HC Deb 10 April 1913 vol 51 cc1489-501

Postponed Proceedings resumed on Question, "That a sum, not exceeding £9,260,311, 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 the 31st day of March, 1914, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Board of Education, and of the various Establishments connected therewith, including sundry Grants-in-Aid." [Note.—£5,250,000 has been voted on account.]


I can express almost in a sentence the principles for which I have been speaking earlier in the evening, and the views which are held by those Members of this House with whom I act on this question, and for whom I am speaking to-night. We ask that there should be no further tendency to crystalise separate systems of education for separate sections of society, we ask that elementary education should not be regarded as a system complete in itself, or as a system on which to fit a coping-stone of the higher elementary school or so-called evening classes. We ask that the curricula of the elementary schools be complete from the restrictions at present imposed not only by the Elementary Education Acts but by the code drawn up and sanctioned by the Board of Education. We ask that those restrictions having been removed that a harmonious system of elementary education linked with secondary education should be evolved. We ask that secondary education should be greatly extended.


May I ask who are "we"?


The hon. Gentleman did not do me the honour to listen to my remarks earlier. I have already answered that question. We ask that elementary education should not only be greatly extended, but that it should embrace all forms of further training and education suited for children of the elementary school age. Finally, we ask that elementary education be regarded as the first stage of the educational highway, and every child leaving the elementary school should pass along that educational highway in some secondary institution and should be given further education, training, and development appropriate to his gifts and to his future walk in life.


I venture to ask the Committee to turn aside from the general question of public education and to devote their attention to the state of affairs at Bristol University. This afternoon the right hon. Gentleman in his statement said that universities had some hesitancy in accepting public money because they were jealous of control, and he expressed a desire to avoid giving them any grounds of suspicion by taking care in no way to interfere in their internal administration. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has an opportunity of helping, some of these new universities by enabling them to free themselves from local interests when they become too insistent. I will very briefly put forward a few facts which I think may be held to justify an inquiry into the state of Bristol University. At the present time that institution is in the enjoyment of an annual Grant of £9,450. This, I think, fully entitles the right hon. Gentleman to take steps to find out how the money is being spent. Under Section 2 of the Charter the Crown is a Visitor, and the Lord President might be induced by the right hon. Gentleman to move for a visitation, and to inquire into the unsatisfactory state of affairs, as to the existence of which I think I can show a very strong primâ facie case. The Charter of Bristol University was granted in 1909, and the four years which have elapsed have been very stormy. There has been continual friction, and the episodes which have taken place point clearly to some defect in the system of government. I think that the probable ground of the trouble has been the very unusual powers enjoyed by the council, which is an entirely non-academic body. In other universities degrees are granted by the assembly of graduates, whether it be called the congregation or convocation, or, as in the case of Bristol, the senate; but in the case of Bristol a non-academic council, consisting largely of members of no university experience whatever and of no qualifications from the point of view of learning, grants these degrees. There is nothing whatever to prevent its amending the examiners' reports and lowering the standard of learning for which the degrees are granted. In the case of medical degrees, such a power in the hands of a non-academic body might become a real public danger.

The council has been extremely generous in the granting of certain classes of the degrees. In consists of thirty-three members, and it has voted honorary degrees to no less than fifteen of its own number. In October of last year it gave sixty-three honorary degrees, a large number of which were to local celebrities of no academic distinction. There is a great deal of local comment on the fact that eight degrees have been bestowed on members of the Bristol education committee, one of whose duties it is to recommend to the Bristol City Council the amount of money which it shall grant to the university. I am only surprised that the right hon. Gentleman himself has so far escaped an honorary degree of Bristol University, in view of the fact that the Board of Education makes it a large Grant of nearly £10,000 a year. More serious than these comic opera degrees is the position of the teaching staff. I understand that the Advisory Committee on University Grants has recommended that the professorial tenure should be, not for a limited period or during the pleasure of the appointing body, but for life. It is only so that you can get that independence which is necessary for satisfactory academic work. At the present time Bristol University professors are subject to two years' probation. They then hold office subject to a standing order of the council. Teachers and half-time lecturers, other than professors, hold their appointment on a three months' tenure, subject to annual appointment. This insecurity of tenure is doing very serious harm to the university. There have been so many cases, either of dismissal among the staff, or threatened dismissal, that an atmosphere of suspicion has been created, which has made it impossible for the university to obtain the services of the best men. I will only deal with one case as an instance, that of Professor Cowl. Prior to the creation of a university, Professor Cowl was a professor in University College, Bristol. In 1906 he became hon. organising secretary of the movement to bring about the creation of the university. With the establishment of the University of 1909, he was made professor of English literature in the new organisation. After the first session, in spite of the strong protest of the academic body, which I believe under Statute, is the right body to control such matters, he was dismissed. There was very strong feeling occasioned owing to the fact that he was given no hearing whatever. It was stated that he was dismissed because the standard of learning in his department was too high, and it was desired to attract weak scholars.

