HC Deb 28 August 1889 vol 340 cc805-17

Order for consideration, as amended, read and discharged.

Bill re-committed in respect of an Amendment to Clause 8 and a new clause (Application of Act to Ireland); considered in Committee, and reported; as amended, considered.


I have felt it my duty to place on the Paper the Amendment that stands in my name. It is identical with the Amendment I moved in Committee, and after the long discussion we had in Committee upon it I do not propose to discuss it again. I have put it on the Paper merely to emphasise, before the Bill leaves the House, the main ground of objection which is taken by myself, and, I believe, by many other hoc. Members to the measure—namely, that it will have the effect of substituting for the regular, and I might almost say, constitutional authority in matters of education, a totally new set of authorities with new functions. I wish to protest against that cardinal error and fundamental mischief in the Bill. I am glad that our discussions have resulted in some Amendment to the Bill. I recognise the conciliatory spirit displayed by the Vice President of the Council in accepting some of the Amend- ments, but I do not desire the Bill to pass without definitely saying that none of these Amendments so accepted by the Government in the slightest degree mitigate or remove my conviction that this is a thoroughly bad Bill, based on a thoroughly bad principle. I would like once more just to emphasise this point. I hold, and many Gentlemen outside this House hold, that there has been on the part of those interested in voluntary schools, and also of those who have great influence at the Education Department, an organised and determined conspiracy, I may call it, to bring the School Board system to an end so far as is possible. That policy was admitted in the Local Government Bill last year, and it has been admitted and partly carried out in the present Bill. The Memorandum issued by Sir Francis Sand ford, at the time the Local Government Bill was before us, distinctly contemplated getting rid of the elected Educational Authorities as the best means of ridding education of the disputes between the denominational and unsectarian parties, and of so placing the voluntary schools on the same footing as the Board Schools. I introduced this Amendment, in Committee in order to challenge directly in the plainest way this policy initiated by some of the former and present Members of the Education Department, which, I venture to say, is a policy aimed at the extinction of the School Board system, by substituting for the School Boards and other authorities who are less likely to feel the influences under which the School Boards are elected. I acquit the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of everything but the best intentions as to technical education; but I do think I have a right to affirm that this intentional attack on the School Boards has gone on for two or three years, and that this Bill is brought in for the purpose of furthering that attack.

SIR R. TEMPLE (Worcestershire, Evesham)

I beg to move in line 7, of Clause 1, after "extent," to add "including the erection of buildings." I am not quite sure whether the Amendment is necessary, but, at all events, it will do no harm. Sub-section 4 of Clause 4 says that the Local Authorities may borrow for the purposes of this.

Act, and, I presume, that will cover the erection of buildings.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 7, after the word "extent," to insert the words, "including the erection of buildings."—(Sir R. Temple.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


There is no need for any apprehension on the point the hon. Member desires to cover by his Amendment. If he will look at the Directory of the Science and Art Department he will find that this statement on my part is more than confirmed by the word "Supply."

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name. It is an Amendment which I moved verbally in Committee, but withdrew at the request of hon. Members opposite, in order to move it on report after they had had an opportunity of seeing it on the Paper. I propose to insert after "rate" in Clause 1, line 16, the following words "and receiving technical or manual instruction." As the sub-section stands it is possible that a denominational school, by receiving a few pounds from the rates for the purpose of technical instruction, may be prevented from making religion part of its curriculum in respect of scholars who are not receiving technical instruction at all. The object of this Amendment is to limit the sub-section to those scholars only who are actually receiving technical instruction.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 16, after the word "rate" to insert the words "and receiving technical or manual instruction."—(Mr. Tomlinson.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


One of the greatest objections I had to the Bill was that the Conscience Clause did not appear to be strong enough, and I admit that the right hon. Gentleman met us in a generous way in trying to strengthen it. I hope he will not accept the present Amendment, because if he does, whatever else it will do, it will tend to weaken the clause. Inasmuch as the Bill is to a great extent a compromise, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will stand to his guns. If he does not, I am afraid we shall have to call attention to other matters which I should be glad to avoid.

MR. W. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)

It is open for the Local Authorities to aid the erection of technical schools, and it is, therefore, important that every school erected under the Bill should be guarded by the Conscience Clause. Now that we know that the denominations are to get money, or may get money for the erection of buildings, we should understand that they will be safeguarded by the Conscience Clause. This Amendment applies both to existing and to future schools, and will allow denominational colleges and schools to be erected under this Act. It entirely destroys the value of the clause, and unless a further alteration is made, will be most dangerous.


