HC Deb 10 May 1897 vol 49 cc122-34

(1.) Section ninety-seven of the Elementary Education Act 1870, shall have effect as if the sum of seven shillings and sixpence therein mentioned were increased by the sum of four pence for every complete penny by which the School Board rate for the year therein mentioned exceeded threepence. Provided that the said sum of seven shillings and sixpence shall not be thereby increased beyond a maximum of sixteen shillings and sixpence.

(2.) "School Board rate" means the rate in the pound on the rateable value of the district which would have produced the sum required in the said year for the purpose of the annual expenses of the Board, and actually paid in that year to the treasurer by the rating authority.

MR. J. H. YOXALL (Nottingham, W.)

moved in Sub-section (2), after the word "required," to insert the words, "and actually paid to the Treasurer." He said he desired by the Amendment to make the meaning of the clause quite clear. Sub-section (2) stated that the School Board rate meant the rate which would have produced the sum required in the said year; but, as a rule, the rate was 1–12th more than was actually paid to the Treasurer. Therefore he wished to transpose the words, "and actually paid to the Treasurer." He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would recognise that this Amendment was necessary.


said he was informed by his professional adviser that the form in which the Clause was drawn was now clear.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said the Government proposed the following Amendment to meet the question of balance: — In calculating for the purpose of Section 97 of the Act the annual expenses of the School Board, the Education Act shall include such sum as is necessary for maintaining such working balance as the Education Department determine to be necessary. The effect of the Amendment would be that a Board would be able to carry a reasonable balance over to the next year as part of its necessary expenses. He suggested that the Amendment should be discussed on Report.

MR. A. H. DYKE ACLAND (York, W.R., Rotherham)

said that this showed that the Amendment of his hon. Friend (Mr. Channing) was a genuine one. He had no doubt that the words of the Government Amendment, when they came to be read, would prove satisfactory to the School Boards throughout the country.

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

said he was obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the spirit in which he had dealt with this matter.

*MR. ERNEST GRAY (West Ham, N.)

expressed the hope that before the Report stage the Vice President would reconsider the terms of his Amendment so that the amount by which any balance in the hands of a School Board at the beginning of a year exceeded the amount of the balance at the close of the year might be regarded as equivalent to an amount contributed out of the rates during the year, and to that extent influence the grant under the Bill.

MR. A. J. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)

thought the Vice President of the Council had met the case very fairly, but that at the same time he might have converted the first "may" into "shall."


took it that this was one of the cases in which "may" should mean "shall," but in order to put all doubt at an end he would move the Amendment in the suggested amended form. ["Hear, hear !"] He was afraid the present Amendment would not meet such a case as that the hon. Member for West Ham had put.

*SIR C. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

said that, personally, he should have been content if the right hon. Gentleman had, without putting an Amendment in the Bill, given them a promise as regarded the practice of the Department, because he could not but think that the practice of the Department in the particular case which had been brought to the knowledge of hon. Members by means of a circular was wrong and illegal. He thought it would have satisfied the authorities concerned if the Vice President had told the Committee that the practice in this matter would be made straight. He did not think the practice had been uniformly wrong; indeed, his impression was that in other cases the matter had been fairly dealt with.


said that he must press his right hon. Friend. In many districts the matter he had drawn attention to had given much trouble. The School Board year closed on September 29th, and very probably on the 30th the School Board had to meet very large claims. If the rating authority could not pay the School Board on the morning of the 30th sums sufficient to meet those claims, the School Board must carry over from the 29th, a sufficient sum to meet the claims, hence the necessity for an actual working balance. He feared that in many places the School Boards might be put on the 30th of September in the position of defaulters unless they kept fairly large balances.


said the junior Member for Halifax had handed him a statement respecting the Halifax School Board which raised the question of the interpretation the Education Department would put upon the words "reasonable balance." The clerk to the Hoard wrote: — Taking, for instance, the ease of our own Board (our financial year ends March 25), on September 29, 1896, the balance in hand happened to be £2,663, the amount of rate levied £20,975; but, according to the proposal of the Government, as our Board understands it, the amount of aid under the new Bill would be calculated only upon £18,312. In the previous year, at the same date, it happened that the Board had at its bankers the very large balance of £11,630, and if the aid to be given had been calculated upon the difference between the rate levied and this chance balance no grant at all would have been due under tie provisions of this Bill. It was quite evident they required a litle more enlightenment as to what would be the standard or the principle upon which the Education Department would attempt to determine this very difficult question.


could not help thinking that with a little more care the balances might be made rather more uniform than the hon. Member had shown those at Halifax to have been. What the Department would do would be to seek to prevent a School Board from keeping such a balance as would really defeat the intention of the Act. There would be no desire to restrain the necessary variations in the amounts, or, in other words, to interfere with local finance; but the Department would, of course, enable a School Hoard to keep such balances as were necessary.

*SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)

said it would, perhaps, be better to defer the discussion of the Amendment until they had seen the actual words; but he would ask the Vice President to consider the point raised by the hon. Member for West Ham. He did not quite gather the reason which induced the right hon. Gentleman to prefer his own Amendment to that proposed by the hon. Member for Northamptonshire. Personally, he should have thought it would have been more convenient to leave out both balances and deal with the actual expenditure. It stood to reason that there might be cases connected with the erection of new schools and other matters which might make a balance reasonable one year, while it would be unreasonable another year. This and other points deserved careful consideration, but, sit the same time, they could I not discuss them with advantage without having seen the actual words of the Amendment proposed by his right hon. Friend.

Amendment, as amended, put and agreed to.

On the Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill,"


said it did not follow that if he and others had not put down Amendments, they were in any sense satisfied with the clause as one calculated to assist School Boards. In a money Bill of this sort, the House of Commons was not able to settle the amount of money which it thought fit should be granted to the ratepayers for their schools. They had to accept from the Chancellor of the Exchequer the sum he thought fit to name, and they must take it or leave it, although they might disapprove of the general relief which it gave. Therefore, as it was perfectly obvious that £110,000 was better than nothing, they must not vote against the clause—[ironical Ministerial cheers]—but it was only from that point of view that the clause could be accepted by many of those who were interested in School Boards. Speaking broadly, he should say that nobody supposed that the School Boards themselves were satisfied with the amount which was supposed to relieve their necessities, and which only gave them 1s. per child as compared with the 5s. per child which the House had already granted to the Voluntary or non-Board Schools. If they took the School Boards numerically, they saw how very few of them, though bearing a large burden of rates, got any advantage whatever under this clause. There were 2,500 Boards in the country, and it was said that nearly 800 Boards got relief under the clause. That was true in a, nominal sense, but 25 per cent, of them got less than £10, so that they might be eliminated as getting practically no relief. Then another 25 per cent, got more than £10, but less than £50, and, except in the case of a few country parishes, a sum of less than £50 was practically no relief at all. So that half of them got practically what was no relief at all, and out of the 2,500 only 300 or 400 got any effective relief, and in the large districts, whether they got sums of £50 or £200, the amount of relief was entirely inadequate. They had heard again and again that this was a Bill to relieve the necessities of poor School Boards. Did it do that from the point of view of those who bore the burden of the-rates? He thought everybody who watched the working of Section 97 must come to the conclusion that that Section was a very inadequate machine for the purpose of meeting necessities, and unfortunately it had been taken as the basis for further relief rather than that the subject should have been grappled in some now form, and by a completely new Act of Parliament. This left an enormous number of inequalities, which would be seen more and more as years went on, and which must arise from this clause when it became part of an Act of Parliament. They knew from the Return the Vice President had given that, while there were schools with only a 4d., 5d., or 6d. rate which would get grants, schools paying a 10d., 11d., and 1s. rate would get nothing whatever. No explanation based on the difference of rateable value, or the difference between what was called a rich town and a poor town, could possibly adequately get rid of the extreme inequalities which arose under the clause. He did not think anybody could be surprised that even large towns which were deeply attached to the present Government through their representatives in that House were extremely dissatisfied with the clause as it stood. The Birmingham School Board had, with only one dissentient, resolved that the clause was thoroughly unsatisfactory to them. Nobody could be surprised at this when a place had devoted itself to education as Birmingham had, and when, though it was paying a Is. rate, it got nothing whatever, whereas, if it had been, paid 5s. per head as well as the Voluntary Schools, it would have received no less than £12,000 a year. That was a very heavy penalty to place on Birmingham, which had stood in the van in many respects among English towns. Bradford, too, was in very much the same position. It simply remained for them to say that the provision now made was full of inequalities from the point of view of relieving the necessities of ratepayers and, on its own principle, that there was no kind of permanence in it.


said that he entirely agreed with his right hon. Friend that the relief afforded by this Bill was absolutely inadequate and almost insulting to the School Boards of the country. But he wanted to ask the Government whether they could not go a step further and bring in an Amendment to the clause on the Report stage which would enable the Education Department to give to School Boards the arrears that were already due to them under Section 97, but which they neglected to apply for when the money was due to them? The amount of unclaimed grants due to these small and poorer School Boards was something like £14,000, of which £4,000 were due to the poorest School Boards in Wales. The Vice President stated in the House a few weeks ago that he was advised by the Law Officers that he could not give more than one year's arrears, but a very simple addition to this clause would enable the Government to take to themselves power to give the whole of the arrears to those School Boards to which they were due. He would ask the Vice President whether the Government would take that most reasonable course?


