HC Deb 25 July 1907 vol 179 cc229-36

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— (Mr. Whiteley.)

*MR. BOLAND) (Kerry, S.)

said he desired to take the opportunity, of which he had already given notice, and which was the last opportunity of the session, to call attention to what Catholics in this country, especially the Irish Catholics and their relatives in that House, regarded as a test case in connection with the Board of Education in reference to the recognition of the Catholic school at Low Valley, near Barnsley, in Yorkshire. It raised in a definite way the whole question of the future of now Catholic schools in this country, and that was his real reason for having framed his questions in that House, in order to get, if possible, satisfactory replies from the President of the Board of Education before raising the question on the Motion for the Adjournment. This school, ho considered, was unfairly struck off the grant list in September of 1905. Since then, for practically two years it had boon maintained by the pence of the poor Irish Catholic minors in the district. Not a penny of State grant or of local giant had come to the school. What had been done in this instance by the Catholics was an earnest of what they would do in the future for the maintenance of their schools, in spite of rules meant to destroy denominational education; it was a proof of what the Catholics wore prepared to do out of their own pockets. It was a proof of what his country people were prepared to do out of their pockets. The other day when this question was raised on the Education Estimates he gave a rough summary of the facts of the case. He merely desired now to recapitulate them briefly. They showed, to his mind, two outstanding facts. In the first place, the dilatoriness of the Board of Education had had the effect of strengthening the hands of an unfair local education authority. The application for this new school was made in January 1906. It was six months before an inspector was sent down by the Board of Education to inquire, and the Report of the inspector was made at the end of July. It was another nine months before the decision of the Board of Education was given. In other words, fifteen months were allowed to elapse. But the serious point about this was that meanwhile the local education authority had applied for and had obtained leave to get a new site to build a new school which would be too large unless the Catholic school doors were closed. At the present moment no building whatever had been erected by the local education authority, and at the very least a year probably would have to elapse before the local education authority would build a new school. It would be easy to give a resume of what had happened in this matter, but he would merely refer to the words of the inspector to the Board of Education. It would be remembered that under section 9 of the Education Act of 1902 there were three points to be considered when a new school was applied for, namely, the wishes of the parents, the interests of secular education, and the economy of the rates. So far as he knew there was no reason why prominence should be given to one of these three points as against the other two. He said that by way of preface. The inspector in his Report said— The desire of the parents for a Roman Catholic School was very clearly proved at the inquiry, and the evidence on this head was not contested by the local education authority. There are at present 114 children in attendance at the unrecognised Roman Catholic School, and the parents contribute according to their means in the cost of maintaining the school and paying the teachers. The schedule questions addressed to the parents of all the children at the school was signed by forty-nine parents, representing 112 children, and, in every ease the answers included the statements that the parents sent their children to the school to be taught the Catholic religion, and that they would not send them to a school of any other character. The case is therefore one in which the wishes of the parents are on the one side, and regard for the interests of secular instruction and the economy of the rates is on the other, and the decision of the Hoard as to the necessity of the proposed Roman Catholic School must depend on the relative value given to the three considerations mentioned in (Section 9 of the Education Act, 1902. It should be said, however, that while the wishes of the parents for a Roman Catholic School were incontrovertibly demonstrated, it was not shown that recognition of the proposed school would be seriously detrimental to the interests of secular instruction, or would involve more than a slight additional charge on the rates. The Board took nine months to act upon that Report, but meanwhile the Catholic. school at Low Valley was kept going by the pence of the miners in that district, and if he knew the spirit of the Catholic people in this country, it would be kept going no matter what happened. In addition to that, the Anglican school was closed, with the result that in the neighbouring schools forty-one children were unable to find accommodation. He did not know what would happen if 120 Catholic children in the existing Catholic school in the Low Valley were turned out on to the streets. He maintained that the dilatoriness of the Board of Education had been altogether to the advantage of the local education authorities, who were allowed to build a temporary structure before the 1st of September. Under these circumstances ho really failed to see how the right hon. Gentleman could say that the Board of Education stood as fair umpire between the Catholic schools and the local Education Committee in the West Riding. The Catholic people in that district had maintained their school for two years out of their own pockets, and ho urged in the interests of peace and justice that these Catholic schools should be recognised, and that the wishes of the parents should be given effect to, even at the cost of a small portion of the rates. He was sure that on the point of secular instruction they would not suffer


