HC Deb 29 October 1906 vol 163 cc704-7
MR. MENZIES (Lanarkshire, S.)

I beg to ask the President of the Board of Education whether the rifle shooting in the Kent board school was experimental; if so, what will be the cost of the experiment; and whether he has it in contemplation to make rifle practice universal in our national schools.

MR. SNOWDEN (Blackburn)

May I also ask the President of the Board of Education if he will state under what authority permission has been given by the Department to the Kent Education Committee to include instruction in rifle shooting in the school curriculum during ordinary school hours and at the public expense; if he will state if the Board has sanctioned the syllabuses submitted for such teaching for the schools at Eynsford and Shoreham; if this application from the Kent Education Committee is the first of the kind received by the Board of Education: and, if not, what other such applications have been before the Board, and with what result in each case.


The case in which the question of instruction in rifle shooting in a public elementary school first came before me was that of an undenominational British school at Bushey in Hertfordshire (not in Kent) in March last. My own personal view, and the advisers of my Department have advised me in the same sense, is that it is not desirable that rifle shooting should be included in the time-table of public elementary schools, since it is unsuitable for children of the ages likely to be found in these schools, and is not in itself a good means of physical exercise. But as, in the particular case before me, both the county authority and local persons closely conversant with the circumstances of the school were strongly desirous that the instructions should be given, I decided not to give a direct prohibition from the first, but to permit an experiment to be made for a time, and after closely watching it, to give a definite decision on the point at the end of the school year now current. I attached careful conditions to the experiment and in particular (a) that it should not encroach upon the time required for proper physical exorcises, (b) that it should be restricted to boys of proper physique and to boys who have reached the age of twelve years, and (c) that a special syllabus, shewing the nature of the teaching, should be submitted to and approved by the Board. The manager of the Bushey School estimated that the cost of the experiment would be £20 in the one year, and there is an annual income from endowment which will be much more than sufficient to meet this expenditure. As I have said, the sanction given in the Hertfordshire case was strictly experimental and provisional, and pending a report on its results in the Hertfordshire case, I had not the smallest intentions of extending it elsewhere. I find, however, that by some misunderstanding of my intention in this respect a provisional consent to a similar experiment, subject to the submission of a satisfactory syllabus, has been given by letter in the case of four other schools, viz., Hay ward's Heath, St. Wilfrid's National School in East Sussex, Overbury National School in Worcestershire, Shoreham Council School and Eynsford National School in Kent. These are the only other applications which I have received in regard to rifle shooting. I am sorry that any extension of my permission in the Bushey case should, have taken place, but the House may rest assured that no further permission of any sort or kind will be given.

MR. J. WARD (Stoke-on-Trent)

In either of these cases were the parents of these children consulted before the order was given?


In no case is any child to be allowed to practice rifle shooting unless the consent has been first obtained of the parents.

MR. PAUL (Northampton)

Would not bows and arrows be more suitable to the tender age of these young warriors?

SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

Very clever that.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in Ireland not only are the children, but the grown up men, forbidden to make use of firearms?

MR. ROWLANDS (Kent, Dartford)

Seeing that the consent has been given inadvertently, does the right hon. Gentleman intend to go on and not wait for the experience obtained at Bushey?


Having regard to the letter written by the persons in my Department it would not be fair to withhold the permission that they were certainly justified in giving. But the experiment will be confined to these places only.


What is the opinion of these parents? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a great difference of opinion with regard to the experiment and that many parents object?


Such parents would not of course allow their children to receive the instruction.

DR. MACNAMARA (Camberwell, N.)

May we take it that until the authorities have made a scrutiny of the system in these five cases it will be no good for other local authorities to apply for any further sanction in these circumstances?


None whatever.

MR. H. H. MARKS (Kent, Thanet)

In the event of the experiment at Bushey turning out a success, will the right hon. Gentleman give permission for rifle practice in other schools?


That depends on the report I receive from my own educational authorities.


Will the right hon. Gentleman lay the Report on the Table of the House?


I am perfectly content to do that.

MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

I wish to ask the President of the Board of Education whether rifle-shooting is regarded by the Board of Education as a necessary part of physical training, or whether the Board considers it necessary for the purpose of national defence; and whether he is aware of any new danger confronting this country, rendering necessary increased preparations for defence, or whether the Board of Education is to become a preparatory training authority and auxiliary of the Army.


I do not regard rifle shooting in elementary schools as a necessary part of physical training. I do not consider it necessary for the purpose of national defence. I am not aware of any new danger threatening this country nor, while I am President, will the Board of Education become a preparatory training authority and auxiliary of the Army.