§ *(6.40) MR. HERBERT GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
The proposition contained in the Resolution I have to move is not novel in this House, and therefore I shall not have to intrude upon the attention of the House at any great length. Since the Parliament of 1886 I have endeavoured to impress this question upon the attention of the House and of the country, and, with the exception of one instance, the Resolution has been opposed on every occasion by the Government and hon. Members opposite. The reasons in favour of this Motion are principally three: first, the scarcity in rural districts of places for holding public meetings, and consequently the necessity of using the schools for the purpose; secondly, that the State has a right to claim the use of schoolrooms for public occasions; and, thirdly, because the use of these rooms has often been granted or withheld upon inconvenient or unfair principles. If I can prove this, perhaps I shall have gone far to convince hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Resolution is as necessary as it is moderate. Before the Franchise Bill of 1885 the constituents of County Members were, generally speaking, well-to-do men, who could drive into the county town to hear the County Member; but under the new electorate there is a majority of poor men, who are labourers or artizans. During the elections of 1885 and 1886, and at many by-elections, many hon. Members have been put to inconvenience in addressing their constituents, and some of us have been obliged to address them in the open air which, in these days of influenza, is inconvenient, and even dangerous. In my constituency, which includes 80 villages, there are only five places which I can hire to speak in. Precedents show that the State has taken upon itself the right of using these schools for public purposes when it pleases. It is not disputed that the use of these schoolrooms is often refused on unfair principles. But what is worse is, that they are often granted to one side of Political Parties, and denied to the other. If that should be 1404 contradicted, I can quote the Vice President of the Council who, in 1887, in a reply given to myself, said he had discovered that hon. Members opposite were under special disadvantages as regarded meetings in rural districts. With regard to the Amendments which have been put upon the Paper, I think that standing in the name of the hon. Member for Shropshire will be found to be out of order, and that the Amendment of the Member for Wigan is unnecessary. There is an Amendment of the hon. Member for Oxford providing that the use of these rooms shall not be allowed "at the time of an election for a seat on the County Council, or in the Imperial Parliament." I do not see how you can carry out that Amendment, which makes no provision for the Member of Parliament to visit his constituents, and I believe that proposal is practically impossible. Hon. Members have to vote on the point whether a political Party wishes to gain an advantage over its opponents, and whether they will run the risk of it being said that the arguments of the other side are so powerful that they wish them not to be heard by the electors. I do not believe that that is the desire of hon. or right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, and holding this opinion I submit with confidence and hope my Resolution to the chivalrous instincts and sense of justice which I believe to be, the common property of every section of the House.
§ (7.2.) MR. A. H. DYKE ACLAND (York, W.R., Rotherham)
It appears to me, Sir, that the managers of voluntary schools are taking this question into serious account, and there are different interpretations being put on the way schools are to be used. There are those who think these schools, receiving enormous sums of money from the State, are private property. The School Guardian says that the National Schools belong to the Church, and the fact that the State contributed to their erection does not affect the question of ownership and control. But the education given in these schools is largely provided for out of Imperial Votes. We say that the distinction you are always trying to make between taxes and rates is unreal. The public are providing 1405 from 75 to 80 per cent. of the incomes of these schools, and it is reasonable that this large sum providing for the support of voluntary schools should carry some reasonable principle of local control. The same paper goes on to say—We think it would be wise of school managers to refuse the use of their schools for political meetings altogether.That would mean practically the boycotting of all political meetings. The Vice President of the Council told us last year that he often attended political meetings, and had had to bolt from them.
§ MR. A. H. DYKE ACLAND
"I can assure hon. Members I have often had to bolt from the meeting." The question was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby, who proposed that village schools should be used for public purposes, when the right hon. Gentleman gave as one of the reasons for refusing his support that at these village meetings some of the audience misbehaved themselves. If the advice of papers like the School Guardian is followed we shall have no meetings at all, because there is no other place for either Party to meet in. Then we come to the stage of the clergyman, who refuses his school because he belongs to the other side. I have here a letter, dated the 27th October last, from Sir Walter Phillimore, in which he says the clergyman of a certain parish said—I and my friends are determined to do all in our power to prevent Gladstone playing ducks and drakes with Ireland. You cannot have it.Then we have a much more modern stage. A letter from the Buckrose Division says—I am always willing to allow the use of our schools to candidates of either Party for the purpose of addressing the electors, but beyond this I do not feel disposed to go.If that position were maintained in cases where the candidate could not go to the village more than once in four or five years, it would limit the occasions on which politics could be discussed to one single occasion in that 1406 period. We can lay down no rule in this case unless we admit the broad principle that reasonable meetings for public and political purposes shall be allowed in these schools. The questions of temperance and labour are involved in the politics of the day, and are we to say that unless a member or candidate is present the villagers are not to have reasonably-conducted opportunities for authorities to address them on these questions? These village schools are being used for evening agricultural classes to help the farmer and allotment holder to get the knowledge how better to use his brain power and labour in the cultivation of the land. Are we not also to allow men to come to the labourer and teach him how best to use his capital—his labour? I think we should in these places have reasonable freedom for the discussion of social and political matters which directly concern the people in their relations to local and Imperial affairs. We shall be asked, Is this to apply to Board Schools? Most certainly. Everybody who knows anything of the North knows how valuable are the working men's co-operative societies in teaching thrift, the value of money, and the power of association. Why should a man be refused the use of the village Board School when he comes down to teach the villagers how to make a shilling go as far as possible by means of a co-operative society? In some cases at the last School Board Election the members were returned pledged to lend the school for such purposes, and now the meetings are held. In the next village the clergyman thinks co-operation is bad, and refuses the use of his school to the present day. That shows that School Boards can be dealt with, and can be dealt with by the villagers themselves in their own interests at least once in three years, and that these other schools, which have quite as large sums of Imperial money at their disposal cannot be dealt with by the villagers. The point about school managers is that many clergymen lend their schools willingly and heartily for every good purpose; they welcome the man who speaks about labour and about co-operation, and for good entertainments, whenever conducted by Non- 1407 conformists or others, which will make the lives of the people better. But the point is that in the matter of private schools you have no security for permanence. One clergyman may so lend the school; but the clergyman who follows may take exactly the opposite view. This point should be carefully considered. The schools of this country last year received £3,000,000 from the State, and now receive more than £5,000,000. How, when many of these schools are not contributing 20 per cent. of the whole income of the schools, can you say that the people have no right to demand that their own public interests shall be considered? The Bishop of London said:—Every arrangement which treats the school as the people's own, and encourages the people to take a share in the management, will do at least as much service as the wisest advice and most skilful administration.Many of these schools have had money grants, and could not have carried on their work without them, and it is impossible to use the word "private" in the sense in which it is ordinarily used. I hope my hon. Friend's Motion will be taken in a wide sense; but we do not expect the Government to concede the Schools for all the questions to which we have alluded. Politics are of a social character nowadays, and you must permit, by reasonable arrangement, discussion by the villagers of these social questions. There are the questions of friendly societies and old-age pensions, and we should encourage the villagers to meet Members of Parliament and discuss these questions. There should be hardly a night when the schools should not be lighted up, and something interesting going on, instead of being dark and shut up, because people are afraid of these alarming subjects which are placed before the town working-men every day of their lives. Let us do all we can in Parliament—responsible for these grants—to help forward the villagers in every way that lies in our power. Let us give the grants on condition that when the schools are not being used for night-classes they shall be used for every kind of meeting, political or social, which the inhabitants desire to be held in them. These are the very subjects on which we want 1408 more light and discussion. Is there not insecurity enough already in the lives of many of our labourers, in the tenure of their cottages and other things to inculcate a fear of speaking out. Can you not give them the security of hearing not only both sides, but all sides, without treating them like children, on every political and social question. We can do much to lighten the hard life of the labourer if we do all we can to brighten, instruct, and improve it. We do not do enough in that direction by the use to which we put our Board schools at present. Let the Government give the concession on a broad basis, and the more generous the concession the more reasonable will be the use to which the schools are put, and the greater the opportunity for the education of the citizens, which opportunity we are bound to do our best not to deny to the inhabitants of our rural districts.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "taking into consideration the scarcity of buildings suitable for holding public meetings in rural districts, and the desirability that the electors of the Country should be enabled to hear both sides of questions affecting Imperial and local interests, this House is of opinion that the schoolrooms in schools in receipt of Parliamentary grants on such occasions as do not interfere with the educational purposes of the schools, and under the condition of payment of all reasonable expenses by the conveners of the meeting, should be at the disposal of the inhabitants of the district in which the school is situated for the purpose of holding public meetings,"—(Mr. Herbert Gardner,) —instead thereof.
