HC Deb 29 May 1891 vol 353 cc1315-24

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1.

Question proposed, "That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill."

(3.15.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

I feel it my duty to take the sense of the Committee on the question whether any further progress ought to be made with the Bill to-day. There are two grounds for the course which I am taking—one a constitutional ground, and the other a ground affecting the pledges of the First Lord of the Treasury. I will deal with the constitutional ground first. I object to proceed with a measure which imposes the taxation of the year without disclosing in what manner that taxation is to be spent. The question was fully raised last year on two Bills which were then before the House, and the House determined that it would not proceed with the consideration of a Money Bill until it had before it the manner and the conditions on which the money was to be spent. I know there is this difference between the procedure of last year and this—that this year no new tax is proposed, but only the continuance of an old tax at a rate which would not be necessary except for new expenditure, which would not form part of the expenditure of last year. In November the Queen's Speech stated that the Bill relating to education was to be one of the prominent measures of the year. In the Budget Statement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer printed, the right hon. Gentleman put down £920,000 for six months' expenditure in the cause of free or assisted education; and somehow or other, by some error which has never been fully explained, the words "Consolidated Fund" were printed in juxtaposition with the sum named, it being thereby indicated to the House that the Government did not mean this money to form part of the annual expenditure controlled by Parliament, but that it was to be a permanent charge on the Consolidated Fund, with which it would not be in the power of the House of Commons to interfere.


I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has no desire to misrepresent me. We never contemplated that the charge for education should be put upon the Consolidated Fund.


I should be sorry to misrepresent the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I must express my great satisfaction at hearing the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has just made. The right hon. Gentleman will admit that there was some ground for the impression, seeing that the printed statement relating to the Budget contained the words "Consolidated Fund." I am, therefore, glad that the matter is now disposed of; but it does not affect my statement as to the control of the House of Commons over the Expenditure. If the Government did not propose to increase the Expenditure of this country by £2,000,000 per annum for the purpose of education, there would be no necessity for paying an Income Tax at 6d. in the £1 and a Tea Duty at 4d. The Bill in its present shape is not required unless a new expenditure on new conditions is to be undertaken. The House has a right to know what those conditions are. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated his proposals on the 23rd of April; we have now reached the 29th of May, and we are still in the dark as to what the Government are going to do. In these circumstances, the House is justified in declining to go on with this Bill until the Education Bill is brought in. I am not asking that this Bill should be delayed until the new Education Bill is read a second time, or is passed through Committee, or sent to the other House; what I do ask is that the Government should let the House know what their propositions are and what they intend to do. A great scheme of education has been in satisfactory operation for upwards of 21 years, and it is now wisely proposed to expand it. The proposal of the Government is to confer upon the country the benefits of free education, though with regard to that I must say the House has not had any clear expression, one Minister speaking of free, another of assisted, education, one train of thought leading people to believe that it is to be universal, another that it is to be limited. We are now within two months of the end of the Session, and what is a first-class Bill has not yet been laid upon the Table of the House. Ample time should be given not only to the House, but to the country, to consider the Bill, and it is necessary that both the clergy and the Nonconformists, who are deeply interested in the question of education, should' have an opportunity of studying it. I am sure the Government would not desire to take the country by surprise. But if the Government are to introduce a first-class measure in the middle of the month of June—for that is the proposition of the First Lord of the Treasury—and a measure which is not to be considered until the Land Bill is out of the way, I say that that would be taking the country by surprise. On these grounds, if I had no other, I should be justified in asking to report Progress. But I have other and more personal grounds in the statements the Government have made. I would be the last man to imply that the Government have misled the House. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that whatever promises the First Lord of the Treasury had made would be rigidly adhered to. Let me recall what has been actually said on this question on the Budget night. The first question was as to when the House was to know the proposals of the Government with reference to free education. These were the words of the right hon. Gentleman's reply—I am quoting from the report of the TimesAs to when we may be able to introduce the Bill, that will depend to a great extent upon the House itself. The Government would see what progress was made with the Land Bill. There would be no delay on the part of the Government in introducing the Bill. And in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) the First Lord of the Treasury said that— The Government had no intention of tying up the Education Bill until the Land Bill should be out of the way. But the statement last night was that it is to be tied up until the Land Bill is out of the way. The Land Bill is now at the Report stage, and after that it will be read a third time without delay. The First Lord went on to say that it is necessary to make progress with other measures. Certainly; we have six weeks to do so, and we have passed through Committee one of the most difficult and complicated measures which have ever been passed through Parliament. There has been talk of obstruction; but, considering the grave difficulties of that Bill and the masterly ability shown in its discussion by the Chief Secretary and the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), it has been got through in a much shorter time than any Bill of equal complexity has been passed in the last 10 years. And now the First Lord of the Treasury says that the new Education Bill will be brought in in the middle of June, and passed through at the end of July. In these circumstances, I think I am justified in moving that the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. H. H. Fowler.)