That view of education has been strongly condemned by the Advisory Committee, which supports the right hon. Gentleman. I believe the real truth is that the professor was dismissed owing to local spite, and the fact that he had inevitably raised antagonisms in pursuance of his duties as hon. organising secretary of the university movement by opposing certain amalgamation schemes brought forward by the Merchant Adventurers' College and by University College. When a new professor was to be appointed, the senate, by an overwhelming vote, recommended that Professor Cowl should be chosen, but, as usual, the non-academic council overrode the recommendation, and appointed a candidate who had only received one vote in the Senate. There was so much indignation that the council created a special Research Chair, with no duties attached to it, and with a two years' tenure to keep Professor Cowl quiet. If Professor Cowl was fitted to hold this Research Chair, he ought not to have been dismissed from the Chair of English Literature; if he was rightly dismissed, why was nearly £1,000 wasted in paying him a salary for two years for a Chair which had no duties? I think that the action of the council was an admission of the injustice of Professor Cowl's dismissal. I have only dealt with Professor Cowl's case amongst several others because I think it is a typical symptom of the disease which infects the University government. The fact that the Council, whether right or wrong, have by their subsequent action in effect had to admit what they did, shows that they are quite unrepentant, and justifies us in pressing strongly for some form of inquiry. The matter of degress and the matter of professional tenure are only two symptoms, and the general trouble which affects the University. There are many other symptoms, such as disquieting statements as regard advertising and the allocation of contracts; the general treatment of the Academic body, Convocation and Senate by the Council. All their recommendations are over-ridden, the Council takes practically everything into their hands. I do not propose to enter into these matters, although, under the Statute, I think it is very doubtful whether the Council have not exceeded their powers, because the Senate are charged under Section 17 with sending recommendations to the Council for the election of professors and readers and lecturers, etc. They are also to make recommendations to the Council as to the removal of any professor or teacher and the appointment of any other teacher, and they are to recommend to the Council the names for honorary degrees. Now as all their recommendations are consistently ignored, I think there is something wrong with the general system of government, whereby the Conned takes no notice whatever of these provisions of the Statute.

I think I have shown there is a primâ facie case for inquiry, and learning the cause of the strife and the atmosphere of parochialism. Possibly, if the right hon. Gentleman would grant some form of inquiry he would enable the University to shake itself free from those local shackles which is throttling its life. An inquiry is necessary into the state of Bristol University on public grounds. The Lord Chancellor has foreshadowed in a recent speech the creation of more civic universities in connection with education. Surely, if we are to have a few more universities on the lines of Bristol, before they are created the Government ought to be in possession of any information to be obtained from Bristol in order to profit by recent experience and mistakes. The right hon. Gentleman has refused to refer the matter to his Advisory Committee. I understand that it is not in his power to move for Visitation, but if he can take neither of these two courses, I at least ask him to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the whole subject, and I do so in the interest of the university, so as to enable them to put their house in order.


