HL Deb 22 July 1873 vol 217 cc742-51

Amendments reported (according to Order.)

Clause 1 (Confirmation of Order).


rose to move an Amendment the effect of which would be to postpone the operation of the Act until the 1st January 1874. The noble Earl said that the Provisional Order which the Bill sought to confirm conferred upon the London School Board authority to put in force the powers of the Land Clauses Consolidation Act of 1845, for the purpose of compulsory acquirement of land which they had been unable to purchase by agreement—his object in proposing the postponement being that there would be an election of the School Board in the meanwhile. The outlay which would be involved by the Bill was very considerable, was not necessary, and could not be justified under the circumstances of the case, and was altogether out of proportion to the funds derived from the rates of the metropolitan school district. He regretted that the rates did not possess so stern a guardian as the Consolidated Fund had in the person of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was in favour of the extension of education, and had brought forward his Motion in the belief that the undertaking of an extravagant and un- necessary expenditure would produce a reaction in the minds of the ratepayers which could only result in injury to the cause of education. They had to consider the nature of the education to be given to the children and the amount of accommodation that already existed. As to the former, the London School Board, instead of putting in force the powers conferred upon them by the Elementary Education Act, and making use of the vacant accommodation in the existing schools as far as their compulsory powers were concerned, had adopted another and altogether different course, and divided themselves into committees for the purpose of dealing with the various branches of education to be taught in the elementary schools. It had been gravely proposed by the London School Board that Latin and French should be subjects of instruction in the elementary schools. Parliament surely did not pass the Elementary Education Act with any such purpose, and if such a proposal had then been made it would not have found favour. Then as to the existing accommodation, he believed the statements that had been put forth as to the deficiency in this respect were entirely without foundation. The Statistical Committee of the London School Board, in estimating the existing educational destitution within the metropolitan area, stated that school accommodation would be required in round numbers for 100,000 children. This report was prepared by a Statistical Committee of 16 members, and took a year in. preparation. It did not appear how many members of the committee attended the meetings, or assisted in the preparation of these statistics; but the report itself was presented to the Board on one day and passed, he believed, without discussion. Now, it could not be satisfactory to the ratepayers that they should be called upon to pay large sums upon the strength of a report which had been so little discussed, and he thought they had a right to complain of their representatives for adopting a mass of figures without testing the accuracy of the principles upon which they were based. According to the very able and clear explanations of the secretary, Mr. Croad, the metropolis had been divided into enumerated districts, the total number of children between the ages of 3 and 13 had been ascertained, and various deductions had then been made from this total. Now, everything depended upon the propriety of these deductions. The conclusion of the committee was that the total number of children for whom elementary school accommodation should be provided was 454,783, and the existing efficient school accommodation was 330,000. There was, therefore, an apparent deficiency of accommodation for between 150,000 and 200,000 children. But he regarded the estimate as an exaggerated one. The Bishop of London had instituted an inquiry into the subject, and the result reduced the deficiency to 130,000. Thus the School Board assumed that a majority of the children who were being educated at a cost of between 6d. and 9d. a-week were children for whom elementary education should be provided at the expense of the ratepayers. But surely close inquiry was necessary into the character of the schools and all the circumstances of the case before such an assumption could fairly be made. Another question arose out of the deduction made in respect of children between three and five years old, to whom the compulsory powers of the Board did not apply. The parents were asked to state, in printed papers left with them, whether their children were too young to attend the schools or not; and where the paper was not filled up it was assumed that the children were capable of going to school, and that the full accommodation ought to be provided for them. This was a very gratuitous assumption, and he maintained that a considerable further reduction should be made under this head. The London School Board, he thought, had committed a gross error with reference to the school accommodation which should be provided in the metropolis under the Education Act. According to the admission of Mr. Croad, the able and intelligent representative of the views of the London School Board, they proposed to provide accommodation for nearly 50,000 children in excess of what the requirements really were. But it was said that compulsion would bring a very much larger number of children to school than had hitherto attended. He did not think it could be shown that any great increase of attendance could be obtained in the metropolis by means of compulsion. The better class of children were now receiving, speaking broadly, an efficient education. It was in respect of the children of the lowest classes of the metropolis that education was in an inefficient state; but those classes were migratory. They were in the habit of changing their residence every six months, if not oftener. If there were these obstacles in the way of applying compulsion, it was obvious that compulsion could not be expected to increase largely the attendance at school. He very much regretted that on this occasion their Lordships would not have the great benefit of the advice of the Bishop of Winchester, whose death they all deplored. That Prelate was a Member of the Committee to whom this Bill was referred, and he took the greatest interest in it, as he did in all questions affecting his diocese. He applied his mind very seriously to the discussion, and he (Earl Beauchamp) thought he brought out very clearly the effect of compulsion as bearing on a migratory population. He (Earl Beauchamp) denied that the Education Act of 1870 was intended to introduce a new system. It was intended to adopt a system already existing, and to supplement the deficiencies of that system. He maintained that the London School Board were pursuing a policy which must have the effect of seriously crippling voluntary schools. The voluntary assistance of persons of a higher station of life in supervising the schools had been of enormous advantage, and if the London School Board, hurried on by those who were in favour of efficiency regardless of cost, were to supplant voluntary supervision by paid supervision, they would entail an enormous expense upon the ratepayers. Moreover, the employment of paid functionaries must be very expensive. In his opinion, the cost of compulsion was out of all proportion to the value of the work done, and the course which the London School Board were pursuing would in the end deal a fatal blow at the cause of education by making the ratepayers cry out against it. Holding these views, he begged to move, in Clause 1, the omission of the words "after the passing of this Act," in order to insert, "the 1st of January, 1874."

