HC Deb 04 June 1883 vol 279 cc1624-5

asked the Vice President of the Council, Whether his attention has been called to a Report in the "Kentish Express" of the proceedings before the Ashford Bench of Magistrates, in some cases against parents for not sending their children to school, when the Chairman of the Bench, in giving judgment, is reported to have made use of expressions in disparagement of education; and, whether he would inquire into the circumstances of the case; and, if the report should be well founded, whether there was any means of restraining expressions of opinion from the Bench excusing breaches of the Law?


My attention has been called by several correspondents to the report in The Kentish Express, and I regret extremely to find, on inquiry, that it is substantially accurate. It appears that the East Ashford School Attendance Committee summoned several parents before the magistrates for neglecting to send their children to school. They were the children of a farmer and of some labourers, and in two instances children of 12 years of age were represented as unable to pass any Standard. The Chairman of the Justices, in fining the farmer, declared that he considered the Education Act to be "the curse of the country;"—[Mr. WARTON: Hear, hear!]—and his colleague on the Bench said he fully concurred with him. Various remarks calculated to bring the Act into contempt were made during the hearing of the other cases, and one labourer, who made an ap- peal to the Bench as to what he should do with his children, was told by the Chairman, "to go and ask Mr. Gladstone, who made the law." It so happened that these prosecutions were taken under Lord Sandon's Act of 1876; but I am sure the House will agree that a Law of Parliament, by whatever Minister it may have been proposed, ought not to be held up to public obloquy by those to whom the duty of its enforcement has been intrusted. I understand that in this Union all engaged in the work of education are discouraged by the hindrances thrown in their way by the magistrates. Her Majesty's Inspector reported in April last that the attendance had been "grossly irregular," and the average lower than in any part of his district. As to the latter part of the Question, inquiry will be made of the proper authority as to what ought to be done in respect to the conduct complained of.