HC Deb 24 June 1898 vol 60 cc159-71

"That a sum, not exceeding £4,920,175 be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1899, for Public Education in England and Wales, including Expenses of the Education Office in London."

Resolution read a second time—

Amendment proposed— To leave out '£4,920,175,' and insert '£4,920,075.'"—(Mr. Nussey.)

MR. NUSSEY (Pontefract)

On this Vote I desire to call the attention of the House to the salary of the consulting architect to the Education Department. I find that this officer receives for his work in England £850 a year, for acting as consulting architect in Scotland he receives £150 a year, and for acting as consulting engineer in Ireland he receives £105 a year, making altogether a salary of £1,105. In addition to this, he also acts as occasional consulting architect to the Charity Commissioners, and for this he receives no stipend, but he is paid something for each job. Now, if this Gentleman receives only these sums for the work he does, and that is the whole of his income, I am not going to say he is too well paid; but, as a matter of fact, this is not all that he makes out of his position. The right honourable Gentleman, in replying to a question I put to him the other day, informed me that this officer is expressly authorised to charge fees for advising certain public departments; so that this gentleman is entitled to make a general charge for various descriptions of work in addition to his salary. I say that that is an exceedingly bad system, and I object to it on two principles. In the first place, I consider the work of the Department quite sufficient for any man adequately and properly to discharge. In the second place, I consider that the principle of allowing him to take work outside his official work is extremely bad. The work of these Departments must of necessity have increased very largely during the last five years. The late Vice-President in 1893 issued a circular calling for the inspection of all schools, and for particular care to be taken with regard to ventilation, air, space, and so on. In view of that circular, many schools have had to undertake various alterations, and the plans of those alterations must have been vouched for by this architect. Through the increase of the population, there has of necessity been an increase in the number of Board schools and Voluntary schools built each year. In 1895 the number of new elementary schools built was 179, and in 1896 the number was 172. In regard to each of those schools two plans would have to be sent up to the architect to this Department. Then there are, of course, higher grade schools, and there are reformatory and industrial schools, and the plans of all of them have to pass through the hands of this Gentleman; yet with all these many duties devolving upon him he is also allowed to take private practice. I think this officer should be required to devote the whole of his time and abilities to the work of his Department, and that the present system is open to very grave abuses. Then there is another point that I desire to call the attention of the right honourable Gentleman. The First Lord, in reply to a question put to him the other day, said he would consider the advisability of granting a Return showing the number of Nonconformist teachers employed in Church schools in this country. I hope the right honourable Gentleman has considered the question, and that he will be able to announce that he will grant that Return.


The officer referred to by the honourable Member was appointed in 1884. He was not a candidate for the office, but being a gentleman who had had great experience as an architect, and especially in the erection of school buildings, the position was offered to him, and he accepted it on the express terms that be should be allowed to continue his private practice as an architect for school buildings. He would not have accepted the office proposed to him by my Friend the late Mr. Mundella unless on those terms. In 1887 there was a change made. The original arrangement was that this officer should only give advice before a plan was sent to the Education Department. The circular of 1887 enabled him to give advice after plans had been sent in to the Department. While the circular was in force—namely, in 1889—the terms on which the office was held were the subject of a question of this House, and, as the result of inquiry, the circular was withdrawn and is no longer in force, and the architect now, after the plans have been before the Department, cannot charge any fees, He is relegated to the position which he held in 1884, when he originally accepted the appointment, and can only be consulted before the plans are sent to the Department. That is the state of things now. I do not think it is a very satisfactory state of things, but it would be impossible to alter it during the present holder's tenure of the office, because he made it a condition on accepting the office in 1884, and it is to be presumed that he would not now consent to the condition being altered. The present officer is a very valuable public servant, and the Department will be very sorry to lose him. All I can say is, that whenever a vacancy arises the present arrangement will be considered, and I should not think that the same arrangement will be made again. At the same time I do not think it would be in the interest of the public service to make any alteration at the present moment, because it would result in our losing the service of a very valuable officer.


I do not think the answer of the right honourable Gentleman is satisfactory. So far as we learn from what he has stated, he does not appear to have made any attempt to find out whether any alteration of the present arrangement would involve the resignation of the gentleman who now holds the office. The practical issue involved is, whether or not the consulting architect to the Department should be permitted as a matter of private practice to advise with regard to schools upon which he afterwards has to advise officially. I do not think anyone would desire that he should give up private practice altogether, but there certainly ought to be the limitation suggested by my honourable Friend the Member for Pontefract. I appeal to the right honourable Gentleman to approach the matter again, and endeavour to come to some arrangement with the present architect, because I think when the head of ah important Department is in such an unsatisfactory position, it should not be allowed to continue.

