HC Deb 24 February 1898 vol 53 cc1563-74

On the Supplementary Vote for a sum not exceeding £20,710 for Public Education in England and Wales being put,

MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Nottinghamshire, Mansfield)

I assume that I am right in supposing that the Vote now asked for will complete the expenditure this year resulting from the legislation of last year, to meet the necessities of the Board schools and voluntary schools. If that be so, I wish the Vice-President of the Council had felt it his duty to give us some information as to the results of recent legislation, because it was admitted last year that in regard to certain matters we were all of us very much in the dark. Now we have left the region of speculation, and have entered into the region of fact. It seems to me that it would be a natural thing that we should be informed, to some extent, at least, what has followed the passing of these two Measures. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman is reserving a statement on the subject until the Estimate for the next year is submitted to the House, but, unfortunately, the Education Estimate always comes on at a very late period of the year, when there are very few Members present to enter into a discussion of the subject. Supposing that this is his intention, I would submit that it would be desirable to furnish certain information if the requisite returns are asked for. If he asks me what kind of information I desire to elicit, I would give this answer: in the first place, I should like to know what associations will be formed under the Voluntary Schools Act, what are their areas, and what is their character? And also I should ask for similar information with regard to the sub-associations. Next, I should like to learn how many, and what schools, have been excluded from their participation in the grant because they have not joined any association, and if it is not thought fit——


None of the questions which the hon. Gentleman has suggested can be discussed on this Vote. They do not arise.


I was under the impression that we were dealing with the expenditure, and that we were entitled to elicit some information in connection with the expenditure.


Yes, in connection with the expenditure asked for, but no expenditure is asked for in regard to those matters which the hon. Member has referred to.


I am asking for information in regard to schools which have been excluded from participation in this grant on the ground that they had not joined any association.


The question of Voluntary Schools Associations does not arise in this Vote at all. The money was taken at the end of last Session.


But this vote is asked for for Board Schools, I think, in addition to voluntary schools. Voluntary schools are included. I think I am correct in saying that.


There is no additional Vote under the Voluntary Schools Act, but there is an additional sum taken under the Act passed with reference to School Board schools.


I assume I should be allowed to make some reference to the method adopted by the Department in allocation of this grant to the voluntary schools.


No; no money is asked for in that respect. The money has already been voted.


I am afraid, Sir, your vigorous ruling precludes me from multiplying the remarks I was about to make to the right hon. Gentleman, and I further conclude that you will declare me out of order if I venture to make any complaints with regard to the recent action of the Education Department. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will, at least, favourably consider any proposal which may be made for returns in regard to the points I have mentioned, and some of those which I should also have mentioned had you permitted me to do so.

MR. D. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)

I should like to ask the Vice-President of the Committee of Council on Education whether the £6,161 asked for is the total amount payable to the voluntary schools, as the result of the abolition of the 17s. 6d. limit?


No. The amount payable to schools, due to the abolition of the 17s. 6d. limit, is £48,161. The schools all round have obtained 3½d. per scholar more than was estimated, but unfortunately the number of scholars who had entered the schools had been over-estimated, and the increased average is not growing at the same rate. The estimate of what the increase to the schools would be is much less; there were 17,614 fewer children in attendance than had been expected. The grant is thus reduced by the saving due to the number of children who have not been got into the schools.


I should like to ask whether the fewer number of scholars in attendance is due to the perfunctory action of the Guardians and other bodies? If that is so, I should like to inquire if there are no means of compelling them to do their work more thoroughly and more energetically. Surely, I should say, it is in the interest of the Education Department to conpel them to attend to this matter. Could not the Education Department say: We will not pay for this grant unless the Board of Guardians and School Board do the work, and carry out the duties imposed upon them by the Education Acts? I think then it would be looked to by the public bodies concerned that the attendance officers did their work properly.


