HC Deb 09 June 1892 vol 5 cc670-80

76. Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £3,796,213, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1893, for Public Education in England and Wales, including Expenses of the Education Office in London.

(11.20.) MR. SINCLAIR (, &c.) Falkirk

I think this is in ordinary years one of the most important and interesting of the Votes taken in the House of Commons, and I am sorry that it has been put without any explanation by the Minister for Education. Last year a change was effected by which a grant of ten shillings per child in average attendance was given, and it would be exceedingly interesting to have on this occasion, from the Vice-President of the Council, a short statement as to the result of this change upon education in England, because few subjects attract more attention among the electorate generally than the way in which this large sum, amounting to six millions sterling, is applied, and the useful work that it accomplishes in the country at large.


The hon. Member is quite right in his remark that it is usual that the Minister in charge of this Vote should make a statement upon it. I have not thought it right to do so for reasons which will be obvious to the Committee. The hon. Member asked for information with regard to the Act passed last year. We have not yet very full information with regard to the working of the Act, but I may assure the Committee that, so far as the effect has been ascertained by the Department, there is not only nothing to complain of—and no complaints have come from any part of the country—but we have two points to the good. The first operation of the Act has been to increase the attendance of children at school. There are exceptions, of course, but in most districts an increased attendance has resulted from the passing of the Act. We have also this point to the good—we have been able to encourage thrift among the very youngest of the population. We have issued from the Department a Memorandum giving information in that direction, and the scheme has been very largely taken up in our elementary schools. In many cases I am glad to say the children are now putting the amount of their school fees into the savings banks. We have therefore, at all events, a great encouragement with regard to the working of the Act. I should like to have gone into a long disquisition on this Vote to-night. I am in the hands of the Committee in the matter; but I do not like to disturb the equable course of the Estimates. What I should propose to do is this—if there be no opportunity upon Report, I shall publish as a Parliamentary Paper an elaborate tabular statement with regard to the progress of education during the past year; and I think it would be better to do that than to break in on the course of the Estimates.

(11.25.) MR. H. H. FOWLER

I think a great deal may be said in favour of the course indicated by the right hon. Baronet. No doubt this Vote has been reached much earlier than was anticipated, and a good many Members who are specially interested in the education question are not in the House at the present moment. Under these circumstances I would suggest to the right hon. Baronet that he might make his statement on a future occasion. He might with the approval of the Leader of the House make his statement on one of the stages of the Appropriation Bill, as has been done on occasions when the circumstances were similar. At all events, it would be very undesirable to embark upon a very abbreviated discussion to-night.

(11.26.) MR. SINCLAIR

I am perfectly satisfied, and have quite achieved the object I had in view, with the observations of the right hon. Baronet. He has referred to two points of very great interest, but there is another of equal importance to which he has not alluded at all and on which a few words would be very welcome. We should like to know what has been the effect of the measure of last year upon the regularity of the attendance of the children whose names are on the roll. Has free education had the effect of increasing the regularity of attendance, or has it had the effect which it was supposed in some years it would have—especially among the children belonging to the very poorest classes—of diminishing the attendances at school, on the ground that there are certain people who do not think so much of that which they receive for nothing as of that for which they have to pay?

*(11.29.) SIR W. HART DYKE

It is very difficult to answer that question at the present stage with the information we have now in our possession, but that information shows that, with regard to the regularity of the attendance of the children, we have still something to complain of. It may be necessary, perhaps, to enforce attendance by some more stringent methods than those we are now able to adopt, especially in those cases where as indicated by the hon. Member, parents may think that what they get for nothing is not worth having. But I may assure the Committee that from the information I have received in travelling about the country and otherwise, the result of the Act of last year has been to actually increase the regularity of the attendance.

(11.30.) DR. TANNER

I wish to know whether it is really a fact that compulsion has not been successful, and whether the right hon. Gentleman is not satisfied with the present state of affairs with regard to school attendance in England. The right hon. Gentleman asks for over three million pounds, and instead of making a speech with regard to it he says he will present a statement to the House later on. Now, is that a satisfactory way of dealing with the voting of several millions of money? Too often have I seen responsible Ministers get up at a late hour of the night and tell us that it is too much trouble to make statements, although they are jolly well paid for doing so. Why does not the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Sinclair), who raised the question, stick to his guns, and force a statement from the right hon. Gentleman? Why is there all this shilly-shallying, which would disgust the heart of any honest man. If we have come here to do business, let us do it. English and Scotch Members should remember that their constituents will ask them what they are doing with this money. Instead of the minute and a half-statement from the right hon. Gentleman we should have had the whole position of affairs explained in a business-like way to the country, so that the people might know how the money was to be used. The right hon. Gentleman wishes to put the statement on paper, so that there should be no lapsus linguœ; but he has had to admit that compulsion in England has proved unsatisfactory, and that he will have to ask for more stringent powers to compel children to attend school.