The subject which has just been brought before the House by the hon. Member has been before it on several occasions in the form of questions. These questions have been very well organised and very well prepared, and behind the whole thing there appears to be a good deal of spite. No question such as we have heard ever arose at all as long as Professor Cowl was in receipt of £400 a year occupying a sinecure office, or practically a sinecure office, and it all began because he was not continued upon the professorial staff. It is not true to say that Professor Cowl ever was a recognised professor of Bristol University. He was a member of the University College staff, and when the university was formed, there was a surplus of professors because there was an amalgamation of University College and Merchant Adventurers' College, and it was necessary that the council should exercise their wisdom in the selection of professors on account of this surplus. It is quite true that the senate recommended that Professor Cowl should be appointed, but the council did not appoint him. I am not here to say for what reason.


Have they not told you the reason?


No, I do not know the reason, but the decision was arrived at unanimously. The decision of the council upon the case of Professor Cowl was arrived at unanimously. Personally, I have no reason to say anything against him, but I know that a great many allegations have been made and a good deal of bad blood has been engendered. Those allegations have been repeated over and over again, and I am informed that they are absolutely untrue. There is no dispute between the professors and the teaching staff and the council. We have been told that many of the professors have had complaints made against them, and that they are under consideration. I am informed by the Vice-Chancellor that no complaints have been made against any of the professors, and that there is no feeling existing between the staff and the council. Charges have been made with reference to the conferring of university honours, but I am assured that they have been conferred in recognition of educational services rendered. I do not know why all this unpleasant criticism has been made, because the Bristol University is trying to do a great work, and it has tried to spend the money voted by Parliament to the best advantage. During the last twelve months this university has had large sums of money given to it, and no less than £188,000 has been contributed for the extension of its buildings. As one of the Members for Bristol, I am naturally jealous of the honour of the Bristol University, and we are anxious to make the best use of this institution we can. Surely this House is not going to compel us to employ more professors than we need.

We are endeavouring to utilise the funds voted to us from the Consolidated Fund, from the rates of the city of Bristol, and our income from investments, to promote the best interests of the students who come there. I was surprised that a person like Professor Cowl has been able to find so many Members of Parliament ready to take up his case, and put their names to questions of a very doubtful character, and I am convinced that the majority of the charges which have been made are both unjust and unfair to the university. The hon. Member for Hoxton (Dr. Addison) put a question to-day with reference to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol. It implied that there were a number of professors employed by the university who were receiving £150 and £120 a year, who had solicited an increase, which had been refused in consequence of the lack of funds of the university. The assumption was that the Vice-Chancellor had had his salary increased, whilst the others had received no consideration. As a matter of fact, the Vice-Chancellor receives £1,750 salary, which he had at the beginning and it has not been increased. Therefore, the suggestion in the question is a very unworthy one. I say that all the charges that have been made in the questions that there is disturbance and unrest amongst the professors of the college are not true, and they ought never to have been submitted to this House. They show that behind all this there is a lot of ill-feeling and spite. We are endeavouring to do our work and to fulfil a great function, and I am quite satisfied, if Members of this House leave the Bristol University alone, that we shall fulfil all the work for which that university has been founded.


I wish to say a word or two as regards the case of Professor Cowl, because one of greater hardship and injustice was never brought before the attention of this House. I ven- tured the other day for the first and only time to put a question to the President of the Board of Education upon this subject, and the hon. Member who has just sat down thought it becoming to insinuate that I was putting the question in the interests of Trinity College, Dublin. It is quite true that Professor Cowl is a constituent of mine and a distinguished student of Trinity College.


I made no charge against or reflection upon Professor Cowl.


I am not saying that the hon. Member did, but that he insinuated my interference was due to the fact that this gentleman was a graduate of the University of Dublin. I am proud of that fact. That was the exact reason why I interfered. I believed that a great hardship had been inflicted on one of my constituents. I should have thought that it was my primary duty, if an injustice of that kind had been done to a constituent of mine, to endeavour as far as was in my power to obtain justice for him, and that in so doing I should not be subjected to any sneer from the hon. Member, who, I suppose, has got one of these honorary degrees.


That is a very unworthy taunt.


