HC Deb 08 April 1897 vol 48 cc827-32

Resolution reported. That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of an addition to the Grant payable to School Boards, under Section ninety-seven of the Elementary Education Act 1870, by increasing the sum of seven shillings and sixpence therein mentioned by fourpence for every complete penny by which the rate therein mentioned exceeds threepence; Provided that the said sum as so increased shall not exceed sixteen shillings and sixpence.


On what day will the Order for the Committee stage be set down?


On Monday.


Is it intended to proceed with that stage on Monday?




said it would be convenient if at this stage they knew what were the intentions of the Government with reference to the Second Reading of the Bill. The Bill was not yet printed; and they could not for a few days expect to see the details promised by the Vice President. In these circumstances he hoped the Leader of the House might be able to say that it would not be necessary to take the Second Reading immediately.


The right hon. Gentleman has made an appeal to me with regard to the future stages of this Bill. This question can hardly be discussed in abstraction and without consideration of the general course of business during the next few days, and immediately after the Easter holidays. If I may, without trespassing on the Rules of Order, go into these matters, I would say that my intention would be to Read this Bill a Second time upon Monday next, or, if it so happened that the time available on Monday was not sufficient for the Second Reading, to conclude that stage upon Tuesday. But some right hon. Gentlemen opposite and others interested in the Bill have made a strong appeal to me not to bring on the Second Reading so soon after the period at which the Bill could be printed, and in the hands of Members. ["Hear, hear!"] I should be desirous, of course, in this as in other respects to meet the views of Gentlemen on either side of the House, and I hope that if I attempt to do so they will on their part meet the Government with regard to the general arrangement of business. I should be prepared to defer the Second Reading till the Monday on which we meet after the holidays, instead of on the Monday preceding the holidays, and further to rise on Monday next instead of on Tuesday next, provided the House, after dealing with the Motion which will stand first on Monday with regard to the adjournment for the Easter holidays, would consent to the introduction of the Irish Agriculture and Industries Bill, and to the further stages of certain Bills which I believe, so far as my information goes, to be quite uncontroversial. These Bills are the Regular and Elders' Widows' Funds Bill, the Railway Assessors (Scotland) Superannuation Bill, the Archdeaconry of Cornwall Bill, and the East India Company's Officers' Superannuation Bill; together with the necessary financial Resolutions relating to certain Bills. I believe these are unopposed Bills, and if it were necessary in order to carry them I would gladly move the suspension of the 12 o'clock Rule on. Monday, so that after having got through the Motion for the adjournment and these uncontroversial Bills the House should have no further work before the Easter holidays. I have some reason to believe that that arrangement would not be inconvenient to either side of the House, and as I bring it forward in order to approach the right hon. Gentleman in his objections to taking the Second Reading upon Monday, I trust it may receive general sanction from all quarters of the House. Of course, we on this side of the House are prepared to sit on Monday and on Tuesday to finish the business, but I think it will be to the general convenience if the plan I have devised to meet the wish of the House were accepted by the House at large. ["Hear, hear!"]


had no doubt the proposition which the right hon. Gentleman had made would become a matter of negotiation through the usual channels with a view to a settlement.


quite accepted this, but intimated that if the general plan of business which he had sketched out should not meet with approval there would be no reason to complain of him if he adhered to the original scheme which he laid before the House some days ago. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. ERNEST GRAY (West Ham, N.)

