HC Deb 24 May 1895 vol 34 cc271-7

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Main Question [17th May], "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


said, that he was sorry that this Debate should be resumed at a time when but a short interval was left before the hour for adjournment. The subject to which he was calling attention last week when the Debate stood adjourned, was the policy pursued by the Education Department towards the voluntary schools of this country. In bringing forward the grievances of the voluntary schools, their relations with the Education Department, and their claims upon the consideration of the House, he was confident that there was no subject more worthy of the consideration of Parliament. A great deal of the time that had been wasted this Session in ploughing the sands, might have been much more profitably occupied in the consideration of some of the grievances under which the voluntary schools of this country suffered. He was aware that the Vice President of the Council could not be held responsible for many of the things that were done in his name, but he did submit that when grievances were brought before the right hon. Gentleman, when the conduct of those acting in the name of the Department was proved to be erroneous, or arbitrary, or oppressive, the right hon. Gentleman ought to censure his officials. There were special grounds why the voluntary schools of the country were entitled to sympathy and help from Parliament, and from the Education Department. Early in the Session, in connection with the subject of the marking of registers, he had asked the right hon. Gentleman a question having reference to the severe weather and the hardship of marking the registers during that weather in the voluntary schools, and the right hon. Gentleman in his answer used this expression:— Country schools at a time like this, certainly need lenient treatment. What those who were interested in voluntary schools asked was that the right hon. Gentleman should extend the leniency of which he then spoke. He based his demand for consideration for these schools upon their past work, upon what they had done for the cause of elementary education in this country at the time when it was not the care of the Government. From 1811 to 1870, when the Elementary Education Act was passed, the voluntary schools of this country were practically the sole custodians of elementary education, and it was computed that from 1811 to the present day, the supporters of the voluntary system had contributed 36 millions sterling for school buildings and maintenance. That fact alone entitled the supporters of these schools to kindly consideration and recognition from the Minister of Education and the Government of the day. Since the establishment of school boards, whose beneficent work he readily bore witness to, the voluntary schools, notwithstanding the competition to which they had thereby been exposed, had continued to maintain a wonderful position in the country. There existed to-day in England and Wales 5,500,000 school places, and of these no fewer than 3,000,000 were supplied by the voluntary schools. There were on the registers about 5,000,000 school children, and of these 3,000,000 were in the voluntary schools, and the average attendance was about 2,500,000 in the voluntary schools, as compared with 1,500,000 in the board schools. Therefore, notwithstanding the board schools system, the voluntary schools still did the bulk of the work of elementary education, and they did this in spite of the difficulties under which they laboured. The House was aware that Parliament had given School Board Authorities unlimited power of rating for school purposes, but the voluntary schools were dependent upon a fixed grant from the Education Department, and upon voluntary subscriptions for any excess. In the case of board schools, any harsh conduct on the part of the Education Department placed them under no disability. A withholding of the grant was no hardship on the School Board Authorities; if they could not get their cheque from the Education Department, they had the ratepayers to fall back upon. But in the case of the voluntary schools, the withholding of the grant might be a question of life and death. They could not fall back upon the ratepayers in order to have the deficiency made good. The Vice President of the Council had said more than once that he meted out the same justice to board schools and to voluntary schools. That was not a completely satisfactory statement, because, as he had shown, board schools and voluntary schools were not on the same footing in respect of finance. The voluntary schools were financially entitled to more considerate treatment at the hands of the Department, because they were more affected by the payment or non-payment of the grant than board schools were. The grievances under which voluntary schools suffered were numerous, as his correspondence proved. In the first place he would call attention to the frequent delay in the payment of the grants, which was a very serious matter. Last Session he had asked the Vice President of the Council whether, to obviate, the difficulty, the Department could make a semi-annual payment on the basis of the grant made in the previous year, and the right hon. Gentleman replied that that could not be done. He ventured to press the point again upon the right hon. Gentleman. Sometimes voluntary schools had to wait three and even four months before they could get the grant, because there was a delay in the presentation of the Inspectors' reports, and in the consequent action of the Department in respect of the remittance of the grant. Teachers' salaries had to be paid at the end of the school year, and other moneys had to be found also, and if the grant was not received, managers were placed in a position in which they ought not to be placed. They had to become personally responsible for the money needed to carry on the work which they were gratuitously directing in the public interest. Another grievance which, however, had now been modified to a large extent, was the withholding of grants which had been earned on representations made by the officials of the Department with regard to further structural alterations. A school was examined, the inspector's report was delivered, and if the report was satisfactory, the school managers were entitled to a grant which was regulated by the code. But when the finding was delivered, the inspector required certain structural alterations—which might or might not be necessary, which might or might not be just—to be carried out. In many instances these requisitions had been most unjust, and it was with great difficulty that a modification or withdrawal of them had been arranged. The procedure had been this. The managers were asked by the Department:— Are you prepared to carry out these alterations? Until you are prepared we will withhold the grant. Then another grievance, which was confined almost exclusively to the period during which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had presided at the Education Department, had been that new and sudden requisitions were started by the inspector and forced on schools under various heads. He had a letter from a chairman of managers of a voluntary school, in which he said:— There is an important point we should like to have defined, and that is 'marching space.' Is this space over and above the requirements laid down in the code? We really do not know, and no one seems able to define it. I asked an inspector and Mr. Miller at the Department but I could get no satisfactory explanation. That was a question on which he would specially ask the right hon. Gentleman to give the House some information. What was the authorised requirement? Was marching space included in the eight square feet basis? If it was left to the inspector to lay down some imaginary measurement of his own, then the code that had been presented to the House was a mere mockery. Then with regard to staffing—there again a novel doctrine was laid down. It had been seriously laid down without censure from the Department, that if a school approximated too closely to the limit laid down by the code, it would thereby endanger its grant. The code laid it down that for so many children there should be so many teachers; but it had been said by inspectors that because a school approached too closely to the minimum requirements of the code, that was a ground for depriving that school of its grant. That was a novel and illegal manner of dealing with schools. There was no doubt a feeling prevalent among those whose duty it was to look after these schools that they were pleasing the right hon. Gentleman when they made novel and harassing requirements. He was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman had not taken an earlier opportunity of repudiating a policy of this kind and to let it be known that he desired to see a fair and just and considerate policy pursued towards voluntary schools. Then there was another grievance with regard to the unfair and undue pressure put on these schools by the Department in the matter of structural alterations. Although he knew that the right hon. Gentleman was a zealous educationist, and no doubt, according to his view, did his best to promote the cause of education, yet the result of the policy he had adopted had been to cause a vast amount of unnecessary burden to fall upon the managers of voluntary schools. Upon this matter the right hon. Gentleman did a most singular thing last year. He quoted the report of the National Society, and practically called them as witnesses to show that his Department had not pursued an unfair policy. This was what the right hon. Gentleman said on August 21 last year:— The National Society and its officials certainly know more about these matters than any single individual can possibly do, and at their annual meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury, acting as their chairman, said that while the Department was ruling over the voluntary schools with rigour that fact ought to make everybody extremely careful, both in public and in private, not to bring charges against the Department which could not be justified. The Archbishop said the National Society had a Committee which was on the watch most carefully, and no doubt it was able to look microscopically into these matters and to investigate any complaint made against the Department. It was the opinion of that Committee that no undue pressure had been put on Church schools. But what was the opinion of the Committee? Unfortunately no one happened to have the Report in his hands at the time with which to answer the right hon. Gentleman.