It is absolutely necessary to insert these words. Let me put a case. You might have a school in which a great number of subjects of education are taught, but which has been built and is carried on for the teaching of particular religious tenets, whether Nonconformist, Roman Catholic, or Church of England. Seeing that the Act is passed for the purpose of technical education, you should be able to take advantage of such a school and obtain money for it under the Act. It is clearly fair that if scholars in such schools take advantage of the Act, they have a right, under the general principle of the Conscience Clause, not to attend any particular religious instruction. That I admit, but I do not admit that, if there are other scholars in the school who are not taught this technical education at all, that they should be affected by the Bill. It is impossible for us to consent to limit in this Bill the whole curriculum of the religious teaching authority that exists in a school established for purposes totally different to technical education.

MR. PICTON (Leicester)

I hope the hon. Member for Preston will not imperil the passing of this Bill at this stage by introducing an Amendment which is likely to excite irritated feel- ings. The point raised by the hon. Member for Crewe has not been met by anything said by the noble Lord. The Bill enables managers of denominational schools by the aid of money lent by the Local Authority to build schools for technical instruction. We are not going at this stage to object to that, of course, but we must fight against the idea that when this money has been given to denominational school managers for the erection of technical schools, it should be used practically for denominational purposes. That is not in the Bill as it stands at present. I hope the light hon. Baronet the Vice President of the Council will not allow a point of this kind to be forced upon us just as we are prepared to sink our earnest convictions with regard to this Bill in order to come to an amicable conclusion with regard to it. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Channing) refrained from moving his Amendment, so as not to disturb the harmony of our proceedings.


The Government do not wish to introduce any fresh matter into the Bill, and they are anxious that the compromise which has been arrived at shall not be disturbed, but I wish to point out that the words proposed to be inserted are interpretation words. It is not intended to impose any new limitation which hon. Members opposite were not themselves prepared to impose when they were dealing with the matter in Committee.


We hold that in schools built out of the rates, or the building of which has been aided by the rates, no denominational education should be given. I would join in the appeal to the Government not to give their sanction to this Amendment.


The Conscience Clause which has been adopted is that in operation in all denominational schools.


I can assure hon. Members opposite that the proposed words will not damage the interests with which they are concerned. We are all anxious that the Conscience Clause should be applied only to the new species of instruction given under the Act; but there is some anxiety on this side of the House lest it should have a retrospective effect and be ap- plied to existing institutions. The Amendment will meet that difficulty.

MR. H. STEWART (Lincolnshire, Spalding)

The Amendment will enable denominations to teach their religious formulas in rate-aided schools which may be erected for the giving of instruction under the Act. I hope the Government will bear in mind that we have put upon ourselves considerable repression in order to secure the passing of the Bill to-day. It will come ill from the Government if they now accept an irritating Amendment which comes from their own side. This Amendment would enable denominational education to be given in a school nineteen-twentieths of which have been constructed out of the rates.


I hardly think any Local Authority would be likely to contribute nineteen-twentieths out of the rates, leaving the managers of the school to find only one-twentieth.


In arguing the matter of course I put an extreme ease. We say it is not fair to try and alter the Bill in this direction.

MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)

I, for one, cannot accept the views of hon. Members opposite in regard to this Amendment. If the Amendment be not accepted, a large number of very flourishing denominational schools may be absolutely changed in their character, because, forsooth, a small grant is made for the establishment and maintenance of a technical class.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 56; Noes 18.—(Div. List, No. 360.)


I have to propose another Amendment, which I have submitted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to the Vice President of the Council, which I think might be accepted by the Committee, as it has been agreed to by the Government. The point which I and my hon. Friends on this side of the House are desirous of making is this: While we object to the denominational element in this Bill altogether, yet, taking it as it is, we are willing enough to admit that the existing denominational schools should derive all the benefit they can possibly get from its operation, and we do not want to raise any unreasonable controversy as to schools that are already in existence; but we contend that, inasmuch as under this Bill, denominational schools may be erected, the building of which may possibly be assisted with money granted for the purpose under the provisions of this measure, it is not at all an unreasonable thing to expect that the amount of money given in aid of the erection of such schools for purposes of technical instruction may be very considerable. This being so, our object is to provide that when a new school is built or even aided in its erection by money granted under this Bill, there should be a thoroughly efficient Conscience Clause in regard to that school. Therefore I propose, at the end of this sub-section, to add the words which appear in the previous sub-section, with the proviso that they shall apply to future schools.

Amendment proposed, at the end of Sub-section C, to insert the words— Provided that in any school the erection of which has been aided under this Act it shall not be required as a condition of any scholar being admitted into or continuing in sueh school that he shall attend or abstain from attending any Sunday school or any place of religious worship, or that he shall attend any religious observance or any instruction in religious subjects in the school or elsewhere." —(Mr. M'Laren.)


