HC Deb 02 July 1918 vol 107 cc1651-4

It shall not be obligatory on a county council to charge on or raise within particular areas any portion of such expenses as are mentioned in paragraph (c) or paragraph (d) of Sub-section (1) of Section eighteen of the Education Act, 1902, and accordingly each of those paragraphs shall have effect as if for the word "shall" there was substituted the word "may" and as if the words "less than one-half or" were omitted therefrom; and, where before the passing of this Act any portion of such expenses has been charged on or allocated to any area, the county council may cancel or vary the charge or allocation.


I beg to move to leave out the words "obligatory on," and to insert instead thereof the words "lawful for."

8.0 P.M.

We now come to a very important matter. The problem of paying for new schools has always been a difficult one, and the way in which it was settled in the Act of 1902 is very unsatisfactory, because while it made the county in large county areas responsible for new schools, it really put the great burden of the expense upon the locality or parish, and it has been owing to the way in which the question was met in the Act of 1902 that there has not been a greater amount of building of proper schools as required in the local districts, especially in the counties. The Board of Education, of course, quite realises that this condition of things, which is unsatisfactory to county authorities generally, and to all educationists who desire to see progress, cannot be maintained, and the way that it meets it in this Clause is not at all courageous. It proposes that whereas at present when a new charge is made upon a locality the county council can charge such portion as they think fit on the parish or parishes which in the opinion of the council are served, they can charge anything not less than one-half or more than three-quarters. That is the present law. It is contained in Section 18 of the Act of 1902. What they now propose is that it shall not be obligatory on a council to charge less than one-half or more than three-quarters of the expenses, but they do not give a direct instruction that the cost of new schools in counties shall be taken over largely by the central authority. That is what I want them to do, and the Amendment I propose would have that effect. The effect of my Amendment is, in fact, as will be seen by a consequential Amendment, to repeal the old provisions in Section 18 of the Act of 1902, and to give liberty to the county council to erect schools without the great difficulty and burden of putting the larger part of the expenses on the locality.


There is a good deal to be said both for and against the principle of differential rating. The course which is pursued in this Clause is, however, I believe, the course which is most agreeable to the county councils. So far as the Board of Education have been able to ascertain, there is very great difference of opinion among county councils on this subject. Some county councils object to differential rating altogether, and will no doubt avail themselves of the opportunity to abolish it which is afforded by Clause 32. Other county councils wish differential rating to be maintained, and they can produce very strong arguments in favour of it. The Clause gives to the county councils an option, and I believe that that middle course which has been followed in this Clause is the course which will be most acceptable to them on the whole. But the argument, of course, for the abolition of differential rating is that it will facilitate the provision of new schools by the local education authority, and I think it is undoubtedly the case that the heavy burden which is put at present on parishes by differential rating has the effect of discouraging school provision, but in future this argument will not have so much force as in the past. The scheme of procedure established by the Bill will put the Board in a better position to insist on an adequate supply of public school accommodation throughout the whole country, and if a county council is backward in providing the accommodation required it will no longer be able to urge in its favour that the provision involves excessive strain on the local ratepayers, because it will rest with the county council to determine whether there shall be any strain upon the local ratepayers or not. For these reasons, I feel myself unable to accept the Amendment.


I will say in reply to that, that I have the same complaint here as before. The President of the Board of Education will not look at these things first from an educational point of view. He will take the line of least resistance, like a cowardly man does on every occasion. Do let him give us some educational ground for the position he takes up, and I shall respect him even more than I do at present. Under the circumstances, I must ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


I do feel it incumbent upon me to utter a protest against the verbiage of this particular Clause. We have talked about the inadvisability of legislation by reference, but here you have a masterpiece of verbose obscurity, and what you have to bear in mind is that the unfortunate people who have to administer this Act of Parliament are least able to understand what such a Clause means. They are absolutely in the hands of the clerk to the county council or the local education authority, and very often he is not a trained lawyer, and, as I have found on more than one occasion, he is wholly unable himself to explain at a moment's notice what a Section in an Act of Parliament such as this means. More and more, as time goes on, you are going to have working-class representatives upon your local education authorities, and other popularly elected bodies. Surely we ought to aim in this House, as far as we can, to express our Acts of Parliament in such a way that the workers of this country can clearly understand what it is intended they should do. I do not wish to press this unduly, but I suggest that the ordinary bucolic intellect is wholly unable to cope with the meaning of these Acts of Parliament. I should like to have seen this Act, while amending previous Education Acts, at the same time codifying the law, and so avoiding these absurd references to legislation. But I do ask the Committee to have some little pity upon those unfortunate people who have to administer the legislation they pass. Here is as good an instance as you will over find of this system carried to an extreme. I venture to say that the time is come when we might reasonably call a halt. Might I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether, before we reach the Report stage, this can be expressed in clearer form?

Clause 33 (Provisions as to Expenses of Provisional Orders, etc.) ordered to stand part of the Bill.