HC Deb 15 July 1909 vol 7 cc2412-6


Postponed proceeding resumed on consideration of Question, "That a sum, not exceeding £6,648,792, be granted to His Majesty to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st day of March, 1910, for the salaries and expenses of the Board of Education, and of the various establishments connected therewith, including grants for the building of New Public Elementary Schools and Sundry Grants in Aid":

Which Question was "That a sum, not exceeding £6,648,692, be granted for the said service."—[Lord Edmund Talbot.]


I would like to support strongly what fell from the hon. Member for Middleton (Mr. Adkins) as to the further provision of funds with regard to the admirable purposes of the Circular 709. Everyone who is aware of the formidable appearance of any additional charges coming from county rates will be aware that the further provision of staff and educational equipment which are absolutely necessary for the education of the country cannot be contemplated by the local authorities unless the Board of Education obtains further funds from the Treasury in this respect.

The points which I wish to bring before the President of the Board of Education are pretty much these: As he is well aware I take a special interest in the question of the further development of agricultural education. There have been organised conferences on that subject, and a great deputation from the Chambers of Agriculture waited upon the right hon. Gentleman and the President of the Board of Agriculture. The deputation were quite warm in their recognition of the power and ability of the Board of Education and of the Board of Agriculture to help them, and I should like to ascertain from the right hon. Gentleman whether the Board of Education has seen its way to arrive at any working agreement with the Board of Agriculture which might bring the combined force of these two Departments to bear upon the various problems which have to be solved in connection with further provision for the higher development of agricultural education. We all wish to see throughout the country that a working agreement has been arrived at between the two Departments which will facilitate that object. My hon. and learned Friend for the Swansea District very naturally spoke of the increased grant for the colleges of Wales which appears on the Estimates. I do not think we need be very much surprised that the Welsh should be enthusiastic about education with their strong representation at the Treasury. But while an additional grant of £15,000 has been given for the colleges of Wales, no similar and proportionate grant has been made in respect of the great colleges which deal with scientific and other education in England. I dwell upon that specially, because the point interests me very largely in regard to agricultural education in respect of the provision for the higher rural secondary schools of what one may call the highest scientific instruction of a practical agricultural type. That is a want which we wish to see supplied. We who have gone into the practical side of this question know perfectly well that we are met with the grave difficulty that the rural teachers of the type of the secondary teachers necessary in order to ensure real success for these colleges do not exist, and that the machinery for providing this class of teacher is altogether inadequate. In the first place, the colleges do very little work towards the provision of this type of teacher. They have not the funds; their funds and functions are devoted in other directions. In the second place, the training colleges are not adequately supplied with funds for the equipment of this class of teachers, and I think, therefore, we have some right to say that in view of this great want in connection with the higher class of secondary colleges we ought to have further provisions in that direction. Those of us who have studied the Reports of the Board of Education know perfectly well that there is a very considerable and successful effort being made for the provision of secondary school teachers in the direction I have indicated.

The deficiency is in regard to secondary school teachers. We ought to have an increased grant both to the colleges and the training colleges, with a view to fill this want. I rather share the view that has been expressed by several hon. Members and right hon. Members on the opposite side, that Chapter 10 of the regulations was not an unwise venture of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education. I think it was one of those steps in which he has shown the disposition to cultivate that line of peaceful persuasion, and the provision of a means of consolation which would gradually work away religious animosity, which has chiefly paralysed education. I welcome this step because it seems to me to be operating in that direction, though I have always recognised the various arguments in the opposite sense which have been laid before Committee. I do wish to say that many of us on this side, as well as on the opposite side, recognise the generous and sympathetic spirit with which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Runciman) has met so many of these educational problems. I think his whole conduct on this particular aspect of the education question reflects the highest honour on his Department and on himself.


I listened very carefully to the Debate the whole of this afternoon, and it strikes me very forcibly that until this House and the: Committee takes far more seriously the, position of the ratepayer, the ratepayers will have considerable cause to complain. I refer to the Circular 709 which is now embodied in the Code. I should like to make it quite plain. I am not in the least finding fault with the fundamental idea of the circular. I think it is only right and proper that the clauses should be as small as possible, and that the teachers employed in teaching the children should be fully qualified to do so. What I do complain of is this: that if we in this House are going to allow this increase in the rates to take place with such very small objection as has been raised this afternoon, it will be a hint to the Treasury to make it still more difficult for those who are anxious to get money for the Treasury to obtain those grants. Not only do we see that in the question of education but also in other Bills brought before this House. As soon as the Treasury refuses to finance those Bills what happens? It is always the same story. Those who are in charge of the Bill, whatever it may be, immediately lump it on to the unfortunate ratepayers. That will go on until we in this House realise where we are drifting. It may be a light matter for some, but it is a serious matter for others. I am afraid when we were promised by the President of the Board of Education that we were going to receive great benefits from the Finance Bill that is now before the House, that that is a promise which seems to be in the far distant future. What I should like to insist upon is that we in this House should protest against any increase in the rates until there has been some readjustment of the burdens of taxation. There is a large and growing feeling of discontent throughout the country in regard to this question of the rates. The Royal Commission on Local Taxation, which reported in 1901, stated plainly what its opinion was, and it is quite unnecessary to delay moving in the direction then suggested. It would be very simple to follow out the recommendation of that Commission, before any further burdens were placed on the rates. The President of the Board of Trade stated this afternoon that 41 local education authorities had sent in detailed estimates as regards the working of Circular 709, and he gave East Suffolk as the authority which would be most affected. I should like to ask whether that is on the original circular or on the revised circular which is embodied in the Code? As far as I can read it, the Code is very different from the original circular.


The hon. Member is quite mistaken. The circular has been incorporated in the code.


I did not read it like that. I understood from the Code that there had been an alteration in the number of children in average attendance. May I ask whether the estimate given by East Suffolk is the minimum or the maximum, because that makes a considerable difference. No doubt it is the fact that East Suffolk will be affected most seriously, since the right hon. Gentleman says so.


What I stated was that, in terms of a penny rate, East Suffolk is at the head of the list. It is quite possible that the gross amount may not be as large there as in some other counties.


What I want particularly to emphasise is that this is the wrong moment to increase the burden on the rates. Further, it is entirely wrong to increase that burden by a purely administrative order. Such a policy may lead to a very considerable burden being imposed with an insufficiency of discussion.

And, it being Eleven of the clock, the Chairman left the chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.