HC Deb 18 March 1897 vol 47 cc970-83

"(1) This Act shall not extend to Scotland or Ireland.

"(2) This Act may be cited as the Voluntary Schools Act, 1897."


moved after the word "to," to insert the word "Wales." He said the Welsh Members had taken particular interest in the Bill because they knew that if it were extended to Wales it would tend to strengthen the Establishment and augment its endowments. If this Bill had been before Wales at the last election, he believed not one Member would have been returned to support it. He was aware that these views did not meet with any sympathy from hon. Members opposite, but he asked hon. Gentlemen to put themselves in the place of Welshmen. The great mass of the people of Wales believed that a cruel injustice was being done to them by this Bill; and the Government would not strengthen the loyalty of the people of Wales by thrusting upon them Measures of this kind, to which they were firmly and unalterably opposed. As Welsh Members they had felt bound to fight the Bill from beginning to end, and so far as Wales was concerned they now made their final protest, believing that it would not bring educational peace to Wales, but that it would rather stir up strife in the country.

MR. SAMUEL SMITH (Flintshire)

supported the protest of his hon. Friend. The policy embodied in this Bill was exceedingly obnoxious to the people of Wales. It was looked upon as an attempt to stamp out Dissent in Wales. He had been informed by a Gentleman, in whose veracity he had the highest belief, that not long ago his children in one of the Church schools were told by the vicar that Dissenters were all bad people. [Laughter.] Indeed, there were intolerant bigots among the Anglican clergy who looked upon Nonconformists as little better than vermin. That was the reason why this Bill, giving as it did increased power to the clergy over the schools, was so obnoxious to the great mass of the Welsh people.


supported the Amendment, and said that the feeling in Wales, as represented in the House of Commons, was without doubt Overwhelmingly in favour of the Board School system, and against the Voluntary School system. There was more than one precedent for treating Wales separately in the matter of legislation. There was, for example, separate Sunday closing legislation, and the Intermediate Education Act of 1887. In England the majority of the children attending Voluntary Schools were more numerous than those attending Board Schools; in Wales the reverse was the case. It was hard, therefore, for Welshmen to have a Bill like this thrust down their throats by an English majority. Taking the aid grant of 5s. in the four northern counties of Wales he showed how the Bill would work. It would give to every man, woman, and child in Merionethshire 2s. 0¾., in Anglesey 3¾., Denbighshire 4¼d., and Montgomery 5d. In Berkshire, however, it would give 7¼d. per head, Westmoreland Rutland 8¼d., and Oxfordshire 8½d. In Merioneth the amount raised by rates and voluntary subscriptions amounted to 6s. 1¼ but Cheshire would receive per head 8¾., though it only subscribed in rates 1s. 0¾d. They believed that the Bill would do harm so far as the cause of elementary education was concerned in Wales, and that it would help to buttress the Anglican Church there.