(11.34.) MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what the Government intend to do with respect to allowing public meetings to be held in elementary schools. Is the Bill now before the House to be dropped or to be proceeded with, if not in its present form, at least in some form or other?

(11.36.) MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)

Before the right hon. Gentleman replies to the question put by my hon. Friend, I would like to say that the remarks made by the hon. Member for Cork (Dr. Tanner) on the question of compulsion in regard to free education must not be taken as representing the views of English Members. Many of us may feel that it has not done all that it was expected to do, and that more yet may be done; but it should be remembered that there have been difficulties to overcome, and that the Free Education Act has done a great deal of good in England. I believe that the more rigidly the compulsory clauses are enforced the more satisfactory will be the results.

(11.38.) MR. MORTON

When the Act was passed last year it was certainly hoped that the adoption of further compulsory powers would be unnecessary. I am sorry to hear that more stringent measures are required in order to get the children to school.

*(11.40.) SIR W. HART DYKE

The hon. Member is mistaken. I am only asking the Committee to pass this sum of money. As to the results of the Free Education Act, I say they are hopeful. At the same time, notwithstanding the large sum of money that has been spent in carrying out the Act, it will not do to expect too much from it alone. What we wish to see is that the taxpayers get their money's worth.

(11.42.) MR. MORTON

I am glad to get that explanation, I agree that compulsion is necessary, especially in order to get what are called the gutter children into the schools. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make clear in his printed statement how many schools have been made entirely free by the Free Education Act. I find in the accounts an item of £800 for an architect to the Education Department. Does that refer to the same gentleman who recently acted for the London School Board? I have been asked to call attention to this matter. It is further stated in the foot-note that this gentleman is likewise architect for Scotland; but so little value is attached to him there that he is given no salary. It is strange that the Scotch Members cannot find an architect of their own.


I would ask the right hon. Gentleman for some information with reference to the regulations as to the teaching of physiography in the rural districts of Scotland. A great number of people call for the revision of these regulations. It is absurd to suppose that gentlemen holding degrees from Aberdeen University are not capable of teaching the elementary stage of physiography.


I must express my surprise that this great and important branch of national expenditure should have been brought forward without any preliminary statement. Six years ago such a statement was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds (Sir Lyon Playfair), who then occupied the position now filled so admirably by my right hon. Friend the present Vice President of the Council.


On the Appropriation Bill.


It is essentially to the credit of the House of Commons that, before the Session closes, a full and proper statement should be made by the right hon. Gentleman on the question. The Report Stage of the Appropriation Bill or some other time may afford the opportunity. I can quite understand that nobody would expect such vast sums of money to be voted away as they have been this evening, and I do not know what people outside will think of it. At all events, we have been sitting and allowing things to go on until we have now reached a Department, in connection with which a statement has always been made. And I think the House and the country are entitled to a regular statement from the responsible Minister explaining the educational results of the year, and the reports of the several inspectors, and also containing some reference to the Code—if any changes have been made, if any are intended, and, if so, how will they operate. Let me assure the right hon. Gentleman that people in the villages, as well as in the towns, regard with exceptional interest all these matters; and I earnestly hope that some proper opportunity will be taken to make the usual statement. In reference to what fell from the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Sinclair), I think I may fairly say that the general impression is that the measure of free education has tended to improve the attendance; but, nevertheless, attendances remain very unsatisfactory in the interior of the country as compared with the great towns, and I hope that warning will be taken in this matter, because if it should happen that attendance under the voluntary system is not secured so regularly as under the School Board system, there will be an agitation in favour of the latter. I am afraid, at all events, that one effect in the metropolitan area of freeing schools is to further endanger the voluntary schools; and the opinion of many metropolitan managers is that before long we shall have to take charge of many of the voluntary schools, to the great augmentation of the rates. I am very happy to be able to confirm what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council (Sir W. Hart Dyke) in reference to the Savings Banks. So far the result has been very satisfactory, and I believe with my colleagues that we shall before long see a large development of the Savings Bank system, in connection with our educational institutions, which will greatly conduce to the foundation from childhood of thrift in the minds of the people. An expression fell from the hon. Member for Peterborough, with regard to which I must express my surprise. The hon. Member spoke of "gutter children," an expression which never now comes from the lips of an educationist. It is not considered a proper expression to use with reference to those children who are unfortunately situated, and who ought therefore to be the first object of our care. With reference to the architect of whom inquiry has been made, I may say he was employed in connection with the School Board of London; but his services were transferred to the Education Department. I should like to point out to my right hon. Friend that School Board people regard with much anxiety the new Bill with respect to Industrial Schools. We consider these schools part of outwork. In connection with them most useful and benevolent operations are successfully carried on, and we should be sorry to see them transferred. We have been enabled to do much good to these poor children to whom the hon. Member for Peterborough applied a term not properly applicable.