The Government accept that proposal.

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.


I have now to move an Amendment, the object of which is to give to the parents of children and to young persons in the schools in which technical instruction is afforded, the option of receiving religious instruction in cases where they desire to do so. It seems to me that the words of the clause as they at present stand constitute an anti-religious tyranny, promoted by hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are so afraid of the effects of anything like definite religious teaching, that they wish to place a ban upon it. They appear to be so terribly alarmed at the idea that this Bill should allow ordinary religious liberty, that they have put into this clause the prohibitory words which are now proposed. This, I say, is not the doctrine which the English Nonconformists are in the habit of pro- claiming with regard to themselves. They demand, strenuously enough, in their own ease, the fullest liberty of conscience, and I say that that liberty ought to be extended just as much to our side as to theirs. Unless my Amendment is carried the result will be that, no matter how desirous the parents of a child, or the young persons in a school, may be that definite religious teaching should be given, no such instruction can possibly be afforded in such school, and unless they are modified in the manner I suggest, the words of this clause will be offensive to that which I believe to be the religious sentiment of the majority of the people of this country. We are told that hon. Gentlemen opposite are willing to effect a fair and reasonable compromise in regard to the provisions of this measure, and for my own part I desire to be as conciliatory as possible. I do not wish to force our views upon those hon. Gentlemen, but I think that we on this side are entitled to corresponding justice at their hands.

Another Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 21, after the word "be," to insert the words "required to be."— (Mr. John Talbot.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


I fully appreciate the spirit in which my hon. Friend has moved this Amendment, and I agree with much that he has urged in support of the case he has laid before the Committee; but I desire to suggest one or two considerations which render it difficult for me to accept the words he wishes to have inserted in this clause. The hon. Gentleman will recognise the strong feeling that is entertained on both sides of the House in reference to this long-vexed question. The Bill, which I trust is now very near a successful termination, is the outcome of a compromise. I have done my best to keep faith with that compromise, and to act in all sincerity and in as straightforward a manner as possible towards hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am, therefore, placed in no little difficulty by the Amendment of my hon. Friend, who must be aware that many hon. Members, who are totally opposed to the proposal it contains, and who have already sacrificed much of the principle for which they contend in the compromise they have made to secure the passing of the Bill, have gone away, on the understanding that the Bill would become law without the introduction of any such proposal.


Are we to understand that Her Majesty's Government do not intend to pay any attention to the strong desire which is entertained on this side of the House that the Amendment of my hon. Friend should be inserted in the Bill? I must say that I exceedingly regret the decision the Government would appear to have arrived at. I do not think they can fully realise the position they will, in consequence of their rejection of this proposal, occupy in the minds of the Church of England party in this country. I hold it to be of the utmost importance that some concession of this nature should be made to the party to which we, on this side of the House, for the most part, belong; and I am loth to believe that the Government have no suggestion to offer in favour of the principle for which we contend in regard to this very important question. I think the Amendment of my hon. Friend an extremely reasonable one. The Committee have already passed by a large majority an Amendment under which it is provided that no scholar receiving technical instruction shall be required to attend or refrain from attending any religious worship or teaching, and yet in the very teeth of that proposal, this Amendment is to be rejected. I say that in refusing this Amendment the Committee is stultifying itself, because it thereby says that no scholar receiving technical instruction in any school under this Bill shall be allowed to attend any place of religious instruction. I cannot help thinking that my hon. Friends who decline to accept this Amendment do not sufficiently realise the importance of the principle they are admitting to this Bill. If my hon. Friends below me say that I am exaggerating the importance of this question their opinion would have some weight in my mind; but at the same time, I would point out that there has been no contention or assertion that the study of art or science is at all incompatible with distinctive religious teaching. We know that a very important Royal Commission, appointed by the Government, and largely composed of their supporters, has arrived at the definite conclusion that there may be such things as rate-aids to schools which give distinctive denominational teaching; and that Commission having so reported it would be madness on the part of those who sit on this side of the House to admit the contrary. We believe that this conclusion is thoroughly in harmony with the feeling of the large majority of people in this country; we hold that it is their wish that religious instruction should be given where it is wanted, and if we were to take the opinions of all the Members composing this House, as well as of the constituencies at large, we believe we should find an enormous majority in support of the principle I have laid down—namely, that religious instruction is not inconsistent with assistance given from the rates. I hope my right hon. Friend will see his way to the acceptance of this Amendment, or, at any rate, that he will be able to suggest such words as will avoid the grave stigma that must otherwise attach to them before the country for proclaiming by their action on this occasion that religious instruction is incompatible with assistance from the rates.

