§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
On 2nd May, 1923, I proposed the following MotionThat the present system of imposing upon the Catholics of England the burden of building their own schools is contrary to religious and economic equality, and that the system of complete educational equality existing in Scotland should, with the necessary changes, be adopted in England."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1923; col. 1552, Vol. 163.]There were two things rather remarkable about that Resolution. The first was that 2604 it had the distinction of being seconded by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Webb), now the President of the Board of Trade, who was then a private Member. Secondly, it was carried by a unanimous vote of the House. When a Labour Government came into power I had some reason to expect, not that they would take up this question immediately, which would be rather an unreasonable expectation considering all the responsibility which is upon them, but that I would be addressing a sympathetic tribunal. There are some Members of the Government who, are, either by birth or descent, Irish. There are, I am glad to say, upon the benches above the Gangway many Members who are Irish by birth or descent. There are many Scottish Members in the Labour party. I do not anticipate there is a single Member for Scotland who will raise any objection to the application to England of the admirable, tolerant and generous system which has succeeded so wonderfully in Scotland. But Governments have to be pressed. The demands on their time are so large that, naturally, the demands which are pressed most are acceded to first.
The dimensions of this question are much larger than is realised by those who do not, like myself, keep in constant touch with the Irish citizens of Great Britain. That is a much larger body of people than is supposed. I do not think I exaggerate when I say it amounts to about 2,000,000 of the inhabitants of England, Scotland and Wales. Theirs is a curious, an interesting, and, I think, a tragic history. In the first place, these 2,000,000 Irish citizens of Great Britain came here in the exodus from Ireland which followed the great famine. It is one of the tragic stories of the Irish exodus, though not tragic perhaps in the same degree as the exodus to the United States, because the people who came to Liverpool had not the long sea voyage in the strange vessels which went to America in that period. I remember hearing a man of Irish descent at a dinner which was given to me at Grand Rapids, in the State of Michigan, declaring that his father, mother, and three sisters had started for America in an emigrant vessel with 400 Irish emigrants on board, and 300 out of the 400, including this man's three sisters, were dead before the vessel arrived in America. Certainly, there were many 2605 painful experiences in connection with this exodus of more than 5,000,000 from Ireland, which left more Irish outside the shores of Ireland than inside. In the city of Glasgow, to which some of my hon. Friends above the Gangway belong, there was a great immigration of Irish men and women, not without some suffering to the people of Glasgow themselves. There is a remarkable passage in one of the essays of Thomas Carlyle, in which, in his own grim fashion, he says that people denied sisterhood to an Irish woman who came to Glasgow, but she established her sisterhood by bringing into Glasgow the infection of cholera or the plague which resulted in the deaths of many Glasgow people. That Irish exodus gave Carlyle some of his most brilliant and striking pages. In one passage he says:The Irish giant, named of despair, is advancing upon London itself. I notice him in Piccadilly, blue-visaged, thatched in rags, a blue child on each arm; hunger-driven, wide-mouthed, seeking whom he may devour.The reason I use that is to indicate the connection between the history of that immense exodus to Great Britain from Ireland and the history of this question of the schools. Ragged and hungry as they were, these Irish workers immediately gave out of their small wage two subscriptions—the first to build a chapel of their faith, and the second to build a school of their faith, and through a period of three-quarters of a century these Irish immigrants have, out of their small wages, contributed largely to the support of their schools. I never heard an education Debate in this House in which high tribute was not paid to the spirit of devotion to their creed and their convictions and the self-sacrifice of the Irish people in holding by their schools as well as by their chapels, and I am sure the appeal of their self-sacrifice exists as strong to-day as ever before. I have known men in Liverpool, priests and laymen, who went out every Sunday to collect subscriptions for building schools. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) has done it himself, and I am sure his father and mother did it before him. He will remember a very fine Irish citizen, lately deceased, Mr. John O'Shea, who was personally a tee-totaller, but who went every Sunday to every public-house in my Division to 2606 raise subscriptions for these schools. I have known several priests who, every Sunday for years, went about raising these subscriptions.
That was all very well, as long as all the schools had to do the same thing, but a series of Education Acts have been brought into existence producing the curious result that while schools called "provided schools" have been built at the expense of the rates and the ratepayers, Catholics have to pay for the building of their own schools. I wish to indicate how this works out, because I believe that any Englishman, whatever his creed or party, who knows the spacious dimensions of this problem will immediately declare that it should be solved in a satisfactory way. I have seen calculations that in the three-quarters of a century, during which there was this large body of Irish immigrants in Liverpool, they have spent no less than £800,000 on this work, and I myself have taken a small share in raising some £40,000 within the last 10 or 15 years, mainly from my own constituents. I put it to any rational and humane man: is it right that these poor people, nearly all slum dwellers, nearly all more or less of unskilled labour, nearly all only just able by their daily work to get their daily food, should out of their tiny resources subscribe £40,000 to build schools in order that the successful and prosperous cotton spinner and cotton broker or the successful and prosperous shipowner should be relieved of the responsibility for that £40,000 which comes from the pockets of the poor in the slums?
