HC Deb 03 March 1898 vol 54 cc492-504

Motion made and Question proposed— That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £12,500, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1898, for Public Education in Scotland.

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

With regard to this Vote, we first of all desire that the money should be paid directly to the schools, in order to avoid any possibility of its being devoted to purposes other than education; secondly, we desire that some security should be taken that the money should be paid in such a way as will give special encouragement to better education in Scotland; thirdly, we insist upon the necessity of getting an audit of the accounts of the Voluntary Schools. I should just like in two or three words to examine how far these conditions have been carried out by the Education Department. We did succeed in inducing the Lord Advocate to insert an Amendment in the Bill simply referring to this matter, and he put into the Scottish Bill the same words as appeared in the English Bill. But, so far as I observe, the conditions laid down by the Scotch Code, no such proposal has been introduced by the Scottish Department, and these Voluntary Schools which will receive these grants will receive them without any public audit whatever. Of course, upon this point I only give my interpretation, and, so far as I can find out, there is no provision for any audit of this kind. If the Lord Advocate can assure us that we are going to have any such provision issued by the Department, it will be a great satisfaction to us. It will be in the recollection of my colleagues for Scotland that the Lord Advocate has expressed himself in favour of this, for he went on to say— He had said that there certainly would be an audit, but that he could not bind himself to the same regulation as in the English Act. Well, now, with regard to the second point which I alluded to: namely, that the money should be paid for the purposes of encouraging education, and not merely for relieving institutions. During the progress of the Bill we endeavoured to get inserted words similar to what are inserted here. Well, Sir, I cannot find any provision, and I do not know whether there are any general provisions in the Code which would prevent Voluntary Schools applying this extra grant for purposes of diminishing their debt or their subscriptions. I do not know whether there is any such thing. Anyhow, there appears to be. There is certainly no specific provision made that this money should be devoted to the purposes of education in Voluntary Schools. With regard to the first point, that the money should be paid directly to the Voluntary Schools at so much per head, there the Scotch Education Department has met the demand that we make, and met it in the words we wanted them to insert in the Bill, because the regulations such as are contained in Chapter 6 of the Scotch Code may be the same as the regulations which are inserted with regard to instruction as in Chapter 4—namely, that the money should be paid to the managers of Voluntary Schools in proportion and in accordance with the number of scholars in average attendance. That was one of the proposals we laid before the Government last summer, namely, that they should distribute this money at so much per head. That has been done, and that is certainly so far satisfactory, that there is no list of any nomination or association of this Act of Parliament to whom such money might be paid. But, Sir, what is the conclusion to be drawn from that? It appears, from the Scotch Code, that three shillings per head per scholar is given by the Imperial Exchequer to those Voluntary Schools, and to those schools alone. In other words they get 10s. or 12s. per head from the public exchequer. The Voluntary Schools, whether necessitous or not necessitous, are getting practically 10s. per head. We may draw this conclusion from the lines taken by the Lord Advocate himself last summer, that, after all, the Bill cannot be looked upon as a Bill of very great importance to the educational system of Scotland, or, as he said himself— The Government never pretended that this Bill was a step forward in the general educational system of Scotland. Certainly, I think, the Bill itself, and the conditions imposed by the Code, justified the Lord Advocate himself depreciating his own Bill. But it does do this—which we thought it would do—it reduces the principle of equality between Board Schools and Voluntary Schools, and I am perfectly certain of this, that the method by which it is intended to distribute this grant will cause a demand to be raised in Scotland, and a very large demand, that in the immediate future this inequality should be rectified, and an extra 3s. per head given to the Board Schools in Scotland, so that the national system shall not be affected by this Act of Parliament, because where there is one scholar in Voluntary Schools there are six in Board Schools, and we do repudiate very strongly this practice. I should be glad to get some information from the Lord Advocate with regard to the question how far, or whether there are any restrictions upon the spending of this money, and whether there is any guarantee that it will go for the improvement of education in Voluntary Schools. So far as I can read the regulations, the only restriction is this—of course, if a Voluntary school ceases to be efficient it does not get any more than any other kind of school.