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ *(7.20.) MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
The hon. Member for Saffron Walden introduced his Resolution as if it were a Radical Candidates' Relief Bill. It seems that these gentlemen are not able to find places in which to address their constituents, and so the hon. Member suggests that someone else should provide them. I have a certain sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, for I have often had to speak in the open air and on the hillside and 1409 other places which are extremely inconvenient, and I should not object that candidates should have nice schools scattered all over their constituency, swept and garnished, in which they and congenial spirits might gather together. Let us put the question on the right lines. It is for the convenience of ourselves that we desire this appropriation, this invasion, so to speak, of the property of other people. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden begins by declaring the scarcity of convenient rooms in rural districts, and ends by claiming the schoolrooms everywhere, in towns as well as country. He declares it would be a great advantage to have political meetings in these rooms, and then, far from confining his Resolution to that, he ends by saying that every school shall be at the disposal of every two inhabitants of every district for the holding of all kinds of public meetings. What kind of public meetings? It is rather difficult to define a public meeting; his resolution would include Socialist, Anarchist, and Fenian meetings, as well as bogus meetings of every description. And I suppose the hon. Member for Rotherham would not be quite happy if it excluded pipes and ale from the schoolroom.
§ * MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
I should be sorry for the schoolmaster if the desire of the hon. Member was carried out, and there was a public meeting every night. How he is to carry on his school work under such circumstances I cannot conceive. Of the schools which the hon. Member desires to take, 9,600 have been built by private individuals by private subscriptions, without one farthing of public money, and £4,000,000 have been spent on them by private individuals. Now, hon. Members desire to get hold of these buildings, on the ground that a public grant is made for education; but I would point out that the grant does not apply to the construction of the schools at all. I have great sympathy with hon. Members; but surely their purpose is not educational. We can never allow that these schools are public property. The hon. Member ignored altogether the managers of the schools. 1410 It is rather a strong measure for two inhabitants to override the freely elected representatives of the people—the School Board—to enter the school and put aside the wishes and regulations of the Board. I wish to make a suggestion, which I hope will be acceptable both to the Government and to hon. Members opposite. We are promised that a Bill shall be brought forward to exempt schools from rates, and I think we might add a clause to that Bill, under a proper definition, which will give, under reasonable conditions framed by the Department, the use of these rooms for political meetings.
§ *(7.30.) MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
I wish to support the Resolution of my hon. Friend in its most generous sense. I have always been a strong advocate for opening the schools for political and social purposes which will elevate the mind of the villagers in any way. I do not understand in moving this Resolution that we are trying to obtain the schools for ourselves as candidates or Members of Parliament. But we are doing it for the purpose of giving the parishioners in their own school district an opportunity of discussing the different sides of all questions. I also controvert the statement that these schools are entirely private schools. If these schools had not been built either by the landlords or private subscriptions, they would have had to been built out of the rates. Amongst those who so subscribed are many Nonconformists as well as many of those of the Church of England. Now that such large contributions are made out of the Imperial funds it is only fair that the schools should be used as far as possible for the benefit of the parishioners. In putting my verbal amendment to the Resolution it was with a view of giving them power which they do not possess under the Resolution as it stands. There will always be found—whatever the subject of the discussion may be—people ready to take the responsibility of calling and conducting the meeting, and this would give them power to hold meetings, and see that the parishioners are not kept out by people brought from other districts, which is often done. Those who ask for the room would have control of the meeting, and it would be in the first 1411 instance for the benefit of those whose children attend the schools. I do not wish to restrict the use of the rooms to political and County Council meetings; I desire that they should be open for the discussion of every subject, social or political, Imperial or local, and as far as possible for entertainments which may elevate the minds of the parishioners. I hope the Government will accept this Resolution in the generous sense in which it is put on the Paper, then it will be dealt with by legislation, and we shall be able to discuss the details in the Bill. I cannot see what there is in the Amendment of the hon. Member for Shropshire, unless it is that he desires to put in this Preamble to the effect that on behalf of the clergy he grudges giving the schools in these cases, but that, knowing that both sides are in favour of the Bill, he is willing to yield. I also regret the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Oxford University. That comes very badly from the Representative of the rural clergy, who has a quiet seat, and has never to go through the drudgery of Election speeches. If he really speaks the mind of the rural clergy, I am very sorry for it, but I do not believe it. If it is not, I think it very unfortunate that it should come from one who is here as special spokesman of them. I hope the House will not accept any Amendment, but that they will accept the Resolution in a generous sense, and not accept any limitations, but leave all details to be settled in a Bill.
§ *(7.40.) MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)
I do not claim to represent the rural clergy or the rural lawyers any more than the urban clergy or urban lawyers. I wish to explain why, and to what extent, I think it necessary to oppose the Resolution of the hon. Gentleman opposite. I should like to remark that these school buildings are primarily places for education; and secondly, and by accident, they become places of public meeting. I do not desire to offer a non possumus, but there is a danger in the natural desire to meet what is the very obvious wish on the part of many people, of forgetting what the schools exist chiefly for. In so far as we devote these buildings to other pur- 1412 poses we run the risk of unfitting them for the purpose for which they were originally designed. They are to be used for political meetings, and these meetings sometimes degenerate into a certain amount of rowdyism—I do not say more at the meetings of one side than the other—there is a good deal of disturbance, and the furniture gets rather knocked about. That is not a convenient condition for school buildings to be reduced to. One hon. Member suggested that smoking concerts should be permitted. The effects of smoking overnight do not always disappear with the night, and those effects, I suppose, would be an uncomfortable adjunct to education. These buildings are, under present circumstances, often used for evening technical education lectures. Suppose the parishioners claimed the schoolroom for a public meeting, what is to prevent, unless the Bill is very carefully drafted, the lectures being disturbed by the political meeting, which the parishioners have a right to demand? Hon. Members will see that this is a question which cannot be disposed of by an after-dinner discussion, but is one which really needs careful attention, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will give to it. The hon. Gentleman who moves this Resolution says—Under the condition of payment of all reasonable expenses by the conveners of the meeting.Has the hon. Gentleman thought these words out? They are very nice, but how is he going to carry them out? The conveners of the meeting will be the inhabitants of the village, but how are they going to pay the expenses? The managers have to maintain the schools in a fit state every day to secure the grant. Suppose the room is upset by a rowdy meeting, and some of the chairs and desks are broken; who is going to make good the damage? Who is going to ensure that the room is in a proper state the next morning for its primary use? These points want very careful watching. If these meetings are to go on all night, and every night throughout the year—
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
The speaker's eloquence might be exhaustive and others might want to answer it, and there might be a regular Parliamentary Debate. If that is to be the case I do not know where we shall be led. We must put a limit to their use, and I thought they might be used for Parliamentary and County Council election purposes only, and then my right hon. Friend might rescue them in his wisdom from the dangers I have endeavoured to point out. I am sorry that the occasion has arisen for this Motion at all. Such matters should be arranged by co-operation one with another. I suppose there may be unreasonable clergymen, though I have not often come across them; yet if there are unreasonable people, I suppose the House must do something to meet the difficulty. I do not think there was any large demand made for this; but if we are going to deal with it, I hope it will be carefully done. As it must be done by Bill, I suppose we shall soon have an opportunity of discussing it. We know the Government have a very large programme before them, though how much of it they can fulfil I do not know. I have great confidence in them, but I do not think adding another Bill to that programme will help them through. As we are going to have one Education Bill for exempting school buildings from rates, that affords a good opportunity for adding a clause on this subject, and if the two were dealt with together it might conduce to a saving of public time.
