HC Deb 05 May 1896 vol 40 cc647-54

in asking for leave to introduce a Bill to amend and explain the Irish Education Act of 1892, observed that he brought in this Measure in pursuance of a pledge which he made in the course of the Debate upon the Address. The object of the Bill was to remove obstacles which had been found to interfere with the effective working of the Irish Education Act of 1892. It was a matter of common notoriety that the compulsory clauses of that Act had been to a very large extent a dead letter. In this connection he would give one or two figures, which, he thought, would not be altogether without interest. The compulsory clauses of the Act came into operation on January 1, 1894, in 118 towns, but they were only in active operation in 43 out of the 118. In the remaining 75 the compulsory provisions were apparently not enforced at all. Taking the year 1893 as the standard year and comparing it with 1894, the first year during which the Act was in operation, they found the following result. In 1893, the average attendance at the national schools in the localities to which the Act applied was 130,529. In 1894, during which the Act was in operation, the numbers rose to 138,504, or an increase of about 6 per cent. distributed over the 118 towns. In order to judge the real effect of the Act, the House must recollect that it was only in 43 of those towns that the Act was really in force.


asked if the right hon. Gentleman could give the figures for the 43 towns.


said, the average daily attendance in those 43 towns in 1893 was 59,098, and in 1894 it had risen to 66,268, an increase of 6 per cent. taken over the 118 towns, or an increase of 12 per cent. or thereabouts when calculated over the 43 towns alone. In the remaining 75 towns there was practically no increase in the average attendance as between 1893 and 1894. In those 75 places in which the law was not in actual operation the average attendance in 1893 was 71,431, and in 1894, 72,236, showing an increase of 805. Thus practically they might say that where the compulsory clause was enforced the increase in the average daily attendance was about 12 per cent., and where it was not enforced there was to all intents and purpose no difference at all. The figures for 1895 bear out, roughly speaking, the increase for 1894. If the Act had been adopted in those 75 places as well as in the other 43, and if it had had the same effect as in the 43 places, the increase in the average attendance in the 75 places would have been some 8,000 children. The chief causes to which the failure to put the Act into operation might be ascribed might be divided into two classes. They partly arose from defects and omissions in the Act itself, and also partly from the opposition which a considerable number of municipalities had offerred to putting the compulsory clauses into operation under any circumstances so long as certain schools, such as those of the Christian Brothers, and the Church Education Society, were excluded from the advantages of the Parliamentary grant. He did not think very much controversy was likely to arise as regarded the defects and omissions in the Act. It was hardly necessary to go in detail into those omissions, but he might point out what were the chief difficulties which experience had shown to hinder the operation of the Act. The principal causes, so far as they arose from defects and omissions, were these. The first was with regard to the administration of the Act by the school attendance committees. The Act provided that half the members of the School Attendance Committee should be appointed by the local authority and half by the Education Act Commissioners. Half of their number should be managers of schools in the locality. The local authorities had so exercised their powers in a considerable number of cases that the National Commissioners of Education in making the selection of their part of the attendance committees were compelled either to neglect the legitimate precautions by which the various denominations should have been represented, or else to override the Act. Where the National Commissioners had overridden the Act their appointments were subsequently declared to be illegal. Another and still more serious difficulty in carrying out the provisions of the Act arose through the local authorities in many cases having no power to use the local rates except for specific purposes, and of those the use of the rates for compulsory education was not one. In other cases the rating powers of the local authorities had already been fully occupied for other purposes. A further and serious difficulty was that, whereas the Act provided that where local authorities failed to exercise the powers given under the Act or the duties they were called upon to fulfil under it, no provision was made for the expenses to be defrayed which the National Commissioners might incur in taking upon themselves those powers and duties. Those difficulties were set forth in a minute which was submitted by the National Commissioners of Education to his predecessor early in 1894. In order to meet the difficulties pointed out by the Commissioners the late Chief Secretary brought in a Bill in 1894, but it did not proceed beyond the stage of First Reading. The Bill which he now introduced followed in the main the provisions of the Bill drawn up in the time of his predecessor. He did not think that any controversy would arise as to the first class of difficulties and the remedy for them. As to the difficulties which had been experienced in connection with the non-participation of certain schools in the grant, that had been a burning question for some time, but the matter was not dealt with in his predecessor's Bill. At that time there was some reason to expect that the rules then under consideration by the National Commissioners of Education might provide a solution of the difficulty. In the event, however, neither the late Chief Secretary nor the present Irish Government sanctioned the rules which the National Commissioners proposed in order to include these schools in the national system of education. The view of the Government