HC Deb 16 July 1900 vol 86 cc41-52

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [10th July], "That the Education Board Provisional Order Confirmation (London) Bill [Lords] be committed to a Select Committee."—(Lord Hugh Cecil.)

Question again proposed—Debate resumed.


said his motion was that this Bill be sent to a Select Committee. The House would be aware that under the ordinary procedure of Provisional Orders there was no possibility of inquiry into the merits of the question involved. The matter, unless petitioned against, went before the Unopposed Bills Committee, and the Order usually came back without Amendment. There was really no inquiry into the merits, nor could there be any inquiry into what were ordinarily considered to be the merits of the Bill, because the petitioners only had a locus standi if they were concerned in some injury to private property. Last year a Voluntary school, which thought it would be injured by one of the sites proposed to be established under a similar Bill, petitioned against it, and, after a hearing before the Referee, it was determined that it had no locus standi, because it had no property interested in the matter, and there could consequently be no inquiry into the merits of the Bill. Now, the motion he was making would enable the Committee to go into the economic administration of the School Board, and into the question of the necessity of the sites. It was quite possible that a perfect explanation might be forthcoming on those points if his motion were carried, but unless it was agreed to the matter could not be gone into. It was necessary to say that the School Board had adopted a different procedure for the purpose of arriving at the "places" in a school to that adopted by the Board of Education. The Board of Education considered that eight square feet was sufficient accommodation for a child, but the School Board took a higher standard, and said that they would only recognise eleven square feet as sufficient accommodation for a child, so that by a stroke of the pen the space in the schools had been reduced by 30,000 places. In order to cope with that they would have to build thirty schools, each to accommodate 1,000 children, and incur an expenditure of £300,000, because they went beyond what the Education Department considered necessary. He never contemplated the proceedings of the London School Board without being astonished at their amazing impudence in the way they overruled the decisions of the Department of Education, which they did in a manner certainly not contemplated by the Act. The Vice-President of the Education Department had informed him, in answer to a question, that at the present moment there were being recognised by the Education Department 798,000 school places which actually existed, and 28,000 projected places in schools in. course of erection. In addition to that there were sixteen unused sites which the School Board had acquired under compulsory powers and never used, which were kept in reserve for no apparent reason. There was a certain discrepancy between the figures supplied by the Education Department and those furnished by the Report of about 55,000. The School Board had sixteen sites in reserve, and now they came forward for compulsory powers to acquire thirty more sites. Chief Inspector King had called attention to the decreasing number of children between the ages of three and thirteen years attending the schools, and according to the School Board's own reports there had been a diminution in the years 1897, 1898, and 1899 of no less than 8,000. Yet, with this diminishing child population, and with all these places, the School Board proposed to acquire thirty more sites. It was a ease for inquiry. They might be necessary, but that would have to be shown. The only reason which could be urged was that the number of children had not decreased really, but had removed to other districts; but if that were so, it was obvious that several City sites, which had been useful, had become useless, and the House ought to be assured that in that case the School Board had made proper provision for the sale of those sites and devoting the money realised to giving the new educational facilities that were necessary. Mr. John Taylor, who had devoted a great deal of time and trouble to investigating the question of sites, pointed out that the Religious Educational Union had successfully opposed the applications of the School Board on various occasions with regard to sites, and had in some eases caused them to be rejected. They further called attention to the extraordinary extravagance with which the matter of sites was carried out. The House was aware the School Board proceeded by dividing London into blocks, and in each block they built a school. Then, if there was insufficiency of accommodation in the school, they applied for power to increase the accommodation. Such a test was unfair. The Education Department should first of all endeavour to find out what proportion of the population desired to go to the schools; then they should take a map of London and measure it off into districts with a compass, and then draw circles over the map showing the radius of each school. If that were done it would be found that the School Board had overestimated the amount of school accommodation demanded to an almost ludicrous degree. If the Bill was sent to a Select Committee there could not fail to be an interesting investigation. It might be that these schools wore required, but the School Board was often very extravagant in these matters. London had not complete control over its representatives in this matter, and it was in the highest degree important that London should be well governed locally, and if it could be shown that the School Board did its work extravagantly a considerable service would be done to the country.

MR. FLOWER (Bradford, W.)