said he had nothing to complain of in the temperate statement of the hon. Gentleman. It was a statement of facts so far as the Catholic school was concerned, and was reasonable and accurate. But in regard to the hon. Member's reference to the action of the Board of Education, he did not think that the case was quite as sure. What had happened? The Catholic school in Low Valley was a recognised school until 1905, when by the action of the late Board it was, no doubt for good cause, struck off the grant list. It was not his doing, but was done under the authority of the late Government, as the hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford University would have admitted had he been in his place. In 1906 the West Riding County Council, under the Act of 1902, gave notice to build a new school, and to this no objection was taken. Now, under the provisions of a section of the Act of 1902 any person was allowed to object to any proposed new school, but in this case no objection was taken, and after the lapse of the statutory period, the county council had the right to build the school. They allowed the statutory period to elapse, and consequently at the close of that statutory period, the county council of the West Riding acquired an indefeasible right to build this school. On this point he did not think there was any difference between the hon. Member for South Kerry and himself. The West Riding County Council proceeded to acquire a site for the erection of the school. Delay had been caused by difficulties in the way of transfer, but those difficulties had been removed during the present week, so there was now no difficulty in the way of acquiring that piece of land. The County Council wanted to erect a school of a particular sort upon, a particular plot of land at a considerable cost to the ratepayers, and it seemed to him that another school would be clearly unnecessary. As this particular school had! not been maintained the duty was thrown upon the county council to build a school out of the rates and there was no reason to interfere with them. If it was the fact that there was insufficient accommodation for the children of the district, and the county council failed in their duty to provide accommodation, then he should consider the claim of this school for recognition. But he was informed that there was sufficient accommodation for all the children of the district, and that the county council were prepared at a moment's notice, if insufficient accommodation was shown to exist, to put up temporary buildings in order to meet the demand until they had time to build a school. All that he could say, therefore, in answer to the hon. Gentleman was that he did not see how, as the administrator of the Act of 1902, he could do otherwise than give the county council every chance to carry out their duty under the Act. If he found as a fact that there was not sufficient accommodation, and that the county council were unwilling to supply it, and that in other respects the Low Valley school was a suitable school to place on the grant list, he should have no hesitation in placing it there. If the county council had provided sufficient accommodation for the children of the district it could not be reasonably called upon to maintain out of the rates a school which, by its own action, had lost the right it had previous to September, 1905, to be recognised as an existing school.

SIR WILLIAM ANSON (Oxford University)

said the Low Valley school was closed in 1905 not because there was no necessity for a Roman Catholic school, but because the buildings were insufficient and unsuitable for the accommodation of children. He did not think those responsible for the management of the school were happy in the action they took, but that was quite a different thing from there being no necessity for a Roman Catholic school. He had always recognised that given suitable buildings the Roman Catholics of the district had ample claim for a school of their own under Section 8 of the Act of 1902.


said he thought that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it was the duty of the managers of the school to raise the objection which they never did raise.


said he agreed that it would have been prudent of the managers to have raised the objection, but the Council knew perfectly well that there were 120 Roman Catholic children whose parents desired school accommodation. The Council had obtained their land, but he believed they had not yet put a brick on the site, although they knew of these circumstances. If Section 8 of the Act of 1902 was not to be a dead letter, surely the parents of the 120 children who desired school accommodation for their children should have a school of their own. Everyone knew that a multiplication of small schools was not the best thing for secular instruction; everyone knew that the addition of a school was so much more on to the rates, and before the section of the Act of 1902 was put into operation the education authority ought to weigh what were the wishes of the parents, to consider how many children were concerned, and how earnest the parents were in desiring the special accommodation. There could' be no doubt that 120 children was a number which justified their having a school of their own. There could be no doubt that the parents in this case had shown by their action that they were fully in earnest in desiring that there should be this school; and though this belated authority were to provide a school which could not be said to be wanted by Roman Catholic children, which might be wanted possibly on a smaller scale by the children of other denominations, and which had not yet been built, such a circumstance ought not to stand in the way of any legitimate desire of the Roman Catholic population in the area. He ventured to think that the right hon. Gentleman was not justified in not putting into operation Section 8 of the Act of 1902 on behalf of the Roman Catholic population.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth N.)

said the question was whether the right hon. Gentleman was lending himself to a local device of an oppressive and an anti-religious character. In his judgment the right hon. Gentleman was. The Liberal Party ought to make up their minds on this question, whether they were going to give the Catholics fair play or not, because if they thought that, by dangling before them political advantages of any kind or sort or description, they would be diverted from their object, he told them that the device would wholly fail, for, as against any political advantage which the Liberal Party might offer, they would stick to their schools and to their religion. If this were a case of 120 Jews in the City of London the right hon. Gentleman would not dare to do what he had done, and if there were a cry as to oppression of the Jews, how long would he hold his position? When the responsible body obeyed the law and put the school buildings in proper order, and therefore were once more entitled to receive the grant, what were they to think of the central authority which connived at a most bigoted and oppressive kind of action? He was bound to say that the authority concerned was, he believed, the only body in broad Britain who, because of a failure on the part of the Catholic managers, would pretend that it was going to build a school, and a Liberal Government for nearly two years had connived at its want of action; so that to-day, while there was not one brick resting on the top of another, the Catholics who had put themselves in full efficiency and in full title so far as their buildings were concerned for the grant, were told by a Liberal Government "No; we will give you no grant, because the West Riding body are going to erect a building which will be capacious enough to hold all the Catholics of the district."

And it being half-past Eleven of the clock MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half after Eleven o'clock