also entered his protest against the proposal of the Government. This Bill was purely the result of an English demand, but it was not asked for by any considerable portion of public opinion in Wales in the first place England was not a School Board country; Wales, on the other hand, if not quite, was very nearly a School Board country. He thought that every real educationist would desire, but for the present condition of affairs with reference to Voluntary Schools, that the secular education of the country should be intrusted to School Boards only. The Voluntary School system was by no means an essential part of the educational system in Wales. Anybody who knew anything of the question must believe that the desire for education was greater in Wales than it was in England, and that the sacrifices made in Wales in its behalf have far exceeded those made in England. There was no other portion of the United Kingdom where a University College had been erected practically out of the pence of the poorer part of the population. ["Hear, hear!"] He would give the Committee a few figures to show how different the case in Wales was to the case in England. No doubt the number of children attending Voluntary Schools in England and Wales was very much greater than the number of children attend Board Schools, but if Wales and Monmouthshire were taken alone the case was very different. In Wales and Monmouthshire, according to the 1894 Return, the average attendance in Voluntary Schools was 98,829 and in Board Schools 150,000. ["Hear, hear!"] There were one or two specific cases he wished to mention. Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire were two of the richest counties in Wales, and contained a large proportion of the population of the Principality. In Glamorganshire the number of children in average attendance in Voluntary Schools was 30,046, and in Board Schools 71,310. In the case of Monmouthshire the number in average attendance in Voluntary Schools was 12,115, and in Board Schools 24,000, or two to one. In One parish where there were 10,147 children in average attendance, they all attended Board Schools with the exception of 53 who attended a Roman Catholic school. Was it fair that the parents of those 10,000 children should be called upon as taxpayers to contribute to this grant for Voluntary Schools? ["Hear, hear "] The question might also be looked at front the point of view population. The whole population of Wales and Monmouthshire, according to the census of 1891, was about 1,700,000, and of that population about 1,400,000 were in School Board districts, so that only about 300,000 were in non-School Board districts. He might further argue the case from the point of view of Disestablishment—[cries of "Oh, Oh!"]—but that he would not do. He did contend, however, that the Welsh people had shown that they desired their children to be educated in secular elementary schools. But it must not be supposed that because they desired that, they did not care for religion. Who started Sunday Schools in the Principality? Up to recent years the Church of England had entirely neglected teaching on Sundays. On the other hand, the Nonconformists had spread Sunday Schools all over the country—["Hear, hear!"]—and had shown that the country could produce numbers of volunteers in this work who did not come to Parliament and say, "Do help us by a Parliamentary grant to teach religion."["Hear, hear!"] There was, of course, no hope of carrying this Amendment, for it was now clear that there was to be no Report stage on this Bill, but he made no apology to the Committee for the observations he had made, because he conceived it to be his duty to put the case of Wales before the Committee, and to show that no one in the Principality was asking, for the Bill, and to thrust it upon them was a great injustice to the inhabitants of that country. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that in the absence of any answer by the First Lord of the Treasury, he would like to say that he thought it quite right that some notice should be taken of the attitude of the Welsh Members. If Wales alone had been concerned, no such Bill as this would have been presented to the House, for there could be no doubt that the educational position of Wales differed materially from the educational position of England. ["Hear, hear!"] In a great number of the rural counties in Wales there were enormous numbers of Nonconformist children attending the schools managed by Churchmen, and there were many parishes where quite two-thirds of the children in Church schools were the children of Nonconformist parents. That children of Churchmen should be forced to go to a school which was controlled by Nonconformists would be considered intolerable by many members of the Church In many cases in Wales schools had been erected with the assistance of Nonconformist farmers, but no Nonconformist was found on the board of management. [Viscount CRANBORNE: "Why did they subscribe if they disapproved?"] The noble Lord hardly understood the circumstances. Many a Nonconformist farmer had given assistance school in order to secure the help of the wealthier members of the parish. If the Government had consented to allow the representation of parents or of local authorities, as they had been asked to do, the attitude of many Welshmen towards the existing Voluntary Schools would have been largely modified. That would have gone far to remove the present grievance. In his opinion the Welsh Members were perfectly justified in endeavouring to get rid of the disabilities and disadvantages of which they complained.


said that the right hon. Gentleman, following the example of the Welsh Members, had dwelt on the fact that in Wales there were districts containing a large body of Nonconformist children who had no schools to go to, except schools under the management of trustees, who must be members of the Church of England. He had himself never denied that, that state of things constituted an inequality in our system of elementary education, and had even recently stated that it was one of the inequalities which made the settlement of 1870 a settlement which nobody could defend as logically fair all round. But he had pointed out that, while there was that inequality pressing upon Nonconformists, there were other inequalities under the Act of 1870 which pressed with at least equal injustice upon Churchmen. If they were to permit the extinction of the Voluntary Schools in Wales and elsewhere, the result would be that while the compromise of 1870 would be altered in favour of the Nonconformists it would be left exactly where it was as against all Churchmen. It would be very unfair to attempt, without reconstituting our system of education from top to bottom, which was a task to which he for one did not, feel equal to at present—it would be grossly unfair to allow in Wales or elsewhere the voluntary system to come to an end while leaving intact the School Board system and all those inequalities which made that system in certain districts so repulsive—[Opposition cries of "Oh!"]—so repellent to the views which Churchmen held on the subject of elementary education. For the rest, it was, perhaps, enough to say that the system of elementary education in Wales had been since 1870 one with the system which applied to the rest of England. He certainly would not be a party, either in connection with this Bill or any Bill that might succeed it, to drawing for the first time a line dividing Welsh elementary education from English elementary education. He could not assent to such a distinction, and certainly he could not consent to make it at this late stage of their discussions. While he recognised the propriety of the Welsh Members making their protest at the present stage, he felt sure that they did not expect the Government to make this alteration which they desired, but which would not be consistent with the broad principles upon which the Measure was founded.