In supporting this resolution I propose to take a somewhat different view to the noble Lord who moved. I quite agree with a great deal that has fallen from the noble Lord, but when one remembers, that London has 450 schools with an average attendance of half a million children, it will be acknowledged that the problem is one which may fittingly require the very careful consideration of this House. The noble Lord has spoken of the discrepancy between the figures, which may be described as the Return of the School Board, and those supplied by the Education Department. That is undoubtedly proved; and that discrepancy has been caused by the action which the London School Board has taken in what is called writing down the accommodation. With regard to new schools, I think that no one interested in education will object to it, but it is with regard to the older schools that this difficulty has more acutely arisen—more especially with regard to the competition with Voluntary schools, which has brought about an apparent deficiency of school accommodation in the area covered by the London School Board. Whereas, if it was reckoned on the basis of the accommodation long ago accepted by the Education Department, that deficiency would not exist. I also support this motion on another ground. School boards do not acquire sites in the same way as a railway company or public bodies of that kind. What a school board does is to present to the Education Department generally two or three sites as alternatives. These sites are considered by the Department, and Her Majesty's inspector is sent down by the Department to see into the fitness of the alternatives and to report as to the suitability of one or the other. He is not. I think, authorised or allowed to hold what is called a public inquiry, but I believe that those bodies or individuals who object to particular sites have an opportunity of presenting their views before him. Then the Education. Department, or the Board of Education, as it is now called, has to express approval or disapproval of a site, and, if they approve, that site is inserted in the Provisional Order Bill. It is obvious that the cost of opposing the Order Bill in Committee is a very considerable one, and it does seem to me that a somewhat cheaper and more expeditious machinery ought to be devised, by which those who may think themselves injured, either as individuals by reason of their property, or injured as regards the position of the school affecting some Voluntary denominational school in which they are particularly interested, should have an wiser, quicker, and cheaper method of placing their views before us. The noble Lord the Member for Greenwich has spoken of those sites which have been "reserved," as it is called, for possible sites for the erection of Board schools which are not now used. He suggested that the School Board for London should sell these sites, but if they did sell them it would be at a very considerable loss. Those sites are the result of reckless scheduling, and unless you can devise some machinery by which this reckless scheduling of sites may be avoided in future, you will be continuously confronted with the same thing. He has spoken also of the migratory character of the London population. That is undoubtedly true. Schools which were erected a few years ago have now been found, if not superfluous, at all events too large for the purpose for which they are intended. I am afraid that it is an evil that will and must continue: but what is possible, I think, is to prevent reckless choosing of sites—choosing them sometimes almost without any regard for the deficiency of school places in the neighbourhood, but with a desire to injure and cripple the work of some Voluntary school. They are sites chosen, not from educational but from sectarian motives. Let us hope that this proposal of my noble friend will prevent the recrudescence of this evil, which under the present Board has assumed gigantic dimension. I have pleasure in supporting the motion.