I never saw that Report.


Then the right hon. Gentleman had no right to make the statement he did. He proposed to tell the House what the Committee said. They said:— Your Committee feel it their duty to report that the pressure put by the Education Department during the years 1892 and 1893, on a large number of Church schools has, in their opinion, been inopportune, hasty, and in some respects excessive. Your Committee feel strongly the unfairness of this treatment, and contend that managers of church schools, who in better times proved their sincerity of purpose by exceeding the requirements of the Department, ought now to be treated with much consideration. That was what the Committee said, who, the right hon. Gentleman told the House, were in a better position to form an opinion than any private individual could be. They went on to say that during the past year they had found it more than usually difficult to prevent hardly-pressed Churchmen from giving way to despair. Was the right hon. Gentleman in favour of a policy the result of which was to make it difficult to prevent hardly-pressed Churchmen from giving way to despair?


I quoted from the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury when he took the chair at the National Society on June 19, 1894. He said on that occasion— The Department was ruling over the voluntary schools with rigour; but that fact ought to make them all extremely careful, both in public and in private, not to bring against the Department charges which could not be justified. The National Society had a Committee which was on the watch most carefully and precisely, and it was able to investigate the charges made against the Department, and it was not the opinion of the Committee that any undue pressure had been put upon Church schools. Those were the views of the Archbishop.


said, that he accepted the explanation as far as it went, but that it did not go far. The right hon. Gentleman did not deny that he told the House that the National Society and its officials knew more about the matter than any single individual could know, and he had quoted the Report of the Committee of the National Society.


I did not deceive the House. I quoted from the Archbishop of Canterbury.


said, that the actual Report of the Committee put a very different complexion on their opinions from that given by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman did not know at that time what the Committee had really said. [Mr. ACLAND: "I know what the Archbishop thought."] He would hardly say now that the National Society was satisfied with his administration. The Report declared:— The argument that there is no finality about the demands of the Education Department, and that money spent now in meeting those demands will only postpone the ultimate surrender of all Church schools, has been very hard to refute. He had established, out of the mouths of the witnesses who, as the right hon. Gentleman said, knew more than any one else about the matter, that the right hon. Gentleman's administration had been harsh and oppressive in the extreme.

At Ten minutes to Seven o'clock,


claimed to move: "That the main question be now put."


Having regard to the nature of the questions on the paper, and the fact that all of them can, and probably will, be discussed in the course of the Estimates, when divisions can be taken, as is not the case now, I accept the Motion.

The House divided:—Ayes, 181; Noes, 116.—(Division List No. 106).

Main Question put accordingly, and agreed to.

Supply considered in Committee:—

(In the Committee.)

Civil Services and Revenue Departments (Estimates), 1895–6.

And, it being after Seven of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House at Nine of the Clock.