§ Sir GERALD HOHLER
On a point of Order. Is it in order on the Appropriation Bill to introduce a question which would involve the raising of money?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If it be a question of a grant which can be given under the existing law, the right hon. Gentleman is in order.
§ Sir G. HOHLER
I contend that no grant can be given under the existing law for the purpose of building a Roman Catholic school or a Church of England school or a Wesleyan school.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We must not discuss matters which require legislation, but I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was going to bring forward some pro- 2607 posal which was within the powers of the President of the Board of Education.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I think it is within your recollection, Sir, that in 1907, without legislation, the Government gave grants through the Estimates for the building of schools, and what they did then they can do now. Mr. McKenna himself proposed giving grants through the Estimates to certain schools, and they were given through the Estimates.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
In addition to that, may I say that the Secretary for Scotland gave several grants through administration for increasing the salaries of the teachers in non-provided schools.
§ Sir G. HOHLER
I submit that the salaries of teachers are on a different basis. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman) refers to something which happened in 1907. Of course, I was not in the House then, but I notice that the right hon. Gentleman was careful to use the word "schools," and he gave us no figure. Is it not well known that, without legislation, no grant can be made for the building of non-provided schools?
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
Is it not a fact that in 1907 Mr. McKenna, when President of the Board of Education, introduced an Estimate for doing a thing which was held to be in contravention of an earlier Statute, but he contended, successfully, that the Estimate was tantamount to a Statute when passed, and it was for building schools.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I can only ask my right hon. Friend to confine himself to suggestions which are possible without legislation.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I am surprised the hon. Member should seek to deprive me of the chance of bringing forward the claims of 2,000,000 of my fellow-country-men. It is not the spirit of consideration for political opponents that I would have expected from an hon. Gentleman on the other side. There was a Bill introduced a few years ago by the then Secretary for Scotland, Mr. Munro, who is now a high judicial official. I do not think that any body would deny that the Protestantism of Scotland is quite as robust as the Protestantism of England. 2608 I would go against the historic reputation of Scotland if I were to say they were more lavish in the expenditure of either private or public money than men of other nationalities. In spite of the robustness of their Protestantism, I must compliment my Scottish friends by saying that they have given examples to the whole world, including Englishmen, in the liberality and generosity with which they have always been ready to treat Catholics in their country. A Bill was brought in—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There the right hon. Gentleman is rather giving himself away. He is showing me that it is a matter of legislation. I would invite him to confine himself to any suggestions which he may have that the Minister could carry out without legislation.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I am not so well acquainted, but I understand there are building grants on which the Government can draw if they so please to right this difficulty. However the purpose for which I intended to bring this case before the House, which I think is a hard case, is so much limited by the kindly and courteous intervention of the hon. Gentleman opposite, that I will go on to another point. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Education, will help me in this project which I am about to explain. The worst difficulty of the position of the Irish poor, as most of them in these Catholic schools are the Irish poor, is that when they end their schooling at 14 years of age they have to go into what we call blind-alley employments. Every man who is acquainted with the Irish people in Great Britain knows that is the case. To go into that employment in England and Scotland is not the same as in America. In America many millionaires have begun by selling newspapers in the streets. Except they have very remarkable qualities of energy and ability, the boy or girl who begins in a blind-alley employment remains a serf to the end of their days. I will give a case. A lady, the daughter of a friend of mine, a teacher in a convent school, during the War was approached by a little boy of 12 or 14 years of age. This boy began to speak to the teacher about submarines which was a very dominant question with most of us. The teacher was so struck with the extraordinary knowledge of this boy of a recondite subject like the sub- 2609 marine that she asked him to give a lecture on it to his class, which he did. A boy like that shows a streak of genius, and under a proper educational system this manifestation of peculiar aptitude would be encouraged and that boy would be helped on, instead of which he has to go into a blind-alley employment. Why is this?