MR. THOMAS ELLIS (Merionethshire)

commenting on the statement of the Leader of the House, that since 1870 Wales had been treated in exactly the same way as England, said that that was what the Welsh Members had protested against over and over again. Thousands of Welshmen complained bitterly of the fact that Welsh elementary education was treated by the Department and the House of Commons on the same basis as English education. [The FIRST LORD of the TREASURY explained that his statement referred to legislation and not administration.] Well, administration depended largely upon legislation. He admitted readily that the Welsh Members had been successful in securing certain advantages from the Education Department which had been of real value. By the code and in connection with inspection and examination the Department had acknowledged in the last few years that there was a distinct difference between the conditions of primary education in Wales and England respectively. But that only touched one part of the difficulty in Wales. The chief grievance in Wales arose from the position in which Nonconformists were placed, especially in rural parishes. Before the Act of 1870 many schools were erected in parishes by the co-operation of the Nonconformist inhabitants and the squires and Churchmen. Sometimes these schools were built on land that was given, and sometimes on the village common. In scores of cases, if not in hundreds, these schools so built had passed, often surreptitiously, into the hands of managers under trusts and deeds provided for the training of the children in the principles of the Established Church. In many parishes, therefore, the school built by general effort was now regulated and controlled by the clergyman and one or two Churchmen who were associated with him. That was a state of things which the people naturally resented. The brightest children in the school were, as a rule, Nonconformist children, for they formed the majority. They took the best prizes in the school; yet, if they desired to join the profession of teaching, which lay nearest to them, they were confronted with difficulties. They could not become pupil teachers unless they renounced the religion of their parents—["hear, hear!"]—entered the Church, and became communicants. Was it not a cruel thing for the Nonconformist parents and children in these parishes, where there was only one school, that the children could only gain admittance to the teaching profession by renouncing the religion of their own hearths and homes? There were instances in every county and every town where there was not a School Board, of parents having to choose between the two alternatives of either keeping their child away from the only avenue to the one profession he desired to follow or allowing or forcing him to renounce his own religion and enter the Church of England. ["Hear, hear"]


remarked that this was a little wide of the Amendment.


thought he would be able to show that his argument bore immediately upon the contention that this Bill proposed really to increase the burden which now lay upon the Welsh people, and it would be better for them educationally, and fairer to them as a people if they gave up the £25,000 to England rather than that it should be used in order to fasten more closely upon their shoulders a yoke they had already found too great to bear. [Cheers.] It was not a merely sentimental grievance; but it was one which was felt bitterly in hundreds and thousands of homes in Wales. In a village in his constituency a school was built on common land by the co-operation of the whole village. At last a clergyman came upon the scene who refused to carry out those obligations of honour and neighbourliness upon which the school had been conducted, insisted on taking the school into his own hand, not giving to the Nonconformists any right whatever in the school, and refusing to allow any scholar of that denomination to become a pupil teacher. What was the result? The Nonconformists said they would not pay any voluntary rate, but would establish a Board School. They were not allowed by the Education Department to establish a Board School, for the reason that there was sufficient accommodation in the existing school. So strongly, however, did the Nonconformists feel that, though the Education Department refused to sanction a Board School, they collected £650 and built a school which they carried on until the Department sanctioned it. [Cheers.] Out of the 150 children in the parish over 100 at once attended the new school, and the clergyman, seeing it was futile to carry on his school with some 20 or 25 children, at last said he would much prefer they should go to the thoroughly efficient Board School with its excellent education rather than that he should try to keep up a school in which the children could not, from the circumstances of the case, receive nearly so good an education. In another town, also in his constituency, a school built under precisely similar conditions, passed under the trust of the National Society, with the painful result that the Nonconformist children and parents had to choose between the two alternatives he had mentioned, They felt the matter so keenly that, although they were burdened with municipal rates to the extent of 7s. or 8s. in the pound, they collected £700 or £800 in order to build a school, which, when sanctioned by the Education Department, they handed over without a penny consideration to the School Board. [Cheers.] He cited these two instances to show what was a real grievance to the mass of Nonconformists in the Principality in those parishes where the Church School was the only school. [Hear, hear!"] The feeling in Wales was one of a strong desire, stronger even than that for the disestablishment of the Church, to have a complete public system of national education. [Cheers.]