said there was one question which was necessary to be answered in order that the districts might know clearly before the vacation what the real basis was on which the Government had formed their Estimates of grants to the various districts. There was a difference of opinion as to what the School Board rate in a particular district actually was—whether the rate in the pound, mentioned in Section 97 of the Act of 1870, and referred to in the Resolution now before the House was the rate stated on the demand note of the rating authority, and actually paid by the ratepayers, or the nominal rate determined by the proportion between the amount required by the School Board paid by the rating authority and expended in the year, and the gross rate-able value of the district, regardless of the amount which the ratepayer must find to cover the loss through compounding, cost of collection, empty houses, and various other considerations. So far as he could see, the section was by no means clear on this point. It was, however, a very natural one, and affected very considerably the amount of the grant which would be given to different districts. In his own district of West Ham it would make a difference of 3d. per pound. If the Estimate was on the first consideration the grant in his district would be 2s. 3d. in the pound, and if on the second consideration it would be 2s. 6d. This was a difference so material that it was desirable that the matter should be cleared up at the earliest possible date. So far as he could gather the Estimates were entirely inaccurate from end to end. They depended upon a legal interpretation of the phraseology used in Section 97 as to whether the 3d. was on the amount of the actual rateable value or the value as it existed on paper. Seeing that this would make a difference in some districts of at least 1s. per child in average attendance, and in his own district of from £1,400 to £1,500 per annum, he hoped the House would consider the matter of sufficient importance to have this ambiguity cleared away at the earliest possible moment. He hoped that before the present stage was passed the Solicitor General or some other official on behalf of the Government would state clearly the particular basis on which their computation had been made. One other question he desired to ask, regretting to delay the House, but there was keen anxiety to know what the actual grant would be, and differences of impression were widespread, and made a complete statement desirable in reference to the decrease in the grant after the first year of operation. The question did not perhaps arise on this initial stage, but it was a point that should be cleared up before the Easter vacation.


regretted very much that it was impossible at this stage to clear up all the doubts the hon. Member had expressed. The hon. Gentleman had put a question to him early in the even-mix to which he had given the best answer he could, and if the hon. Gentleman would study the terms of that answer he would find it threw a considerable amount of light on the position. It was impossible to clear up all doubts now, because the operation of the Bill would depend upon the construction of an Act of Parliament 27 years old, and no declaration made by a non-legal Member like himself, or, indeed, by the Attorney General or the Solicitor General, would settle the matter, which must be left to the decision of Judges in the administration of justice. The difficulties to which the hon. Member had alluded arose out of a not very clearly drawn section of the Act of 1870, and no declaration by himself or by his hon. and learned colleagues would make that 97th Section clear and complete. If it was to be cleared up, that should be done in Committee on the Bill, and if the House chose to address itself to the task of amending that section, the assistance of the Law Officers, of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for York, and others, would be available.

* SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

said the right hon. Gentleman had been very playful with the House, but Members were in an extremely difficult position because this unintelligible section, upon which four different forms of procedure had arisen, having very different financial results, was the basis of this Resolution now being reported, and was to be the basis of the Bill. The whole of the grants would proceed on the basis of Section 97, which was unintelligible. His hon. Friend opposite, who probably understood the matter as well as anyone in the House, said the difference in procedure meant a difference of a 3d. rate in West Ham. The suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman was that an Amendment might be introduced in Committee; but, having regard to the Resolution, it would not be possible to Members to propose any Amendment which, in the opinion of the Chairman, would be in the direction of increasing the grant. It was open, no doubt, to Amendment by decreasing the grant, but this would be hardly acceptable to their constituents. They expressed some surprise on the Motion which they were now reporting at the total amount of money being only £110,000 additional for Board Schools; but to-day from the Vice President they had heard that even this small sum was liable to a reduction in the second year, and to a reduction the extent of which it was very difficult to estimate. They were in this strange position—that they had passed a Resolution which was to be the basis of a Bill, and which was incomprehensible to the authorities who would have to put it before them. There certainly was the gravest doubt among authorities in the country as to what this provision actually meant, and he hoped that on the Second Reading of the Bill, at the beginning of the Debate, they would have a clear statement from the Government, and, if possible, from the Law Officers of the Crown, as to what was the meaning of the Bill.

MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

said these proposals affected such a great variety of interests in such a variety of ways that it seemed to him positively monstrous that the Government should take the Second Reading of the Bill before a reasonable time had been allowed to the ratepayers of the country to consider the matter, and to make representations it they desired to do so.

* MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Notts, Mansfield)

said that on Monday night the Vice President of the Committee of Council gave several sets of figures, in order to show how greatly the cost of schools varied in different localities. Among others, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Sutton-in-Ashfield School Board. The authorities of that place had requested him to state that the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman were inaccurate. It was not necessary to give the correct figures, but he presumed that in the allocation of the grant great care would be taken to obtain correct information with regard to the rating in the several places affected.

Resolution agreed to. Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir John Gorst, the First Lord of the Treasury, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Solicitor General.