(3.28.) MR. GOSCHEN

The right hon. Gentleman objects to proceeding with the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill until the House has seen the Bill dealing with education. I gather from what was said by the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) a day or two ago that he questions the right of the House to deal with the Third Reading of this Bill until it has seen the Education Bill. To that suggestion I am prepared to accede. But, acknowledging some force in the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman opposite with regard to the allocation of the public time, I am by no means anxious to force this Bill through until the House has seen the Education Bill. I should still wish that the Government should be allowed to pass the Bill through its Committee stage, and in that case we would not proceed to the Third Reading until the House has seen the Education Bill. But I would go further and say that rather than lose time, which we are most anxious to save, in discussion about the particular day on which the Education Bill shall be introduced, and in order to avoid a wrangle, I will accept the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will see that I have met his suggestion in the most conciliatory spirit. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members think there is some hesitation on the part of the Government in bringing in a Bill for free education at all. In that case, then, the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman would have been most embarrassing. But there is no such hesitation. With regard to the date when the Bill is to be dealt with, it is no doubt a first-class measure, but it could not be introduced at so early a day as first-class measures are usually introduced. The Bill depends, as the Committee is aware, to a great extent on whether there is to be a surplus or not. It was always announced that it would depend upon the existence of a surplus, and that fact could not be ascertained until the Budget was passed. It is, therefore, clear that the Bill could not be introduced before the end of the financial year. My right hon. Friend will be prepared on Monday next to state the precise date on which the Education Bill will be introduced, and we will endeavour to meet the desire of the House to have a proper interval before the Second Reading of the Bill is taken. It would not, however, be desirable to interrupt the Land Bill for a number of nights; and it is to be expected that the Debate on the introduction of the Education Bill will not be prolonged. Our action must largely depend on the assurances we receive as to the Land Bill proceeding without serious interruption. I think that is a fair suggestion to make. I gather from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby that we need not expect opposition to the First Reading—that what is desired is to see the Bill. We are somewhat reluctant to arrest the Land Purchase Bill, but as we feel the Bill will not be seriously interrupted, we are ready to meet both sides of the House and introduce the Education Bill even before the Land Bill has been disposed of. I think I have met the proposal of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton in a fair spirit, and I trust that we shall be able now to make considerable progress with Supply. We had some hope yesterday, when we made a concession, that we should make some considerable progress with business. We got one Vote. It was an important Vote, but it was only one. I hope that we may to-day be met in a conciliatory spirit.

(3.35.) SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has met my right hon. Friend in a very handsome manner, and I think he has done so because he feels that my right hon. Friend's proposal was based on a genuine conviction on his own part and on the part of those who sit beside him. The right hon. Gentleman has agreed not to proceed to-day if he is pressed on this side of the House—not to proceed to-day with the Committee on the Bill. Well, I think he must be pressed from this side of the House. We conceive that by so pressing him we are endeavouring to establish the constitutional position that we should not vote public money until we know the general outline of the Services for which that public money is designed. The right hon. Gentleman hopes that substantial progress will be made with Supply in consequence of his treatment of this matter. I think that progress ought to be made, and I will only say, in explanation of the length of the Debate yesterday, that that was really the first opportunity which the crofter Members—that is to say, the Members for nearly half Scotland in acreage—had had of saying anything on the one great subject in which their constituents are interested, because the Government recently were obliged to take the evening on which the crofter questions were to have been discussed. Now, I think it would be extremely ungracious to question that when the First Lord of the Treasury engages to fix the precise date at which he will introduce the Education Bill, that date will be a not very remote one. I consider the word "precise" means that it will be a declaration which will satisfy the House with regard to the proximity of the discussion, and I was very glad to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer intimate that the Bill might be, and would be, introduced during the Report of the Irish Land Purchase Bill, especially if that Report went on for any number of days. An engagement was asked for on this side of the House, and I think the Government will feel that no one can give an absolute engagement that the discussion on the First Reading of the Education Bill shall be short. For my own part, I am always in favour of short Debates and short speeches, and I firmly believe that if the Bill put before the House is a plain, straightforward Bill we might, in the course of a single long evening, put before the country an outline of our plans upon the Bill such as would enable the country to be enlightened, so far as it can be enlightened, by speeches in Parliament. But if one evening would not suffice, two evenings ought to suffice for the purpose; and I do not think that in the last resort any one would say that two evenings would be too much for the First Reading of what may be the most interesting and important Bill the House has had before it for years. But we on this Bench will use our best endeavours to meet the Government reasonably, and to cut down the Debate.