I think hon. Members do not understand that the money we are asking for to-night is precisely in the same position as the money granted last year. As I pointed out the other day, it was by a mere accident that we did not get this supplemental Estimate during the course of last summer, and I said, also then, that, of course, if hon. Members think that any provisions of the Code are separable, then, of course, that was the proper time. The amount of money settled has nothing to do with the distribution. Now, so far as the audit of accounts is concerned, there is the ordinary safeguard, but there is no special provision. They have to show their accounts to the Inspector, and the Scotch Education Department has to be satisfied that the money given to the Voluntary Schools shall be used by them for educational purposes, and that the money has been so spent. In that sense there is, and will continue to be, an audit. That really answers the hon. Member's other question. I do not think he has quite noticed—I will not say that—I do not think he has given absolutely sufficient weight to the fact that this grant of 3s. is to be an extra grant. Under Article 155 of the Code of this year, it is stated— The sum of 3s. per child for the whole number of children in average attendance shall be paid to the managers of Voluntary Day Schools conditionally entitled to share in the Parliamentary Grant for Education, provided that such managers shall conform to the conditions set forth in the Code. Take that along with the fact that the money is to be spent for educational purposes, as I have already explained, and that they are to be satisfied that the money is spent upon education. I think that absolutely disposes of an exceedingly hypothetical case, namely, that these schools were going to take the money and not spend it upon education at all. I was quite aware that under the provisions of the Bill there is no provision for distinction as between school and school, and I think the hon. Member will remember that during the Debate upon the Act of last year it was allowed that the Government did not intend to follow the English Act, in the direction of distinction between school and school, but they took the Voluntary Schools of Scotland as they existed, and they meant this to be a grant to all those Voluntary Schools. The necessitous character was not insisted upon on account of any particular delimitation of certain schools. I do not, however, go back upon that. I hope I have now given the information the hon. Member requires, and I hope, also, that I shall not be held as at all concurring with the quotations which he has attributed to me, which I do not.


When we come to the question of audit, I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman in what he has just said. He defends the regulation on the point of the audit on the ground that no further regulation or improvement in the system is necessary He, in fact, defends the system in vogue before we succeeded in getting the Government to accept the Amendment which is now embodied in the Bill, and it was pressed upon the right hon. Gentleman last year. We wish to see an improvement by the insertion of the words which the right hon. Gentleman himself introduced in the English Act. The right hon. Gentleman himself had said that there was a misunderstanding about the matter, and went on to say that there would certainly be an audit, and he was perfectly willing to insert the words of the English Act. That is very satisfactory so far as it goes. I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman was going to tell us that Scotch Education was going to contain that provision, but now he entirely ignores the intent and purpose of the condition of the Act of last year, and throws us back on his defence of last year by saying that the audit is at present sufficient. Our contention last year was that the audit was not sufficient. I do not want to trouble the Committee with details, but, as a matter of fact, the right hon. Gentleman says the inspector is responsible for the audit. I am sure he is well aware—for it has been many times repeated—that inspectors were appointed for educational requirements. Educational inspectors were appointed not to examine into the finances of the school, but in order really to examine into the education of the school. So I do not think that we lay upon them—at any rate, it has not been hitherto the system—the burden of auditing, and the responsibility of seeing that the accounts of the school are properly carried on. Then I should just like to remind the Committee of the very great difference of the position between the two sets of schools. In Scotland, the public schools are subject to a very strict system of audit. As the Committee well know, the payment of Parliamentary grants depends upon the attendance register, and in the case of Board schools, not only have the accounts to be signed by the full Board every quarter, but the Board appoints a Visiting Committee, who take turns, and it is their duty to visit the schools, without notice to the teachers, and to compare the attendance register with the number of children present at the time of their visit. So that the checks upon any false register, upon which the payment of Parliamentary grants depends, are very strict in the case of Board schools. On the other hand, in the case of Voluntary schools there is no such requirement or inspection of register; there is no such responsibility on the part of persons who are not interested to visit the schools and to compare the attendance with the number of pupils who are registered. As a matter of fact it is left, in the case of Voluntary schools, to the manager of the school, who of all people is, of course, most interested in the amount of funds and the Parliamentary grant which he or they can obtain to carry on their school. I do not make these remarks in any spirit of hostility to the Voluntary schools; far be it from me to do so. But it is very desirable, in their interests as well as in the interests of the school system of Scotland, that they should all be put upon the same basis, and then there can be no criticism directed against them. Last year the right hon. Gentleman accepted this suggestion, and said that he agreed with us in principle, and we should be quite willing to accept whatever advance he thinks fit to make. To put myself in order I move the reduction of the Vote by £100.