MR. WOODHEAD (York, W.R., Spen Valley)

Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not appear to understand the question we have before us. The question is, not whether religious education is beneficial, but whether it is a proper thing to introduce in connection with technical education? Our desire on this side of the House is to keep religious teaching outside of technical instruction. We raise no objection to religious education; we only wish to keep it out of these technical schools. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Cranborne) is, on the other hand, anxious that religious instruction should be associated with technical instruction; but I must say I think it rather unfair that such an Amendment as this should be sprung upon us now, and that we should be told we are endeavouring to place a ban upon religion. I reply that we are doing nothing of the kind; we simply refuse to admit religious instruction into schools in which it ought to have no place, and where its introduction would only lead to controvery and confusion. We trust that Her Majesty's Government will act honourably in this matter, and fulfil the pledge they have given as the result of the compromise made between the two sides of the House.


I deeply regret the view my noble Friend has taken with regard to the rejection of the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend behind me. Surely it is most unwise on his part, in connection with a Bill which establishes the very important principle that voluntary schools shall not be excluded from the advantages of technical education, to speak of the group of clauses attaching to this part of the question as if it constituted a great grievance to the Church of England and was against denominational education altogether. If one of the two parties has gained anything by the compromise, I think the gain is rather on the side of those who are in favour of voluntary education. I do not think that the noble Lord is justified in his opinion of the clause. It is only the persons who attend for the purpose of technical instruction to whom the clause applies. It ought not to be forgotten that this matter is being treated in a spirit of compromise. Seeing that we have come to a practical compromise I do trust that the hon. Member will not press his opposition.

MR. GEDGE (Stockport)

As a staunch member of the Church of England, I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw his Amendment. I cannot see the reality of the grievance of which he complains.


May I suggest an alteration of the phraseology? It is regarded by some of us as offensive to "prohibit" the teaching of religion. Why not simply provide that no "other" teaching shall be given in any such school?

Question put, and negatived.

Other Amendments made.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a third time."


I do not intend, of course, to occupy the time of the House, but I desire to say one or two words before we take farewell of this Bill. Not one of us on this side regrets in the slightest degree the opposition that has been made to this Bill, and I cannot help thinking that regard for the convenience of fellow Members has led us to give way too much to the natural amiability of our tempers. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted yesterday, we could, if we had chosen, have wrecked the Bill or necessitated a prolongation of the Session. I may state that I have received a telegram this day announcing that the Bradford School Board has passed a resolution condemning this Bill, and expressing a hope we would persist in strenuously opposing the Bill, and I fear we have incurred a heavy responsibility and much future reproach by allowing the measure to pass. The noble Lord (Lord Cranborne) just now insisted upon the constant assurance of definite religious teaching even with scientific technical instruction; while the right hon. Baronet in charge of the Bill declared that for the first time it had been acknowledged that representative denominational schools might justly receive aid from the local rates. That may, of course, be taken as a gain for them and a great loss for us. We profoundly regret it, and we believe these facts alone justify all our opposition. While protesting most heartily against this Bill as involving bad and dangerous principles, we are not now prepared to oppose the Third Reading.


I wish to repeat my protest as to the period of the Session at which this highly controversial Bill was taken, and the manner in which it was forced through the House. I trust we shall have no such proceedings in the future. We are certainly making a substantial concession to the Government in allowing this Bill to pass; but I desire to say that I warmly recognise the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President has acted in refusing to accept the Amendments moved from his own side of the House. We still regard the Bill as a bad Bill, and protest against the way it has been forced through the House.


I wish merely to add that I also have received only today a very strong protest from the Chairman of the Leeds School Board against this Bill. I am convinced, notwithstanding the airy manner in which the First Lord of the Treasury has treated the representations of the School Boards, he will find that the snub he has administered will not add to the popularity of the measure.


I have a similar expression of opinion from the Chairman of the Spalding School Board, who has taken a determined stand on this matter. Representing, as I do, an agricultural constituency, I may admit that by and bye the Bill may be of advantage, as the Government last night, at our instigation, agreed that agriculture should be one of the subjects taught in these schools.


I feel exceedingly indebted to the Minister of Education for the way in which he has met us on several important points. Should our fears in reference to the working of the Bill prove fallacious no one will rejoice more than we shall. We have been opposing not technical instruction but the principle on which it was given.

MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)

Representing, as I do, Irish interests in this House, I wish at this stage to express the grateful recognition of Irish Members of the services which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Council has done to Ireland—a service which I think justified his refusal to make further concessions.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.