said that there was one point he would like to raise, though the Vice President might think he was unduly anxious. He would remind his right hon. Friend and the Committee that there would be no payments made under this Act until October next, and if they could, by a word or two from the Vice President, clear away the anxiety which would exist between now and then, perhaps the Committee would not think the few moments wasted. He referred to this question of the rate in the pound and the rateable value. He would admit that his own anxiety had been removed by the answers the Vice President had given him on various occasions, but the words of the Bill were not clear. The words "rateable value" were used outside by rating authorities and by School Boards in some four or five different senses, and considerable anxiety had been experienced as to what the Department understood the term rateable value to mean. If the grants under the Act were to be paid in accordance with the rate in the pound on the gross rateable value of the district, then there would be a very material difference between the sums so paid, and the amounts which would be paid if the net rateable value of the district were meant. ["Hear, hear!"] He understood the operation under the Act would be this, that after a closed rate was formed, the rating authority would know exactly what one penny in the pound would produce. That was excluding from the gross rateable value the cost of collecting, loss by compounding, empties, and various other items of that nature. In the poorer districts, this meant a very material difference indeed. In West Ham it meant a difference of nearly 1s. per child between the rate on the net rateable value and the rate on the gross rateable, value. He understood the Vice President to say that it was the intention of the Department that it should be the net rateable value, and if he would state that in his place it would remove a very large amount of uneasiness which otherwise would undoubtedly prevail between the passing of the Act and its first application in October next. He was not alone amongst those who desired to have a clear, definite and explicit interpretation given to the words of a very abstruse clause. This difficulty did exist outside, and he hoped the Vice President would by a word or two clear that misapprehension away and relieve the anxiety of those who were looking forward with some pleasure to the operation of this Act.


said his final grumble at this clause concerned the maximum which had been placed in the Bill. He had been unable to understand why that maximum, had been placed in the Bill. A sliding scale which became a more operative scale as poverty increased, ought logically, and in the nature of things, to have no maximum. The case of the Government for the maximum in this clause was that the particular point fixed was not likely to be reached. He was not so sure of that. There was a particular parish which he had in his view, in which the fall of the rateable value had been very rapid, and the rates had increased in three successive half years—7s., 8s., and from 8s. to 9s. That was entirely caused by the fall in the rateable value, and therefore he was bound to say that the maximum which the Government, though they had put it in the Bill, believed would never be reached, would really be reached in some cases.

MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

said he agreed with the hon. Member for West Ham as to the extreme necessity for making it clear whether (he calculation as to the threepenny rate was on the gross rateable value or on the nett rateable value. In almost all public offices the calculation as to what a threepenny rate would produce was based on the nett rateable value, and that, of course, was a different thing from what a threepenny rate would produce in collection, especially in the poorer districts, where it varied from time to time. Therefore when they spoke of a threepenny rate it should be made clear whether it meant a rate calculated by the method adopted by the Local Government Board and other public offices, or meant the actual produce of a threepenny rate.

*SIR W. HART DYKE (Kent, Dartford)

said he rose to challenge the statement made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham in regard to the educational position that had brought about the introduction of the Bill. His right hon. Friend seemed to have forgotten what the position of affairs was at the last general election in regard to the Voluntary Schools and the Board Schools of the country. At that election it was pointed out by Unionist candidates in all constituencies, town and country, that there was such a difference between the monetary aid given by the rates to the Board Schools and to the Voluntary Schools that unless something was done to reduce the inequality by means of a Government grant, the almost immediate extinction of the voluntary system would result, and it was in pursuance of the pledges then given that the Voluntary Schools Act had been passed and that this Bill was also introduced. The constituencies were appealed to on behalf of the Voluntary Schools, and they replied that something should be done for those schools. Therefore it was not fair for hon. Members opposite to try to establish a grievance because of the difference between the sum given to the Voluntary Schools and the sum given to the Board Schools, as no question had been presented to the constituencies in regard to the Board Schools at the general election. But he thought that hon. Members opposite had a right to demand that where a district was so poor that a good Board School could not be maintained, that a sufficient sum should be found by the State to secure adequate education for the children of that district, and if the Bill did not bring about that object, the Government would be wise even at that stage to listen to an Amendment moved in that direction. But the Bill was never intended to be a ratepayers' relief Bill. If the School Board rate was oppressive, the ratepayers had the relief in their own hands. So long as they returned to the School Board educational enthusiasts who spent the rates lavishly, they had no ground to come to Parliament and ask for relief.

SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

said he desired to enter a mild protest against the historic account given by his right hon. Friend both as to the general election and the intentions of this Bill. He had read many articles and speeches dealing with the reasons which had given the other side their majority at the last general election. He had always supposed that it was high Imperial considerations that had placed the Government in power—such as the profound dissatisfaction with the administrative and the legislative programmes of the late Liberal Government; the determination to uphold the integrity of the Empire, and to protect certain interests—some secular and some spiritual—which were supposed to be gravely menaced. But he had never before heard the victory of the Government attributed to an invincible desire on the part of the constituencies of the country to remedy the grievances—the undoubted grievances, he admitted—of the Voluntary Schools. His right hon. Friend had also said the Bill was never intended to be a ratepayers' relief Bill. If a true biography of the Bill could be written, or if some future correspondence disclosed its genesis, its production, modification and final settlement, they should have an extraordinary history indeed. He believed the taxpayers of the country were quite as much alive to the relief of the ratepayers as to the relief of the subscribers to Voluntary Schools; that they would regard a Bill as unjust, and he believed they would take an early opportunity of rectifying the mistake of the Government in treating the Voluntary Schools and the Board Schools differently—not to the disadvantage of the Voluntary Schools, but in order to do justice to the ratepayers. He should not have revived those controversies if his right hon. Friend had not entered a protest against the statements on that side of the House in reference to the injustice of the Bill, for if they were to remain silent it might be assumed that they accepted the protest of his right hon. Friend. When the time came —it would not be in the House—he would be prepared to justify up to the hilt all that had been said, not only against the injustice, but against the impolicy of this Bill. Coming to details, he thought it was right that they should have some definition as to what the Government meant in reference to the vexed question of rateable value. He would point out to his hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch that there was no such thing as gross rateable value and nett rateable value; but there was gross rental and nett rateable value. Take a rateable value of.£240,000 a year. A rate of 3d. in the pound would not produce in that case £3,000. It would require a much larger rate to produce that sum, because there were a large number of properties in this country, both urban and rural, in regard to which rates were compounded for, and where, of course, a largo reduction had to be made. There was also a considerable leakage from houses empty and from bad debts, and these made a very appreciable difference in the produce of a rate. What they wanted to understand was, did the Government mean that the rate, if everybody paid up to the full, with no bad debts, and no compounding, would be a rate of 3d. in the pound, or did they mean such a rate as would produce the sum mentioned in this Bill? He thought the right hon. Gentleman should make it perfectly clear what was the intention of the Government, lest some future critic, or rather obstructive, in the Education Department, should put a construction upon the Act which was not intended.


said he did not complain at all of the right hon. Member for Rotherham making a protest which he unfortunately was not able to make on the Second Reading, but he did not think it would be very proper for them to indulge in another Second Reading Debate at this stage. He rose to answer some of the questions put to him; the most important question was that winch had just been put by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He thought he had some right to complain of this question, as it had been put formerly by notice and answered in the most ample and clear manner, which not only he himself but the Committee of Council of Education had been able to suggest. There was no doubt whatever that the rate mentioned in the 97th section of the Act of 1870, and the rate mentioned in this Hill, was not, as the hon. Member for Shoreditch suggested, any imaginary or conventional rate; it was the rate which would actually produce the sum which was required. He hoped he had stated that clearly—["hear, hear !"]—but if there was any doubt about it, and anybody wanted to have a further or clearer statement, the best way would be to put a Question on the Paper. The Question would then be carefully considered, and the answer could be framed in legal language. That, he thought, was the only question of real importance which had been put in the course of this short discussion. Several other questions had been put, notably by the lion, and learned Member for Glamorganshire, with a view of trying to persuade the Government at a later stage to increase the relief which was given in this Bill. He heard all these sort of appeals without any emotion whatever—[Laughter] —because he was in the position of the traveller with empty pockets who sang in the presence of a robber. [Laughter] The House knew very well that he could not make grants of money, and that there was an authority higher than he. He had no power to propose Amendments which would enlarge the scope of this Bill. That was his answer to the proposal for including arrears. And so, with regard to the maximum, he could only say, "There it is." [Laughter.] He still thought it was a maximum which would not be reached, but if in time to come the maximum should ever be reached, he had no doubt that the wisdom of Parliament would devise some other means. He thought, on the whole, the Committee must admit that, as far as the money at the disposal of the Education Department had gone, it had been as wisely and successfully distributed as was possible. A great many oases of course were always brought up of hardship; some of them had been brought up more than once—the case of Aston, for instance. He had already dealt with this matter, however, on the Second Reading. He hoped the House would now allow the clause to pass.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2,—