HC Deb 06 August 1889 vol 339 cc642-51

"That a sum, not exceeding £2,104,339, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1890, for Public Education in England and Wales, including expenses of the Education Office in London."

Resolution read a second time.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

MR. S. BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I desire to ask for information as to the position of the architects of the Education Department. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will be able to explain the system, or to state that he proposes to put an end to it. I do not intend in any way to reflect on the present architect. I have had personal knowledge of his work in connection with the London School Board for some years; but my view is that no public officer ought to be placed in such a position.

MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)

I wish to raise a question of some importance to agricultural constituencies. Last night I had an Amendment down to this Vote; but, as I understood it was of some importance that the Vote should be obtained at that sitting, I refrained from proposing it. Now, the question I desire to raise is as to the granting to both political Parties the right to use school-rooms in villages for holding public meetings. This is a question of pressing importance, and it is in the earnest hope that the Vice-President of the Council will give the House some satisfactory assurance on the question that I venture to bring it forward, even at this late hour. During the last four years I have tried to get the verdict of the House on this question; but I have not been successful in the ballot. If I may be permitted to say so, I think it is a matter for regret that the wisdom of this House cannot devise some more reasonable means of determining whether proposed legislation is important or not. We had a conversation on this subject two years ago, and the right hon. Gentleman then said it must take its turn with other topics. I have had a Bill on that subject before Parliament for the last two Sessions, but have not been fortunate enough to get it considered. It is well known that in the agricultural constituencies the use of these schools is not given with equal justice to both sides. I have made inquiries in 30 counties, and in 24 of them the schools have been refused to the Liberal candidates, and have been granted to the Conservatives. All I desire is to get equal advantages for both political Parties, and I therefore trust I shall get a satisfactory answer from the right hon. Gentleman.

MR. CONWAY (Leitrim, N.)

Last night I assented to this Vote being taken on condition that the President of the Council to-day gave me information on two points. We have conceded in theory freedom of classification, but the Code does not give it in practice, and I hold that teachers ought to have greater freedom in working the classes as they like. I hold that the system of payment by results has totally failed, both in Board and voluntary schools. The children dislike it, and the teachers at their annual conferences denounce it, and the result is that the £8,000,000 now spent on popular education does not produce such beneficial results as it should. I therefore hope that before the right hon. Gentleman again brings in his Code he will make it less rigid. With regard to reforming the system of inspection I should like to point out that the sub-inspectors are drawn from active teachers. It was admitted that they do their work well and that the introduction of them has saved the country £12,000 a year. I think that promotion to the higher ranks of inspectors and chief inspectors ought to be open to them. And I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give this matter very careful consideration. Lately there has been before this House a proposal for pensioning School Board teachers in London, but why should not provincial teachers also be pensioned? I think teachers throughout the country should be brought under the scheme. I ask hon. Gentlemen to consider whether it is not within the power of the Department to arrive at some superannuation scheme that will give satisfaction to the teachers so far as providing for their old age. They are good servants of the State and ought not to be thrown at the end of their career on the world. The State ought to take them by the hand.


I have an appeal to make to the favourable consideration of the right hon. Gentleman, because in the part of the county of Essex which I represent we have not ordinary soil and therefore cannot erect as substantial schools as the permanent officials of the Education Department re- quire. One great place of difficulty is the neighbourhood of the Tilbury Docks, where we have a school. The school has always paid its way, but owing to the fact that within a foot of the surface we came to water, we are unable to put up a substantial structure. I hope the Vice President will be able to see his way to rescind the order to which I have referred, and let us in Essex do the best we can on the sub-soil on which God has planed us.

* MR. CAUSTON (Southwark)

Last night little reference was made to the objections to the new Code made by the teachers. I do not wish to prolong the discussion, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will, during the Recess, consider seriously the objections the teachers have raised, and will not be discouraged by the hon. Member for the Evesham Division (Sir R. Temple) and others who are trying to alarm him and the House with regard to expense. The hon. Baronet said last night that if the ratepayers choose to elect School Boards who spend their money right and left they alone are answerable. The ratepayers want efficient and good teachers, and generally they will not grudge expenditure upon education which will really bring about increased efficiency.