§ *(7.50.) THE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (Sir W. HART DYKE, Kent, Dartford)
I hope I have not intervened too soon; but I am anxious, before hon. Members separate, to put my views and the views of the Government before the House with regard to this Resolution. The speeches of both the Mover and Seconder were perfect models of what a speech should be on a Resolution of this kind. There was no evidence of an intention on their part to stir up Party strife. I must be allowed, in the first instance, to say one word on the part of the Department which I have the honour to represent. So far as my own opinion goes, I have 1414 always expressed a great regret that there should be any necessity for holding political meetings in our schools. I am not alone in holding that view; it is held, I know, by many hon. Members opposite. Still more do I entertain this regret in view of the changes we have made in regard to our elementary schools. I trust I am not over-sanguine in hoping that the changes we have made and the better position in which we have placed rural schools will induce managers—especially in respect of the newer branches of education in which amusement is mingled with instruction—to adopt the system of evening classes, which is one of the most prominent features of these changes. In 1887 the matter was brought before the House, and the hon. Member for Leicester said that just in proportion as these buildings were well adapted for school purposes, and furnished for that end, just to that extent they were ill-adapted for public meetings. But we have this evening to meet the case which is put before us, and my duty on behalf of the Government is to say that I am prepared to concede this point. We have a great difficulty in regard as to how and where public meetings are to be held in rural districts. I myself have had some lengthened experience of public meetings. The hon. Member for Rotherham has referred to a more unfortunate phase of my experience. What I had in my mind when I spoke happened a long time ago, and hon. Members may congratulate themselves that we have now a more peaceful state of things. Not many years ago I had the painful experience of being invited to attend the meeting of a political opponent in his own hop kiln. Hon. Members will appreciate the dangerous position I occupied when I felt all the while that my opponent might at any time light the fire, and while drying his hops might dry up his opponent. It is perfectly obvious from the speech of all hon. Members that we have a great difficulty in regard to these meetings, and we are all agreed that we should wish all to share alike in regard to these schoolrooms—either that they should not be used at all or else be at the disposal of either Party. Cases have been shown where schools have been 1415 lent to one Party and denied to the other. Then we come to the proposal of the hon. Member. Although I know that during last Session I refused to import an Amendment with reference to this matter into the Education Bill then passed, I think I can with some justice—it is scarcely worth while to go into the reasons—press the view that it would have been hazardous for me, considering that the Bill I was dealing with was bristling with contentious matters, to attempt to graft such a proposal on the Bill. Yet I wish to assure hon. Members that I was during that discussion impressed with the fact that this was not a difficulty which was felt on one side of the House only. I found several Members on this side, both during the discussion and afterwards, pressing seriously upon me the fact that a great difficulty—especially in the Eastern Counties—was met in regard to public meetings in schools. Since that time I have gone into the matter, and have come to the conclusion that, owing to the extraordinary growth in the speech-making power of the country, this was a difficulty that must be met. I calculated that for every speech made in 1865 there were now a hundred. Putting all these facts together, and acknowledging as the Government must do that there is a real grievance to meet as regards the supply of places for political meetings, I wish to state, on behalf of the Government, that we are prepared to fully accept the principle embodied in this Resolution. Sir, having said so much, and without going closely into the speeches of the Proposer and Seconder of the Resolution, I think it only fair, for many reasons, to urge one or two considerations upon the House with regard to this question. It has been urged by my hon. Friend that this is not an easy question to deal with, and that there are grave difficulties in regard to the matter. But they are difficulties which I believe, with a little give and take on both sides of the House, can be fairly and adequately met. But I should be wrong if I did not mention one or two points for the consideration of hon. Members. In the first place, I should like to urge this point on hon. Members: The Resolution as it stands 1416 demands that these schoolrooms shall be at the disposal of the inhabitants of the district where the school is situated. This points to the intention that the demands should come, and ought to come, from the locality. I am of opinion that this demand should come from a certain number of the ratepayers of the locality, or other responsible persons. I think that some such provision as this is necessary in regard to these schools. Much has been made, and I think very fairly made, in previous discussions, of the difficulty of the damage which might be done to schools. Under the circumstances I think it would be perfectly useless for us to discuss that point. All of us who have any experience of these things know that damage may occur. That is a great matter, because it involves this: that security should be given that any damage that was done should at once be put right, and it also raises the difficult point with regard to the description of the meetings held in the schools. I think we ought to have some security that a candidate can only summon a meeting through the ratepayer in the locality; and as regards any damage that may be done, I think that security should also be given, and that such damage should also be made good at once. I think it should also be understood that the right can only be claimed where very considerable pains have been taken to discover a suitable building and where a suitable building cannot be found. I would further point out that it is the interest of the locality that this should be done. There may be cases of schools being taken for a meeting where the building may be filled with people coming from other parishes to the exclusion of the inhabitants of the locality. Well, then, I think the manager should be protected not only as regards the actual hours during which a meeting of the school may be held, but in a case such as this. Supposing a demand is made for the occupation of a school for a public meeting on a certain date, and then following this meeting an inspection of that school is to take place. Here a very great difficulty may arise. The inspection usually takes place in the early morning, and 1417 a noisy meeting might place the manager in a very great difficulty as regards the inspection of that school. I think we should, therefore, see that some protection should be given to the manager, and that he should have some right of appeal to the Education Department or some responsible body. I think I need not detain the House further. I think due notice should be given; and I can only conclude these few remarks by saying that I think it would be well that these difficulties should be met in a fair and a generous spirit on both sides of the House, and I hope the concession I have made will be appreciated by hon. Members.
§ (8.5.) MR. JOHN MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
I am quite sure that the concession which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman will be received in every quarter of the House in the way it deserves. The right hon. Gentleman could not have taken up a new position with better humour or better grace. I will not go for a moment into the reasons he gave for justifying the attitude he has now taken up. It would be ungracious for me to do that; and I may state that it is enough for us that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government are prepared, to use the right hon. Gentleman's own language, "to the full" to accept the principle of this Amendment. The qualifications, if qualifications they may be called, are really not worth quarrelling about. In fact, many of them—the important ones—are already embodied in the Resolution. The proposal that the demand should be made by a certain number—it should be a very small number—of responsible persons, is by no means an unreasonable one; and I have to remind him that my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham admitted that the test of the kind of meeting that ought to be held, as regards the character of the meeting, was to be found in the sense of the inhabitants of the districts. As regards this last point, as to the reasonableness of notice being given, of course, in the case of all meetings of this kind, that must be recognized. As for the apprehensions expressed faintly by the right hon. Gentleman, but loudly by the hon. Member for the University of Oxford, both of them seemed 1418 to forget that schools are used every week of the year for political meetings. When the hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford talked about danger to the furniture, and of the difficulty of the place being put in order early next day, and when the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council observed that the Inspector might arrive next morning and find the room not quite ready, and so forth, all this would apply to schools which all of us who represent boroughs know are open every week of the year. That is to say, we hold our meetings in Board Schools, and the next morning the school work goes on exactly as if these meetings had never been held. All these apprehensions are purely imaginary; and I only regret for the sake of the position of the University of Oxford that the Member for that body, which I, as an humble member of it, of course wish well as much as the hon. Member himself, should come forward to take up this position. But as the Government have not followed him in that very obnoxious line, I shall say nothing more about it, only to point out this that his own Amendment, if accepted by the House, would have left all these dangers for several months previous to an election. The right hon. Gentleman said—and this was almost the only point which I thought he was not reasonable in—he said that the inhabitants should satisfy themselves that they should not come and demand the schools unless they were persuaded that it was the last resort. Well, I do not think that any such necessity should be laid upon the inhabitants. We all know very well what is the place of last resort; that would be the public-house; but does the right hon. Gentleman mean that meetings should be held in a public-house rather than in a school?
§ SIR W. HART DYKE
What I really wished to impress upon the House was that they should only use a school when they could not get a better place, and that every possible pains should be taken by them to get a better place if possible.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
I quite accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation; and I am sure that the persons con- 1419 cerned will take care to find a better place if they can. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to limit the use of the schools by talking about the Parliamentary candidate as being the only person who could use these schools. I hope that he, and I hope that the Government, will fall in with the wishes expressed by the hon. Member for Rotherham, and that all subjects of political and social interest would be discussed at meetings in these schoolrooms—temperance, friendly societies, co-operation. Persons wishing to discuss all subjects of that kind, if a sufficient number of the inhabitants wish to discuss them, should be allowed to do so, and I hope that all these schools, supported by public money, will be open to the people. It is a very important concession that is made. It will make a great difference in rural life, and after the night now passing I hope we shall never more hear any of the nonsense about these schools being private property.
§ * COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, S.W., Ince)
Sir, whilst I am not opposed to school buildings in rural parishes being used for public meetings and for entertainments, I am, at the same time, most anxious that the Vice President should specially consider the peculiar position in which the Church schools stand. I mean school rooms which are also used as churches. The circumstances of these schools are different from those of the ordinary elementary schools, and it is not at all impossible that if they were thrown open, as is proposed by this Resolution, at the instance of several householders, they may be used for the purpose of entertainments that may justly be held to give offence to the congregation of the Church. Therefore, Sir, I would suggest either that the Church schools should be exempted—perhaps that would be desirable in any case—from the Resolution, or that, in case of objection being taken, power should be given to the managers of referring any application to the Inspectors or to a local Magistrate. The effect of that would be to check any possible abuse.
§ *(9.48.) MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
I understand that the Government have, in principle, assented to the Resolution of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden. The object of my rising is, therefore, not to prolong the discussion, but to direct attention to the terms of the Resolution. In the Preamble the Resolution recites that there is a scarcity of conveniences for the holding of public meetings in rural districts, and the Resolution goes on to say that, in the opinion of the House, schoolrooms should be made available for the purpose of public meetings. Sir, taking these two parts of the Resolution it might be suggested that the want of adequate accommodation, and the necessity of supplying it, were alike confined to the rural districts. That is not so. I quite admit the case of the rural districts, but in many of the cities and large towns the case is quite as strong. In my own constituency, for example, namely, North St. Pancras, in Gospel Oak district, the only good room available for public meetings is a Church schoolroom, the use of which, for reasons I will not comment upon, has been denied to myself and to my friends. Some rule has been made that the room is not to be used for political purposes, and, as a consequence, I have not had an opportunity of holding a meeting of my constituents in that particular district. The only large room available in the whole neighbourhood is a room on the border of my constituency, for which a considerable fee is charged. The inconvenience arising from the want of suitable places for the holding of public meetings is felt in many other parts of the Metropolis. Therefore, Sir, I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman considers how to give practical effect to my hon. Friend's proposal he will not confine his attention to the rural districts, but that he will likewise consider the claims of the Metropolis, and of the populous towns throughout the country to similar accommodation.
§ *(8.55.) VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Lancashire, N.E., Darwen)
Sir, although I sympathise very greatly with my hon. Friend opposite, the Member for Saffron Walden, I, at 1421 the same time, think that a certain amount of sympathy should be extended to the managers of the rural and voluntary schools—sympathy with the sentiment they profess, and with the action they have thought it right to take. For my own part, I think that the managers of the voluntary schools would, on the whole, have acted more wisely if they had agreed that both Political Parties should have practically a free hearing before the constituencies. At the same time, the House should remember the circumstances under which these schools were built. Nearly two-thirds of the whole of the voluntary schools were built without a penny of assistance from the State—built by clergymen and churchmen interested in a particular form of education—namely, the education of the poor in the principles of the Church of England. Now, Sir, although I think the managers have behaved unwisely, I cannot but sympathise with them in their feelings of reluctance to permit the schools which they built to maintain the Church of England being used to destroy it. Take a parallel case—the Volunteers—who are maintained largely by public funds. Supposing it were suggested that the drill halls belonging to the Volunteers, which have been put up by private subscriptions, should be available for public meetings when any six gentlemen of the parish might so desire, and supposing that these meetings might take the form of a denunciation of the Volunteer system and their commanding officers. I think the Volunteers in this House would take care to make themselves effectively heard in opposition to any such proposal. I think they would be wrong. I think it would be better if they allowed the meetings; still, you could not hold them illogical if they said they would not allow buildings erected for the purpose of fostering the Volunteer movement being used to denounce it. Now, Sir, I understand the Government have accepted the Motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite. I think they are wise in so doing; but they must carefully consider the regulations under which meetings are to be held. Precautions must be taken that 1422 those who have the use of the schools can give a substantial guarantee against loss. But, if proper precautions were taken, I do not think any harm would accrue to voluntary schools; but I do not think any Resolution, or Bill consequent upon it, ought to be carried unless such precautions were taken.
§ (9.7.) SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I always hear the noble Lord speak upon this subject with great satisfaction, because I look upon him as a Representative of an almost extinct species—I mean the old Tory. In fact, his accents come upon us almost like distant music, and remind us of the Lost Chord. The noble Lord said they had created these schools for the purpose of extending the interest or the Church of England; but ever since the passing of the Elementary Education Bill of 1887 they ought to have perceived that there was no longer a legitimate purpose to which these schools should be appropriated. Although very reasonable views on this subject had been taken in this House, I have no doubt that there would be a great many people outside who would still adhere to the view that the village school is primarily to be used for the maintenance of the views and interests of the Church. But that is not the fact since the Elementary Education Act and those large grants were passed. I think Gentlemen on both sides of the House regard with favour the idea that the rural population shall have opportunities of instruction and interest. The noble Lord speaks of this matter as if it were a question of Party politics. But that is not our view, for we think it is not to be restricted to political meetings by any means, and what we contemplate is that the schoolroom should be the village hall, as the town-hall is the place of meeting in the town. There is generally in a village one building alone—unless you wish people to go to the public-house, which is the last place it is desirable they should use for the purpose—which is available for public meetings, and we contemplate that they should meet there when they have any question to discuss, whether they want allotments, or a Small Holdings Bill, or similar subjects; and where can the village community more 1423 properly meet to consider them than in a village school? Take again the question of temperance. There are many questions affecting village life, apart from Party politics, for which I desire there should be a free use of village schools, as the regular meeting place for the discussion of subjects apart from Party affairs. The noble Lord is very much afraid of the damage that may be caused at Party elections; but in the large towns we are perfectly familiar with these meetings for all sorts of purposes, and above all for Party purposes, and nobody hears of those mischiefs arising which give him so much alarm. As for safeguards, the noble Lord belongs to the Party of safeguards; but, generally speaking, when their safeguards come to be examined, they are either very unnecessary or totally inapplicable. The safeguards advocated to-night are mostly superfluous, and everything the noble Lord has been contending for in that respect is contained in the Resolution. Therefore, I hope the Bill will be accepted in a liberal spirit, and not in the narrow view which has been expressed on the opposite side.
§ (9.15.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the fact of a large contribution made by the State towards the elementary education carried on in the schools does differentiate them, to a certain extent, from ordinary private schools erected and solely maintained by private enterprise; but at the same time it is perfectly certain, as my noble Friend behind me has said, that these schools, in a large number of cases, have been erected at the cost of a certain section of the community, in order that religious education may be carried on in accordance with their particular creed. That is a fact that should not be lost sight of whenever this Resolution comes to be embodied in a Bill. It fact, I do not think it is possible to describe the discussion of this evening as more than a Second Reading Debate upon the principle of the proposal. We are all agreed, on both sides of the House, that it is in the highest degree desirable that those schools, in districts where no other 1424 public places of assembly are to be obtained, should be open to every side of politics to be used for the amelioration of the life of the inhabitants of the district. But I confess that I have an uneasy feeling that when the hon. Gentleman opposite comes to embody this view in his Bill, he will find that he has to take more trouble in devising the safeguards which the right hon. Gentleman has derided than he at present supposes. My noble Friend has pointed out that if damage occurs to these schools the cost should be defrayed by the people who engage them, and not by the managers of the schools, and the equity of that proposition, I am sure, will be recognised by Gentlemen opposite. I notice that the Resolution of the hon. Gentleman applies to Ireland as much as to Scotland and England, and it is obvious that it must apply to Ireland, inasmuch as every argument used with regard to England applies with tenfold force to Ireland. But I think hon. Gentlemen should be very careful lest they should give a power to any street lecturer on social or political subjects to make use of convent schools in Ireland—which receive grants very much in excess of the amount given in the English schools—for purposes which those who assist in their management would disapprove of. In the North of Ireland, where the religious sects are equally divided, I can conceive that very considerable security against damage would be required in some cases by the managers of schools. When the hon. Gentleman comes to frame his Bill with safeguards for the managers of schools against all the dangers which have been pointed out his task will be very difficult. I shall be glad when the time comes that he can bring forward his Bill. In the meantime, I trust the result of this discussion, although it can have no obligatory force until its effect is embodied in a Bill, will have some influence in inducing every manager of a school to open it, so far as he can, to the expression of any legitimate opinion on the other side o politics, and I believe that the vast majority of them are now prepared to do so for the purpose of ameliorating the conditions of existence of the people in their locality.
§ (9.24.) MR. HERBERT GARDNER
Perhaps I may be allowed to acknowledge the acceptance of the Resolution by Her Majesty's Government, but I find that the words of the Leader of the House do not agree with those of the Vice President—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member has no right of reply, as there is no Amendment before the House.