The hon. Member is very fortunate, because I think most of his colleagues got one. Personally, I think he is to be congratulated that he did not. After Professor Cowl left Trinity College, where he obtained his degree with all possible honour, he was employed in the Birmingham University, and then he was selected and actually put upon the Board to frame the new University for Bristol. After they had completed their labours, and the University constitution had been framed, the authorities of the day selected him for the post of Professor of Literature. He held that post and discharged his duties without complaint, and then suddenly, in the year 1910, after he had been for over a year discharging these duties, and in receipt of the emoluments attaching to the office, he was deprived or his professorship, and he has never been told why from that day to this. If there were any complaints against him, he has never heard them, and he has never had an opportunity of meeting them. Up to the present moment he is absolutely ignorant of the reasons for his dismissal. He has never received even the courtesy of any information on the subject. The extraordinary thing about it is that the hon. Member who has got up to pose as the representative and the champion of the Council of the University, and who speaks of them as "we," does not himself know why he was dismissed.


I did not say he was dismissed. He was not appointed.


That is to say that the hon. Gentleman knows nothing about the case. He knows as little about the appointment as he does about the reasons for dismissal. Mr. Cowl was appointed in 1909, and he was not dismissed for a year afterwards, in 1910, after the university had been in existence for a full term. So that for a full term he held office in the university and received his pay. He was then dismissed without explanation, without rhyme or reason. The hon. Member for Bristol (Sir W. Howell Davies), who represents one of the Divisions of that city and speaks for the university as "we," has admitted that he cannot tell us why he was dismissed, nor why the council of the university overrode the unanimous recommendation of the senate to reappoint this gentleman. Has he ever inquired? It would be interesting to know if he has, and, if so, to know the result of such inquiry. If he failed to make inquiry the reason is obvious. What have they done? In 1910, in order to close his mouth, he having threatened legal proceedings, they actually proceeded, at the expense of the university, to found a Chair of Research, with no duties attached to it, and since then he has never lectured or taught for one hour, and yet he has received since 1910, out of public money devoted to education, £400 a year for doing nothing. The hon. Gentleman opposite has no explanation of that. The explanation is that they know that they have done a gross injustice, but there is no reparation, and that is my reason for bringing this matter before the House and of those who are responsible for the administration of this public money. The gentleman is a stranger to me beyond the fact that he is a Constituent of mine. He is a very distinguished graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and his character and competency are vouched for by leading men at Oxford, Cambridge, and Man-chester. I have received an extraordinary and voluminous amount of testimony to the ability and the qualities of this gentleman, and yet here he is to-day—


Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give us the names of those gentlemen?


I will give them to the hon. Member if he wants them.


I do.


There is Mr. Sonnenschein, Mr. Macneile Dixon, Professor Bury, and many leading professors and teachers in Trinity College, Dublin, all of whom vouch for his ability and standing. Yet the hon. Member who speaks for Bristol, and has taken upon himself, with a voluminous brief, the advocacy of the cause of Bristol University, has to stand up and tell us he has not the faintest knowledge of why they dismissed him or why they refused to reappoint him when that was unanimously recommended by the Senate. It is a strange state of affairs, and it shows that there is ground for demanding an inquiry. I know that the resources at the disposal of the hon. Gentleman on the bench opposite and of his Department are limited as regards inquiry, but I know of nothing to prevent one of two courses, either to recommend His Majesty in Council to have a Visitation to inquire into this matter and have the whole trouble investigated, or to ask a Committee of this House to investigate, not only this case, but several other cases similar to it. Because the case of Professor Cowl is not an isolated one. There are other Professors whose existence was threatened, and whose position was only saved by the intervention of the heads of their colleges at Oxford. I know of other two cases. The professors are in a state of revolt; there is no security of tenure, they are dissatisfied, there is eavesdropping, tale bearing, and friction throughout the entire university, and that must be fatal to it, and injurious to the course of education. I think with regard to the case of Professor Cowl, when the advocate of the university is not in a position to give any explanation of his dismissal and cannot explain why the Council did not re-appoint, him, that the demand for an inquiry is irresistible.