There is even a more tragic case. Some of these Irish boys and girls win scholarships of £20. They have to give up the scholarship, because £20 is not enough to do their share towards helping their parents and the younger boys and girls of the family. That is a scandalous state of affairs. I hope, if time and strength remain to me and if I fail with the Government here, to make an appeal to the men and women of my race in the United States to give me a fund by which I will be able to take out of the schools at 14 some scores, if not hundreds, of Irish boys and girls, and give them scholarships, taking them on to 18 and giving them a chance of creating a new generation of Irish in Great Britain rather than remaining in the unskilled trades as they do to-day. It is perfectly plain that so long as there is imposed upon these poor Irish people this tremendous burden so long will the fund be incomplete for such a purpose. If hon. Members could imagine the vast sums of money which have been spent on building schools being devoted to giving scholarships they could see the gigantic work which we might have done for these poor people. I denounce this whole system as a social as well as a religious inequality; a discrimination against the people who are poor and are asked to pay more than the rich. I feel I can confidently appeal to that spirit of fairplay and toleration which every true Britisher holds to remedy these grievances and not to violate those great principles of toleration which are at once the glory and the strength of Ireland.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. C. Trevelyan)
The House is always delighted to hear my right hon. Friend and to hear something of the charm of a great generation of Irish debaters and the experience of the elder statesmen. We have had to-day a very skilful presentment of his case. It sounds, perhaps, a very innocent proposal. I wish it were quite as simple. I always find that when education and re- 2610 ligion come up against each other in England it is never quite simple. He wishes that the State should give public grants for building denominational schools. I am afraid that if I did give grants for denominational schools they would thereby cease to be denominational. That is the difficulty. One thing is quite certain. If I could do it now, whether it is desirable and whether it is just or not, it would quite certainly wreck the present system. It would quite certainly wreck the settlement of 1902. After all, on what is that system based? It is based on a differentiation between provided and non-provided schools. Non-provided means that they are provided, not by the State. In virtue of that, certain advantages are accorded to non-provided schools, certain advantages of immunity from public control. I said a few days ago that my personal desire was to maintain the present atmosphere of calm in the education world which exists at the present time. No good will be done to the cause of education if that calm is broken and if religious controversies again enter into the sphere of education.
I propose with the strictest fairness to administer the system which exists at present under the settlement of 1902. Of course, the settlement of 1902 is a compromise. Everyone knows that. In the nature of things, a compromise cannot entirely please anybody. It cannot satisfy the sense of justice of any party. The compromise does not satisfy my right hon. Friend. If I were to begin giving by any means under my executive power, if it exists, grants to non-provided schools, immediately large numbers of my hon. and right hon. Friends who sit around my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor) would be up in arms declaring that it was a breach of the principles on which a sort of agreement had been come to in 1902. Immediately the whole of the religious controversies would flame to light again, and then our present hopes of going on together to an improvement in education which is likely to affect the education of those very slum children for whom my right hon. Friend has been pleading to-day would diminish. It is because I do not believe that if this religious controversy is again aroused they are going to profit that I would ask 2611 my right hon. Friend not to press too much his views at the present time. I greatly doubt whether very many friends of non-provided schools want this particular controversy re-raised. I very greatly doubt that many of them seriously ask for public money to be given for the building of non-provided schools.
I had a deputation from members of a Catholic body the other day. I do not say that they do not wish for the things that the right hon. Gentleman has out forward. Many do wish them, but know they cannot get them in the light of public interest. That Catholic deputation did not suggest these things I think, because they knew it was really not a politic thing to bring them up at the present time. I am trying to administer the Act fairly, and the Catholic community can be assured of fair treatment from me. I have already given my assent to the building of four or five Catholic schools, for some of which they were unable to get sanction previously. The only reason why I implore my right hon. Friend not to press his views at the present moment is that this is not a time at which we should try to change the system under which we are working. We all perfectly well know that education will cease to be popular and religious passion will take its place if we try to bring about such a change. I trust my right hon. Friend will carry out his project for getting money for scholarships and maintenance for the Irish poor. The State will help him. I have given some indication that the Government are ready to spend more money on scholarships and maintenance, and this money will go to his people as well as to those of purely English breed.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
The Scottish Department is not under discussion at the moment, and the English, Welsh and Irish who live in this country will all, I hope, profit by the greater liberality of the Government and of the local education authorities in giving the maintenance grants which are now permissible.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
Do these grants apply to primary and secondary schools, and non-provided and provided schools alike?
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
The maintenance grants are made by the local authorities 2612 for all children under their care. There is no discrimination between provided and non-provided schools, and, therefore, children of Irish descent, living in the poorer districts, will benefit by the increased activity of the education authorities and the larger grants that are to be made. I have the greatest sympathy with what my right hon. Friend has stated, but I sincerely hope that we are not again going to have religious controversy imported into our education discussions in this House.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Can the right hon. Gentleman give the names of the new schools, the building of which he has sanctioned? I think there were about 17 in all which were in dispute?
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
Among the five sanctioned were Bethnal Green, Charlton, Camberwell and Denaby Main. They are all primary schools.