§ (9.25.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
I notice an observation of the First Lord of the Treasury with regard to Ireland. We have not intervened in this Debate because we have waited to see what position would be taken up by Her Majesty's Ministers, but the right hon. Gentleman who spoke on behalf of the Government has now said it would be the duty of the hon. Member for Saffron Walden to introduce a Bill, whereas we gathered from the previous speech of the Minister of Education that it was the intention of the Government to do so themselves.
§ SIR W. HART DYKE
I think there must be some misapprehension. I do not think I said anything implying that the Government would bring in a Bill.
§ MR. HEALY
The hon. Member for Saffron Walden has no power of carrying a Bill if it were to be opposed or blocked by hon. Members opposite. Of course, we feel in Ireland that this is a matter of some delicacy, and we do not at all wish to say that our minds are made up on the subject. What I would suggest to Her Majesty's 'Government is that the Government should instruct the Irish Education Board to draw up certain rules which, in their opinion, would define the limits of deviation with regard to the subjects to be discussed at meetings in these schools.
§ (9.30.) MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
So far as Ireland is concerned in this question, I must say it is not to us a very practical one. So much interest is taken with us in political affairs, and the meetings we hold are usually so large, so many people desire to attend them, that it would be practically impossible to use school buildings in rural districts, as they would not be large enough to 1426 afford accommodation. Therefore, the question does not interest us much until we see the proposals of the Government; but I feel bound to protest against the suggestion made by the First Lord of the Treasury. The First Lord, after the Resolution was accepted on behalf of the Government, stands up and speaks of a Bill being brought in by the hon. Member for the Saffron Walden Division to carry that Resolution into effect. Although I am but a comparatively new Member of the House, I am surprised, I confess, at the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman. I thought it was settled, as one of the established customs of the House that if a Government accepts a Resolution, the acceptance of which would be nothing but a mockery and a form if it were not carried out in substance, it is the duty of the Government to make that Resolution effective by bringing in a Bill upon the subject. I believe it is a fact that every Member of the House accepts that doctrine. The Government having agreed to the Resolution ought themselves to introduce a Bill. All the Wednesdays up to Easter have already been appropriated by private Members, and what chance, I ask, would the hon. Member for Saffron Walden have if he were to introduce a Bill? In fact, it would be practically impossible for him to carry it. We know that a number of Members of this House will not be likely to agree with the hon. Member for Saffron Walden in all the details of the measure, so that we know the measure will be ruined if the Government refuse to initiate legislation, and that they will be turning their acceptance of the Resolution into a nullity. I appeal to the desire for British fair play, and ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is not himself aware that he is departing from the customs of the House with regard to this Resolution.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
As a matter of personal explanation, I wish to say that I accept every word that has fallen from the Vice President of the Council. One very strong reason why the Government cannot undertake to introduce a Bill, is that we think we may have difficulty in passing the measures already introduced, and therefore it would be 1427 just as much a mockery if we were to introduce it without a chance of passing it.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
As the right hon. Gentleman has given no explanation, I think we should have one. I certainly understood the Vice President of the Council to say that he would bring in a Bill.
§ SIR W. HART DYKE
If the right hon. Gentleman can quote a single sentence in my speech to that effect I shall be glad to hear it.
§ *(9.34.) MR. F. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
It is perfectly clear that there is a discrepancy between the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury and that of the Vice President of the Council. We certainly did understand from the speech of the Vice President of the Council that the Government would bring in a Bill.
§ MR. F. STEVENSON
I think, Mr. Speaker, that where the schools are in receipt of a grant out of the Imperial Exchequer these buildings ought to be serviceable as, town-halls or village-halls, to be used, for the purpose of political meetings. There are only three courses to be pursued. The first is, that the Member for Saffron Walden Division should bring in a Bill himself dealing with the question. That is practically impossible, and I think it would be a shame if the Government, were to accept this Resolution and, leave the matter in its present stage without any legislation on the subject. Considering the number of Bills that are down by private Members, it has little chance of securing a place, and even if it did secure a place there would be no chance of passing it into law. So far, therefore, as the first course is concerned, I believe it to be out of the question, and I think hon. Members will agree with me. The second course is that the Bill should have special precedence given to it, but the third is, I think, a practical one; it is that a clause be introduced into the Rating of Schools Bill, giving the power of holding political meetings in school rooms. I do not see the object of the Government accepting a Resolution that cannot be possibly carried out. There is no meaning in it; and I think 1428 the best course would be, as has been suggested, to bring in a clause in the Rating of Schools Bill, adopting the course that has been so generally recommended. Should the Government refuse to adopt that course, it will remain for hon. Members upon this side of the House, when they have a majority in the next Parliament, to put in force the terms of the Resolution.
§ (9.40.) MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
I am bound to say that as I left the House a short time ago I was under the distinct impression, from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, that the Government undertook to give legislative effect to the Resolution.
§ SIR W. HART DYKE
Can you quote any single sentence in my speech to justify that conclusion? In the interest of fair-play, I ask the hon. Member to quote any sentence from my speech that will bear any such interpretation; that the Government either directly or indirectly pledged itself to bring in a Bill.
§ MR. CHANNING
Well, I cannot carry my mind back to the exact words, but the impression left upon my mind was that the Government would bring in a Bill to deal with the question. I think this is a question of great importance in view of the General Election, which cannot be much longer delayed, and I think it is perfectly clear that Her Majesty's Government intends to run away from the opinion they have definitely endorsed in the course of the Debate. It is obvious that since the speech of the Vice President of the Council there has been some consultation in other parts of the House, and it is also evident that the irritation of some noble Lords and hon. Gentlemen opposite, who sit behind the Treasury Bench, has been assuaged by an assurance that the Government does not intend to be in earnest in this matter; that they have no intention of carrying the Resolution into effect; that the Debate is to be reduced to an ignoble farce, and that the Resolution which they have adopted is to be relegated to the region of pious opinions.
§ (9.45.) MR. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)
Supposing the Resolution passed it would be necessary to 1429 introduce this Bill, and what I understand the Government has done is to pledge itself that if such a Bill were introduced they would support it. But it appears to me to be impossible to contend that that involves a pledge on the part of the Government to introduce a Bill this Session to give legislative effect to this Resolution, thereby displacing all the other Business to which it is already committed. I take it that the Government, having accepted this Resolution, will afford every facility to hon. Members to carry it into effect, and that they will give every reasonable facility for the carrying out of their ideas as contained in the Resolution before the House.
§ (9.50.) MR. JACOBY (Derbyshire, Mid)
I should like to know what are the intentions of Her Majesty's Government upon this question. I have listened to the speeches made on the part of the Government, and to the announcement of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, but I confess I do not yet know where we are. Is this Resolution to be given effect to, or is it not? The Government has accepted it, and I hold that, according to all precedent, they are bound, having accepted it, to introduce legislation upon the subject.
§ (9.55.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
I hope if the Government accept this Resolution—and I have no doubt, after the promise of the Government, a Bill will be introduced on the subject—they will have some consideration for the position of convent schools. I hope these schools will be exempted from the scope of this Bill, which I have no doubt the Government will introduce, seeing the way in which they have treated this Resolution. I wish to point out that there was a similar clause in the Ballot Bill, but it was struck out by the House of Lords, and to do the Tory Party justice it should be said that they rose in arms against the action of the Lords upon that occasion. The Government has accepted this Resolution, and I think it would not be creditable if a Bill were not introduced this Session dealing with the question.
§ *(10.0.) MR. ROBY (Lancashire, S.E., Eccles)
I understand that 1430 the Motion is accepted by the Government, and I, therefore, wish to give notice that upon the Amendment becoming a substantive Resolution, I shall move the addition of the following words:—And that it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to give effect to this opinion by legislation.It seems to me that this is the only proper course to adopt in connection with this matter, and that it is the only way in which the Resolution can be carried into effect.