MR. LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)

There is one point which was alluded to in the speech of the honourable Member for Pontefract, to which the Vice-President has given no reply. My honourable Friend asked whether the Vice-President would be prepared to grant a return of the pupil teachers and other teachers who are Nonconformists and who are employed in Church schools in this country. A question was put the other evening by the honourable Member for Carnarvon, and the First Lord of the Treasury said that if a question ware put to the right honourable Gentleman either in the ordinary way on the Paper, or raised in the course of Debate across the floor of the House, he would be prepared to answer it. I hope the right honourable Gentleman will be able before we part from this Vote to announce that the return will be granted. Then there is a question which I desire to raise, and which I desired to raise when this Vote was under discussion in Committee. I am not going to complain that the Debate the other evening was Closured, but I may say that I sat in this House very patiently for seven or eight hours without finding an opportunity, and therefore I am compelled to bring the question forward in the Report stage. This Vote contains an item of £621,000 for the aid grant that is given to Voluntary schools under last year's Act. As long as that aid grant remains on the Paper and forms part of the Supply, and as long as those grievances which we have urged in this House over and over again are not repressed, so long will we protest against that aid grant being Voted in any particular year. The position in which Nonconformists find themselves in thousands of parishes at the present time is this. There is one school only in the parish, and under a penal Act Nonconformists are obliged to send their children to school. The administration of that school is entirely under the control of one denomination; the religious tenets taught in the school are those to which Nonconformists cannot subscribe, and we say it is unjust and unfair to Nonconformists to continue such a system. Grant after grant if made to Voluntary schools, and not a vestige of popular control of a local nature is established. We attempted again last year to obtain representation for the parents of the children, or to obtain representation for the public in any form, but without success. In the case of Wales the grievance is such that a large majority of the representatives were against giving this grant to Voluntary schools. They knew now keenly the Nonconformists of this country felt the bitter grievance under which they suffered. For these reasons, Sir, I take this opportunity—I hope not unduly trespassing on the patience of the House—to make my formal protest—a protest which will be renewed so long as the grievances to which I have alluded are unredressed.

LORD H. CECIL (Greenwich)

There are many, myself among the number, who acknowledge to the full the grievances under which Nonconformists suffer in the country districts, and would be most happy to co-operate with them in securing a reform, if they, on their side, would co-operate with Churchmen in removing the grievances which they suffer in Board school districts.


What are they?


That the children of Church of England parents should be obliged to go to undenominational schools is just as great a grievance as that the children of Nonconformist parents should be compelled to go to Church schools. However, I do not desire now to go into the queston, important as it is. My object in rising to address the House to-night was rather to refer to the very remarkable speech of the right honourable Gentleman the Vice-President of the Council on the Committee stage of this Vote. The right honourable Gentleman made a very elaborate attack upon Voluntary schools ("No, no"); that was the impression, at any rate, left on the minds of a very large number of those who heard him. That speech, it is a matter of notoriety, caused very great annoyance and pain to a large number of supporters of Voluntary schools, and the managers and teachers of those institutions. In particular annoyance was caused by his criticism of the religious education given in Voluntary schools in London. I have referred to the right honourable Gentleman's words; I find that very few facts were brought forward by him to bear out the attack that he made on the Voluntary schools in the matter of religious education. He laid it down, as it were, ex cathedrâ, that in his opinion the religious education given in the Board schools was much better in London than that which was given in the Voluntary schools. I am informed, and it has been published in the papers, that that is vehemently denied by those who are responsible, and I really think that the right honourable Gentleman should not use his great position as Vice-President of the Committee of Council to send about accusations of this kind, knowing, as he must have known, that they would cause pain and annoyance. The honourable Gentleman the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, in a very able and lucid speech that he made this evening, said it was not desirable for honourable Members in this House to give currency to statements which they had no facts to substantiate. If it is not desirable for private Members to take that course, it is a still less desirable course to be taken by a Minister of the Crown, even assuming that the right honourable Gentleman's general accusation against Voluntary schools was perfectly accurate.


