HC Deb 14 January 1918 vol 101 cc26-58
The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. Herbert Fisher)

I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to make further provision with respect to Education in England and Wales, and for purposes connected therewith."

The Bill which I had the honour to introduce last August has received, if I may say so, a remarkable measure of preliminary benediction and support. Not least, it has been welcomed as an honest attempt to treat education, not as an appendix of a religious controversy, but as a grave matter of national concern, which all parties and creeds in the State should unite to promote. And here I should like cordially to acknowledge the spirit in which these proposals have been approached by men and parties holding the most opposite views on fundamental questions of religion and politics. There are many features, both positive and negative, in the administrative scheme of the Bill, there are things said and things unsaid to which perhaps each one of the recognised religious bodies in this country might feel itself entitled to take exception; but I have observed very little disposition either to discover or to inflame points of difference, but, on the contrary, a very general acceptance of the governing principle of the Bill, which is to secure as much educational development as possible through the operation of our existing authorities, and in recognition of our confessed, but not, I hope, irreducible differences in the sphere of religious teaching.

Some criticisms, however, have been addressed to a portion of the Bill which, though it carries no stirring message to the general heart of man, is nevertheless regarded as important, and rightly so, by the bodies upon whom it devolves to administer our Education Acts. Some of the administrative Clauses of the Bill have been criticised. It has been contended that they lodge an excessive degree of power in the hands of the Board at Whitehall, and though I think that the success of our educational administration depends far more upon the spirit in which the partnership between the Board and the local bodies is worked than upon the actual letter of the articles of association, yet I think that some of these administrative Clauses, in expression though not in design, do give colour to the criticisms to which I have alluded. Accordingly I have decided to introduce Amendments with the hope, if possible, of meeting the opinions of those local bodies upon whose willing and unstinted co-operation the successful administration of our Education Acts must necessarily depend. It appeared to me that I should best consult the convenience of the House if, instead of deferring my Amendments to the Committee stage of the Bill, I took the earliest opportunity of placing before the House and the country a new Bill containing the Amendments to which I have alluded, and embodying some of the changes which, in view of representations which have reached me, I consider to be necessary or desirable.

The position then is this: The Bill which I now introduce is substantially identical with the measure familiar to the House.. It imposes upon the councils of counties and county boroughs the duty of providing for all forms of education. It abolishes exemptions from school attendance between five and fourteen years of age. It provides for further restrictions upon the industrial employment of children during the elementary school age, and for the gradual introduction of a system of compulsory day continuation classes for adolescents. In the new Bill, as in the old one, local education authorities are empowered to give assistance to nursery schools, and in other ways to provide for the physical and social welfare of the children committed to their care; and, indeed, attention to physical welfare is a special and distinctive feature of both measures.

On the other hand, I have either omitted or amended certain of the administrative Clause's. I introduce a new Clause in place of Clause 4, which provided the machinery and procedure for the approval or disapproval of schemes. I propose to omit Clause 5, which provided for Provincial Associations, but to embody in Clause 6 provisions to facilitate the federation of local education authorities for certain purposes, which was the governing principle of Clause 5. I propose to omit Clause 29, which provided the procedure for transferring the powers of Part III. of authorities to county councils in certain cases and to substitute a somewhat altered Clause for Clause 36, which relates to public inquiries. I omit Clause 38, which dealt with the reference to the Board of Education of certain educational questions. I also propose to substitute for Clause 40 a new Clause dealing with grants and providing more specifically for a deficiency Grant in aid of education in those cases where the substantive Grant does not amount to 50 per cent. of the approved expenditure upon elementary or higher education as the case may be. I have also inserted words in different places in the Bill to meet the apprehensions of religious bodies who feared that one of the effects of the Bill might be to prejudice the position of the voluntary schools and of religious education in those schools. In response to certain suggestions which have reached me from other quarters I have introduced some alterations in the Clauses dealing with the attendance at continuation classes, at nursery schools, and also in the Clause dealing with the abolition of fees. A White Paper will be circulated so that hon. Members may be able to sec clearly the changes of substance introduced. I hope it will be recognised that the adoption of this course will facilitate the expeditious discussion of the Bill in Committee. I am the last person to desire to prevent hon. Members from having the opportunity of expressing their views with respect to any question which may arise out of the changes which I have indicated, but I think that the course I am pursuing will be for the convenience of the House and that it is desirable that when the consideration of this question comes up again next Session, the House should have before it the Bill in its amended rather than in its original form. I hope that as the result of the consultations and discussions which I have held with various representatives of the local education authorities during the last few months a large portion of the measure which might otherwise give rise to protracted debate may be taken as substantially agreed upon.


May I ask whether the Pill will be circulated to-day?


As soon as possible.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Herbert Fisher, Mr. Barnes. Mr. Baldwin, and Mr. Herbert Lewis

EDUCATION (No. 2) BILL,—"to make further provision with respect to Education in England and Wales, and for pur- poses connected therewith," presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time To-morrow, and to be printed. [Bill 116.]