I should like to say to the hon. Baronet that I did not use the term of which he complains in an offensive sense. It is a technical term which has been used for some years. The complaint shows, I think, how careful we can be of the working-men's votes when we are near the General Election. It is notorious that the London School Board neglected for years that class of children; it was said that they were not clean enough. I am sorry to learn from the hon. Baronet that the architect referred to is the gentleman who was in the service of the School Board, because in my opinion he is responsible for the costly defects in London school buildings. I do not see how a man of that sort can be good enough for the Education Department if he was not good enough for the School Board. I am glad to note that the Vote is so largely increased, although we are still considerably behind the United States, and I trust that the time is not far distant when, instead of wasting money on war and other matters, we shall devote a still larger sum to the free education of the children of this country.

MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)

I wish to support the appeal made by the hon. Baronet for a fuller statement. The statements that attendance had improved and that thrift had been furthered were not supported by figures, and consequently they were not of great value. I hope, when the statement is made, it will include a complete percentage of attendances under the Act passed last year, and also full statistics in respect to the Savings Banks.


I hope the Committee will appreciate the extreme difficulty of my position to-night, and I venture to urge that no hon. Member suffers more from the procedure than myself. I have been most anxious—and nothing would better suit the supporters of the Government—to give to the House a full, detailed statement as to our six years' work; and I hope there will yet be time to do so, instead of falling back upon the expedient of a printed statement. I shall be glad to give the detailed information asked for from my place in Parliament before the Session ends; and with reference to a question asked regarding a Bill now before the House as to the exemption of schools from rating, I presume that it will be embraced in the First Lord's statement on Monday next with reference to the course of Public Business. Then the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Morton) asked a question with reference to the Architect to the Education Department. That gentleman is still retained by the Department as Consulting Architect, and we find him a very competent adviser. The hon. Member for Sutherland (Mr. A. Sutherland) asked me a question in regard to the teaching of elementary physiography in the rural districts of Scotland; and if the hon. Member will be good enough to allow me a day or two for inquiry, and submit a question to me, I will endeavour to answer him. We are now under the shadow of a Dissolution; but I honestly believe, considering the progress we have made to-night, that I shall be able, after consultation with my right hon. Friend, to find an opportunity to make my statement.


The right hon. Baronet has told us that the First Lord will make a statement with regard to the Bill in question, but I should like to ask him if he is in a position to say what will be done to carry out the Resolution passed by the House if the Bill is not carried?


The Resolution is embodied in the Bill, and I ask the House to pass the Bill in order to carry out the Resolution.

MR. HENRY J. WILSON (York, W. R., Holmfirth)

When the right hon. Baronet makes his statement I hope he will include in it some explanation of the recent appointment of three Inspectors, which has been the subject of a good deal of observation in certain quarters. It has been suggested that there has been something like change of policy, if not a breach of faith, in the appointment of these gentlemen, and that all of them are without experience.


I shall be glad to allude to that matter.


I noticed that the First Lord of the Admiralty said that we were not near a Dissolution, but now we are told that the real object in passing the Vote is to get through the business, and have a Dissolution as soon as possible. I only waited for some such admission on the part of a responsible Member sitting on the Treasury Bench in order to assist to the utmost of my power the passing of the Votes. I would suggest that the Government take them en bloc; and if they decide to do so, they will receive my most loyal support.

Question put, and agreed to.

77. £400,054, to complete the sum for the Science and Art Department.

78. £104,560, to complete the sum for the British Museum.

79. £8,577, to complete the sum for the National Gallery.

DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of these Estimates whether there is any chance of increased accommodation being provided for pictures in the National Gallery? Owing to want of space the flow of benevolence is now checked, and the possibility of getting further works of art into the gallery is at an end. If the First Commissioner of Works were present I should have addressed to him a few words respecting this matter. I believe he holds there is plenty of room. I will ask the right hon. Gentleman who may be in charge if there is a probability of any extra accommodation being found for pictures which may reasonably be expected to be added—


Order, order! The hon. Member seems to have forgotten that the question with which he is dealing comes under Class I. Vote, which has been already discussed.

Vote agreed to.

80. £1,228, to complete the sum for the National Portrait Gallery.

81. £14,896, to complete the sum for Scientific Investigations, &c.

82. £40,000, to complete the sum for Universities and Colleges, Great Britain.

83. £183, to complete the sum for London University.

84. £366,336, to complete the sum for Public Education, Scotland.

MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanark, Partick)

Will the Lord Advocate say whether he is going to make any statement on this subject?


I have no doubt that an opportunity may be found to make a statement on this subject at a later stage of the business.

Vote agreed to.

85. £2,950, to complete the sum for the National Gallery, &c, Scotland.

Resolutions to be reported tomorrow; Committee to sit again tomorrow.