HL Deb 04 December 1884 vol 294 cc595-605

in rising to ask the Lord President as to the outlay on schools in the Highlands and Islands, said, he did so in consequence of a little incident which occurred the other night, when he directed the attention of their Lordships to the Report of the Crofters' Commission. In the course of that Report reference was made to the question of education; but he then said it was not his intention to analyze that portion of the Report. He had done so carefully since, and he found a great many material errors in it. He did not believe his noble Friend behind him (Lord Napier and Ettrick) was responsible for them, because he believed that that part of the Report was not written by him. For instance, he found that a very large sum, which the Report said was charged by the Department against these poor parishes, did not represent a debt due by them, but, on the contrary, a grant paid to them. There were various other errors of that sort, arising from the fact that the Commission did not examine any persons connected with the Department. What the Report said was perfectly true as regarded the heavy burden laid upon the poor parishes of the Highlands for the administration of the Education Acts, and confirmed his (the Duke of Argyll's) impression that education in Scotland should be administered from there, and not by a Department in London. At the end of his speech his noble Friend the Lord President of the Council (Lord Carlingford) said that— The fact is that these buildings, so far from being the work of the Central Education Department in London which has been assumed by the noble Lord—so far from being the outcome of an English authority, supposed to he ignorant of the state of the country and of its requirements, were from first to last in all respects the work and the outcome of a purely Scottish Board sitting in Edinburgh. Now, he (the Duke of Argyll) was very much astonished at this statement. He found, however, that that statement was an error, and he had it on the authority of the Scottish Education Board that his noble Friend was perfectly wrong. The facts were these. As he had said, on the occasion referred to, the Scottish Board were responsible for the number and sites and accommodation of the schools built; but the Department were entirely responsible for the style of the buildings; and it was not through them, but only through the Department in London, that these buildings could be sanctioned. It was true that the buildings and the estimates went through the hands of the Scottish Department; and the expenditure had been, to a considerable extent, due to the alleged extravagance of these buildings. Not only was this the fact, but he found that in two or three of the successive Reports of the Scottish Board, they directed the attention of the Department to the effect of the extravagant requirements of the Privy Council with regard to buildings that were to be erected in the poorer parishes in the North and West, where a great number of schools were required out of all proportion to the actual necessity, and he urged that it was alsolutely necessary that any intolerable burden should not be cast on these poor parishes, and that the requirements of the Department, which were quite suitable for other parts of the country, should be foregone in this case. That was what he had to say in contradiction to the statement made by his noble Friend; and he had to ask him whether it was not true that he made a mistake in the contradiction he then gave to his (the Duke of Argyll's) statement upon the subject? Before sitting down, he must say that a subsequent inquiry had convinced him that the burden which rested on the poor parishes in the insular parts of Scotland, and in some parts of the West Highlands, was not entirely due to the Central Department in London, and especially that the burden would be much lighter at present if it had not been that the people in that part of the country showed, unfortunately, considerable indifference to the cause of education, which, in most parts of Scotland, the people did not generally show; and that if their attendance was more sufficient the burden would be less, because they would earn greater allowances. Still, the fact remained unquestionable, as regarded the building of the schools, that the extravagance of Local Bodies was not sufficiently checked by the Department in London as it would be by a Board in Edinburgh.