I made no general accusation against them.


Then I will say, what was generally understood to be a general accusation. Even supposing that impression was unwarranted, it does not make the right honourable 'Gentleman's position very much better because he will not deny that the weakness of Voluntary schools in the matter of secular education, at any rate, arises from want of funds. It is the Government of which the right honourable Gentleman is a member that is responsible for not giving them more liberal assistance, and thus enabling them, to avoid the educational deficiencies with which they are now taunted. If last year the Government had co-operated with honourable Members below the Gangway, and had adopted their more generous views as to the assistance of Voluntary schools, then the education of the Voluntary schools would have been much better than it is. But the Government of which my honourable Friend is a member declined to take that course. In those circumstances I think the right honourable Gentleman would do better not to taunt the Voluntary schools with, defects and weaknesses which are the result of the penury of the Government of which he is a member.


As I cannot answer the noble Lord's criticisms, I think it is very unfair to make statements which are absolutely contrary to what I said.


The right honourable Gentleman will be able to reply as soon as this Amendment is disposed of, and the main question is put from the Chair, and I hope the right honourable Gentleman will take that course. At any rate, the fact remains that whereas the friends of Voluntary schools have constantly appealed to the Government to give more liberal assistance to them, they have been told it was not necessary to do so, and that if the Voluntary schools were given just enough assistance, by a great deal of screwing from private subscribers, to enable to keep on, that was all the country cared about. If that be so, do not let us hear any more about the enthusiasm of the Government and of my right honourable Friend for educational progress. My right honourable Friend must not, I submit, at once take up a position of a member of the Government that refuses to aid Voluntary schools to make themselves efficient, and the position of a caustic critic commenting severely on their want of efficiency.

MR. W. JONES (Carnarvon, Arfon)

said that he knew what the religious education provided in Voluntary schools was, and declared that the religious education given in the Board schools of London would compare favourably with that of any Voluntary school in the Kingdom. With regard to Wales, it was true that in many of the Board schools there was no specific religious teaching, but it was absurd to say that the grievance of the Church of England parents whose children had to go to those schools was in any way to be compared with the grievance of Nonconformist parents who were compelled to send their children to Church schools, to receive a religious education in which they did not believe. Some of the Welsh Board schools had been characterised by some honourable Gentlemen opposite as "Godless," but they were situated in some of the most crimeless districts in the Principality, and where religion was taught not in the day schools, but in the Sunday schools, and at home. The right honourable Gentleman the Vice-President said that we did not get the first-class teachers in Voluntary schools that we get in Board schools. What was the reason of that? It was because most of the training colleges were Church training colleges, and Nonconformist pupil teachers could not go to them. There could be no real educational progress in this country until we had the best trained teachers, and under the present system the most promising pupil teachers were barred from the training which would make them efficient masters.


I do not propose to press my Amendment to a Division.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main question again proposed.

MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)

, to illustrate the injustice and hardship from which Nonconformists suffered under the present system, instanced a case in his own constituency. A certain village contains a Board school and a Church school. There is an Irish family living there who are Roman Catholics. There being no Roman Catholic school within five miles, the children are sent to the Church school. One of the children, an exceedingly bright girl, applied to the church in which she had been brought up to become a pupil teacher, and she was told that in order to do so she must become a member of the Church of England. The consequence was that she left the Church school and was accepted in the Board school as a pupil teacher, and has remained in the teaching profession ever since. The noble Lord the Member for Greenwich spoke of the grievances of Churchmen: was it possible for them to point to anything approaching such a grievance as that? The noble Lord contended that the want of efficiency in Voluntary schools was due to the lack of funds, and said that the right honourable Gentleman the Vice-President was greatly to blame because he was a member of the Government who refused to give to Voluntary schools the financial assistance they required. That was a very bold complaint to make when it was remembered that the Voluntary schools already took a considerable grant-in-aid from the public funds. The ground on which the grants-in-aid to the Voluntary schools were given was that thereby rates would be relieved, but, as a matter of fact, they were now taking advantage of the Voluntary Schools Act to ask that their entire support should be drawn from the public funds. He submitted that that was an utterly untenable proposition, and that the only fair proposition was that there should be a Board school in every district, and that Voluntary schools should only be provided where sufficient private support was obtained to maintain them efficiently.


