HC Deb 10 August 1904 vol 140 cc90-7

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [10th August], "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the Fifth Resolution, 'That a sum, not exceeding £7,110,267, be granted for Expenditure in respect of the outstanding Services included in Class IV. of the Estimates for Civil Services.'"

Question again proposed.


continuing, said when the situation was examined in the light of what had gone on for many years, there could be no question of the acute character of the difficulty created. Until 1870 no person obviously had any right to raise the question as to the mode in which a manager of the schools then existing, and receiving grants, might think fit to provide religious education for the children in those schools. The trust deeds under which the schools were governed were well known, they were recognised by the Committee of Privy Council dealing with education, and no difficulty arose with regard to them. In 1870 the existing practice was recognised by the Act of that year. Under the Act of 1870 until 1899 the practice was so clear and so entirely unquestioned that in 1899, when apparently the attention of the Committee of the Privy Council for education was definitely called to the matter, there was an authoritative pronouncement that the practice of taking children to church for religious education was a legal practice. With that pronouncement the parties to the struggle over the question remained satisfied from 1899 to 1902. It was admitted that the practice was a legal practice, and although that might be a mistake of those who had the administration of the law with regard to education, it was a mistake they made in common with the Committee of Council itself, and to suggest that the recent declaration of the Board of Education did anything else than revolutionise the practice in this respect was to suggest that which was not the fact. Right or wrong the practice was admitted by the Board of Education. Now it had been discovered that it was possible to construe the Acts and by-laws in such a way that a practice which was always regarded as a legal practice was to be pronounced an illegal practice, and it was suggested that the managers of the schools were to be content, because that was the result of by laws sanctioned by the Board of Education. Those who were interested in religious questions would not wonder at all that school managers who had for years carried on their schools in the belief that this was a legal practice were shocked that the Board of Education, by an administrative act, should have condemned it as illegal. This had happened at a critical time. There was an endeavour in some quarters to improve the Church schools out of existence and he hoped the Board of Education would see that this was a time when a discovery, such as that which the recent circular had made, should be handled with a little consideration for those who had undertaken the duties of school managers.

Those who read the correspondence which had passed between the Baptist Minister of a little village in Essex and the Board of Education, would see that there was a totally different manner of dealing with this delicate and difficult question from that exemplified in the recent circular. That circular declared the impossibility of proceeding on the present lines and peremptorily declared them to be illegal. When the case arose with regard to this Baptist school the attitude of the Board of Education was one of sympathy and advice and almost of assistance. Apparently the procedure so simple and easy to adopt in the case of this Baptist school was very difficult to adopt in the case of the Church schools. What Church people desired to know was whether there was a difference made which was unfavourable to Church people. He did not think that that was likely to change the attitude either of Churchmen or the supporters of Church schools. But it would be an unfortunate thing if a small, organised and resolute minority was able to secure from the Board of Education terms which a reasonable consideration did not secure for those who, in past years, had carried on the education of half the children of this country. A letter full of sympathy had been sent to the pastor of that Baptist church who, he agreed, deserved encouragement because of his care for the spiritual interests of the children of his congregation; but in place of that sympathetic letter and the encouragement and advice which was given to the Baptist pastor, what was found for the managers of Church schools was the circular signed by Mr. Morant. It was true that this circular was issued to the inspectors, but it had found its way to the great body of managers of Church schools in the country, and they regarded it as showing a different tone and feeling on the part of the Board of Education towards the managers of Church of England schools to that shown towards the managers of dissenting schools. Nobody supposed that in this matter the Board of Education, with a stroke of the pen, could alter the law or remove all the difficulties.


asked if the hon. and learned Member contended that the interpretation of the law by the Board of Education was incorrect?


said there were two interpretations, one of thirty-three years continuance and one of three weeks. It might be the second was correct, but there seemed to be a doubt about it. When the Board of Education came to decide whether the local education authority was reasonable or unreasonable in its requisitions, what he wished to press was that the Board should deal with this question so that Churchmen would not be prevented from having their children taken to church for religious education during the short period which was provided. It was said that there was a danger of proselytising, but that was not the case. What they asked for was limited to the period of instruction which was set down in the time table for religious teaching, whether it was half-an-hour or three-quarters of an hour. It was not sought that any minister of any church should have the right to take any child anywhere, but it was claimed that at the discretion of the managers of the school it should be possible to give that kind of education to the children of members of the Church of England which they desired and in the manner in which they had been accustomed to receive it.

MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, E. Toxteth)

said he wished to say a few words in support of the Board of Education and the attitude they had taken up in this matter. He had gathered during the debate that the point they were discussing was originated by a Question put by one of his colleagues representing Liverpool which had elicited the ruling which formed the subject of so much of this discussion. He thought they might have asked themselves whether there really was a religious difficulty in this matter of education. The noble Lord the Member for Greenwich had left no doubt that, in his opinion, there was such a difficulty, because he was careful to explain in detail the objections which the Anglican and the Roman Catholic Church must feel to that mutilated form of religion which was described as undenominational. The hon. Baronet the Secretary to the Board of Education read out some details about attendances at schools which might have led the House to think that it was a matter of entire indifference whether the children attended a Wesleyan or a Roman Catholic school, and this caused a ripple of somewhat cynical laughter amongst his hon. friends, who consoled themselves with the belief that there was no religious difficulty outside the House. But later on he dashed their hopes to the ground because he instanced the case of a clergyman who insisted in the teeth of the local education authority in taking 500 children from school to church on Ascension Day. Although he did not agree with his noble friend the Member for Greenwich in his general attitude upon these educational matters he thought he was nearer the truth when he said that there was a real religious difficulty than those who said that no such difficulty existed outside the House. He did not desire to take up the time of the House discussing the legal aspects of this question. His hon. friend the Member for Plymouth had practically admitted that at any rate it was not clear that there was nothing in the contention of the Board of Education. He understood that their ruling amounted to this, that the local education authority inherited or had the power to determine whether or not religious education should be given elsewhere than in a school during school hours. He thought that the position which followed from the Acts of 1870 and 1876 was distinctly strengthened by the Act of 1902, which threw on the local education authority the cost of maintaining these schools apart from the upkeep and expense of the fabric.

He wished to say a few words as to the expediency of the policy which had been adopted by the Board of Education. What was it that caused the insertion of the Kenyon-Slaney Clause in the Act of 1902? It was nothing less, if his memory served him right, than some of those very practices of taking children from the school to the church to attend services which were repugnant to the parents of the children. This led the Government to recognise a feeling that they were bound to give expression to in the Act of 1902. He did not desire to go into controversies which perhaps were not acute at the moment, but were still acute enough to cause trouble in the future. It was well-known that in many churches the children were taken to children's Eucharists and masses, which were repugnant to Nonconformists, and aroused a feeling of indignation of which the Government were bound to take heed. In the overwhelming majority of the 8,000 single-school areas the only school was the Church school. That of itself was a hardship of which the House was bound to take note. Many of the scholars were the children of Nonconformist or Protestant Anglican parents who entirely objected to their children attending services of which they did not approve. It had been said that they need not attend without their parents' consent. But how was the consent of the parents to be obtained? Everybody who knew the conditions of village life must recognise that it was an invidious thing for a child to be withdrawn from religious instruction under the Conscience Clause. Therefore, if at the wish of the clergyman the children were assembled in the school and the request was made that they should attend a particular service in church on a particular Saint's Day, there might not be compulsion, but there was a kind of moral coercion which they might not find themselves in a position to resist. The difficulty arose largely in the case of the single-school areas. If they had an adequate system of education, catering impartially both for those who were in favour of denominational instruction and those who desired what some people were pleased to call a torso of religion, these difficulties would not arise. They could all agree upon the ideal in this matter, that they should banish from their education the religious difficulty once for all. It was perfectly easy to agree upon an ideal, provided it was made wide enough, and the terms were not too strictly defined. It was when they came to practical proposals that the real difficulties asserted themselves. On a balance of grievance he considered that the hardship suffered by Nonconformists was more rather than less than that suffered by Churchmen. In towns they always had a choice of schools. It was in the country districts that this particular difficulty arose. He was glad that the Government recognised the fact, and were prepared to safeguard the interests of the children, and to prevent them from being insidiously proselytised from the faith of their parents. He was glad his hon. friend the Secretary to the Board of Education had taken the stand which he had done in this matter. The support which the Secretary to the Board of Education had received from his own side might not have been so vocal as the attacks that had been made upon him, but it was none the less real and substantial, and he hoped the hon. Gentleman would persevere in the extension of the principles of the Act of 1902 which was laid down in his ruling on this question.