was that not only would the adoption of these rules jeopardise the principle on which the national system rested, but that they would not have the effect of bringing into the scope of the system either the schools of the Christian Brothers or of the Church Education Society. Frequent mention had been made of the grievance of the Christian Brothers in connection with this matter, but he did not think himself that the Christian Brothers themselves had ever complained. They had but to comply with the rules of the National Commissioners which were complied with by other Irish religious confraternities, and they would have been able to participate in the grant. They had, however, preferred to enjoy complete freedom in carrying out their own system of education. He might be asked why they should not be left alone now, as they apparently wished to be, and he certainly should be disposed to leave them alone if it were not for the difficulty which the existence of these schools had thrown in the way of the application of the compulsory provisions of the Act of 1892. Certain local authorities had absolutely refused to take their part in carrying out the Act on the ground of the exclusion of the Christian Brothers from the advantages of the grant. No doubt, if it had not been for certain defects in the Act, the Commissioners of Education, on the default of local authorities from whatever cause, could have stepped in and enforced the compulsory provisions. But, even if they could have done so, he felt very strongly that either the local authority or the Commissioners would have encountered considerable difficulty in carrying out the provisions of the Act as long as there were schools like the Christian Brothers' schools, which did not come in any way into connection with the system of State-aided education. The Act left it to the discretion of the attendance committees to decide whether non-national schools were or were not efficient, and it was a very difficult thing to decide that in the absence of inspection, and these schools were not inspected at the present time. And it was also difficult or impossible for them to say whether children who attended these schools were complying with the provisions of the Act so long as they were not able to have access to the register. It certainly would seem difficult to carry out any system of compulsory education satisfactorily unless it could be ascertained in some way or another that the schools which the children attended were efficient. Therefore, if a complete and logical compulsory system was to be put into operation, it would seem that either national schools must be provided with sufficient accommodation for all children needing elementary education, or else it was desirable in some way or another, if possible, to bring the schools at present excluded into some sort of legalised connection with those that were State-aided. The proposal of the Government was a very simple one. There were in England certain schools, which were called certified schools, which carried on their education in their own way and subject to no conscience clause, but themselves voluntarily invited inspection, for the purpose of testing their efficiency, by the inspector, under the regular national system. The proposal of the Government was to make it possible that a similar class of schools should be formed in Ireland. They would not ask those schools in any way to change their system of education, or require them to use any other books than those they preferred to use, or prevent them from charging school fees. On the other hand, they would ask them to make such arrangements as might be agreed upon to enable the Government to satisfy themselves that they were efficient schools for the purposes of secular education, and also to permit the inspector to see the school attendance register at any time. So far, these schools would be very similar to the class of schools which already existed in England. But there would be two important differences. The certified schools in England were inspected by the ordinary Government inspector; but they were very few in number, and unimportant so far as the general body of schools was concerned. The Government thought it desirable in Ireland to distinguish this class of schools from the ordinary class of national schools; and therefore, instead of their being inspected by the ordinary inspectors, they would be inspected by special inspectors to be appointed by the Lord Lieutenant. They further proposed that the certified schools in Ireland should receive what they termed a registration fee of 10s. per child. No doubt objection might be taken to the amount of this registration fee—on the one hand that it was too small, and on the other that it was too large. He did not deny that the proposal was a somewhat novel one, because it gave public money to schools the managers of which were to be allowed to carry them on in their own way, and in that respect it certainly was a novel proposal. In the judgment of Her Majesty's Government, however, the proposal in this case involved no serious danger to national education in Ireland. The Government were anxious to do nothing that could in any way endanger the national education of the country, and what they had to guard against was the National schools being tempted to give up that character in order to be included in the class of certified schools and so deal a serious blow at the system of National education in Ireland. Therefore the Government had thought it right so to fix the amount of the registration fee that, while it would be of substantial assistance to the certified schools, it would not induce the National schools to cease to belong to their present class. He had, he thought, sufficiently explained the Bill, which they should be obliged to drop if it were treated as a contentious Bill by the Irish Members, or if they treated the two parts as inseparable. If he saw that they were prepared to accept the first part as non-contentious, then, on behalf of the Government, he should be happy to carry that part of the Bill. He begged to move for leave to introduce the Bill.