No doubt the people of this country do not avail themselves of the provisions for public free education which the liberality of Parliament makes. The average attendance all round is 81 or 82 per cent., but in many of the great cities, where the compulsory powers of the Education Acts are properly enforced, the attendance is very large indeed. In the higher grade schools the attendance reached 90 per cent., and even 100 per cent. In the higher grade schools in Cambridge, for example, there was practically no absenteeism at all, and in the Board Schools of our cities generally there was a very high percentage of attendance. What, then, must the condition of the schools be where the average was only 81 or 82 per cent.? When the Education Estimates are moved this year, I shall be prepared to call the attention of the Department to the waste of funds caused by reason of the non-attendance of the children. I should be very glad indeed if the wisdom of Parliament could devise some method by which this state of things can be remedied. The suggestion of the hon. Member would hardly meet the case, because the attendance officers, and not the managers of the schools, are primarily responsible.

MR. J. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)

I venture to amplify the suggestion of the hon. Member. There are two ways in which children should be got to attend schools. One is by enforcing their attendance, and the other is by inducing them to attend more regularly. The two methods are resorted to in the large towns, but in the country districts I fear that very little is done in the way of inducement at all. Now, if you go to any large Board School in a large town you will find that the managers have adopted a great many ways of inducing the children to attend regularly. For instance, they prepare tabulated statements in a very attractive form, showing what particular class has attended best during the past week. They give emulation in that way between the different standards, and in the case of the other standards the same system is adopted in regard to the individual scholars. I have been assured by those who take an interest in the matter that the very best results to the scholars and to the schools have been attained. Now, the right hon. Gentleman has said that it would be hardly in his competence to direct the local authorities as to the manner in which they should exercise their powers; but may I put forward a suggestion to him? I do not know whether he has adopted anything of the kind or not, but it is this: that he should bring the experience of the large towns in the large schools to which he has referred to bear upon the schools in the country districts by means of Departmental circulars, or otherwise, pointing out the good results which have been achieved by the large educational authorities in the large towns, and recommending the managers in the country to adopt similar measures, so as to increase the attendance at the schools.

CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)

I do not think it is quite fair to make a charge against Boards of Guardians and to compare the schools in large towns with those in the country districts. It is very difficult sometimes to get the children in the country to attend school, especially in the winter time, when they are not sent with the same degree of regularity that they are in the towns. In the towns they are sent to school under circumstances which are by no means parallel to those in the country. I believe that the Education Department would not permit the Voluntary School Committees to arrange for conveyances out of the public funds in order to get the children to and from school. This, however, is a method which would greatly facilitate the attendance of scholars.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I quite agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down that in some parts of the country it is impossible to expect the same regularity as in the towns, but I may point out that the attendance in Scotland is far higher than in England. The fact of the matter is that in Scotland there is a general opinion in favour of education, while, I fear, this is hardly the case in England. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the attendance officers. There is also another class which has to deal with this question—I mean the magistrates. I am bringing no charge against the magistrates, but I know that one of the greatest—if not the greatest—difficulty we had for some years before the London School Board, in forcing the proper attendance of children, was that the magistrate almost invariably took the side of the parents, and not that of the children. If the hon. and gallant Member would visit Switzerland he would find the attendance in the outlying parts there quite as good as the attendance in the town. The attendance there is very much higher than has ever been reached in this country. I would also point out to the hon. and gallant Member, so far as the Education Department is concerned, that the expenditure is within the terms of the Education Acts, and it has prevented the School Boards from spending the ratepayers' money. The Education Department would be only too glad if the law were so altered as to allow the School Boards in rural districts to bring the children to school in the best and most economical way—i.e., in covered vans.


Might I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Vice-President of the Council that he himself should bring in a Bill for that purpose? It would be a source of great economy all over the country.

*SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH (Lancashire, N.E., Clitheroe)

We have already had a reference made to the case of Scotland, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite has also referred to Switzerland, but in some parts of our own country where children have to come great distances by the worst of roads, there has been quite as good attendance as in such places as Birmingham and Cambridge. I could mention two parishes in Westmoreland where we have had for years an attendance of something like 97 or 98 per cent. of those on the books. Children have to come two miles to those schools, by roads which are very hilly and muddy, and yet it is rare to find a single child absent; the children are not kept at home by their parents. What does that point to? It points to the prevalence of a local public opinion similar to that of Scotland and similar to that of Switzerland. I am very glad my Friend the Member for Poplar has alluded to the case of London. He has indicated that the true reason why London is far behind most great towns; and if only the magistrates would give greater encouragement to the School Board in its efforts, we should have a very great improvement in the attendance of London schools. I am extremely glad to hear my right hon. Friend opposite state that he intends, in his statement of this year on the Education Estimates, to call special attention to this subject. It is very unsatisfactory that there should be the enormous waste of money and effort that there is, in the great majority of schools, owing to the poor attendance.