I wish to lot the House know how this Bill stands. The School Boards must have sites, or they cannot carry on their schools. The acquisition of sites is regulated by Acts of Parliament, and what I understand the noble Lord to desire is a revision of the various Acts which regulate the acquisition of sites by School Boards. To that the Board of Education could have no objection whatever, but I think it is I letter to initiate such an inquiry at the beginning rather than at the end of the session. If we were to refer this Bill to a Select Committee now, at any rate, we would lose the Bill for this session, because it is quite impossible to get hon. Members to attend a Select Committee, and to report upon a matter of this kind before the end of the session. Therefore what I would suggest to my noble friend is to withdraw the motion to-day, and in the next session he should move for an inquiry of this kind, and, as far as I am concerned and the Board of Education is concerned, we will throw no impediment in the way whatever, and if the Committee should report in favour of a change in the law we will give every facility to let a Bill pass through Parliament. I do not say that the law as it at present stands might not be improved. I do not know that there are any laws in existence which are not capable of some amendment, but a matter of this kind is not carried out quite as rapidly as the noble Lord supposes. The Board of Education is entrusted with a very important duty, and that is not to allow school boards in any place—not only in London, but in every other part of the country—to build a now school until the necessity for it is made out, and for that purpose inquiry is always made before the sanction of the Education Department is given to the building of a new school. London is a very difficult place to deal with in matters of that kind. As the noble Lord has pointed out, there is no doubt that under the present system in London there are far more than enough school places for the children to be accommodated, but London unfortunately is a very large place, with a shifting population, and it is no use whatever if there is a deficiency of accommodation in Battersea to say that there is more than enough in Whitechapel. Generally speaking, it may be said that the population of London is diminishing with some rapidity at the centre; but on the other hand it is growing with enormous rapidity in Battersea, Hackney, and Peckham, and indeed all the parts which surround London. These are the places where workmen are going, and provision has to be made for the education of their children. The Board of Education have considered this difficult matter, and what it docs is to divide London proper into blocks. For example, one of the blocks is bounded by Oxford Street and High Holborn on the north, Farringdon Street on the east, Fleet Street and the Strand on the south, and Charing Cross Road on the west. There is another block even more familiar to Members of the House bounded by Oxford Street on the north, Piccadilly on the south, Regent Street on the East, and Park Lane on the west. In the same way the whole of London is divided into Mocks of this kind. What the London School Board does is to make out a petition stating that in one of these blocks it can prove that there is not sufficient accommodation for primary education of the children, and that there is a case for building, but even then further inquiry is made. Having ascertained that there is a deficiency in one block, inquiry is made how far it can be made up from superfluous accommodation in an adjoining block. I think it will be quite obvious to the House that it would be a very foolish thing for children south of Oxford Street to go for accommodation to schools north of Oxford Street. Nobody would say that it is desirable for children to traverse that great thoroughfare when going to school; but in places where there is only a moderate amount of traffic on the boundary children may be allowed to go from one block, where there is deficient accommodation, to another block where there is superfluous accommodation. These inquiries are made before a new site is scheduled in a Bill, and no action is taken until the Board of Education has arrived at a satisfactory conclusion in the matter. It has to be fairly made out that there are children without school accommodation, and that no accommodation can be provided for them in the block in which they live, or in an adjoining block. I think to ask the House of Commons at the very end of a session to stop a Bill which is being carried out in accordance with the law, and entirely in accordance with unbroken custom, for the purpose of beginning what could only be an abortive inquiry, would be rather a strong thing for the noble Lord to insist upon. I hope this Bill will go in the ordinary way to the Private Bill Committee, before whom the people who object to two of the sites can be heard. The Private Bill Committee will inquire whether the Board of Education has been justified in authorising any site at all. I can promise the noble Lord that in the next session of Parliament I, at all events, will be only too glad to assist him in having the whole system of the legal provision of school sites inquired into, and if there is any way in which it can be better carried out, I hope the Committee will report to Parliament what they think should be done.


I understand that the Government are prepared to promise that there will be a full inquiry if I ask it at the beginning of next session. That is an exceedingly valuable concession which I asked in vain four years ago. I think, therefore, it will be unnecessary to press this motion.


I have no authority on behalf of the Government to make such a promise. All I said was that I would assist the noble Lord if he asked for an inquiry next session.


I understood that my right hon. friend spoke on behalf of the Board of Education, which represents the Government in this matter, and after what he has said I will, with the permission of the House, withdraw my motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill committed.

* MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)