The reason for this Motion was that the conditions were to be set forth in the Code presented to Parliament. We are, therefore, in this position, that when the Bill was undergoing discussion the Lord Advocate got rid of all questions of the condition under which the money was to be given to the Voluntary schools, because, he says, you find these year by year in the Code, and, therefore, he very conveniently got rid of the discussion of those grants. But now, when the money comes to be voted it is our right to discuss the conditions under which we shall vote this money. Now, it is perfectly true that we might have some kind of discussion—an after 12 o'clock discussion—on the Code, but that has nothing whatever to do with the question that we are considering. With the Code before us, and the conditions set forth in that Code, the question now presented to us and this Committee is, shall we vote this money, looking to the conditions under which the money was proposed to be appropriated? And that is where the relevancy of our objection comes in now, because this is the stage at which the money is voted, and we are entitled to investigate the conditions set forth in the Code as to whether, looking at these conditions, we shall or shall not vote the money. Now, in discussing the question of the conditions of this grant, and what those conditions ought to be, we ought to have regard to the purposes for which the money was granted in England, because the Scotch grant was a preliminary to what was done in England. In England we find in the Act of Parliament that the object of this money was to help Voluntary schools and to increase their efficiency. Well, the whole object of the extra grant in England was that we were to give this money in order to promote the efficiency of the Voluntary schools, which, it was pointed out, were suffering from the competition of Board schools. It seems that these voluntary schools are to have this money, and we think there ought to have been inserted in the Code some condition that it was to be spent in such a way as to secure greater efficiency. Something, for instance, might have been said about certificated teachers, and the number of pupils to each teacher. On the question of audit, I think the Government have not treated the House fairly. Upon this question the English Act and the Scotch Act are the same, and it was specially provided in both, as a condition of a school receiving a share of the State grant, that the account of the receipts and expenditure in the schools should be audited annually in accordance with the requirements of the Department. The question of the audit was specially fought out, and the House unanimously came to the conclusion that there ought to be an audit. Why, then, should we be considered unreasonable when we say now that there ought to be an efficient audit? What does the Lord Advocate say about this? He says there is a "kind of audit." Sir, I am surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman should say that because a school inspector goes to a school and looks at a book or voucher on any point on which he wishes information, and who has no responsibility beyond that, I am surprised, I say, that the Lord Advocate says that is anything like the audit which the Act of Parliament intended should be made. When you get the word "may" in an Act of Parliament it really means "shall," and in this case it was the unanimous opinion of Parliament that a provision for the audit should be specially put into the Code. The interest we have in this question of the audit is that these voluntary schools in Scotland stand in a very peculiar relation to the Board Schools. They are not provided with a public management, no one sees the accounts, no one knows how much they pay to one teacher or another, or for what purpose the money is applied. Sir, we want to be sure that the whole of the money given to the voluntary schools is spent on education and not for any other purpose. I am surprised that the Government in this matter have not seen fit to give us any assurance that the question of the audit, as prescribed in the terms of the Act of Parliament, will be granted. And I am sure no one need feel surprised that in a matter of this kind, which, beginning in Scotland, may extend to England, we should move a reduction of the Vote. We would be failing in our duty as Scotch Members if we did not insist on having the Scotch Act interpreted in accordance with the opinion of the whole House, and in accordance with the example which England has set in the interpretation of the same clause.


The understanding is that an equivalent grant shall be given to Scotland, and I wish to present to the Lord Advocate this view: that if an equivalent voluntary grant is given to Scotland in the shape of money it must be accompanied by the same conditions as those that apply to the English schools. This money, like other sums of money, has practically been thrown at the heads of the people in Scotland. It was not in consequence of any strong representation from the beneficiaries of the grant that it was given, but having been given as an equivalent to the money given to England, the same conditions should be extended to Scotland. Many of us do not grudge that this money should be given to denominational schools, if we have anything like an assurance that it is to be applied and appropriated for improving the efficiency of the schools, but we do not wish this money to go to fill up any gap in the subscriptions of money under which the schools that are designated "voluntary schools" were formerly maintained. We wish to know why this very clear condition of a definite, distinct, and practical audit required in England should not be required in Scotland.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman and learned Lord Advocate will see his way in some degree to meet our views in this matter. This question of an audit of the accounts is really a most important one, and I am rather astonished that those who are the friends of the Voluntary Schools see that by establishing a strict professional audit a great deal of the jeolousy and suspicion with which the position of these schools is regarded in Scotland would be removed. If there is nothing to conceal, if the money that is given to these schools is really devoted, as I believe in most cases it is, to genuine educational improvement, there would be very much less jealousy among the schools. Many of us were not in favour of the proposal of last year, but we did not object to anything being done to put the Voluntary Schools on a good footing. But they must be subject to the same general rules with regard to the audit of their accounts as are imposed upon Board Schools in Scotland, and upon the whole of the schools in England. That was the consideration which prevailed among the Scotch Members at the time the Act was under discussion last year, and, if the suggestion I have made were carried out, I think the difficulty will be settled, and the unfortunate antagonism which exists between two classes of schools will be largely removed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate will no doubt say we ought to discuss this matter on the Code, but that is difficult, because we are now voting money which is to enable the Code to be put into effect, and when the Code comes to be discussed, at two or three o'clock in the morning during the Session, we shall be comparatively helpless. If only because it is a business-like arrangement, an attempt should be made to carry out what was the intention of the House last year, and enforce a real audit of these accounts.