I cannot complain that these points have been raised tonight, because I am aware that at the close of the discussion last night several hon. Members waived their right to speak in order to allow the Government to take the vote. The hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. S. Buxton) has referred to Mr. Robson, who is called the architect to the Department. Mr. Robson is not a Civil servant in any shape or way, but is a professional architect, who is consulted by the Department with regard to plans of school buildings as to how far they meet the requirements of the Department. The Department have allowed this gentleman to be consulted as a professional expert by school managers before they commence their buildings as to how they can best meet the requirements of the Department, and he has been allowed to receive a fee, in all cases limited to live guineas, upon giving his advice. [An hon. MEMBER: "Is he paid by the Department also?"] The Department pay him by salary. I admit this is a system which may be liable to some abuse. It is a system which I have always looked upon with some jealousy. If the opinion once prevails that school managers cannot pass their schemes of building without the payment of a fee to this gentleman it would be very difficult to retain the system. But I am bound to say that in every case brought to my knowledge, I have found the greatest difficulty in proving that there has been any abuse; but I will promise hon. Members I will watch the working of the system most jealously, and that if I find any abuse is occurring under it, I will at once take steps to put the whole matter on a different basis. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. H. Gardner) raised the question of the use of school buildings for election meetings. I say at once, I believe it is to the advantage of hon. Members on this side of the House that every possible opportunity should be afforded hon. Members opposite to promulgate their political opinions, and I shall be glad at all times to consider any practical proposal to bring about so desirable a result. But I must remind hon. Gentlemen that there are one or two difficulties to be grappled with. In the first place, a vast number of these school buildings are essentially private property, and to compel the use of these buildings for political purposes is, in a certain sense, an invasion of private right. Again, these buildings are essentially for the purpose of elementary education, and we are all aware that at times of political excitement there are such things as stormy meetings. This fact was appreciated in the Bill introduced the other day, because in the Measure there was the provision that the candidate should be held responsible for any damage done. Then we have also to consider what is to happen to the scholars in the morning after a stormy meeting the night before. As to the candidate being held responsible for damage done, I can quite understand the case of a candidate who is adopted generally by a political party. He would probably be a responsible person, but there is such a person heard of in our political existence as the carpet bagger. Supposing this visionary element is introduced into a political contest. How are the unfortunate managers of the school to recover damages? Again, the school building is only to be adopted as a place of political meeting, provided another suitable place cannot be found. I have had some experience of political contests. I have held meetings in barns, and I have held meetings in a jam factory, where I spoke from a platform erected on the top of a boiler. I believe that political meetings may very well be held without putting such a strain upon our school resources as the hon. Member indicates. But I do not put these objections forward in any captious spirit, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that if he will bring in a Bill next Session dealing with this question it shall be met in a fair and candid spirit. The hon. Member (Mr. Conway) has referred to two or three points connected with the proceedings of yesterday. On all the points he raised he has my sympathy. I assure him that in our proposals we mean the freedom of classification to be a reality. As to inspection, I promise the hon. Gentleman I will institute a reform in the system. I am in complete accord with one of the chief proposals of the Royal Commission on Education. I think our teachers should be admitted to all classes of inspectors, and I also promise the hon. Member I will bring the scheme of teachers' pensions suggested by the Royal Commission to the attention of my colleagues. I wish I could give my hon. Friend the Member for Essex (Major Rasch) a more satisfactory reply than I am in a position to give him. My hon. Friend says that in the neighbourhood of the Tilbury Docks it is difficult to raise a substantial building, but I am informed that in the proximity there is a very substantially built Roman Catholic school, and that there are other brick buildings. I deeply regret I cannot meet the hon. Gentleman's views. The Department will not sanction the use of iron buildings for any great length of time. This building was sanctioned for one year on the understanding that a more substantial building would be substituted.

MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)

As to the holding of meetings in schools, the right hon. Gentleman directed his objections entirely to the point as if it was not the custom to hold meetings in schools at all.


I understand the proposal is that the granting of the use of schools may be made compulsory.


That is the proposal of my hon. Friend, but the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman were not directed to that point at all. His argument was it was dangerous to allow meetings to be held in schools, because there are occasionally stormy meetings, and children might not be able to occupy the school the next morning. What we complain of is that in some parts of England the use of schools is only allowed to one political party. As far as my experience goes the noisy meetings to which the right hon. Gentleman referred are generally the meetings addressed by Gentlemen who sit opposite (Ministerial cheers.) I am very glad indeed hon. Gentlemen corroborate my assertion, because it is a very material one to my argument. If these noisy Conservative meetings maybe held in school rooms as at present, it is clear that to allow quiet Liberal meetings cannot possibly interfere with the studies of the children the next morning. Certainly if my hon. Friend goes to a Division as a protest against the action of the Government, I shall support him.

* MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucestershire, Cirencester)

This matter is so important to the representatives of rural constituencies that I am going, with very great regret at this time of the night, to move a reduction of this vote by £100. The answer of the right hon. Gentleman is quite unsatisfactory to us. We have not got those jam factories at our disposal, which the right hon. Member alluded to, we have not all got barns in our villages belonging to farmers able or willing to lend them, and while I wish to say the great majority of the clergy and the school managers are perfectly fair and reasonable and offer their schools to both sides, there are a few obstinate and narrow-minded clergymen scattered through the constituencies who refuse the use of their schoolrooms to Liberal candidates. These schools are supported to a large extent by national funds, and were built largely by public funds, and I maintain it is monstrously unfair that the use of them should only be granted to one side of politics. I beg to move the reduction of the vote by £100.


That Motion cannot be put as I have already put the Question, that the House do agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.


Then I must meet the Question with the direct "No."

* MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)

If this matter is to be pressed to a Division, I think something should be said on this side. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Berwickshire on a somewhat limited knowledge of Party politics. He seems to think that Conservative meetings are disturbed by Conservative speakers. Surely, if Conservative meetings are disturbed, they must be disturbed by gentlemen of his own persuasion. The real question is, whether we are going to make a complete change in our educational system. Schools, both Board and voluntary, are provided for elementary education, and now we are asked to set these places apart for political meetings. In the case of a political campaign, we might have meeting after meeting evening after evening. In such a case what would become of the evening classes, which hon. Gentlemen opposite, as well as we on this side said so much in favour of? They would be entirely suspended during the whole of a political campaign. Who would be the losers? Why, the scholars. These things can only be done in this country as so many other things are done, by arrangement, by voluntary effort, and by compromise. I think it would be a piece of monstrous tyranny on the part of this House to lay down a hard and fast rule that the use of schools should be granted for political meetings, whenever demanded, no matter how responsible or irresponsible the man demanding them might be.


That is not my proposition.


That is one of the inconveniences of the situation; we really do not know what the proposition is. I trust, however, that the House, in the interest of fair play to both sides, will never consent to the suggestion which has been made to it.


The hon. Member for Oxford University seems to know very little about village life, because he does not seem to know that the village school in many of our villages is practically the only place of meeting. I desire to bear my own testimony to the courtesy of clergymen in my own division, who have put their schools at my disposal for political meetings, and who also have granted me the use of Sunday Schools, and in one case a distinctly ecclesiastical building—the old Bede House at Higham Ferrers. But in many other parts of the country the use of the schools is systematically refused. In no case have I heard of the slightest damage to the schools. I was simply astonished when I heard the Vice President dwell upon the absurd difficulties created in his imagination, and then go on to say that he would give candid consideration to any Bill which my hon. Friend might bring forward next Session. If the right hon. Gentleman is sincere in his wish that Liberals should have access to the schools, why does he not bring in a one or two-clause Bill which he could easily pass even at this period of the Session?

SIR J. SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

The hon. Member for the Oxford University asks who would be the losers by the schools being used for political meetings, and suggests that they would be the scholars. I deny that altogether. Let both sides express their views freely, and then we should not hear quite so much of the gross ignorance in Dorset, Hampshire, and other south country counties. We have heard of the schoolrooms being damaged, but we know that now schools are let for lectures, exhibitions, and the like, and that the managers merely ask that the; persons using them for such purposes should undertake to make good any damage done and to defray the cost of cleaning and lighting. Suppose a candidate was a carpet bagger, a deposit of £5 before the school was used would settle the matter at once. I do not wish to be disrespectful to the right hon. Gentleman, but I must say his objections appeared to me to be quite childish. If these schools are to be used, then they ought to be open to the use of both parties, and 1 see no objection to that. 1 feel astounded that the right hon. Gentleman should say they are private property. Are they not supported by public grants?

MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)

In connection with election proceedings in the North recently, some reverend gentleman asked me not to say anything against the Tory candidate, and to my surprise I found that this was because they hoped for favours from the Conservative Government, and the ground of their hope was the pressure on the Government of the present Home Secretary. I did my best to show them on what a broken reed they were relying, by explaining how the right hon. Gentleman was once a Member of my own Party.

The House divided:—Ayes 106, Noes 48. (Div. List No. 283).