HC Deb 16 February 1892 vol 1 cc607-12

(7.15.) Order for Second Reading read.

* SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)

I bring in this Bill at the request of the Municipal Corporations Association, which consists of the municipal boroughs of the United Kingdom, including both county and non-county boroughs; and a Resolution in favour of this Bill was passed unanimously by that Association after a discussion, in which the interests of both county and non-county boroughs were represented. The bill also bears the endorsement of men of all political parties. By the Local Taxation (Customs and Excise) Act of 1890, large funds are placed at the disposal of County Councils for the purposes of technical education. The administration of those funds vests in the County Council themselves, and the claims of municipal boroughs, which are non-county boroughs, to have the administration of them are not recognised, except permissively under a provision of the Local Taxation Act, by which non-county boroughs may be permitted by the County Council to distribute their own share of the grant. Now, in many cases, this permission has been refused by the County Council, and in some other instances, notably in Lancashire, when permission has been granted, conditions have been fixed which are at variance with the principles of local self-government, and subordinate, in many respects, the non-county borough to the views and instructions of the County Council. The County Council has, in some cases, even attempted to impose conditions as to local government within the borough itself as a condition of the administration of any part of the technical education grant. The grounds on which a change is now proposed in the law are: first, that a provision that the right of administration should not be permissive, but obligatory on the part of municipal boroughs, would be for the advantage of local self-government. The municipal boroughs have sot both a precedent and example for county administration. The County Councils of which no one has any jealousy, and certainly not I, but much the contrary, for I heartily supported the County Councils Act of 1888, are a newer institution, and those who are members of them are necessarily wanting yet in the long acquired experience which has been obtained by members of municipal corporations. Then I contend that the proposed change will be an advantage to technical education itself, and I need not remind the House of the variety of forms which technical education necessarily assumes. It has to be adapted to many trades, to many occupations, and to many surroundings. For instance, the County of York is one of the chief governmental areas in England, and the avocations of its people are very various, so that in administering the education grant, an account must be taken of an almost infinite variety of circumstances. It is almost impossible to secure in one Central County Council, men of the varied capacities required in many districts in such a large area for dealing with technical education. And, apart altogether from the question of local self-government, technical education demands local application, and it is only through some local system that it can be made thoroughly effective. The object of this Bill is to make obligatory what, in some counties, has been refused, and in others granted only under disparaging conditions. The Bill will enable any non-county borough having less than 50,000 inhabitants, to require by notice to the County Council, that its share of the grant shall be placed at its own disposal for the purpose of meeting the wants of that particular locality. The manner in which the Bill is to be worked is indicated by Section 3, in which the share of a borough in the money received by the Council of the county is to be ascertained for the purposes of this Act, according to the proportion which the rateable value of the borough bears to the rateable value of the whole administration of the county; and when that proportion has been ascertained, then the transfer of the fund will be made, and it will in future be administered in the locality according to its requirements. There are one or two precedents which materially bear upon this question. In the first place, in the discussion in this House on the Transfer of Powers Bill the autonomy of the non-county boroughs was distinctly recognised by the President of the Local Government Board; and there is another precedent even more in point, for in the Technical Education Act of 1889, powers are given to any local authority to provide for technical instruction, and the definition of "local authority" is, that it means the Council of any county or borough, and any Urban Sanitary Authority within the meaning of the Public Health Act, the latter two of which are distinctly local bodies and bodies of small area; and it is obvious that it is undesirable there should be a want of conformity between the sources and areas for the provision of technical instruction. I will only deal finally with one objection which I think may be raised to this Bill, and that is that the passage of the County Councils Bill has been so recent as to create an indisposition to effect an alteration in it without giving the Act some reasonable trial. My answer is that some years have now elapsed since that measure was passed, and that, undoubtedly, while its general scope and operation has been beneficial to the community, there are minor defects in practice that suggest themselves for remedy, and which, being redressed, will give greater strength to the provisions of the Statute. I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir A. Rollit.)


I am sure, Sir, the House will admit very readily the full right of my hon. Friend to propose a measure of this kind, and to represent, on such a question either Municipal Corporations or the subject of technical education itself. But I want to point out that there are two questions which we have to consider when we approach this Bill. The first is, What would be the effect on Local Government of such a measure; and the second is what would be the effect of the Bill on Technical Education itself? As far as local government goes I am not prepared to say for one moment that the effect would be in any way injurious. At the same time it must be evident that it departs to some extent from the conclusions arrived at by the House when it passed the Bill of 1888, and, later on, when it passed the Local Taxation (Customs and Excise) Act of 1890. This question of the subordination of boroughs of less than 50,000 inhabitants to the County Council in the matter of technical education was thoroughly and amply discussed in Committee on both these Bills. The boroughs found able advocates on both sides of the House, but the House came to the conclusion that in the interest of local government the County Councils should be as large and powerful as was possible. Whether it would be wise or not in the interests of technical education to reduce the powers deliberately conferred on County Councils by these Acts I will not now stop to consider. How can we regard the Bill from the point of view of technical education? My hon. Friend told us that there were some cases in which County Councils had rather restricted their action. I do not imagine they have been absolutely free from blame in the matter, but anybody who has noted their action on the Bill of 1890 will agree that they have taken enormous pains to give practical effect to that Bill, and devoted themselves to it with a rare ability and spirit, which does them credit, and it would be a mistake to do anything in a hurry and without grave consideration, which might result in restricting their action, and thereby setting back to that extent technical education throughout the country. My hon. Friend, in anticipating some of the objections which might be raised against the Bill, said that some years had elapsed since the two Acts were passed. That term, some years, is capable of very elastic interpretation. The County Councils had only been in existence three years—in fact, the three years since their first election have not yet expired—and the Local Taxation Bill was passed in 1890.


I did not refer to that.


Both measures are comparatively new, and deal with very important questions. I hope I have said nothing which would appear to oppose the Bill or the principle it upholds. It may be that it is a good measure, and that its principle is good, but the House must bear in mind that the possibilities to which I have referred do exist, and I would recommend the House, remembering these facts, and also that the Bill was only printed and circulated this morning, and also the largeness of the question, not to proceed to decide aye or no on this Bill to-night, if my hon. Friend and his supporters will consent to the adjournment of the Debate, for these brief reasons—that the County Councils, which will be seriously affected, may have time to consider the measure; and that those who are interested in technical education may decide whether the measure is one to find favour with them. At present both these bodies are in the same position as the House with regard to the Bill and its proposals. Then, when the House and the Government are seized of this information, they will be in a better position to decide whether the principle should be carried, or whether local government and the promotion of technical education should be left as it is. I venture further to add this: The House will regret as much as I do the absence of the President of the Local Government Board through illness, and is, I am sure, sensible of the loss sustained by his absence. If my hon. Friend and his supporters will consent to the course I suggest, when the Bill comes on again the House will, I hope, have the benefit of the presence and counsel of my right hon. Friend, who has been so closely identified with the measures with which this Bill deals. I beg to move the Adjournment of the Debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Long.)


I do not think, Sir, I can resist the appeal of my hon. Friend, and, with the concurrence of my hon. Friends, I accede to it.

Motion agreed to.