HC Deb 20 May 1897 vol 49 cc941-54

On the Motion for the Third Reading of this Bill,

MR. JOHN HUTTON (York, N.R., Richmond)

said he desired to enter an earnest protest against the working of the Bill with regard to small rural School Boards. In the Division he represented there were no fewer than 110 elementary schools. Of these only 15 were Board Schools. Some of them were of the very poorest class in the whole country—nine of them had an average attendance of under 50—and not one of the 15 received a single shilling under the Bill. [Opposition cheers.] He should like to illustrate these schools by quoting the state of one particular school. It was in a school district situated on the moor edges, seven miles from the nearest railway station. The population at the present time was only 223, and the rateable value only £3,810. In 1876 the district was compelled to form a School Board, and built two schools—the population being more than double the present number—one to hold 70 children, the other 40. The closing of the mines caused almost the entire population to disappear, and the average attendance at those schools was now only 21 and 19. A school rate of 9d. was necessary, and the cost per child was no less than £5. 19s. 9d. He inquired whether it was possible to move an Amendment in Committee, so as to bring these Board Schools within the Bill, but was informed on the highest authority that it could not be done without also bringing in the schools in the rich towns such as London and other large cities. He was aware that the Agricultural Rating Bill of last year gave some relief to such poor districts as he had referred to: but it was relief to occupiers of land only, and was not of the slightest help to occupiers of houses as such. That, he thought, was a very great grievance of which they had a right to complain. When the Voluntary Schools Bill was passing through the House they were told again and again that the poor Board Schools would be relieved by another Bill. He had already said that the poor School Board districts in the constituency he represented must be among the poorest in the whole country, and it was a great injustice and a real grievance that they should be left out in the cold. He only hoped that his right hon. Friend the head of the Education Department would see his way to promise that in a future Session he would bring in some Bill to give substantial relief to the schools to which he had referred.

*MR. R. W. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth)

said he was of opinion that, the fond hopes of the last speaker would not be fulfilled. Seeing that it was the declared intention of leading men on the Ministerial Benches to crush out rather than encourage Board Schools, it was not likely that the poor districts he so ably represented would get any such help as he asked for. He should not like the Bill to pass without offering his protest against its injustice. ["Hear, hear!"] It was unjust to numerous classes in the country, and the principle upon which it was based was absolutely unintelligible. Many of the great towns which bore the main burden of the assistance given under the Voluntary Schools Act, and who would have also to bear the main part of the burden under this so-called Necessitous Schools Bill, had no relief whatever, and had no share, the bulk of them, in this petty and miserable educational dole. [Opposition cheers.] The great cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle. Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, and London herself, had no share whatever, although the ratepayers were burdening themselves far more for educational work than the voluntary subscribers in rural districts and towns where the sectarian schools were now in operation. There was a further great injustice as between town and country. One would have imagined that when this small solatium—a sort of educational hush-money to the School Boards—was offered by the Education Department—a sort of conscience-money, he supposed, given in fulfilment of a pledge to do something for the Board Schools which they could not well get out of—one would have thought that when they came to distribute this small bounty, they would have exercised some ingenuity in trying to distribute it on some equitable footing as between town and country. What was the position in reference to this small grant of £110,000? There were in this country some 5,400 Board Schools. Yet, about one-third of the money distributable under the Bill went to nine towns or School Board districts. Leeds got the enormous sum of £6,788—money which would be far more justly distributed in the rural districts of Yorkshire; Hull got £1,868, and the town of Sheffield got close on £3,000. Nottingham, another very flourishing town, received close on £4,000; and Leicester £3,377. But the biggest haul was made by the district comprising West Ham, Wan-stead, Walthamstow, and Leyton, which got no less than £17,500 out of this £110,000. Now was that equitable? Did it commend itself to any man of common sense? They might point to the Bill, and say that they had adopted the principle of contributing the difference between the produce of a 3d. rate and the limit of 1ds. 6d. per head. But common-sense men would judge by the results. The reason why these alleged poverty-stricken districts of West Ham and the neighbourhood received this enormous bounty was due very largely to the fact that the rateable value of property there was extremely low. The standard of rateable value, he contended, was no fair index of the poverty of a district. His point, was, that an enormous proportion of this money went to the towns as against the villages and rural districts. In the county of Lincoln, in the Division he represented, covering an area of over one thousand square miles, they had 175 villages, with two or three small towns, and they had something like twenty School Boards. In the whole county there were 107 School Boards. It was the custom to represent the rural districts as wholly given over to Anglican educational control. That, he was thankful to say, was not absolutely the case. It was true there were 8,000 villages in which there was only one sectarian school, and that a school of the Anglican Church, but the county of Lincoln was sufficiently enlightened to have 107 School Boards, and he trusted the day would come when the shop-keepers and farmers would throw off the ascendency of the sectarian churches of all sorts, and would combine to have their School Boards. But out of these 107 schools in Lincolnshire, only 13 received any help at all from this Bill; and in the Division he represented, out of the twenty School Boards, only one—a little Board School right up on the top of the wolds of Lincolnshire— received any help at all, that help being limited to £5. Was it reasonable to suppose that the farmers who were already rated so heavily in that distressed agricultural county would feel any enthusiasm for this Bill, or would consider that this money was being properly and equitably distributed? ["Hear, hear !" from the Opposition Benches.] He might refer to other counties. In Surrey, with 32 School Boards, only four got help; in Lancashire, with 53 School Boards, only four were assisted, and in this case the assistance was limited to 10d. per scholar. Contrast that with the 5s. per scholar given under the Voluntary Schools Act, and then ask whether there was anything like equity of treatment. Her Majesty's Government seemed to have absolutely abandoned—in fact they had refused to accept—what had been always considered to be the guiding principle or one of the guiding principles of the Act. of 1870, viz., equality of treatment between the two classes of schools —Voluntary and Board Schools. He wished to point out that this Bill, coupled with the Voluntary Schools Act already passed, re-opened absolutely the whole so-called settlement of 1870. [" Hear, hear!"] He was glad to be supported in that view by his hon. Friend the Member for the city of Rochester. He was quite prepared for the Dissenting churches and communities of this country to fight their own battle and establish, if necessary, their own schools, but certainly the course which the Government had taken left the Dissenters of this country absolutely free to adopt any course they might think proper, and bring any pressure they could command upon any future Government to secure for the School Board Schools of this country more adequate and reasonable assistance.

