HC Deb 10 April 1913 vol 51 cc1501-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Gulland.]

11.0 P.M.


I feel it my duty to protest against the way in which the Education Estimates have been put down for discussion to-day. In order to understand and discuss this Vote adequately we ought to have had more than two days for considering the Report of the Board of Education. In the Pink Paper issued on Friday, that Report was notified to us as being ready to send out. Most Members like myself take a week-end holiday and do not look at Parliamentary Papers until Monday morning. I sent then for the Report of the Board of Education, and I got it on Tuesday. Therefore I have only had two days to study the Report. I very much doubt whether any Gentleman who has during the course of the Debate illuminated the House with his opinions, has studied the Report at all. At any rate, I very much doubt whether they have given so many hours to it as I have done. Therefore, in the first place, I very strongly criticise the action of the Government in putting this Vote down for to-day, and, in the second place, I criticise still more strongly the action of the Opposition in asking for this Vote to be put down. They know very well that there are many abuses in our educational system revealed by this Report which are entirely due to the Act of 1902, and it is because they are afraid to face the issue and afraid to move the reductions of the Vote which they put down on the Order Paper that they asked this Vote to be put down at short notice, and with a cowardice which, I say is contemptible they run away. In the course of the very interesting speech of the President of the Board of Education, he made an attack upon myself. It was quite nicely made, and quite decently phrased, but of course it was based upon information supplied to him by the Gentlemen whom we saw in that Gallery there. Where are they now? I gave them fair warning that I was going to raise this matter, and now that they have ran away I hope that the President will have it out with them to-morrow in the Board of Education.

The DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)

The hon. Member should only attack persons who can defend themselves here. He can criticise the President.


Pardon me, but with all due respect to the Gentlemen who ought to be in the gallery, I was not attacking them. I was only intimating what I felt. The point of the charge levelled against me by my right hon. Friend, was that in the course of a number of questions which I have put to him, I had tried to raise the suggestion that he was not giving to the children of this country the proper accommodation in schools which they have the right to demand. That is a very serious matter, because I have gone into the question for a good many months past, and I have come to the conclusion that there ought to be at least half a million more children in the schools in England and Wales than there are at present.


Is it permissible for an hon. Member to continue the Education Debate after Eleven o'clock?


The hon. Member is quite entitled to criticise the action of the Government.


I am very glad that my hon. Friend has raised this point, because he can now continue the criticism after I sit down. I want the right hon. Gentleman here to realise how serious this matter is. I have been on a Select Committee since eleven o'clock this morning, and I should not attempt to keep the House and myself here if I did not feel that this was a matter of educational importance. But I would strongly urge that when the Education Act of 1902 came into force there were at once a large number of miserable schools handed over to the local education authority. Some of those voluntary schools were absolutely incapable of being used any longer.

Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present; House counted, and forty Members being found present—


