HL Deb 22 March 1878 vol 238 cc1828-31

in presenting a Bill to amend the Scotch Education Act, said, that the Bill, though the title of it might appear somewhat large, and to refer to a very extensive measure, did not in reality do so; and it would not be necessary that he should make any lengthened explanation in reference to the points which were dealt with in it. The Bill was not a very long one. It contained only 24 clauses—but it dealt with questions that had been discussed in their Lordship's House during the last two or three Sessions, and as regarded some of them, so far as England was concerned, action had already been taken by the English Education Act of 1876. The clauses of the Bill might be fairly classified under three heads. The first was that which enacted for Scotland— with certain modifications and certain features specially required—the chief provisions of the English Education Act of 1876. Secondly, it supplied certain technical omissions, and remedied difficulties which had occurred in the working of the Scotch Education Act of 1872; but, at the same time, without in any way inter- fering with the main provisions and conditions of that measure. The object of the third head was to remove certain grievances, and to deal with certain special objects which had been strongly felt by the people of Scotland, and which had been urged very much on the attention of Her Majesty's Government. The first portion of the Bill—the first 16 out of the 24 clauses of the Bill—related to providing facilities for education and labour. This part of the Bill had been so recently discussed and approved of by their Lordships that he should be much surprised if anybody was found to object to the provisions he proposed to introduce. It was proposed, in the first place, that no child should be taken to work who was under the age of 10 years; in the second place, that no child should be allowed to work between the ages of 10 and 13 unless that child should have passed a particular standard; and provision was made for what was called the casual employment of children—or rather, the Bill provided against their casual employment—which must Commend itself to every person who had the interest of the children and of education at heart. It had been represented to Her Majesty's Government that in many of the larger cities in Scotland a practice prevailed of allowing young children to be sent out late at night into the streets for the purpose of selling matches, newspapers, and other things of that kind. Now, it must be obvious to everyone that, for the sake of the health of the children, their moral condition, and their powers of learning during school hours in the day-time, that nothing could be more prejudicial than to allow these children of tender age to be running about the streets of a large city during the late hours of the night. The Government, therefore, proposed by a clause in this Bill to put an end to that practice; which they believed to be very injurious to the children, and one with respect to which many complaints had been received. It would not be necessary to incorporate in this Bill any of the provisions which it was found necessary to introduce into the Act of 1876 as applied to England, because the condition of the two countries as to schools and school accommodation was so different. In England, as their Lordships were aware, the school boards were set up to supplement and add to the voluntary schools throughout the country; and, therefore, it was necessary in 1876, when further powers were given to the managers of these schools to compel the attendance of children and not allow them to go to work unless under certain conditions, to give certain powers to the English school boards; but in Scotland there was a school board in every parish already, simply because the board school now took the place of the original parish school, which before 1872was maintained by the heritors. There were exemptions in this part of the Bill, with respect to the employment of children in certain occupations of husbandry and the ingathering of crops, which would be found in the Bill of 1876. These provisions were contained in the first 16 clauses of the Bill. With regard to the other provisions—in the Act of 1872 there was no power to allow of a member of a school board to resign—they had now introduced a clause to make it competent for a member of a school board to resign, and the Education Department were empowered to 611 up the vacancy, in order to do away with the necessity and cost of a bye election, should the vacancy occur in the interval between the regular school board elections. Another point which the working of the Act had shown to be necessary to provide for was that of making up a quorum. Take the case, which had happened in practice, of a school board composed of five members—one died, leaving four members of the board; two of these members held one opinion, and the other two a different opinion; the consequence was that it was impossible to carry on the work of the school board, as neither party would agree to proceed to the election of a chairman, and get on with the business. There was therefore introduced into the Bill a clause enabling the Department to add to the board, under such circumstances, so as to form a quorum. Another very important matter with regard to the higher class schools was this—A doubt had been thrown upon one of the clauses of the Act of 1872, as to whether there was power under that section to give money towards the enlargement and improvement of the higher class schools. It was, of course, a great advantage that these schools should be improved and enlarged, and therefore it was proposed under this Bill to give power to improve and enlarge the higher class schools. Other clauses made provisions in respect of costs of prosecutions on behalf of school boards, and with respect to the cost of the valuation roll. Another very important point with which the Bill proposed to deal was to reduce very much the expenses of election. Previous to the last election, the Education Department issued a Circular describing certain charges which should be made, and endeavouring to reduce the expenses as much as possible. This Circular was acted upon in very many instances, but some doubts being entertained whether the Department in issuing it had not acted ultra vires, certain words were inserted in the Schedule of the Bill which would make the powers of the Department quite clear. The other two points were—first of all, the powers given to the Department to examine the higher class schools. Her Majesty's Government were of opinion that if power were given to the Department of Education to send one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools to examine the higher class schools, two benefits would be derived— first, uniformity in the system of examination in these schools; secondly, these examinations being in the hands of gentlemen of high attainments, the result must be to elevate the tone and mode of examining in these schools. The only remaining subject was one about which there had been very considerable feeling in Scotland—the position of the parochial teachers. The parochial teachers were a very large body in Scotland—it was but right to say that they were highly-educated men; and undoubtedly their position before the passing of the Act of 1872 was not satisfactory. The difficulty of getting rid of them was so great that it was thought necessary some alteration should be made; but it seemed that the Act of 1872 erred rather too much in the other direction, and the parochial teacher was deprived of the position which he justly held in Scotland, and his social status was reduced below that which it was right or desirable should be done. The Government proposed to enable school boards to make agreements with their teachers to hold office for a period not exceeding five years, subject always to the power of dismissal provided by the Act of 1872. By giving to teachers a longer period of office, he believed that their social position would be improved, and that to a great extent school boards would be enabled to avail themselves of the services of gentlemen of higher educational qualifications; because it was not necessary to point out that school boards would be more likely to obtain the services of a better class of men if more security was given that their position would not be altered within a very short period. These were the main provisions of the Bill. He had now only to present the measure to their Lordships, and ask them to read it the first time.

Bill to further amend the provisions of the Law of Scotland on the subject of Education, and for other purposes connected therewith—Presented (The LORD PRESIDENT.)


said, he did not propose to say anything as to the provisions contained in the Bill his noble Friend had presented; but he wished to point out that his noble Friend had said nothing about the Scotch Education Board—was he to understand that it was not intended to continue the Scotch Education Board?


said, that the subject referred to by his noble Friend was no part of the question that could be appropriately dealt with by the present Bill. The Act under which the Scotch Board existed would expire in August next, and it was not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to propose to Parliament to renew that Act.

Bill read 1ª; to be printed; and to be read 2ª on Monday the 1st of April (No. 47.)