COLONEL MILWARD (Stratford-upon-Avon)

was bound to support the observations of his hon. Friend the Member for the Richmond Division of the North Riding as to this being a very disappointing Bill. He had had several representations from Warwickshire, where there were comparatively few School Boards, to the effect that practically nothing was received under the Bill by poor and rural parishes. He thought the scheme was really too ingenious. He did not, as a rule, approve of ingenious ingenuity in that way, because it was generally impracticable. He thoroughly believed the Education Department wished to deal fairly, as far as money would allow, with all the School Boards they had to do with, but it did so happen under the Bill that some School Boards got excessively large sums and some poor, struggling School Boards got no money at all. The School Boards in his constituency were agricultural parishes with a large area, very much distressed, and where the School Board had been forced upon the parish by stress of circumstances. In one of them it was true that the sum of £7 was received, but the others got nothing at all. On the borders of his constituency there was a large parish, partly artisan and partly agricultural, which did require large help and winch received it. He was bound to say there was a feeling of disappointment in the rural parishes at the principle upon which the money was distributed, and the fact that many poor parishes would receive so little.

MR. LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)

regretted that hon. Members opposite did not support hon. Members on his side when they brought forward the Motion declaring that no Bill would be satisfactory to the House unless it gave the same treatment to Board as to Voluntary Schools. He rose, on behalf of the rural districts, to protest against the niggardliness of the Government in their treatment of the small rural schools. The Government had shown a strange lack of what was necessary for the educational efficiency of the rural School Board Schools. The Education Department, as the last speaker had said, no doubt wished to deal fairly with the rural Board Schools, but he believed they were hampered by the ecclesiastical tendencies of those who probably sat behind the Vice President. In his constituency in North Devon there were 31 Board Schools, containing 2,748 scholars in average attendance. The School Boards paid no less a sum than £l,600 a year in rates, or 12s. 6d. per scholar, being nearly double the average voluntary subscriptions of 6s. 10½d., and if they had been Voluntary Schools they would have received no less then £687 a year. Unfortunately they were Board Schools, and they received the miserable dole of £66 a year, or less than one-tenth the amount they would have got had they been Voluntary Schools. That was only 6d. per child as contrasted with the 5s. given to the children in Voluntary Schools. How was this gigantic grant distributed among the schools in his constituency? There were two which received between them £64 a year out of the £66, and there were two which received £1 a year each. To call that relief was ridiculous. To give a School Board £1 a year was to give it what would not be enough to buy a blackboard, and what would hardly keep the children in slate pencils. To fritter away public money in such small grants could do no good, and as a Unionist newspaper in the West of England said the other day, it was a wasteful use of public money the like of which had never before been sanctioned by Parliament. They could not say that giving a School Board in a parish £1 a year was legislation. It was a parody of all justice. It was a kind of Parliamentary pantomime with the Vice President as chief performer. In North Devon they got an average of £1. 