There is surely some misconception in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite as to what the audit of the School Board accounts is really for. All schools have to satisfy the Department that the money they receive as grants is being really and efficiently used for the purposes of education. I have already pointed out that there is not the slightest doubt that the machinery is sufficient for the purpose. But when you come to the audit of accounts that is another question. The audit of School Board accounts is for a purpose which does not exist in the case of the Voluntary Schools. There is not the slightest suspicion that the money is being in any way diverted from the purposes for which it was devised.

MR. H. H. ASQUTTH (Fife, E.)

I call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to what did take place last year. My hon. Friend behind me moved an Amendment which made it compulsory that the accounts receiving any share in the grants should be audited. I, amongst others, supported that Amendment. I asked whether the right hon. Gentleman, like the Vice-President in the case of the English Act, would give the Committee an assurance that he would insist upon an audit. The Lord Advocate said that— As one member of the Council he could not give an absolute promise, but he was quite certain that the Scotch Education Department would make such regulation as in their view would assure a proper control, and that the money would be properly spent. Some of my hon. Friends were not content with this. The right hon Gentleman was pressed further, and he finished by stating that there certainly would be an audit. He thought— There was a good deal of misunderstanding about the matter. He had said that there certainly would be an audit, but that he could not bind himself to there being exactly the same regulation as was provided in the English Act. He thought that under the Bill as it stood, they had exactly as much power, but that he was perfectly willing to insert the words of the English Act. We are entitled to ask how far that pledge has been fulfilled. So far as I can understand, there is no audit in any real and effective sense of the term. I hope my hon. Friend will press this Amendment to a Division, in order to obtain an expression of the feeling on both sides of the House that, as regards the expenditure of the money, we ought to have better security that it shall be applied in a proper manner.

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

I must say I am surprised to find that there is no audit at all. I am still more surprised at the explanation given by the Lord Advocate. What does that explanation amount to? It comes to this: that an audit is practically valueless, and therefore the promise he gave us of having an audit is one that involves no fulfilment whatever. The Lord Advocate knows perfectly well that most of the Members on this side of the House were altogether opposed to the provisions of that Scotch Education Act. They were not in favour of the mode in which the Government chose to spend the money, and certainly one reason we had for insisting upon an audit was to see that that money, which was going to be given to the Voluntary Schools, should be expended in securing the efficiency of education. Certainly, none of us on this side of the House felt sure that that money would be expended in securing additional efficiency; we had good reasons for believing that a great portion of the money would be expended in relieving the subscribers to the Voluntary Schools. Therefore, it becomes necessary that we should have something like a reliable audit, so that we may be able to see that the money voted by the House is being expended, as we hope it will be, and as it ought to be, in securing efficient education in the Voluntary Schools.


This discussion illustrates the inconvenience of the Secretary of Scotland not being a Member of this House. We are asking the Lord Advocate to carry out this audit. But the Lord Advocate cannot do anything. He sits there representing the Department, he is the advocate of the Department, but he has no instructions, and no matter what may be said upon this subject he is powerless to do anything. Surely, Mr. Chairman, I am in order in pointing out the position in which we stand at the present moment, in that we have no one in power to deal with this matter, after a full discussion in this House. I think that is a very unfortunate state of matters in regard to the Education Department, for we are supported by the voice of hon. Members opposite; I believe every one of them would back us up in this matter. What use is it raising the subject, when we don't have a Minister in power here to say that he would consider the matter and introduce it into the Code. This grant, given to the Voluntary Schools just now, marks a new departure altogether. Up to the giving of this grant Parliament treated Board Schools and Voluntary schools without distinction. Now that this new distinction was introduced for the first time, Parliament was entitled to say— If you are going to have nearly the whole of this money out of the Imperial taxes, then you should at least let us see that the money is being spent for the purpose for which it was granted. In this particular case, all that we are asking is to carry out what is down in the Act of Parliament—that there ought to be an efficient audit, in order that this money might be spent for the improvement of education only. We do not control the expenditure, but we are entitled to see that the money is expended on the purposes for which it was intended.

The Committee divided on the Amendment.—Ayes 115; Noes 197.

Original Question put and agreed to.

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