I really do not see the relevancy of this. Even if the Amendment which the hon. Member is supporting was carried, the grievances to which he refers would not be remedied.


admitted this, but sail that by the Bill the grievances of Wales would be doubled. [Cheers.] Without entering into any argument between Voluntary and public schools, all he would say was that the desire of the overwhelming majority of the Welsh people was to have a public system of education such as they had in Scotland; but to ask them to agree to £25,000 being spent to increase a grievance which they already felt bitterly was to make a proposition which no free people would desire to accept. [Cheers.] If the Bill had permitted of it they would have asked for an equivalent grant to be devoted to purposes which they thought would be of infinite value to all forms of elementary, technical, and secondary education in Wales. [Cheers.]


remarked that the speech of the hon. Member had caused a feeling to arise in his mind which he certainly should never have expected to discover there—namely, a desire that they should have heard more of the Welsh Members in this Debate—[laughter and cheers]—for certainly, whether they agreed or disagreed with the hon. Member, they must admit that he had made a most excellent, and interesting speech. [Cheers.] It was, perhaps, enough for him to say in reply that while the hon. Gentleman had, with great eloquence and force, explained what he himself had always deemed and now most freely admitted to be a blot in their present educational system, he had absolutely shut his eyes to the corresponding difficulty under which members of the Church suffered in Wales and in other places. [Cheers.] Those who had preceded the hon. Gentleman on the same side had explained to them that in Wales there was a larger proportion of children educated in Board Schools than in any other part of the country, and the hon. Member had concentrated his attention upon those parts of Wales where the whole education of the children, whether of the Nonconformist or the Church, was intrusted to Church Schools. But surely there were other parts of Wales where the whole education of Church children was intrusted to a system which Churchmen did not like? The hon. Gentleman would like to see the whole scheme of 1870 upset so far as Wales was concerned. But that was neither a practical proposal nor was it the proposal before the House. When the time came for such a policy to be proposed, he did not think that any violent opposition on his part would be discovered. ["Hear, hear!"] While he could not think it could be justly said that the Bill intensified the grievances of any Nonconformists in Wales, it did something to prevent new grievances being laid upon the shoulders of Churchmen. [Cheers.]


speaking amidst persistent cries of "Divide" from the Ministerial Benches below the Gangway, said there were one or two points he wished to answer briefly, and his answer would apply to England as well as Wales, but he would speak only of Wales. Had the Leader of the House during the whole of the discussions given to the representations made from the Opposition side of the House the same kindly consideration which he had bestowed upon the remarks of the hon. Member below (Mr. T. Ellis) any effort of his to relieve the legitimate grievances of Churchmen would not have been opposed. The right hon. Gentleman said that in the School Board districts, "You take our children, you teach them reading, writing and arithmetic, but you do not teach them any creed or catechism." He (Mr. Leuty) sympathised with Church people who had that feeling, and he would go a long way to meet their conscientious scruples; but it was woeful when the Leader of the House said that the grievances of the Church people in England and the Nonconformists in Wales were parallel. ["Hear, hear!"] There was a great grievance which Dissenters suffered under. That was in districts where the whole of the children had to go to a Church school, and where they were taught to believe things that their parents disbelieved. They were not only taught things that their parents disbelieved, but which their parents looked upon as neither more nor less than superstitions. He did not himself say whether they were superstitions or not. If hon. Gentlemen opposite had the true interests of the Church at heart they would be ashamed of crying "Divide." They evidently did not see where the true interests of the Church lay. Our forefathers would not be penalised out of existence, and Nonconformists would not be bribed out of existence, as this Bill attempted to do. The evils which Churchmen sought to remove were as nothing to the evils under which Nonconformists laboured; and he had the utmost contempt for this attempt by a haughty, intolerant Party to put Nonconformists under a pecuniary disadvantage, and to drive their faith out of existence. [Opposition cheers.] He had used more forcible language than he should otherwise have done, because of the impertinent interruptions to which he had been subjected. [Cheers and counter cheers.]