§ *(10.5.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE, Tower Hamlets)
I must confess that there never was, to my mind, a more extraordinary course taken than that taken by the hon. Members opposite. The Resolution has been accepted by the Government, and, as a rule, the ordinary course pursued by the Government would have ended the discussion. For my part, I do not believe that after a Resolution of this kind has been proposed and carried with the assent of the Government, that there would be the smallest difficulty in connection with it. It has been suggested that the Government should at once bring in a Bill dealing with the matter, but I see not the slightest difficulty in dealing with the question, now that the Resolution has been accepted. There never was a more complete offer made by any Government. Hon. Members opposite are asked to bring forward a Bill to give effect to their Resolution, and the Government go further by saying that they will give any such Bill their entire support. Such an offer, I think, is a most generous one; but if the House desires to impose upon the Government the responsibility of setting aside some of the most important measures that have been proposed to the House, that is not a responsibility that the Government is prepared to accept. The Session is yet young, and we believe there will be no difficulty with the hon. Gentleman bringing forward a Bill to give effect to his Resolution. If such a Bill is brought forward the Government will support it, and do their utmost to pass it; and I cannot see what more can be 1431 desired, unless there is some purpose behind which is not quite apparent to our understanding. In fact, it would really seem as if hon. Members opposite were disappointed at the frankness with which the Government has met this Resolution, and the readiness they have shown to meet the proposals of the hon. Member.
§ (10.10.) MR. THOMAS ELLIS (Merionethshire)
I think that by accepting this Resolution the Government has taken upon itself a new responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian has again and again laid down the principle that a Government ought not to accept an abstract Resolution unless they saw their way to carry it into effect. I think the Government ought either to have made some definite announcement that they will deal with the matter this Session, or otherwise they should have opposed the Resolution. I believe many Members left the House under this impression before the dinner hour, and that the large majority of Members believe that the Government has pledged itself to carry out the terms of the Resolution.
§ *(10.15.) MR. WILLIAM GEORGE AINSLIE (Lancashire, N. Lonsdale)
It appears to me unfair that the right hon. Gentleman should be asked to bring forward a Bill embodying the Resolution because that Resolution has been adopted by the House. I do not see that this involves the Government in any responsibility in regard to the bringing in of a Bill. If the Government are going to deal with these properties they will surely either have to purchase them or rent them, and in regard to purchase I do not know how it can be done, as there is no one to whom the purchase money could be handed over. As to renting, it rests with Local Authorities, and I believe there is sufficient public spirit in existence to deal with the matter. At the same time, I do say that the managers of these schools should do all they could to facilitate the holding of popular meetings in country districts.
§ *(10.20.) SIR RICHARD TEMPLE (Worcester)
An hon. Member has said that the Government has run away from its undertaking in respect to the 1432 opening of village schoolrooms for public meetings. Now I do not see how the Government can be charged with running away from its pledges, and I think the hon. Member opposite could be equally charged with absolutely shrinking from the terms of the Resolution which has been proposed. In fact instead of the Government running away from its pledges it is the hon. Member for Saffron Walden who is running away from his. It has plainly been indicated by the Government that they will support a Bill if it were brought in dealing with the subject, and I think, therefore, it rests with the hon. Member to bring forward some proposal for legislation, and that the responsibility does not lie with the Government. There is time at the disposal of private Members, but not of the Government, already over-burdened. Safeguards, too, are needed in a Bill relating to that voluntary system which has done so much for the country.
§ (10.24.) MR. WILLIAM JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
I have listened with great interest to the Debate, and I heartily concur in the proposal of the hon. Member for Saffron Walden Division. I beg to thank the Government for having so cordially and rightly accepted the Motion of the hon. Member; but in the last few minutes I have noticed an attempt to play off one of those smart little dodges which has been resorted to once or twice in the present Session. An attempt has been made to force the hand of the Government, and to compel them to undertake a Bill upon this subject. Such a proceeding ought, in my opinion, to be resisted. I am happy to think that the acceptance of the Resolution will in Ireland afford an opportunity to Orangemen of meeting in rural schoolrooms to express their opinions upon the subjects of the day. The sharp practice of the hon. Member for the Eccles Division—
§ MR. SPEAKER
I do not think that the hon. Member should use such a phrase. Such an expression cannot be permitted.
§ MR. JOHNSTON
I beg to withdraw the words I have used, Mr. Speaker. But still, I do think that the hon. Member was trying to steal a march 1433 upon us, and, under all the circumstances, I feel compelled to move the Adjournment of the Debate.
The Question was not put.
§ (10.26.) MR. WILLIAM LAWRENCE (Liverpool, Abercromby)
Having voted in favour of this Motion upon former occasions, I am glad the Government have accepted the Resolution that has been placed before the House. I, therefore, see nothing worth while fighting about. As the manager of a country school, I have to say that I have found no difficulty in allowing opposing Parties to use the school and air their opinions as they think proper. The result of the arrangement has been most beneficial to the village and to the district with which I am connected. It seems to me to be unreasonable to force the Government upon short notice to add to the important measures already in their programme by including a Bill embodying the Resolution now before the House. Why could not the hon. Member bring in a Bill himself? Nobody will block its passage, and I hope that the hon. Member will bring forward the matter. I, for one, shall be heartily glad to support him.
§ (10.28.) SIR E. BIRKBECK (Norfolk, N.)
I have to thank the Government, on behalf of the Eastern Counties, for what they have done in regard to the Resolution of the hon. Member. But is it to be understood that the Government, in adopting it, are to introduce a Bill embodying it, and so to set aside the Small Holdings Bill and other measures that they have undertaken?
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
As the hon. Member has raised the question, I can save some time by saying that the Government were pledged to an Educational Rating Bill of their own, and I should like to know whether the First Lord will insert a clause giving practical effect to this Resolution? No other business would 1434 thus be set aside; on the contrary, the Government would be making this Resolution and its fulfilment part of their own business.
§ SIR E. BIRKBECK
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken if he imagines that I and my hon. Friends are going to allow a Bill like the Small Holdings Bill to be put aside in favour of such a measure as this. We intend to stick firmly to our guns upon this subject. I ask hon. Members opposite to quote some precedent in support of the action which the supporters of the Resolution have taken.
§ (10.29.) MR. SAMUEL HOARE (Norwich)
I have to express my appreciation of the manner in which the Government has dealt with the Resolution. I have some knowledge of country life and of electioneering, and I have always found it to be a great grievance that the use of schools was allowed to one Party and not to another. It is most desirable that some change should be introduced, and I am, therefore, particularly glad to hear the views of the Vice President of the Council. Since legislation was necessary I should like to see it given effect to without delay. I am, however, not surprised that the Government should hesitate to undertake the responsibility of bringing in another Bill. I had hoped that the hon. Member would have brought in a Bill himself, but as an Educational Rating Bill is about to be brought in by the Government, I wish to know whether it is not possible for the Government to bring in a clause giving effect to this Resolution?