(3 40.) MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

I should like to ask a question with regard to the Scotch Bill. There will be a grant to Scotland corresponding in amount with that which is to be made to England, and it was indicated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer before Whitsuntide that it would be impossible to state the nature of the proposals with regard to Scotland until the Free Education Bill was before the House. I hope I was right in gathering from that that he proposed to make a parallel statement with regard to the Scotch Bill at the same time as he made one with regard to the Irish Bill. I would ask the Government whether we may rely upon it that, assuming that the Education Bill is brought in, either a Bill will be introduced or a statement made on the subject? It is understood that the Government have had brought before them a number of different proposals with regard to the Scotch grants. That is a matter which has excited a good deal of different opinion in Scotland, and it is eminently desirable that the same opportunity should be given for Scotch opinion to be expressed as exists for the expression of English opinion.

MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

I understand that on Monday we shall know whether the Report of the Land Purchase Bill will be interrupted. I suppose a statement will then be made as to what is to be done with regard to the appropriation of Ireland's share of the grant?


I cannot allow myself to be too much impressed with the view of my hon. Friend (Mr. Bryce) in this matter. We must not attempt to prove to the House the difficulty to which we shall expose ourselves if we interrupt the Land Purchase Bill Report to make a statement about business. If we are to have a Debate on the distribution of the Scotch and Irish proportion of the grant, it will be impossible for us to deal with the matter at all, or to make a statement, until the Report on the Irish Land Purchase Bill has been finished. We have gone as far as we can, and I cannot at present undertake that anything further shall be done than to introduce the English Education Bill, and I think hon. Members will see that if we are pressed too much we shall have to adhere to our original plan.

(3.45.) MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling, &c.)

I think the right hon. Gentleman has a little misunderstood the object of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Bryce). I sympathise with my hon. Friend in thinking that, as there is a large sum of money to be disposed of in Scotland, the Scotch people should have ample time to consider what the proposal with regard to Scotland is, but I do not think my hon. Friend would consider that any Debate upon the subject should be interposed on the Report stage of the Purchase Bill. We want to know as soon as possible what fate the Government has in store for us; but I do not think the claim is anything like as strong for a Debate on that subject as on the subject of English education. If I may be allowed to express what I think is still felt in this House I may say that if the Government introduce the Education Bill as soon as possible I do not see that there would be any occasion for any very elaborate Debate on the First Reading, and the Government may rely upon it that no unreasonable advantage would be taken of their action.


I think there should be a full understanding on this subject. I know that no hon. or right hon. Gentleman is able to enter into an absolute agreement that the Debate on the First Reading of the Education Bill shall not be continued beyond one night. It is contrary, I believe, to Parliamentary usage that a long Debate should take place at that stage, and I think I may fairly ask the House that there should be an understanding that they will not protract discussion beyond one evening.


I only interpose for one moment to thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord of the Treasury for the manner in which they have met me. I would remind them that on the introduction of one of the most important measures of recent times—the Local Government Bill—my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) deprecated discussion until the measure itself was in the hands of Members. Although there must be some discursive discussion on the introduction of the Free Education Bill, as there is on a Budget night, I certainly express my concurrence in the views of my right hon. Friend, that one night would be sufficient to discuss the speech of the statesman who brings in the Bill. Under these circumstances I think the Government have come to a very satisfactory arrangement. We must ask that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not proceed further with the Budget Bill to-night.

(3.50.) MR. SEXTON

We do not intend to debate the announcement of the proposal with regard to Ireland. We shall certainly wish to know what the Government proposals are respecting Ireland. We are disappointed at not having had this information, and shall take means to make our disappointment felt.

MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)

I think we have a fair claim to get some answer from the Treasury Bench as to how the Scotch share of the money is to be disposed of.

MR. PICTON (Leicester)

The Government seem to think that under any circumstances there is only to be one night of discussion on the introduction of the Bill, whatever the statement may be. But if there is anything very startling or horrifying in the statement of the Minister who introduces it, on this side of the House we cannot guarantee passing the First Reading in one night.


I think I can allay the terrible alarm of the hon. Member; his fears are not likely to be realised. For my own part I know that my hon. Friends behind me are equally anxious to see the measure, and there will be no delay in naming a day, when I trust that the House will deal with the Bill as it is accustomed to deal with a question of this kind

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday next.