5s. per School Board, which it was grotesque to describe as any relief. In his constituency there was a School Board parish in which the ratepayers actually paid 25s. for every scholar in average attendance, yet they got nothing in relief from this dole. It seemed to him the principle of the Bill was that the ratepayers who paid most locally received least Imperially, and those who paid the least locally received the most from the Imperial grant. In his constituency the people paid nearly double the amount of the average voluntary subscriptions in rates and yet they got only one-tenth of the amount the schools would have received if they had been Voluntary Schools. He contended that that was most injurious to all education in the country districts. If the late Government had introduced a Bill to give £600,000 to the School Boards and only £100,000 to the Voluntary Schools hon. Gentlemen opposite would have had a fit of ecclesiastical hysterics, and would have indulged in all sorts of declamations against the wickedness of the Government. He thought it would have been much wiser for the supporters of Voluntary Schools in Unit House to have treated all classes of schools alike, rather than to have endeavoured to cripple the School Boards. He maintained that the country districts required as much money for education as did the towns. The right hon. Gentleman, the Vice President, when he introduced the Bill of last year said that, as a general rule, while the Board Schools in the great cities had proved themselves extremely efficient in education, the Board Schools in the country had proved themselves inefficient. If that were so why give enormous sums to the towns and such small sums to the country districts? If they had wanted to improve education they should have given the money to the localities where education, according to the right hon. Gentleman, was inefficient, but the system adopted by the Government for the distribution of the grant was a gross parody upon any kind of justice in legislation.


regretted that expressions like those they had heard from the two hon. Members on the Government Benches, representing the feeling in two counties of England—War-wickshire and the North Riding of Yorkshire—were not given expression to upon the earlier stages of this Bill. He thought much might have been done if hon. Gentlemen opposite representing School Board districts had, on the Voluntary Schools Bill, expressed the feelings to which they were now giving utterance, as to the injustice of this unequal treatment of Board and Voluntary Schools. ["Hear, hear!"] It was a somewhat belated protest to make now, because nothing remained but to utter the protest. While they had had strong representations over and over again from his side of the House as to the wrong principle which had guided the treatment of different classes of schools by the Government, they had not had those protests at a sufficiently early time from those hon. Gentlemen on the Government side of the House who represented School Board constituencies in various parts of the country. He could assure the House from his knowledge of Lancashire that the feelings which the hon. Member for the Richmond Division of the North Riding had given expression to were shared by many of the School Board districts in that county. ["Hear, hear!"] School Boards in many small places were trying to do their duty for the education of the children, and there was an intense feeling of injustice among all parties as to the way in which 5s. per child had been distributed among Voluntary Schools, while something less than 1s. was given to Board Schools. There was no doubt that the effect of this legislation would be to unsettle the Education question, and all the vexed questions so happily settled by the Act of 1870 would be opened up. They had heard speeches from the noble Lord the Member for Rochester and his Friend Mr. Athelstan Riley, rejoicing over the settlement. He wondered whether in a few years' time the noble Lord and Mr. Athelstan Riley, who arrogated to themselves to speak in the name of the Church Party, would rejoice in the same way. Did the noble Lord suppose that this question could be left where this Bill left it? [Viscount CRANBORNE: "No, certainly not!"] Then he ventured to think the noble Lord would speak in a very different tone in a few years' time. He did not wish to detain the House with any prolonged observations on the Third Reading of this Bill, but he would repeat that a feeling of injustice and unequal treatment had been aroused amongst the ratepayers who had to provide the money for the School Boards. Subsequent experience of the inequality and injustice must strengthen that feeling, and he was convinced that in the future it would be necessary to review the whole question, and to take care that it was dealt with in a very different way to that in which his Government had dealt with it. ["Hear, hear !"]