said, that when he heard his noble Friend the President of the Council (Lord Carlingford) the other day say that the school buildings in the North of Scotland had been erected in accordance with the standard prescribed by the Scottish Board, and that they had been in every case sanctioned by the Board, he was greatly surprised; but he then found himself in a position in which he was unable to offer a contradiction. He, however, reserved the question for subsequent inquiry; but it was not long before he received a multitude of communications from Scotland, drawing his attention to the inaccuracy into which his noble Friend had in advertently fallen. Amongst these communications was one from the Chairman of the late Board of Education in Scotland, who requested him to offer a respectful, but very decided, contradiction to the statement of his noble Friend. He was informed by his correspondent that the Scottish Board of Education possessed no standard of school buildings; that it had no authority or option with regard to those buildings; that its functions were the selection of sites and the accommodation of members; but the estimates for the buildings were never submitted to them; and, if they had been, the Board possessed no power to modify or control them. Nevertheless, in the exercise of its discretion, the Board did, on various occasions, remonstrate against the alleged extravagance in these buildings. These remonstrances, which were addressed to the Scottish Education Department, did not seem to have had any effect. They were not listened to; but the Chairman of the Board in Scotland remained to this day under the strongest impression that if local advice had been taken in Scotland, the aggregate expenditure in the Highlands might have been very much smaller. The noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) had observed that there were statistical errors in that portion of the Crofters' Report which referred to education. His (Lord Napier and Ettrick's) attention had been drawn to an alleged error, and he had directed inquiry to be made, and, should it prove to be the case, nobody would regret it more sincerely than he did; but, whatever other statistical error there might be, it would not materially affect the circumstance that there had been a very unjustifiable and extravagant school expenditure in the North of Scotland, and that a fair claim might be based on that fact for assistance hereafter. He agreed that the burden was by no means solely due to extravagant expenditure on the school buildings, but was undoubtedly caused, to a certain extent, by the non-attendance of children; and he thought it right to mention that this circumstance, so justly noted by the noble Duke, was emphatically set forth in the Report.


said, he believed a Report had been sent to the Department by an eminent official, as to the state of education and expense in the Hebrides and the North-Western Highlands; and he desired to ask his noble Friend (Lord Carlingford) if he had any objection to produce that Report and lay it on the Table?


said, he was glad the present opportunity had occurred, that he might correct the observations he made in a previous discussion with respect to the degree of responsibility which justly lay on the late Board of Education in Edinburgh, in regard to the schools in the Highlands and Islands. He would at once say that, in one respect, those observations were inaccurate—he meant in respect to the responsibility of the Edinburgh Board of Education for the school buildings in the Highlands and Islands, and in Scotland generally. He believed he said on that occasion that the Edinburgh Board was responsible for the standard of building laid down for these schools. That was inaccurate, beyond what concerned the Edinburgh Board, because there was no architectural standard laid down by any authority with respect to these schools. He was sorry he had made the mistake; but he did not think the inaccuracy was a very unnatural one, as this question, for him, was one of an entirely historical character. All these transactions took place before the accession of the present Government to Office, and the Edinburgh Board of Education was wound up five years before he entered on the Office he now had the honour to hold. He knew, of course, that the Board of Education in Scotland had to deal with the school supply in that country; that it had to decide the questions which governed, he believed, more than anything else, the expenditure that had taken place—namely, the number of schools to be built, and the size of these schools. He knew, also, that it was responsible for the loans which now formed a charge on the rates in these Scottish school districts; and that those loans were obtained on the fiat and sanction of the Edinburgh Board of Education. Judging from these facts, he had been under the impression that it had the control over the plans and specifications of the schools themselves. There he was mistaken, and he gladly corrected the inaccuracy. He found that he was supposed to have made that statement with some deliberate purpose on the part of the Education Department, in order to remove the burden of the responsibility from their shoulders to those of the Board of Education. He could assure his noble Friend (the Duke of Argyll) that there was no such dark design involved in his words. He had spoken on the spur of the moment, and without consultation with the Education Department. He did not, for a moment, venture to say that no errors were made in the course of the great and most difficult task of supplying these poor and most exceptional districts in the Highlands and Islands with the full apparatus of a good education, which they now possessed. That was a most difficult and arduous task, and it was quite possible that more might have been done by the two authorities concerned to keep down the expenditure, and that all the Local Authorities were not as wise and prudent and economical as they might have been; but this strong impression had been made upon his mind after carefully looking into the subject since it was last mentioned—that whatever might have been done in the way of greater economy in these matters, the real and main cause