MR. PRYCE JONES (Montgomery Boroughs)

said he merely wished, as a Welsh Member, to say that he should vote for the Government with the greatest pleasure. He was not prepared to decline to receive on behalf of Wales an annual sum of about £25,000. ["Hear, hear!"] But he was bound to say that, for one, he did not agree entirely with the Bill. He regarded it as a departure front the compromise of 1870. Still, he looked forward to a similar grant to the one proposed being made this year or next year to the Board Schools of the country. Then he hoped his hon. Friends opposite would be more satisfied with the Government than they were now. ["Hear, hear!"]

Question put, "That the word 'Wales' be there inserted."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 61; Noes, 198.—(Division List, No. 131.)

On the Question, "That the clause stand part of the Bill,"

MR. J. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

took the opportunity of asking the First Lord of the Treasury what he proposed to do in the way of an equivalent grant for Scotland and Ireland for Voluntary denominational schools. If Clause 5 were omitted from the Bill this grant in aid of 5s. per child would be available in respect to all schools in Scotland and Ireland which were not supplied by School Boards. In Ireland no schools were supplied by Boards, and in Scotland there were a considerable number of Voluntary Schools. Therefore, before they agreed to the passing of this clause, he thought the Government should take the opportunity of saying what they proposed to do for schools in Scotland and Ireland by way of an equivalent grant for this large grant which was now being made to the denominational schools in England. He desired to point out to the First Lord that this afforded an opportunity for settling that very vexed question with regard to religious schools in Ireland. The principle of the Bill was to encourage and to maintain schools of this kind in England which were giving denominational religious instruction. Now they had in Ireland a number of schools in which denominational religious instruction was given as part of the system.

MR. W. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

asked whether the hon. Member was in order in referring to the Irish system of education upon this Bill.


I do not think he would be in order in referring to the whole system of education in Ireland, but he would not be out of order in asking a question there upon.


said he was about to say there were a number of schools in Ireland corresponding to those in England, which were assisted by this Bill. He could not but feel surprised that the hon. Member for South Belfast, who had so steadily voted for this Bill, should rise and protest against any attempt being made to induce the Government to give a like support to denominational schools in Ireland, and it would appear that the hon. Member changed his principles when he crossed the Irish Channel. [Laughter.] He had not the least idea of debating the Irish system, but he desired to take what he thought a very reasonable opportunity of asking the Government to take into consideration the desirability of announcing that they would make a reasonable equivalent grant to Scotland and Ireland in respect of this £600,000 now being granted to denominational schools in this country.


May I ask, Mr. Grant Lawson, whether I should be in order if I were to discuss the question of a Roman Catholic University for Ireland? [Cheers and laughter.]


No. [Renewed laughter.]


I may remind the hon. Member that the schools in Ireland have to be supported entirely out of public funds without the assistance of subscriptions or rates, and have been so ever since the National system of education was started there.


Not the Christian Brothers' Schools.


I am speaking of the general system of education, which is denominational in the sense in which we understand it in England, and I say again that National system is supported entirely out of public funds, and therefore I do not think the occasion for the hon. Member's question arises.


said the Christian Brothers' Schools were strictly denominational Voluntary Schools, and they corresponded to the schools that were dealt with in this Bill. His point, and he thought he might now ask for an answer, was, that if Clause 5 were omitted, the Christian Brothers' Schools would come under the Bill. The object of the Bill was to encourage Voluntary religious denominational schools, and therefore, he asked, would it not be fair to supply to Ireland an equivalent grant for the same purpose for religious Voluntary Schools in Ireland. In reply to what the right hon. Gentleman had said, no doubt the educational system in Ireland was denominational, and had become so owing to the pressure of public opinion, and much to the indignation of the hon. Member for South Belfast. [Laughter.] But it was not practically denominational in the same sense as Voluntary Schools in England were, and the only schools in Ireland which corresponded from the religious point of view to those Voluntary Schools in England were the Christian Brothers and Convent Schools. He should press on the attention of the Government that they ought to set apart an equivalent grant for Ireland to be applied for the same purpose as the grant under this Bill was to be applied for the encouragement of separate Voluntary religious Schools.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

On the return of the CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS, after the usual interval,


moved the following new clause:—