Amendment moved, in Clause 1, to omit ("after the passing of this Act") and insert ("the first of January, 1874.")—(The Earl Beauchamp.)


said, he believed the practical effect of the Amendment would he to put an end altogether to the good already done. [The noble Lord proceeded to defend the course which had been taken by the London School Board, and quoted statistics showing the proportion of children not attending schools, in justification of the efforts of the Board to increase the amount of school accommodation] Were the Amendment adopted and the action of the present Board suspended, the next Board would have to incur a much larger expenditure; for experience had shown that the moment it was known that any site was likely to be required for a school, the price considerably increased. In more than half the cases the Board had already purchased the interest in the sites, and Parliament was simply asked to remove difficulties as to title. No doubt, there would always be a large amount of absenteeism; but as the compulsory by-laws were enforced, the difference between the number on the rolls and the average attendance would become smaller and smaller. Mr. Croad's candid admission that something like 5 per cent would not represent the probable absenteeism was quite correct at the time the answer was given, when the schools were only beginning to get into work, but the state of things was very different now. Till the other day the Board had not a single new school, but only the schools taken over, and the many rooms hired; and, while bound to supply the deficiency in school accommodation, they had only asked the sanction of the Department for four-fifths of the amount which after careful consideration had appeared necessary. Every precaution was taken by the Board to avoid providing more school accommodation than was absolutely required in any particular district, and that full allowance should be made in every instance for the accommodation afforded by existing schools. He moreover denied that the action of the Board had done any injury to the Church of England schools. As to the question of voluntaryism, on which the noble Earl had laid so much stress, he was prepared to show that while the Board schools had been increasing in numbers the voluntary schools had increased in a still greater ratio. With regard to compulsory attendance, no doubt it was difficult to carry out their by-law on that subject, but without some such system they could not get the children into the schools. Their Lordships must bear in mind that the children with whom they had to deal were the roughest and most unmanageable it was possible to conceive, and it required the greatest tact to carry out the compulsory powers; but he believed that the increased attendance which could fairly be put down as due to the operation of the compulsory bylaw was no less than 55,000 children. He denied that the Board could be justly charged with extravagance in overbuilding; they had to provide a certain amount of accommodation, and that accommodation they had sought to provide at the lowest possible cost. Among the members of the Board were many men of business, who devoted much of their valuable time to the performance of their duties, with much advantage to the public. He trusted that their Lordships would not agree to the Amendment.