I am sorry to have to detain the House for a few minutes, but I wish to move, "that it be an Instruction to the Committee to leave out Plan No. 41 in the schedule.' The noble Lord the Member for Greenwich said just now it was customary for this Bill to pass through the House without opposition, but I find the only course open to me in order to carry out the object I have in view is to move this resolution. The plan I desire to have omitted is that enabling the London School Board to carry out alterations and additions to the Belvedere Place Board School, situated in the parish of St. George-the-Martyr, Southwark, the constituency I have the honour to represent. The school is one of the oldest of the London Board schools, and I am far from saying it could not be improved. That I am quite prepared to admit at once, but the Vestry of St. George-the-Martyr, the local authority of the district, altogether object to the plan suggested, and desire the scheme to stand over for further considerations. The objections I wish to enforce to the scheme are these: no further accommodation for additional children is required; the school is large enough to accommodate the children of the particular locality. It is a badly situated school, being under a railway arch, and therefore very noisy. In any case the area proposed to be taken is the wrong one. It is proposed to secure an area of 15,370 square feet, to pull down seventeen houses, to dishouse 230 persons belonging to the labouring classes in a neighbourhood where there is a great demand for workmen's dwellings, and under the existing law no provision will have to be made for re-housing those people. If twenty houses had been taken under the existing law it would have been absolutely necessary to provide accommodation for the whole of the dispossessed occupants, but as only seventeen houses are taken that necessity is avoided. I am not saying that in the part of London I represent further school accommodation is not necessary; but if such further accommodation is necessary, it is not necessary to have it in this particular school. At the present moment 200 or 300 children are located in a temporary school some distance from this one, and the Vestry of St. George-the Martyr say that if it is necessary to have further accommodation, it should be in a new school on a different site, and on a site to which only two or three years ago the Board were giving consideration. The houses which are being taken down contain at present 230 persons; they are very substantially and well built; the rents are satisfactory; the sanitary arrangements are good; and the inhabitants would have very great difficulty in finding any similar suitable accommodation in the district. I am asked that this scheme should stand over until next year, and I may be asked if I have any alternative plan to suggest if that course is adopted. I have. The area now proposed to be taken covers nearly 15,400, and has a rateable value of £387. There is an adjoining piece of land which comes into the Borough Road, having upon it five shops in the Borough Road and a house and yard in Belvedere Place, and a tram shed, the area of which is 13,750 square feet, with a rateable value of only £278. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President has said that this Bill is going to a Committee of the House as there is opposition to it. Only one petition has been presented against the Bill, and that is the petition of the Vestry of St. George - the - Martyr. The Bill therefore, will go through as unopposed if the House will agree that this plan should be withdrawn for the present year. The managers of the school are all favourable to the alternative site. while, at the worst, it would only mean the deferring of the alternative for a year, and in the meantime I am sure the School Board and the Education Department would come to the conclusion that the alternative site is really the better. My plan is a very simple, just, and common-sense plan. This is not a party question, and therefore I may appeal to hon. Members on the other side, as well as to those on this, to support my motion. I beg to move.


formally seconded the motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Education Board Provisional Order Confirmation (London) Bill [Lords] to leave out Plan No. 41 in the; Schedule."-—(Mr. causton.)


said that the speech of the mover of the motion had very aptly illustrated the value of the discussion on the motion of the noble Lord the hon. Member for Greenwich. It was quite impossible for the House as a House to determine the merits of the respective sites. It was beyond the comprehension even of Members acquainted with the district. and it was obviously altogether outside the limits of fair play for the hon. Gentleman to attempt at the eleventh hour to get a particular site adopted. The mover of the motion had secured the valuable support of the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich, and he trusted those Gentlemen would mutually support an improved process in the future for dealing with these questions. This site should be considered by a Committee in the ordinary way. As to the necessity for school accommodation, about which the hon. Member for West Southwark spoke with some diffidence, Her Majesty's Inspector, so far back as March, 1896, was disposed to think the best course would be enlargement of the Belvedere Place School in accordance with the proposal of the divisional Member, the divisional. Member being the member of the London School Board for that part of London. The inspector also suggested certain improvements and amendments, which were provided for in the plan now proposed. An alternative site was very carefully considered, and rejected by both the divisional Member and the School Accommodation Committee of the London School Board. The hon. Member had endeavoured to enlist sympathy on that side of the House by stating that the scheme would dispossess 230 persons, and that the School Board would be under no statutory obligation to rehouse. But as a result of a decision of last year, it would be open to the Committee to insist upon the rehousing of the dispossessed persons, even though less than twenty houses were taken. There were many points in connection with the site to which reference might be made, but the House could rest satisfied that the matter had engaged the careful attention of the School Board, and having received the approval of the Board of Education, it might fittingly be allowed to pass.

SIR. J. GORST, in opposing the motion, said the case of St. George the Martyr had already been heard by the Board of Education. The Vestry were not satisfied with the decision, and petitioned the House of Lords, but with no better success.


pointed out that when the Vestry went before the House of Lords they were told they had no locus standi as a vestry, hut they could be heard as owners of property.


said that, in whatever capacity they appeared, they were, as a matter of fact, heard, and the House of Lords decided that no case was made out for the alteration of the site. If any injustice were done when the matter went before the Committee, the hon. Member would have an opportunity on consideration for bringing the matter forward, and he therefore hoped the motion would be rejected.


I only wish it to be made perfectly clear that we have a locus standi before the Committee of this House. Certainly we had no locus standi in the House of Lords. In the case referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, the learned counsel was under a misapprehension when he informed the Committee of the House of Lords that there had been a local inquiry, because there has not been a local inquiry. I shall divide the House now and take my chance in Committee.

Question put and negatived.