§ (10.30.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
A number of appeals have been made to Her Majesty's Government from several quarters of the House, and this circumstance will, perhaps, serve as my excuse for asking permission for again interfering in the discussion. Unfortunately the speech which I delivered an hour-and-a-half ago was heard by a comparatively thin House, and I think few hon. Members now present are really aware of the original cause of the present dispute. I expressed my hope on the part of the Government that the Resolution and the Debate which had taken place might have an effect upon every 1435 manager of a school throughout the United Kingdom, and induce him to allow the school to be used for every legitimate purpose. And I pointed out that when the Bill, that I thought was going to be introduced by the hon. Gentleman opposite, was brought forward we should have to deal with a considerable number of difficulties which I then enumerated—difficulties partly depending upon such subjects as the necessity for forbidding secularist meetings in schools, partly depending upon the necessity for dealing with the danger of damage to the schools by those who used them for public meetings or other gatherings, and partly depending upon the difficulty in Ireland of dealing with schools under the National Board, which receive larger contributions than schools in England, and partly depending upon the difficulty of dealing with schools under the management of the nuns in Ireland. And I pointed out in the most friendly spirit the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman would have to encounter in introducing his Bill. These remarks of mine gave rise to a discussion, and in the course of this discussion hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to be under the impression—honestly and fairly formed, I am sure—that my right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Council had made a promise to bring in a Bill. My right hon. Friend is not conscious of having made any such promise at all. However, I now understand for the first time that it is supposed that it is the Government that are going to bring in the Bill, and that it is not the hon. Gentleman opposite who is going to have the well-deserved credit of drafting the measure. Now, I wish simply-to say that the only objection which the Government have to deal with the extraordinary difficulties of this question is the difficulty of time. We are now engaged—if I may venture to enumerate them to the House without breach of Order—we are now engaged upon a very critical Irish Education Bill, a Bill for Distributing the Grant in Scotland, a Small Holdings Bill, an Irish Local Government Bill, and upon a Bill for regulating the procedure of Private Bill Legislation, and some other measures of really first-rate importance 1436 —and all I have mentioned are in addition to Supply. Now, everybody knows that the Government have nominally command of a certain portion of the time of the House. But, as a matter of fact, no Government that ever existed has been able to carry more than a certain percentage even of the important measures introduced in any Session. It appears to me, therefore, with all respect to the hon. Gentleman, that probably there might be a better chance for his Resolution being embodied in an operative Bill if it were brought in by a private Member than if it were brought in by the Government at the end of a list of measures, none of which could be dropped for the purpose of bringing in a Bill dealing with this question, and this question alone. Everybody will admit that. Now, I understand that a proposal has come, not from an hon. Friend of my own behind me, but from an hon. Gentleman opposite—a right hon. Gentleman opposite—that we should graft upon the Education Rating Bill some provisions dealing with this question. Now, I certainly have gathered, from a faint but significant indication coming from the hon. Gentleman, that the Education Rating Bill was a Bill that was going to be violently opposed. Well, it seems—what shall I say?—most grotesque for the Government to append to a Bill hon. Gentlemen opposite objected to, a measure which they desire to accept; because it would compel them, in order to get what they wanted, to swallow what they did not want. Now, I distinctly and authoritatively understand from what has fallen from hon. Gentlemen opposite that they are prepared to accept the Rating of Schools Bill if we are able to add to it a measure dealing with this particular question. Now that I understand that, I will endeavour, with my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, and my right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Council, conjointly to frame a Bill which shall carry into effect these two objects; which I understand now to be desired equally by both sides of the House, namely, the relief, to a certain extent, of voluntary schools from rating, and the opening of voluntary schools 1437 for all legitimate public meetings and for all the legitimate purposes contemplated by the hon. Gentlemen opposite. On that understanding I am perfectly satisfied for the purpose of finishing the evening with great harmony, to endeavour to frame a Bill which shall, on these lines, meet the desires of everybody in the House.
§ (10.35.) SIR W. HARCOURT
With the same desire as the right hon. Gentleman, I ask the indulgence of the House for a very few minutes to just refer to his extremely ingenious proposal. Without desiring to introduce any controversial matter at all, I shall only say that this unfortunate cloud which has arisen in the serene sky was mainly due to the interference of Jupiter himself, because so long as a lesser light ruled the night, and the Vice President of the Council had addressed the House, we were all agreed, and we were perfectly satisfied with the course the Government had taken. It was not until the First Lord of the Treasury made a speech of a highly sceptical character with reference to the Bill, pointing out the difficulties and almost the impossibility, with a certain gusto on his part, with which my hon. Friend who moved the Resolution would be met, that we began—if I may use a vulgar phrase—to smell a rat, and understand exactly the game the Government were playing. They thought they could accept the Resolution and then leave my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden in a position in which they knew very well nothing would come from it. Nobody who knows this House can suppose seriously that my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden, would have the smallest chance of passing a Private Bill on that subject. Well, then for the first time after the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury we saw that the Government meant to have as little to do with it as possible; and that is tbe reason my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden desires to have an expression of opinion on the part of the House that the Government ought to take it in hand. Well, the Government have declared their desire to carry out this Resolution, and, therefore, we are assured that they have no objection on principle in carrying it out. The 1438 only question with them is the question of time. Very well, so far we are all agreed. Then, coming to the Education Rating Bill of the Government, if the First Lord of the Treasury thinks we are going to enter into a bargain with reference to the remaining clauses of the Bill, he is entirely mistaken—if he thinks we are going to be gambled out of it, and that he will remove all objections with regard to the other clauses of the Bill by introducing a clause with which both sides of the House agree. He has no right to ask from us as a consideration for introducing a clause with which he agrees that we shall support a clause to which we are opposed. If it were true that one side was agreed upon one and opposed to the other and vice versa, there might be some sense in that; but where it is a clause with which both sides of the House agree, it is only reasonable to ask the Government, having possession of the time of the House, that it should introduce into the Bill a clause with which we are assured both sides of the House will concur. Now, upon that basis we can perfectly agree. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman was only indulging in a pleasant irony when he attempted to impose upon us the condition of not opposing the other clauses of his Bill if he should introduce this clause into his Bill. If we can understand now that he will introduce a clause into it that should express the general feeling of the House on the subject, I think the House would be satisfied.
§ *(10.42.) VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Lancashire, N.E., Darwen)
I beg to propose the Amendment placed on the Paper by the hon. Member for Wigan, that the words in "rural districts" be inserted after the word "that" in line 5. As the Resolution now stands it begins by reciting that there is a want of room in rural districts. That would seem to imply that any alteration in the law which is proposed would apply to rural districts and rural districts only, but that is not so, as it appears in the Resolution as it stands. I am sure the hon. Member for Saffron Walden would agree that it is not so if his attention were called to it. I object, for my own part, to the 1439 schools being thrown open universally, and for this very good reason, that the grievance only exists in the rural districts. For my own part, I know that in the last Election of 1886 I had the obligation thrown upon me to address several meetings in the open air, but it was balmy summer weather. In the winter, of course, it would be different. It is not often, however, in rural districts, that you have a numerous audience to listen to you. In these country districts perhaps a couple of hundred people gather round the chair where the speaker stands, and he has no difficulty in making his voice heard. The grievance does not, therefore, exist in the rural districts in the summer time, but in the winter time no doubt a difficulty does arise. In the towns a totally different state of circumstances at once appears, but there is no difficulty whatever in finding room. (Cries of "Oh!" and Yes!") I submit there is very little difficulty at all. I venture to say that in the town of Darwen, which is the principal town in the constituency which I have the honour to represent, no person would have a difficulty in finding room to address the electors. But, supposing there is a difficulty, I do not think there is any claim on the voluntary schools of the district; because there is a collection of rich ratepayers who have plenty of money to erect a suitable building if they want it. The difficulty, therefore, applies to rural districts, and to rural districts only, and, therefore, the words should be inserted in the Resolution.
§ MR. GARDNER
I believe this is an Amendment which we cannot accept. It is perfectly true that the words "in rural districts" as put in the Preamble of my Resolution might convey to the House that it was only intended that the Resolution should apply to rural districts. So far as I am concerned it was my intention that the operation of this Resolution should be confined to the rural districts in which, to my knowledge, there is a very pressing need; but when the Resolution has beer accepted by the Government in a wider sense, and when they have decided that it should extend to the urban districts, I think it is a little 1440 hard of the noble Lord to move an Amendment which restricts it to the rural districts. For my part, I cannot accept the Amendment; and after the way in which the Resolution was accepted by them I cannot believe that Her Majesty's Government will accept the Amendment, as it would absolutely conflict with the intention they had in accepting the Resolution.
§ *(10.55.) MR. CAMPBELL - BANNERMAN (Stirling, &c.)
I agree with what has fallen from my hon. Friend who has just sat down. It is on principle we claim this right; and that principle extends to the urban districts quite as much as to the rural districts. There can be no distinction. No doubt in towns there are larger opportunities for finding other places for meetings than in the country. But it is the principle we insist upon; and that principle, as I understand it, has been practically accepted by the Government. I was obliged to use the words "as I understand it," because it so happens that I was not present during the entire Debate; and how was I employed? I was employed in possibly the less important business of addressing a public meeting in a country, district not far from London, as may be inferred by my presence here; and the meeting was held in a large room belonging to a Board school, where we had one of the most comfortable and orderly and convenient meetings that I have ever attended; and I could not help thinking, when I enjoyed that opportunity of saying the best I could for Her Majesty's Government, what a comment my experience was upon the Motion of my hon. Friend behind me, because, if this had not been a Board school—if there had not been a School Board in this locality—perhaps we should have been compelled to hold our meeting in some fusty old room, where we should have suffered the greatest discomfort. I hope the Government will stand by the arrangement they have come to, and that they will not accept the modification the noble Lord has proposed.