*MR. SAMUEL SMITH (Flintshire)

I found during a tour in Germany that 97, 98, and even 99 per cent. of the children were in attendance at schools which I visited. With reference to Switzerland, you find 97, 98, and 99 per cent. of the children attend school there, and they go to school as early as seven o'clock in the morning.


I think everybody will agree, who has to do with schools, that the irregular attendance is a great evil, but I must say I do not think you should go to the other extreme in the case of the poor. Those who work amongst the poor know very well that there are many things in London which prevent poor people taking their children to school, and it would be a great hardship were drastic measures taken with these poor people, with whom, after all, the necessity to exist comes before the necessity of education, and I therefore think we must all admit drastic regulations must be carried out in a reasonable and fair manner.

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

Might I ask the hon. Gentleman how much of the Supplemental Estimate is due? I want to know how much England has had.


I am afraid I cannot tell until the financial year is closed. We can then say how much the increased grant is. It is, at present, only an estimate, and I cannot give any accurate figures now.

MR. J. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)

Do you know how much was deducted last year from the 17s. 6d. limit? There is only one point I would bring before the Vice-President, and that is as to the necessity of earning the grant, that there should be adequate attendance. I think there should be a proviso introduced into the Code that the money be only granted to those schools where the attendance warrants it. I would point out that the School Boards are not to get the money unless they carry out the regulations in a fair spirit, and I think a proviso could be put in that the grant should be reduced, or even withheld, in those localities where, in the opinion of the Education Department, the compulsory powers are not sufficiently put in force.

Vote agreed to.

On the Supplementary Vote for Public Education, Scotland (Scotch Education Department), £12,500.

MR. T. R. BUCHANAN (Aberdeen, E.)

The question is that a supplemental sum not exceeding £12,500 be granted to defray the charges for the year 1898, for Public Education, Scotland. Sir, I hope you will postpone this Vote until the Scottish Code is laid upon the Table. Now, the Code for this year was laid upon the Table of the House on Tuesday night, and, therefore, it is likely that we shall have it to-morrow or Monday, and I think it is a little unreasonable that we should be asked to pass this Vote, when the conditions can only be known to us hereafter. We were all told the conditions would be settled by the Code, and if we wait until we get this we can see what we are doing. You have already delayed on similar lines the Uganda Vote. According to the statute the Code must lie upon the Table for a certain time; therefore, I strongly urge the Government to postpone this Vote.


I think this question should really be asked of the First Lord of the Treasury. Really precisely the same thing was done in the case of England as with Scotland. Hon. Members will remember that last year two Acts were passed for exactly the same purpose for Scotland as under the English Act, and a grant of 5s. was given to the Voluntary Schools. Following that, I ought to say, under the Act it says— That a grant is to be distributed by the Education Department to such Voluntary Schools, and in such manner, as Parliament think best. Following upon that Act being passed by Parliament, a Supplemental Estimate was presented to this House upon the 26th of July, and accordingly they made a grant, and £619,475 was voted by the House in last July. Hon. Members will see that that Vote was made at a time while as yet the conditions actually laid down for the distributing of that money had not been fixed by the Education Department. The only reason for this delay was, as regards the Scotch Act, through an accident to the Parliamentary Bill, the date of the Scotch Act was wrong. Hon. Members will recollect that the House closed on the 8th, and it was quite impossible to get in the Supplemental Estimate in time. The only effect of hon. Members being allowed to postpone this Vote would be that we should not get the money from Scotland by the 31st March, and we should lose the money.




The hon. Member says no, but he must recollect that he cannot alter regulations laid down, that he cannot amend them. Therefore, on behalf of the Government, I certainly resist this delay.