of the expense and of the heavy burdens which now lay upon the school rates in these districts, in spite of the liberality of Parliament, had arisen from unavoidable circumstances—from the circumstances of the cases themselves, and from a number of facts which made it inevitable that this great supply of school accommodation could not be provided under the provisions of the Act of 1872 without imposing heavy burdens on very thinly peopled and poor districts such as these were. Those exceptional circumstances were largely recognized by Parliament; but whether sufficiently or not was a question upon which he could give no opinion, and which would have to be considered by the Government in dealing with the recommendations in the Report of the Crofters' Commission. He felt confident, from inquiry, that they were fully recognized by the Scottish Education Department. It would have been strange indeed if that Department had been ignorant of the requirements of the districts under consideration. It was virtually a Scotch Body, with a distinguished Scotchman as its Secretary, and the Duke of Richmond at its head; it had an accurate knowledge of the circumstances of the country, and was in constant contact with all those schools through its Inspectors. The special interests of the districts were obvious to both authorities in England and Scotland, and they were now obvious to the Crofters' Commission. It was generally supposed that the Report of that Commission was very condemnatory of the Scotch Education Department; but that was not the case. The Report said that the chief cause of the heavy taxation was the building and maintaining of a large number of schools necessary for the scattered population in most of the Highland and Island parishes. The fact was that the main causes of the expenditure in the first instance and the charge now arose out of the circumstances of the case; and as to those main causes of expenditure the Board in Edinburgh was the responsible party, though he was not imputing any blame to it. It was true that its discretion in that respect was questioned by the Scottish Education Department, and also by its own officer—Professor Ramsay—who, in his very able Report on the Orkney and Shetland Islands, made a strong recommendation that the accommodation to be required should be reduced by the Edinburgh Board. That Board, however, he (Lord Carlingford) believed, came to a different conclusion, and that view was generally supported by the school boards themselves, who were not unnaturally anxious to make the most of the opportunity offered to them of obtaining large Government grants, which had to be applied for within a certain time; and, for the most part, both the school boards and the Board of Education were determined to build on a large scale, so as to provide accommodation for the whole number of children of school age between 5 and 13, and more or less to provide for the future. The Report of the Crofters' Commission went on to say that the Highland and Island school buildings were erected under stringent regulations of the Scotch Education Department in a style and on a scale beyond the requirements of the population. But the scale did not depend on the Scotch Education Department, neither did the style. As to the requirements of the Education Department in this matter of school buildings, the truth was that in these cases, as in others, they consisted of certain conditions of a very elementary kind which were considered necessary for the health of the children and for the solidity and duration of the buildings, and it was perfectly possible to comply with all the requirements of the Education Department, and to put up the plainest possible schools. There were many such schools, and it was quite absurd to talk about palaces that had been multiplied in these districts. Most of the schools, he believed, were simple and sensible buildings, though he did not say they were all so. There was no doubt that some of these school boards were ambitious, and desired better looking and more ornamental buildings. Nothing of the kind, however, was imposed upon them by the requirements of the Education Department. That was entirely their own doing; and if the Department were open to any blame, it would be that they had not sufficiently resisted the ambition of certain school boards. The Department, he believed, never interfered to increase the expenditure, but always to reduce it. He would like that some details and examples of the alleged extravagance had been given; but the fact was the Crofters' Commission did not put themselves into communication with any school board or School Inspector, or with the Education Department, and that would account for their making those statements about the action of the Education Department, which appeared to him very misleading. The noble Duke and the noble Lord (Lord Napier and Ettrick) referred to some remonstrances addressed to the Scotch Education Department by the Edinburgh Board on the score of the stringency of their requirements; but he (Lord Carlingford) entirely failed to make out what they meant, they were couched in such vague and general terms. No particular instance was ever given by the Board of Education of these supposed extravagant requirements, and no definite proposal was ever made on the subject to the Education Department. No; there was an exception. Professor Ramsay did make a suggestion, in one of his two able Reports, in favour of relaxing some of the requirements of the Education Department. He recommended that teachers' houses should not be required to be on so large a scale; and that, in the case of small schools, the school itself might be used for the teacher's purposes. Professor Ramsay, in his Report, had also spoken of unnecessary outlay in the case of certain schools, and went on to say— In other cases boards are "building substantial schools and houses at considerably smaller cost; and I have before me an excellent plan for a house and school, approved by the Education Department, capable of holding 60 or 60 children, and which an excellent local builder in Lerwick estimates he can build in the Island of Fetlar at some distance from the sea for £660. Now, this is the average size of