said that they, the Irish Members, were placed under considerable difficulties as regarded that important Measure, and they could not have a more remarkable contrast as to the way in which English and Irish business was conducted than had been presented that night. They had been engaged all night, and would be engaged for days in discussing an English Education Bill. Then the Irish Bill, which had been promised for three years in order to remove a difficulty which had paralysed the new compulsory system, was brought in after 12 o'clock. Now they were told that if the Irish Members regarded the Bill as contentious it would have to be withdrawn. That was now the common principle which governed all Irish Bills. He would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should put down the Second Reading early after the Whitsuntide holidays, for it would be impossible to enter upon this Bill until he had an opportunity of discussing the matter with the Irish Bishops. ["Hear, hear!"] There were two or three points to which he wished to draw attention. In the first place he was most astonished to hear that the Christian Brothers had never made it a grievance that they were excluded. All he could say was that they had frequently made grievous complaint. The Christian Brothers had for many years maintained their schools without asking assistance from the Government. As he understood, when the compulsory system was introduced, and school fees were abolished, the Christian Brothers felt the competition keenly. Their exclusion from the grants was undoubtedly a grievance. The rules which the right hon. Gentleman had neglected were most carefully considered over and over again by the Irish Education Board; they were adopted by a large majority of the Board, and they had the approval of the two Archbishops of Dublin—Catholic and Protestant. The Chief Secretary had, therefore, taken a very grave responsibility in neglecting the rules. What reason did the right hon. Gentleman give? He said they would jeopardise the principles of the National system of education in Ireland. He would like to have heard what those principles were. Were they principles of non-religious education? Was it not extraordinary that they should have spent to-night in a struggle to maintain religious education in England, and that as to Ireland religious education should go unrecognised. He trusted that the Second Reading would be postponed until after the Whitsuntide holidays, by which time Irish Members would have an opportunity of consulting their friends in Ireland in regard to the Bill.


said, he thought the request of the hon. Member for East Mayo that the Bill should be put down for Second Reading on some day after the Whitsuntide holidays, in order that he might in the meantime be able to consult his friends in Ireland with regard to the proposals of the Measure, was not an unreasonable one. Of course the hon. Member would understand what the Chief Secretary had said that night and on a previous occasion, that it would be useless for the Government to give time for discussion on the Second Reading of the Bill unless they had some assurance from the Irish Members that they regarded the Bill, on the whole, as a satisfactory one. He would not ask the hon. Member for East Mayo to say now whether he took that view or not, but probably before the Second Reading stage was reached he would be able to communicate with the Chief Secretary on that important point. ["Hear, hear!"] As to the complaint of the hon. Member that Irish business was not taken until after 12 o'clock, he would remind him that, Session after Session in recent years, the best part of the time of the House had been devoted to the discussion of Irish legislation, and if in this Session the Government asked the House to devote the greater part of its time to very important matters chiefly affecting England, it did not lie in the mouths of the Irish Members to complain. He would remind the hon. Member, also, that the present Bill was brought on after 12 o'clock by deliberate agreement with hon. Gentlemen opposite; indeed, he believed at their own suggestion. With respect to the religious aspect of the question, the hon. Member had fallen into an entire mistake when he stated that hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House were seeking privileges for English schools which were denied to the schools in Ireland. If they could put the Denominational Schools in England in as favourable position as that in which the Denominational Schools of Ireland stood, they would be amply satisfied. ["Hear, hear!"]

Bill to amend and explain The Irish Education Act, 1892, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Gerald Balfour and Mr. Attorney General for Ireland; presented accordingly, and read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Tuesday 2nd June, and to be printed.—[Bill 214.]