My constituents take very little interest in the question of Board schools or Voluntary schools. The right honourable Gentleman the Vice-President in his speech the other night made an extraordinary statement that the county Members were hostile to education, and that they considered elementary education to be the cause of agricultural depression. Sir, the county Members know better than that. They know perfectly well that agricultural depression is caused by having to grow wheat at 40s. a quarter and sell it at 30s. What the agricultural interest does dislike and repudiate is raising the age for compulsory education, because the agricultural labourer thinks that when his boy had learnt the three R's and learnt the rudiments of education he ought to be able to leave school and earn his humble 6d. a day, or, at any rate, do something to keep the family pot boiling.


With regard to the Return asked for by the honourable Member for Pontefract, I am afraid I cannot grant it without notice; but if notice is put on the Paper I will consider whether it is possible to grant the Return. As to the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich, the noble Lord has attributed to me opinions which I have never expressed. The remarks I made the other night were applied not to Voluntary schools generally: they were applied only to Voluntary schools in the great towns. I have frequently expressed the opinion that the Voluntary schools in the country are better than the Board schools, and I think it is wrong of the noble Lord to represent as applying to Voluntary schools generally the remarks which I exclusively and carefully applied to the Voluntary schools in the great cities. With regard to the religious education, I was very careful to point out that my remarks were confined to religious teaching in London, and what I said applied only to London, and only to that part of the religious education given in London schools which is common to Board schools and Voluntary schools. Then I said that the inferiority of Voluntary schools in the great towns was not the fault of the managers: I said it was a consequence of their not having sufficient means. The only point is whether it is to the interest of the Voluntary schools that these facts should be openly and plainly stated, or that they should be hushed up. That is a question of policy on which the noble Lord and I differ. I think it is for the interest of Voluntary schools that these facts, which are undoubted facts, should be openly and plainly stated. If the noble Lord had had the experience that I have had in the Education Department he would have had this most painfully borne in upon him, as I have it borne in upon me every day, that in the great towns the Voluntary schools have the greatest difficulty in holding their own because of their want of means and because of their own inferiority to the Board schools, who are their rivals. I think myself that the only way of preserving the Voluntary schools is plainly and fairly to state the deficiencies that exist, in the hope that in the lierality of Parliament, or the liberality of Churchmen, some other means may be found by which this danger in which the Voluntary schools stand, and which threatens their existence in the great centres of industry, may be done away with.

MR. LLOYD-GEORGEetc.) (Carnarvon,

said that the grievances of Nonconformists in regard to the lack of facilities for obtaining posts as pupil teachers, and subsequently posts in the training colleges, were very serious. The noble Lord the Member for Greenwich had spoken of the grievances of Church schools, but he [Mr. Bryn Roberts] challenged the noble Lord to give an instance where a Churchman had been compelled to become a Nonconformist, or to attend a Nonconformist place of worship, as a condition of following the teaching profession. In the case of London there were Board schools and Voluntary schools. With regard to the Voluntary schools, they were exclusively under Church management. The Board schools in London for years and years were under the control of Churchmen. The doctrines taught in the schools were those held by Churchmen, and the religious curriculum was that of the Church of England. In any rural district where there was only a Church of England school the children were compelled to either learn the whole catechism or to go without any religious teaching at all. A Nonconformist teacher was not allowed simply to take the duty of merely teaching the historical facts of the Bible, and omitting the teaching of the catechism; he must either take the whole of the religious duty of the school or none at all. Church of England teachers suffer from no grievance analogous to this. He again pressed on the Government the importance of granting the Return asked for by the honourable Member for Pontefract.

MR. J. H. ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)

No doubt there are thousands of cases in this country where the grievances which have been pointed out by honourable Members press very hardly, but I would like to remind the Committee how matters stand in Wales. In the Welsh parishes, where there are a Board school and a Church school, it seems to be the policy of the Education Department—in fact, I am informed that they have no alternative to put in the place of this policy—that, although the Board school may be crowded, no additional undenominational accommodation is to be afforded so long as there is room in the Church school. The Educational Department hold that so long as there is room for a single child in a Church school no separate provision need be made for Nonconformist children. Two effects follow from that state of things. In regard to the elementary education of a parish so situated with reference to Board schools one of two things must happen. Either the head master of the school must discourage a regular attendance, or else he must do his best to persuade his children to leave the school as soon as possible. I do not know whether the right honourable Gentleman is prepared to give us now any satisfactory assurance, but I hope the Department will seriously consider, not only in