schools which will be required in Shetland. It is remarkable that the boards have seldom, if ever, taken advantage of the relaxations made by the Department in the conditions as to teachers' houses for poorer districts, as also in the matter of boundary walls. The Department have expressly stated that in Shetland and other poor districts they will be satisfied with smaller houses containing fewer rooms than they require elsewhere; that they will permit one of the rooms of the teacher's house to he used as a class-room; and, finally, that they do not require boundary walls to he built; and yet in drawing out their plans the hoards have not taken advantage of these provisions in their favour. He (Lord Carlingford) supposed that that had arisen from a kind of rivalry between these boards. He could give many instances of the way in which the applications of school boards had been treated. He would give one. The original cost of the school as proposed by the School Board of Fetlar had been £906, which, acting on the advice of Professor Ramsay, the Education Department had induced the school board to reduce to £605. Then came the question of the Parliamentary grant; and under the terms of the Act £400 had been paid down, leaving only £205, while of this balance, again, one-half was paid by the Department, making in all a grant of £502 10s. As to those general remonstrances which were addressed to them, he thought under a misapprehension, by the Edinburgh Board, the Scottish Education Department, in reply, used these words— With reference to the comments of the Board of Education on our administration of the building grants for the Highlands and Islands, we think it right to observe that the Board do not appear to have acquainted themselves with our practice in dealing with these districts. Grants have been awarded to them on a much more liberal scale than that recommended by the Board, and in aid of the erection of schools on plans which would not have been approved in other districts. He would repeat his conviction, after looking carefully into the history of the matter, that whatever might have been done to reduce the expenditure which had taken place either by the Scottish Education Department, or the Board in Edinburgh, or the school boards themselves, who could have done much more in this direction than either of the two authorities, still the real and main cause of the expense and of the pressing burden on the rates arose out of the circumstances of the districts themselves, the scattered population, and the great cost of materials and labour. Further, a large number of the schools had to be built at a time of general prosperity, when everything was dear; but beyond that, and above all, these districts were some of the most thinly populated and poorest to be found in the United Kingdom, a state of things which rendered what would have been a light burden, in any ordinary parish in the Lowlands of Scotlands or in England, a very heavy one for them. The school rates were, certainly, in many of these parishes, very painfully heavy. It must not, however, be supposed that the repayment of the building loan formed any great proportion of these rates. Much the largest part of them was incurred for the purpose of maintenance, and that undoubtedly would be very largely relieved if the school boards would bring about that great improvement in the attendance of children which ought to take place. That was a very grave and crying evil in these districts. The inadequacy of school attendance produced a loss of school fees and Government grant; and, in addition, it deprived those schools of the special provisions made in their behalf by Parliament—the extra grant which followed on a certain average attendance. He had the matter worked out in a number of school districts where it was evident that, if the school attendance could be brought up to a reasonable standard, the increase both in the ordinary and extra grants would be so large that it would go very far to relieve those districts from the heavy burden of rate which lay upon them. Nevertheless, he fully recognized that heavy burden which lay upon these poor districts, which greatly deserved their sympathy; and while it was not his business to express any opinion, or make any announcement on this occasion with respect to the recommendations of the Crofters' Commission, those recommendations would, of course, receive the most careful consideration of Her Majesty's Government. In reply to the latter question of the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) he would say that the Report to which it referred was made in the autumn for the Education Department for their own information; but, as he thought it could only do good, he should be very glad to lay it on the Table. In doing so, however, he must say that the Report did not bind the Department to any opinion—it was simply given for the purpose of information.


as speaking for the Education Department under the late Government, said, he had to thank his noble Friend opposite (Lord Carlingford) for the ample way in which he had vindicated the action of the Scotch Education Board. It had been presided over by his noble Friend (the Duke of Richmond), and had had the advantage of the assistance of Sir Francis Sandford, who had probably a greater knowledge of Scotch requirements than anybody else. They had taken the opinions of leading Scotch Members on various occasions; and, with regard to economy, they had frequently had occasion to entreat school boards in these poor districts to be moderate in their demands as regarded plans and buildings; and, in response, they had been remonstrated with for meddling with them, when they were dealing with their own rates. In fact, there had been a constant endeavour on the part of the Education Department to reduce the cost of the school buildings; and, unless his memory very much misled him, to reduce the rates; the school boards had constantly struggled to be allowed a greater expenditure, and the Department had had remonstrances against the Department's proposals to reduce the cost from Members representing the districts.

House adjourned at half past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Ten o'clock.