refuse a grant to any school which, in their opinion, was unnecessary, and by the Act of 1873, the Department had the power of refusing any loan for a school which was deemed unnecessary. In nearly all the cases to which the hon. Member for Durham had referred the Education Department were bound to refuse the grant. An application was made for a grant for a school board school in the Stanhope district, and it was refused by the Department because they thought the school unnecessary. It was not, therefore, competent to the Education Department to give subsequently to a voluntary school what they had denied to a school board school. The cases to which attention had been called were cases in which the Department had acted in strict accordance with the sections in the Act of 1870 which were applicable to them, and no other course would be possible unless that Act was altered. He thought the House would agree with the opinion of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. A. Mills) that it was not possible, at any rate, at present, to make any alteration in the Elementary Education Acts which had recently been passed. There might, perhaps, be found some means of relieving the managers of schools of a part of the difficulty of which they now complained, and he would undertake to re-consider that part of the section which referred to non-school board districts, with the view of defining, to a certain extent, what, in the opinion of the Department, would or would not constitute an unnecessary school. The only object of the Department in endeavouring to curtail the number of schools in any way was to promote efficiency. No one, he thought, who had the interests of education and of the schools at heart, would desire to see abolished the discretion entrusted to the Department in reference to the making of grants; but many who had studied the question might think that there should be some modification of the existing rules, and it was with a view to this that he would take the matter in hand, without, however, pledging himself to any particular course. He saw no insuperable difficulty in the way of making grants to bonâ fide schools which had been in existence for some little time, and which had a sufficiently large attendance, and he therefore hoped the hon. Member for Durham would not think it necessary to press his Motion to a division; if he did, he (Lord George Hamilton) would move the Previous Question, as he agreed with many of the arguments of the hon. Gentleman, but not with his conclusions.


said, he was satisfied with the assurance of the noble Lord, and would ask the House for leave to withdraw the Motion, which he had put upon the Paper in no spirit of hostility to the general scope of the Education Acts or the manner in which the Department had administered them.


said, he regretted that this wholly unnecessary Minute was not to be withdrawn, for it was likely to cause great dissatisfaction. The Education Department would do wisely to recognize the absolute necessity of free trade in schools in all districts. As an advocate of denominational education, and at the same time of fair play, he believed that if they were to continue the denominational system, the law should be made equal in its operation to all forms of religious belief, and that no hard-and-fast line should be held by the Education Department in dealing with these schools.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.