said he would not reply to the general protest of the right hon. Gentleman, as it had been replied to over and over again. He rose for the purpose of making a few observations in answer to the very real grievance to which his hon. Friends the Members for Warwickshire and the Richmond Division of Yorkshire had called attention, and that was the position of the small rural School Boards with a very large area and very sparse population, in which the rate-able value was low and the cost of education under the system of the Act of 1870 ran up to enormous sums. One case had been quoted in which it had reached no less a sum than £6. There was no doubt that the position of these small School Boards was a very difficult one, and that the Act of 1870, which succeeded so well in great cities, which had given London, Manchester, and Liverpool their admirable Board Schools and their high standard of education, had not worked equally successfully in the rural districts, where the cost was out of all proportion to the education given. Her Majesty's Government would be only too glad if they could induce Parliament to consent to a Measure by which they could really be placed in a more satisfactory condition; but the figures of this Bill could not have been altered so as to give a larger grant to the rural districts without making the Bill so wide as to include very large cities like London itself and imposing on the public funds sums to which no Chancellor of the Exchequer would agree. ["Hear, hear!"] Another reason was that money was not the only thing, not even the chief thing, the rural School Boards required. They required organisation a great deal more than money—["hear, hear !"]—and he ventured to say that there would never be a satisfactory condition of public education in rural districts until there were much larger areas and authorities exercising jurisdiction over much wider areas. ["Hear, hear!"] He would like to remind the House that this matter was dealt with by the Bill of last year. Clauses in that Bill were directed to giving, at all events to the ratepayers and inhabitants of those districts the opportunity of merging themselves in larger areas and of having an authority capable of taking charge of elementary education in the counties, and which would have relieved if not put an end to the grievance of which hon. Members so justly complained. ["Hear, hear !"] Of course it was not for him to complain of the action Parliament thought fit to take last year, but he wished to warn the House that they could not relieve the real grievance of these small School Boards with their scattered populations by a mere grant of public money. Even if they had the power under this Bill to give them a large grant, in an expenditure amounting to £6 a child, what would even 5s. per child do? The cost would still be £5. 15s. How much better off would they be after receiving that relief than they are now? ["Hear, hear!"] The matter could not be remedied by the drastic methods hon. Members recommended. Those who entertained a sort of fetish respect for the Act of 1870 must make up their minds that that system must be amended in certain particulars, that the small rural School Board must be put an end to, and that the authority for education must be an authority exercising jurisdiction over a wider area and able to organise and coordinate education in a proper manner. ["Hear, hear!"]

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

said the right hon. Gentleman had dealt with the matter of federation of small School Boards, and appeared to think that was an argument against the protests made in this Bill; but this Bill did not deal with organisation. It was purely a financial Bill. [" Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman would have found that if there had been a proposal for the federation of School Boards in small areas without anything dangerous to School Boards, there would have been no opposition from that side of the House. Therefore, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would relieve them of any responsibility for having prevented it. It was not that part of the Bill of last year that killed it. [Cheers.] Let them have no red herring drawn across the trail with reference to last year's Bill or the needs of small School Boards under this Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] Their needs had been exemplified from both sides of the House, and hon. Gentlemen had shown how, from a financial point of view, they were made to suffer. Theirs was a. perfectly fair complaint, and no amount of federation would get rid of it. The right hon. Gentleman said he would not say a word about the general protest against the Bill, because it had been replied to over and over again. He wished to know what the reply was? ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman said he would not deal with that, but would deal with the real grievance. He wished the right hon. Gentleman could deal with it. They all knew that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was master of the situation; but although the Chancellor of the Exchequer would never have agreed to a sum of £500,000 for School Boards, he had agreed to a sum of £600,000 for Voluntary Schools. [Cheers.] If £750,000 were the only sum available, and if it had been equally distributed between Voluntary and Board Schools, the grievance would have been largely modified. ["Hear, hear!"] The Vice President said that School Boards which had a burden of rates equivalent to £6 per child would not get much relief out of 5s. But there were School Boards, both in town and country, whose expenditure was less than £1 per child, and in these cases 5s. would be a real relief. ["Hear, hear!"] They had no power to increase the amount given under the Bill, but they were right in protesting against the insufficiency of the grant. They were right, moreover, in protesting against the irregularity and inequality which the methods of the Bill were developing and would still more largely develop as time went on. Some Boards would get relief to the extent of £1,000 in one year, and the amount would go down to £500 in the next year, and up to £900 in the year following. That unequal method would tend to wastefulness, and would irritate the ratepayers by reason of the varying demands that would be made upon them from year to year. Whether on the ground of irregularity and inequality of action, or on the broader ground of the extreme insufficiency of the grant, they must protest, as they had protested at every stage, against the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"]