I am particularly sorry that there should have been such a long interruption of this Debate by a Private Bill—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why did the Government put it down?"]—because this Debate has been livelier than usual, and more than is usual on the Education Estimates we have got off the track of smaller criticisms. Before I sit down there are one or two things I want to say, specially with regard to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour). With regard to one or two smaller points which have been raised, let me say, first, with regard to the short Debate to which we have just listened, that I am afraid my right hon. Friend cannot depart from the position he has had to take up with regard to this quarrel in Bristol University. He takes no part in the affair. The attitude he has to adapt is that he cannot interfere in the domestic affairs of the university. He considers himself bound to see to the general efficiency of the university if it is to receive the Grants, but beyond that he does not feel himself able to go. One of the things the House is most anxious that the Board of Education should not do is to interfere in detail with the local powers of education authorities of all kinds, and of all authorities the universities would be the very last with whom we ought to think of interfering. If the time comes when the State has to work more intimately with the universities and give them more public money, it will not do for us to assume an intimate interference in their local affairs. This is a case in which my right hon. Friend will probably have the support of the Committee in not interfering on either side.


Why do you interfere with the Scottish universities?


The Scottish universities are not under our jurisdiction.


The Treasury do.


I am dealing with the policy of the English Board of Education. I should like to refer to one or two of the arguments brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London in the interesting speech he made earlier in the day. He criticised the speech of my right hon. Friend on the ground that it was too optimistic, and that, in view of promised legislation, he ought rather to have dealt in the defects in our educational system, if such existed. I think my right hon. Friend probably had in view the fact that he was dealing with administration under the law as it exists. If the Government undertake any legislation in connection with education, one important thing for the House to consider is whether the Department which will have to undertake that administration of the new law affords an efficient and sympathetic machine for carrying out any such new legislation. I think my right hon. Friend was right in saying that the work the Department was doing was successful under the present law.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to complain that the Department is apt to act bureaucratically in its relations with local authorities, and he referred to various matters, such as the enforcement of building regulations, in which he thought we were too hard and fast in our methods of dealing with local authorities. The more share I have in the administration of this Department the less I think the administration can be called bureaucratic in a narrow sense. I will take what the right hon. Gentleman referred to, that is to say, our pressing the local authorities to improve their school buildings. We have not dealt severely with local authorities. We have tried persuasion, we have got, in almost every case, now agreement with the local authorities throughout the country as to the rate and the way in which they shall improve their buildings. Then if you take our administration of secondary schools in the Department, the narrow action of a bureaucracy cannot be pointed out in any sense. At present we constantly hold throughout the country inspections of secondary schools, where we send down large numbers of inspectors. These inspections are welcomed, and owing to them we find that the managers of the secondary schools are constantly adopting our recommendations, constantly improving their curricula, constantly adopting new ideas, and one of the things which we are constantly impressing upon the managers of secondary schools is the low scale of assistants' salaries in secondary schools. If the work of our Department is viewed in the proper light it will be found that what interference there is with the action of local authorities is interference which stimulates education and raises the standard of education, and that we are not constantly persecuting the local authorities to undertake things which they really cannot afford to undertake.

The chief refrain in this Debate has been that more money is needed for education, and the appeal in all the speeches, notably in the very interesting speech we have heard from the hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Hibbert), was that our Department ought to do its utmost to obtain more money for education. I think my right hon. Friend has not shown himself slack in that respect. I will give the House the amount which he has obtained from the Treasury during his very short tenure of office. He has got £10,000 to work the Choice of Employment Act, £60,000 in aid of the local authorities for medical treatment, which has risen this year to £80,000, and will rise further, he has got for the Imperial College of Science another £10,000, he has increased the University Grants for their technological work by £12,000, and he has got pensions for teachers—a sum of at least £200,000—and there will be an equivalent sum which will enable the secondary teachers to get as effective treatment as the elementary teachers. There is no definite sum laid down, but it will be on the same basis. In view of what he has done already it will be clear to the House that my right hon. Friend can be trusted to do his very best to get more money for education, for we know, if anyone knows, that if we are to reach out in different directions to improve our education system the one thing which we must have is money, and in the long run, after all, it is not we in this Department who will find that money; it is that public feeling which can be aroused by the activity of Members of this House as representatives of the people in representing the present views of the people and in pressing them to demand further money for education. You may rely on this Department doing what they can to obtain further money for this great object.

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.

The Orders for the remaining business were read and postponed.

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