HC Deb 14 August 1890 vol 348 cc1114-9

Lords Amendments considered.

*(6.15.) MR. COBB (Warwick, S.E., Rugby)

When this Bill was in Committee of this House, the Government agreed that the rooms of schools receiving a Government grant might be used for the purpose of holding public meetings in connection with the allotments question. That was considered to be a very important concession. It was held to be a privilege which would be valued very highly by villagers. It is a privilege, or rather a right, for which we have been striving for many years. But when this Bill came before the House of Lords, the Prime Minister thought it right to modify it by saying that the schools should be used for such meetings only by the consent of any two managers. What does that mean? With regard to a Board school it does not much matter, as the use of such a school is not so likely to be refused, but in the case of voluntary schools the Government concession is deprived of the whole of its value. As everyone knows, practically the manager of such a school is the incumbent of the parish, and had incumbents of parishes been in favour of allowing the schools to be used for meetings on allotments questions it would not have been necessary to insert this clause in the Bill at all. But the Secretary to the Local Government Board knows perfectly well that there are numbers of instances in which permission to use voluntary schoolrooms for public meetings has been refused by the incumbent. We were very much pleased when the Government re-committed this Bill for the purpose of putting in this clause. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that we willingly consented to allow this Bill to be read a third time without debate, in consequence of the concessions that had been made. I will now ask the right hon. Gentleman not to agree to this Amendment. We want the villagers to have the right to the use of these schoolrooms by Act of Parliament, and not that they should have to ask the incumbent and others for it as a privilege. I beg to move that the House disagree with the Lords in the Amendment to line 32.

Page 3, line 32, after "or," insert "with the consent of any two managers," the first Amendment.

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


The hon. Gentleman is quite right in his view that the action of the hon. Members interested in this Bill on the Third Reading was greatly influenced by the concessions which the Government had made. But I should very much like to draw attention to the position at that time. The hon. Gentleman will remember that the point then raised was the allowing the meetings of Committees of the County Councils to be held in the schoolrooms, and then suddenly the question of allowing the parishioners to hold meetings on the question of adopting the Allotments Act was raised. The point was but briefly discussed, and that will account for the somewhat imperfect wording of the clause. It is obvious that some arrangement must be made in order to prevent the ordinary work of the schools being interfered with by these meetings, and, therefore, it is considered that the consent of two of the managers should be given before any meeting was held. The hon. Gentleman must admit that the principle for which he has been contending has been recognised by giving a right of appeal against refusal to a popularly elected body having special charge of the allotments question. My own view is that no difficulty at all is likely to arise; that the managers will understand from the words of the section that it is their duty to grant the use of the schoolroom, and that they will do so without demur. We are extremely desirous that there should be a friendly spirit between the managers of schools and those who desire to hold the meeting, and we think that friction would be created if the consent of the managers were not asked. Surely, under these circumstances, the hon. Member will rest satisfied that he has really attained his object. If this is not assented to, the Bill will run great danger of not passing into law, and I am sure the hon. Member would not desire that.

(6.24.) MR. SEALE-HAYNE (Devon, Ashburton)

I, too, regret that the Government did not see their way to carry out the understanding with regard to this Bill. But I was greatly astonished to hear that this Amendment was introduced by the Prime Minister, and I trust my hon. Friend will divide against it. We have been told that there is a right of appeal to the Allotments Committee of the County Council against any refusal to grant the use of the schoolroom, but of what good will that appeal be to the half-dozen or ten labourers who require the allotments? The only place in which these men could meet is the parish school, and yet in order to get the use of the building it might be necessary for them to travel many miles to the county town simply to appeal against the decision of the local landlord or parson refusing them the use of the school. It is an absurdity to tell poor men to travel thirty or forty miles to do that. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman cannot see his way to strike out this Amendment. He says that by doing so the Bill would be endangered. I, for one, accepted the Bill from the Government as evidencing their good intentions, but as it has now been altered it is worth nothing for all practical purposes, as those who are conversant with the allotments question, know perfectly well.


I am sorry that the President of the Local Government Board runs away from the distinct pledge he gave us when the Bill was under consideration in Committee of this House. He says that the modification of the clause will, in his opinion, create no friction, and that the managers will not object to the use of voluntary schools for these meetings. Why, Sir, he has no idea of the bitterness which exists in villages on the allotments question. The hon. Member for Rugby has told the House that the manager is usually the clergyman of the parish, and we know that the most bitter opponents of all movements for the improvement of the working classes are to be found among the clergy. I know nothing to equal the tyranny of some of these men. Again, I would like to point out that the Bill contains no definition of the word "manager." Anybody may be a manager, and the clergyman may, if he chooses, appoint 40 or 50 managers. If a clergyman likes he can appoint one or two managers, his own wife and daughter, or else none at all, as there is no definition of what a manager is. If a clergyman wants to prevent people having the use of the school he will cancel, if necessary, the appointments of all his managers, and put in some strong Tory who will assist him in carrying out his views. I am satisfied that the clergy will move heaven and earth in some parishes to prevent the poor men having the use of the school for any public purpose. The matter is one of some importance. As it is, under the Act of Parliament anybody may be a manager. In the district where I reside there is an Association of School Managers, and I wanted to join it. But I was not a manager; however I was made a manager in order to qualify me to join the Association, although I have never entered the school since my appointment.

(6.33.) The House divided:—Ayes 55; Noes 23.—(Div. List, No. 262.)


I now move, after the words "manager of the school," to insert the words "resident in a parish." I have already explained the difficulty we may be involved in, and if my words were inserted I think they will only carry out the spirit of the Lords Amendment.

Line 37, after "meeting," insert— Nothing in this section shall give any right to hold a public meeting in a schoolroom (a) unless not less than six days before the meeting a notice of the intention to hold the meeting on the day and at the time specified in the notice, signed by the persons calling the meeting, being not less than six in number, and being persons qualified to make a representation to the Local Authority under the principal Act, has been given, if the school is under a School Board, to the clerk of the Board, and in any other case to one of the managers of the school; nor (b) if the use of the schoolroom on the said day and at the said time has previously to the receipt of the notice of the meeting been granted for some other purpose; but in that case the clerk or manager, or someone on his behalf, shall forthwith, after the receipt of the notice, inform in writing one of the persons signing it that the use of the school has been so granted for some other purpose, and name some other day on which the schoolroom can be used for the meeting. If the persons calling the meeting fail to obtain the use of a schoolroom under this section, they may appeal to the Standing Committee under this Act, and the Committee shall forthwith decide the appeal, and make such order respecting the use of the room as seems just, the next Amendment, read a second time.

Amendment proposed, in line 9 of the Lords Amendment, after the word "school," to insert the words "resident in the parish."—(Captain Verney.)

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


I do not think it would be desirable to limit the appointment of a manager to persons resident in the parish, and I hope the hon. Member will not think fit to press this Amendment.


I do not want to press it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move the addition of these words to the Lords Amendment, "a Copy of such Order shall be sent to the Education Department." If the persons calling a meeting fail to obtain the use of a schoolroom they would apply to the Standing Committee, who would make such Order as to them might seem just, and I think the Educational Department ought to be informed whether or no they have granted the use of a schoolroom.

Amendment proposed, at the end of the Lords Amendment, to add the words "a copy of such order shall be sent to the Education Department."—(Captain Verney.)

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


I think the hon. Member will see that it will be impossible for the Education Department to undertake a duty of this kind, which is entirely outside the scope of that Department.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Lords Amendments agreed to.