I cannot proceed with my argument without expressing my deep gratitude to this crowded House, and for the support it has shown me on this occasion. I was saying that ever since the operation of the Education Act of 1902 there has been a deficiency of accommodation all over the country, greater in some places than in others, but a growing deficiency of accommodation in the great centres of population. The deficiency of accommodation at the present time is really serious. I have got a long list here, but I am not going to read it all to the House. I am going to point out, however, that in certain large towns in England the schools are crowded to such an extent that there are in some places as many as 70 per cent. of the children who are in overcrowded schools. Overcrowded schools mean inefficient teaching, bad air, greater danger of consumption, and of epidemics, and, in fact, overcrowded schools are taking away the right of the child to a decent place and decent teaching in school. It is all very well for my right hon. Friend and the Government to boast that they have increased the efficiency of schools by saying they are on a 10-ft. square basis when they overcrowd the schools. If you have schools on the 10-ft. square basis and then overcrowd them, it reduces them to a 7-ft. or 8-ft. square basis. In Liverpool 20 per cent. of the children are in overcrowded schools. In Manchester it is the same. In Birmingham it is still worse, where a quarter of the children, 25 per cent., are in overcrowded schools. In Warrington it is still worse, 36 per cent. Then there is Bootle. I wish the Leader of the Opposition was here to know how little the authorities in his constituency value proper education for the children. Thirty-seven per cent. of the children there are in overcrowded classrooms. In Dover, which is reported by another hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench, it is the same. I am sorry to say there are several cases where it is higher. I see, by the way, that in Oswestry, and I dare say the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Bridgeman) thinks he is a great authority on education, but in his constituency 57 per cent. of the children are in overcrowded schools. That is perfectly true. If not, am I not to believe the official figures of the Board of Education? I believe them even more than I believe my hon. Friend opposite. In Devonport 45 per cent. of the children are in overcrowded schools, and in Tottenham 70 per cent. I could give the House a great number of other cases. My right hon. Friend wants the Committee to believe, in the mild attack he directed against me, that he has been doing his best. His best can be bettered. Nobody knows what he could do with this support of a strong, determined bench behind him. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I hope he realises from those cheers that the true-hearted feeling, if not of the Front Bench opposite, at any rate of the Liberal party, is in favour of the good old principle of Mr. Forster, "A school place for every child and every child in its place." That in my young days was the principle of education of the Liberal party. I am afraid it is forgotten to-day. I want it to be revived. I am here to-night to remind the right hon. Gentleman of his obligations. Let me just read to him a very old but very fine expression of the right of the children of England to free education in proper, decent schools. It is from a circular issued twenty years ago, when the Free Education Act was passed, and by the Conservative party that passed it:— Every father and mother in England and Wales has a right to free education, without payment or charge of any kind, for his or her children between the age of three and fifteen. What did the right hon. Gentleman say in the course of his speech? He told us through the efforts of the Board of Education they have reduced the children under five by 45 per cent. Why? Because he has taken away by his Code the right which was acknowledged to have been given by Statute, even by the Conservative party, of every parent to say, "My child is three years of age. That child can go into school if I like." The right hon. Gentleman, following the extremely bad lead of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, has allowed the local authority to decide when the children may or may not come in, and he has taken away by his Code a right which undoubtedly exists by Statute. That is well known. I see Members on the Front Bench nodding among themselves; they know perfectly well that I am right, as I always am on the subject of education. I may sometimes make mistakes in this House, but never upon educational subjects. I want to appeal in all earnestness to the right hon. Gentleman to ask the Prime Minister to give us another day for the discussion of the Education Estimates. We were asked to-day to settle the fate really of £14,000,000, because £5,500,000 were included in the Vote on Account. We ought to have more than one day for such a big sum as that.


Hear, hear.


I am glad that the Opposition Whips agree, because the matter rests with them. If they ask the Government to put down the Education Estimates again it will be done, and I shall be eternally grateful to them if they make the demand. This vote ought not to be carried—and it will not be, except under the Closure, as long as I can speak about it—without a fuller and a better discussion than we have had to-night. We have had delightful experiences this evening. We have had one of those delightful, airy, and totally irrelevant speeches from the late Leader of the Opposition, to which we all listened so gladly. How delightful it was to us on this side to hear his attack upon the principle of competitive examination, when all the while sitting by his side was his present Leader, who has been attacking the Government because they make appointments by anything else but competitive examination. [Laughter.] This is not a laughing matter. It is too important. It is also too important to be guillotined without proper discussion. I should like to go on a great deal longer, but will refrain. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will indicate, if not his ability to comply, at any rate that he bears me no more ill-will than I bear him.


Some of the statements of the hon. Member were entirely erroneous, in spite of his assertion that every statement he makes on education is correct. But I wish to join in his appeal to the Government to give us another day for the Education Estimates. The allegation is often made that this country does not care about education. We have had a Debate to-night which by general admission has been the best Debate on education that has taken place for some years. Yet into the midst of that Debate there has been thrust a discussion about Irish railways, which had nothing whatever to do with education, but it curtailed the time available by two hours. I do not think that is fair. There is a large number of Members who want to speak on this subject. There are a great many subjects of educational interest. We know that the whole of our educational system is to be put into the melting pot, and it is not fair treatment of the House for the Government to put down the Education Vote, give us only one half-day, and then to split that in half by putting down a private Bill.


That is not the Government!


Excuse me, it is the fault of the Government.


I believe that this private Bill was put down a long time before it was suggested that the Education Vote should be taken to-day.


As to that, I do not know, but I do know that it is in the hands of the Government to give more time. I hope very much that they will do so. I made the same appeal—or, at any rate, it was made from these benches—last year. The Government gave us an assurance that they would do their best to give us another day. That assurance ended in smoke; at any rate, we did not get that day. I do press that matter very strongly, seeing that, as I believe, there are many Members on both sides who wish to speak on this subject. I hope the Government will give consideration to this matter, and see if they cannot give us more time.


I would be the last man in the House to try to stop the dis- cussion of the Board of Education Estimates, and if a real desire for another day is put forward in the usual way I certainly shall raise no objection at all. I welcome criticism from whatever quarter it comes. Debates in this House often give me certain suggestions, and certain points are made which are useful to the Board of Education. If it is the wish of the House to have another day I shall certainly raise no objection.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned at Twenty-eight minutes after Eleven o'clock.