§ (10.64.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the agreeable way in which he has spent the even- 1441 ing in addressing a meeting, and upon the admirable accommodation provided for him elsewhere; but I wish he had been here at an earlier part of the Debate, because he would have learned that the real reason of our discussing this question so much longer than anyone expected was this: we were all agreed as to this proposal in substance, but that it was rather difficult to carry it out in detail. That is really what occurred. My noble Friend behind me has moved an Amendment. No doubt he based his argument, and I think rightly, on the fact that there was more necessity for room in rural districts than in urban districts. At the same time, I am quite prepared to admit that there is a want of suitable accommodation in some urban districts, as has been pointed out by one hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for St. Pancras, who has told us that in his division there really was not suitable accommodation. Therefore, I am decidedly of opinion that, while it is true that it is in rural districts chiefly that there is a necessity, that necessity is not confined to rural districts; and that we cannot introduce into this Resolution an Amendment confining it to the rural districts. That only illustrates the extraordinary difficulty of dealing with this question. I conceive, however, that if you give an unrestricted right to use the schools in urban districts, you will give the right not only to the politician, but to everyone who wishes to make profit, or trade, or anything else by discussion at a meeting to go to a schoolroom and hold it there, as the cheapest place of the kind to be had. The West End Socialists, and other gentlemen of very extravagant views which are commonly held, there can be no doubt, in the urban districts, will claim the use of the cheapest rooms. In urban districts no doubt the cheapest available rooms would be the schools, if they were placed by Parliament at the disposal of the people for nothing beyond the cost of the expense incurred, but that is probably a thing to which Parliament will not assent without limitation. It would be very difficult for the House to lay down as an absolute principle, to which no exception is to be made, that public schools sub- 1442 vented by the State, should be handed over to any persons who desired to hold a meeting, in face of the fact that their principle would apply to the convent schools in Ireland, which receive the largest subventions from the State. That being so, I would advise the right hon. Gentleman not to place his principle too highly. But, Sir, the object with which I rose was to recommend my noble Friend behind me (Viscount Cranborne) and others, who have put down Amendments, to withdraw them, on the distinct understanding that this Resolution is to be allowed to pass without any Amendment, because I believe that it is impossible within the scope of a Resolution to introduce all the safeguards which will be found absolutely necessary when the unfortunate draftsman begins to deal with the complicated problems which will have to be faced and dealt with before the principle of this Resolution can be embodied in an Act of Parliament. In the meanwhile, Sir, whilst it is distinctly understood that we accept this Resolution without addition or amendment, I would strongly recommend my Friends not to press their Amendments on the present occasion.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Sir, we ought most distinctly to understand what the precise position of the Government is in reference to this matter. They will not undertake to do what their own supporters have asked them to do, and what the Member for Norwich (Mr. S. Hoare), particularly pressed them to do, namely, deal with this in the Education (Rating) Bill. If that were done there would be no necessity for the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Roby) being pressed. But the unfortunate thing is that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury in speech after speech has one sentence in favour of the Resolution and a dozen sentences against it, and it is that fact which accounts for all our difficulties. The right hon. Gentleman has insisted upon the enormous difficulties and has enlarged upon every point, and the almost impossibility of it, and a Resolution accepted in that spirit will certainly never be effective. If the Resolution had been accepted in the 1443 spirit manifested by the Vice President of the Council, it would have been a different thing. But while professing frankly to accept the Resolution, the Leader of the House has adopted a disparaging tone and raised every conceivable phantom against carrying it out. Everything he has said to-night is against the Resolution.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Well, at any rate, against the possibility of its being carried out. Sir, a man who does not believe in the possibility of a thing never carries it out. The only object of the addition moved by the Member for Eccles is to have some distinct understanding from the Government that they really mean to do what they can to ensure that this Resolution is carried out. The right hon. Gentleman has not told us whether the Government mean to insert clauses in the Education Rating Bill, and on that point we are entitled to assurances, because upon that we may come to terms. Why have we not had those assurances? Because everybody knows that the object of the Government is to delay, and ultimately to defeat, this Resolution. That will be thoroughly understood inside of this House and out of it. On our part we frankly understand the meaning and object of these manœuvres. But, Sir, even now if the Government will come frankly forward and say, "We will accept this Resolution, and will do our best to carry it out," this Debate ought to come, and would come, to an end.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
Sir, I do not think that the tone of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman is altogether calculated to bring this discussion to a speedy or an amicable close. The right hon. Gentleman imputed to my hon. Friends beside and behind me a desire to delay and defeat this Resolution by moving Amendments. But, Sir, all these Amendments were on the Paper, whereas the friends of the right hon. Gentleman have got up at the last moment and moved Amendments which are not on the Paper.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Well, I will substitute the words "proposes to move" for the word "move"; and I will say that the hon. Gentleman proposes to move a Resolution which is not on the Paper, and as to which we had not the smallest notion a couple of hours ago. And yet the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby brings against my hon. Friends behind me a charge of obstruction, although he has not addressed one single word of remonstrance to his hon. Friend behind him for moving an Amendment that is not on the Paper.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The Amendment of my hon. Friend arose out of the speech of the Leader of the House. He could not have given notice of it.
§ MR. RITCHIE
There was nothing in the Resolution which imposed on any one the duty of carrying it out, and, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman the moment the Government accepted the Resolution, which is as much as is ever done in such cases, put up one of his supporters to move a new and most important Amendment, and that at the eleventh hour. What is the right hon. Gentleman's warrant for so unprecedented a proceeding? It is because my right hon. Friend, in accepting the Resolution, alluded to the many points of difficulty that would attend its enforcement. Would the right hon. Gentleman have wished that my right hon. Friend should have deceived the House by saying the matter was easy to deal with? It never was in the mind of my right hon. Friend not to do everything that could possibly be done to give effect to the Resolution. There was every intention on the part of the Government to give effect to it. There is another point. The Leader of the House, in answer to the appeals made to him from both sides, expressed the willingness of the Government to give effect to those appeals, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, though criticising the terms, expressed entire satisfaction with the conclusion, and everybody thought that there the matter would end.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Let us understand that. There was a con- 1445 dition annexed. Is that condition withdrawn? If so I am satisfied.
§ MR. RITCHIE
My right hon. Friend did not impose any condition at all. What he said was that originally there was a strong expression of opinion from the other side against the exemption from rating of elementary schools; that it was likely the Government Bill would lead to a great deal of discussion, and meet with much objection from the other side. He said—"If you. appeal to us to give effect to the Resolution by inserting a clause in our Bill, you must expect that that Bill is going to be carried." That is all he said. He imposed no condition at all. He said that the Government had taken note of the suggestions that had been made; that they would endeavour to give effect to the proposals suggested, and would consider in what way the wishes of the House could be met; and that they would see whether it was possible to frame any clauses which could be inserted in the Bill dealing with the rating of schools. That is what I say now; that is what I fully understood was accepted by the Member for Derby, and accepted on the understanding that there would be no Amendments.
§ MR. RITCHIE
What I said was that the Government would endeavour to give effect to the suggestions made by Members on both sides of the House, and would frame some clauses which might be taken in conjunction with the Bill which they propose to introduce relating to the rating of elementary schools.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)
I ventured earlier in the evening to suggest to my hon. Friend beside me what I wish now publicly to express, that it would be well if his Amendments were not pressed. In view of what the Government has said as to 1446 the clauses which they will introduce in their Rating Bill, I hope the Amendment will not be pressed.
§ MR. JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le Street)
I am somewhat surprised at the turn this Debate has taken. I had the honour of hearing the very admirable speech of the Vice President of the Couucil, and I left the House on the understanding that this Resolution had been accepted in its entirety by the Government. So far as I now understand, the sympathy of the Government is with the noble Lord behind them who has moved an Amendment. There was no restriction or qualification whatever attaching to the acceptance of the Resolution by the First Lord of the Treasury.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If the hon. Gentleman thinks he is representing my views he is entirely mistaken. I said I thought the Resolution should apply to all schools with proper safeguards.
§ MR. JOICEY
The Government are now attempting to attach a condition (Cries of "No, no!") Well, if I am in error I must admit it is owing to my not having heard the discussion.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
In deference to the wishes of the Leader of the House, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
Amendment to Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
I shall not proceed with my Amendment.
Question put, and agreed to.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That, taking into consideration the scarcity of buildings suitable for holding public meetings in rural districts, and the desirability that the electors of the country should be enabled to hear both sides of questions affecting Imperial and local interests, this House is of opinion that the school rooms in schools in receipt of Parliamentary Grants, on such occasions as do not interfere with the educational purposes of the schools, and under the condition of payment of all reasonable expenses by the conveners of the meeting, should be at the disposal of the inhabitants of the district in which the school is situated for the purpose of holding public meetings.
Supply,—Committee upon Monday next.