We look upon the Lord Advocate not as a schoolmaster, but as a sort of guardian angel, and we look upon him to give us assistance in these matters, and the request I make on behalf of Scotland is most reasonable. It is this: that this Supplemental Estimate should not be abandoned, as the right hon. Gentleman said. He said, if we did not have this Supplemental Estimate now, we shall not get the money. Well, of course, not if we do not get the Estimate passed; but I suggest it should stand over for a few days until we have in our possession the Code which has already been laid upon the Table of the House. It can only be a question of a few days' patience, and this is a satisfaction we all ask shall be given. The right hon. Gentleman will say that we shall have a fuller opportunity of debating the matter on the Code itself. We wish to express an intelligent and well-informed opinion upon the Code, and not a half-formed opinion, and I will ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his decision, and to give the Scotch Members on this side of the House the opportunity of fuller discussion which they ask.


I am sure, if the hon. Member refers to the two Acts of Parliament, he will see that in the case of the English Act the conditions under which the money was to be granted to England were entirely at the discretion of the English Department; but when we come to the case of Scotland, the money was to be given with such conditions as may be stated in the Scotch Education Code, as submitted to Parliament. It is obvious that this money is to be granted to-night under the conditions set forth in the Education Code. For what do we ask? We ask that we shall know the conditions upon which we are to vote this money to-night. I submit to you, Mr. Lowther, on a point of order, that where the money is to be voted in Parliament as set forth by the Code, and that Code is in a form in which it can be considered by the Members of this House, that this House is not in a position, constitutionally, to pass that Vote. We all know in a Committee of Supply we can say whether we will or will not vote the money according to these conditions when the Code is here; and we are entitled to say we will not vote this money unless we know the conditions under which the money is to be voted. This Measure is in exactly the same position as the Uganda Estimate Vote. You must have your Uganda Vote before the 31st of March, but you cannot decide that Vote without having the papers before you. The whole of the Act of Parliament turns upon the conditions of the Code simply by leaving the Measure to be determined in the Code. Now, here we are wishing to see the conditions, and we cannot vote this money without the papers before us.

MR. J. W. CROMBIE (Kincardineshire)

Scotch Members are always reasonable, but in this case we do demand that we should wait for the Code.

MR. T. C. H. HEDDERWICK (Wick Burghs)

We are asked to-night to vote money without knowing anything about the conditions under which the money is required. I say to vote money under such circumstances is reducing Supply to a farce. I do think it is hard upon the part of the First Lord of the Treasury and upon the part of the Lord Advocate who follows him, when we are actually within sight of the Code and the conditions attached to it, that we should be refused a single day or a couple of days in order that we may acquaint ourselves with these conditions, which it is of vital importance for us to know.

SIR R. T. REID (Dumfries Burghs)

I cannot see why the Lord Advocate refuses to postpone this Vote for a few days in order that we may know the conditions upon the point laid before us. I am one of those who are in favour of this grant, but it is no use being unreasonable or unbusinesslike in this House. A graceful concession on the part of the right hon. Gentleman now will, in the end, save time.


I believe I am right in saying that this estimate has nothing to do with the mode in which the grant is to be distributed. That is determined by the Code. The amount that is to be distributed is determined by the Act of Parliament. It amounts to 3s. per child. All the Committee has to do is to supply the money to carry out the Act of Parliament. The Code is merely as to the mode of distribution. If hon. Members object to the mode of distribution, the better occasion for putting forward their objections will be not on this Vote, but on the discussion of the Code. I can assure the hon. and learned Gentlemen who represent Scottish institutions that the last thing the Government wish to do is to ram a discussion down the throats of hon. Members when they do not want it. The Government are in considerable difficulty in dealing with Supplementary Estimates. The amount of time at their disposal is limited, and the work must be got through by a certain date. If I am put in the position of having to take some private Member's day, which I would otherwise have spared, in order to find time for the Vote, I hope I may count on their steady support, and that they will do their best to help me out of the difficulty which they have done their best to get me into. On that understanding, I support the postponement.

Vote withdrawn.