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

said he should have thought this stage of the Bill would have been taken without any discussion whatever. [Opposition laughter.] There were but few principles involved, and these had been sufficiently discussed on the previous stages. But now that the Debate had arisen, he should be sorry to see it closed without some correction of the false impression to which the statements of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rotherham and his Friends had given rise. He could not admit that the methods of the Bill were open to the charge levelled against them by the right hon. Gentleman. Section 97 of the Act of 1870 was always open to far more serious accusations, for under it the grants did not depend on the way in which a locality had discharged its duty, but were the same whether the rate was 3d. in the pound or 2s. 6d. in the pound. That anomaly was removed by the Bill, and the relief would now be in proportion to the way in which a district discharged its duty, as well as in proportion to the necessities of the district. The Bill, in his opinion had been very skilfully drafted, and the application of its principles had been wisely bestowed over the country. He joined in the regret that the total amount was not larger, but the method of application was not, in his view, open to objection. This legislation was incomplete in itself, and must be followed at a very early date by further Measures dealing with the question of national education. The necessity for further reform did not arise from the introduction of the Bills of this Session, but from the facts of the case. The country would sooner or later have demanded a large Measure such as that introduced last Session. The disturbance of the compromise of 1870 was not caused by the present legislation, but already existed. He asked the House not to attach too much importance to the protest that had been raised, particularly from the Ministerial side, with regard to the Bill. He did not think that, with regard to some of the smaller School Boards, the protest was altogether fair or just, Reform was not to be found for these small School Boards in the amount of the grant awarded to them, but must be found in a Measure totally abolishing the small School Board, and placing educational affairs in rural districts in the hands of authorities having control over larger and wider areas than those which at present existed, and with power to levy a rate over rich and poor districts alike, so as in some way to equalise the charge throughout the country. It would be most ungracious on his part, as representing one of the districts largely benefited by the Bill, if he did not offer his cordial thanks to the Government for introducing it. He believed that many districts, both urban and rural, would look upon the Bill with a large amount of satisfaction, and that the individual ratepayer in these districts would not forget that it was from the present Unionist Government that he received this measure of relief.

MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Notts, Mansfield)

said that the Bill afforded a fitting opportunity for reviewing the educational policy, or no-policy, of the Government. They had had a great opportunity, arising from the fact that there was a general conviction that the Act of 1870 needed amendment; they had an able Minister of Education, and they had a large majority behind them, and there was no disposition to thwart them on the part of the Opposition. How had they used the opportunity? The Vice President of the Council had just admitted that the mere granting of additional public money would not improve the condition of the rural schools, and had described the changes which would be really effective; hut the Government had not proposed any such changes. They had not raised the school age, though almost everybody admitted the necessity for doing so. They had provided no guarantees for either increased school efficiency or for the maintenance of voluntary subscriptions. A large additional grant of public money had been voted to Voluntary Schools, but without any provision for local representative control. The teachers were not to be protected, as they should be, from the exactions of their clerical taskmasters. Lastly, the admitted grievances of Nonconformists were not redressed. There would still be thousands of parishes with only a Church of England School, from which Nonconformist teachers and pupil teachers would be excluded. All these demands had been made, but not one had been conceded. Those were the Government's sins of omission. Their sins of commission were less numerous, but were still serious, for they had granted £616,000 a year to Voluntary Schools and only a paltry £110,000 to some Board Schools, and to many of them nothing. Why was such a distinction made? Two grounds had been stated. One was, that to treat both classes alike would prevent the Voluntary Schools successfully competing with Board Schools; but the Government had decisively rejected that plea in opposing the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Rochester in the Committee on that Bill. Nor could the other objection — the plea of poverty on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—be maintained, seeing that he had had unprecedented resources at his disposal. The half million which would probably be wasted on the Navy would have been exactly sufficient to place the two classes of schools on the same footing. But the greatest mistake of the Government was the creation of non-representative bodies, which would weaken the authority of the Education Department, and many of which would, it was certain, work for ecclesiastical instead of educational ends. The educational measures of the Government were but makeshifts and temporary measures. They would do nothing to improve education, while they would create new anomalies and inflict great injustice. Mr. Forster was honoured for the Act of 1870, but the Bills of the present Government would bring to them no honour, because there was too much reason to believe that they had sacrificed educational interests to the interests of sectarianism.

MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

regretted very much that, in spite of the discouragement of last Session, the Government had not attempted to put the Education question on a surer basis. The two Education Bills which had been introduced this year did produce in many places a great number of fresh anomalies —London, for instance, was very badly treated—["hear, hear !"]—and he trusted that even during the present Parliament they might find time for legislation which would set at rest this great question. He was persuaded that the only way to solve the difficulty was for the State to take on itself the whole cost of secular teaching.

Bill read a Third time, amid cheers, and passed.

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