MR. EMMOTT (Oldham)

said he would resist the temptation to refer to many interesting topics which had been discussed in the course of the debate. He simply rose for the purpose of putting one Question to the hon. Baronet the Secretary to the Board of Education. A year or so ago he raised in the House some question connected with the staff of the Special Inquiry Department of the Board of Education. He asked the hon. Baronet whether the work which was at that time in course of preparation in that Department, and some special reports with which some progress had then been made, were going to be continued and the reports published. The reports about which he asked specifically related to the industrial training of native races, the educational system of Russia, the secondary education system in France, and the education system in Germany, and the hon. Baronet assured him that the work would be continued in the same way and that reports would be published. But thirteen months had passed and the only report which had been issued was a very tiny report relating to the question of Lancashire children who were working half time. What was time Department now doing with regard to the reports about which he asked thirteen months ago, and were they going to be given to the public or not? If not, why had the change been made.

MR. ERNEST GRAY (West Ham, N.)

said he wished to congratulate the hon. Baronet, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education on the course which the debate had taken. Those who heard the discussions on the Education Bill in 1902 would recollect that statements were freely made to the effect that, that Bill, when it became an Act, would not work, that it would give no end of trouble in its administration, and that the whole wrath of the country would be poured on the head of his hon. friend. The empty Benches opposite that afternoon showed how much foundation there was for those vaticinations. The subject which had occupied the attention of the House was the recent decision of the Board of Education in regard to religious instruction. It was probable that he was one of three men in the House who had had practical experience on that subject. He had taken part in it for twenty years, and, although he did not speak as a lawyer, he spoke as one closely acquainted with the Education Act, and he believed that no other decision could have been come to than that arrived at by the hon. Baronet. The by-law laid it down that the attendance of children was to be in school from nine to twelve o'clock, and the children could not be taken out of school to go to church between those hours. As a mere question of policy the decision of the Board of Education was right. There were many parents who were quite prepared to accept for their children the religious teaching in the school, but they said that religious teaching in the church was not of the same character as in the school, and it would be quite unfair that the children should be taken to church services which the parents could not approve of.

There was no problem of greater importance or urgency in the field of education than the training of teachers. Local authorities were hesitating in every direction as to what they should do, and there was no uniformity of practice. His hon. friend, he knew, recognised the difficulty, but had offered no solution. His own opinion was that the State must eventually take into its own hands the training of teachers, and not throw that duty upon the local authorities. He wished to refer to the action of the West Riding County Council in deciding to deduct from the salaries of the teachers in voluntary schools the time given by them to denominational teaching. He suggested that such a practice was quite illegal and would bring the West Riding County Council under the purview of the Bill which had just passed its Third Reading (the Education Defaulting Authorities Bill). He believed some members of the West Riding County Council, in adopting the resolution to which he referred, were acting in ignorance, and he wanted to give the Secretary to the Board of Education an opportunity of making a statement to the public. A resolution of that character inflicted immense misery on teachers, and he wanted the hon. Baronet to declare that night that the West Riding County Council, in insisting on carrying out that resolution, would be acting contrary to law. He submitted that this was an urgent question demanding some statement from the hon. Baronet before the House.


appealed to the House to allow this Vote to pass now.

Question put, and agreed to.