said, that the controversy as to the Lambeth statistics was attributable to Canon Gregory having taken the Privy Council estimate that one in six of the population required education, and that 33 out of every 1,000 children were of a class not likely to attend National or Board schools; while the London School Board relied on the judgment of their enumerators as to the children of the excepted class. Even if the enumerators were right, one in six—if the average for the kingdom—would eventually be the average for Lambeth, and it would be extravagant for the Board to build on the basis of an exceptional state of things. The Board, moreover, appeared to set aside ecclesiastical divisions; and Mr. Gregory's best school being in a projecting portion of his parish, they had reckoned it in another district, and could thus say that he had not furnished sufficient accommodation. It was easy by this "jerrymandering," or manipulation of boundaries, to get statistics to any desired effect—though he did not suggest that the noble Lord (Lord Lawrence) had had any such idea, for nothing could be more honourable than his intentions, and those doubtless of the great mass of the parties concerned. The committee's report was hastily drawn up and adopted, and in a case where an earnest theo- logical feeling existed, so that men would be biassed by approval or disapproval of religious education, the return could not be implicitly accepted. It seemed to him that the Board had been building for an exceptional state of things—and that was extravagance—their real course should have been to take a state of things that was likely to endure, rather than to calculate on exceptionally high numbers that could not be maintained. He imputed no mala fides to the Board; but, as a matter of fact, they had a passion for building, and would adopt any excuse for indulging it—such as the necessities of adjoining districts; the supposed inability of London children to cross public thoroughfares; and, lastly, their hopes for the future. According to the Education Department, the absenteeism was 20 or 25 per cent, and though possibly the expectation of the Board, as to a considerable diminution, might be realized, it would be wise to wait and see. The noble Lord seemed to treat 2d. in the pound with contempt; but he doubted whether, if the Board inscribed that figure on their banners, they would be sure of re-election. If the Board went on invading districts, and impressed on the clergy that the educational efforts to which they had devoted a life-time w ere of no avail, the co-operation of the latter would be lost, without which co-operation the Board could not cheaply accomplish its work. If the Board allowed the secularists among them, if there were any such—or, as he rather believed, their surveyors, architects, and engineers—to stimulate them to an unnecessary outlay, the expense in each case might be small and the impression on the rates slight, but the discouragement inflicted on those who had given their lives to education would gradually drive them from the field, leaving they Board to occupy it alone, and impose an enormous burden on the ratepayers in the end. The Vice President of the Committee of Council on Education had calculated that the burden of supporting schools in London would be 3d. in the pound; but experience had shown this to be too low an estimate, and he had no doubt that the cost to the ratepayers would fall little, if anything, short of 6d. in the pound, if the policy of discouraging individual effort, despising ecclesiastical boundaries, and hurting the feelings of those who had devoted their lives to the cause of education was persisted in. Under existing circumstances, however, he did not think it would be advisable to press the Motion before the House to a division, or to impose their views upon the London School Board. The gentlemen composing that Board would soon be before their constituents, and he hoped they would be able to show sufficient grounds for the course they had pursued. When he postponed the debate on this Bill last Thursday, he little thought by so doing he was taking a step which would deprive him of the assistance of the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Winchester) whose loss they all deplored—a Prelate who was one of the best advocates the Church of England had ever known. In conclusion, he warned the School Board against a policy of disregarding the feelings of those who cultivated the education field before there were school boards to till it, and who had, in fact, borne the heat and burden of the day.


said, the Committee which inquired into this subject obtained the best evidence they could, and came to the conclusion that it would be impossible to construct a. good system of school-board districts in London unless, in fixing the boundaries, they acted independently of the existing parochial districts. It was true that in taking this some children would be taken from the schools within their parishes and sent to the schools of the neighbouring district; and in this respect an injustice had been done to Canon Gregory. His school happened to be placed near the extremity of his parish, and the result was that a portion only of the children of the parish attended that school, and he had to take others from adjoining parishes. But, upon the whole, he believed the plan worked satisfactorily. The great object of the Education Act seemed to him to be the bringing of all children to the schools, and he had no doubt that with the inevitable increase of the population the schools now proposed to be erected would be filled. He thought it was impossible to accuse the London School Board of being too precipitate. They were supposed, on the contrary, to be too slow. At all events, seeing how little had been done, nothing like undue haste could be imputed to them. In the course of the investigation of the Committee, he was astonished at the amount of education which had been furnished by voluntary means, and he should be sorry to see these efforts paralyzed or in any way thwarted. But there was no evidence to show that such a result was contemplated by the School Board. Many clergymen of the Established Church were on the Board, and they were not likely to lend themselves to any attempt to destroy schools founded by voluntary exertion. It must be remembered, however, that the Act was imperative upon them. They were called upon to provide, within the metropolitan area, for all children who were capable of receiving elementary education, and for whom no accommodation now existed. The question was whether, in carrying out the Act, there had been any violation of its principle, or any steps taken which were not justified by the circumstances of the case. In his opinion, there was no evidence to justify such a charge, and he thought that the case of his noble Friend had entirely broken down. In conclusion, he must express the deep feeling of sorrow with which he had learnt the death of the right rev. Prelate, with whom he had so recently served upon the Committee, sitting with him there day by day. It so happened that his acquaintance with the right rev. Prelate dated from a more distant date, probably, than any of their Lordships. He had been in constant intercourse with him, and, without dwelling on those public qualities which were patent to the world, he must be permitted to bear testimony to his sterling worth in private life.


thought the evidence brought before the Committee proved that the charge against the London School Board that they had rashly endeavoured to cover London with schools where schools were not wanting, was not well founded. They seemed to him to have taken great pains to ascertain what was really required with reference to school accommodation. He did not mean to say that an error here and there might not have been committed; but no evidence whatever was brought before the Committee to show that they had acted on a principle which disregarded the existence of voluntary schools.


as far as he could judge, thought the conduct of the School Board was free from all blame, and that they deserved the thanks of the public.

On Question? Resolved in the Negative; and Bill to be read 3a on Thursday next.