HL Deb 19 June 1884 vol 289 cc779-84

, in rising to call the attention of the House to the action of the Education Department in forcing a School Board, without notice, on the parish of Rothwell, in spite of the vote of the ratepayers, and at a time when there was no actual deficiency of school accommodation, and when the managers of the National School had offered to provide any additional accommodation which might be necessary; also, to the conduct of the Education Department with respect to Yetminster, Dorsetshire; and to move to resolve— That, in the opinion of this Mouse, such action is contrary to public policy and to the intention of the Education Act of 1870, said, he would state the facts of the Rothwell case. There was in the parish a National School with 510 children, and classed "excellent," also a British School with 175 children. The National School managers offered to supply any extra accommodation needed, and the School Board was negatived at a poll of the ratepayers, notwithstanding which a School Board was ordered to be formed. This order was maintained, notwithstanding remonstrances. A majority of Churchmen had been returned on the Board, and it was now determined to do what was originally intended—namery, build an additional school by voluntary subscription. Mr. Mundella thus failed in his avowed object, but had succeeded in forcing heavy expenses on the parish for Party purposes. Mr. Mundella had objected that the acceptance of the offer of the National Society would have allowed one religious body to monopolize the whole of the school accommodation; but he was fully aware that no religious teaching could take place during school hours. If the conduct of the Education Office had been bad, their arguments were worse; for it had come to this— the Vice President maintained that religion was taught in Board Schools, and the cost of teaching School Board reli- gion was paid out of the rates; whereas the whole cost of teaching religion in Voluntary Schools was paid by private contributions. The country had been wheedled into endowing either a Nonconformist or a new religion in Board Schools, while it had disestablished the Church of England, the Catholic, and the Wesleyan religion in every public Elementary School. In the case of Yetminster, the action of the Education Office appeared to have been even more uncalled for than at Rothwell. The boys were provided for by Boyle's Endowed School, and formed no part of the present contention, which regarded only the girls' and infants' National School. Here the Vicar," owing to his age and infirmities, had been the cause of a School Board being formed. He died six months after this, and the new Vicar and managers were prepared to carry on the school. The School Board offered to accept a transfer of the National School sufficient for the district; but the managers refused to transfer it. The Education Office, declining to accede to the views of the majority of the Board, insisted on their building a new school. The Education Office assorted that there were 120 girls and infants to be provided for, whilst the Vicar could not find more than 70 of school age. Could the Lord President explain this discrepancy? At Staines the Education Office had insisted on room being provided for children of three years old, for which there was no authority under the Act. Complaints were made that the conduct and language of the Education Office was disingenuous. Would anyone, after reading Dr. Crichton Browne's letter in The Times of Monday, say that the replies of that Department in this or the other House were candid? And was it candid of the Vice President, on Monday last, when replying to remonstrances against over-pressure, not to state that in future overpressure would be greatly diminished, since that very day the Law Courts had decided that compulsion as to home lessons was illegal?

Moved to resolve— That, in the opinion of this House, the recent action of the Education Department with regard to the parishes of Rothwell and Yetminster is contrary to public policy and to tho intention of the Education Act of 1870."—(The Lord Stanley of Alderley.)


said, he was glad to be able to give an explanation of the Rothwell and the Yetminster cases. He did not think the Rothwell case raised any difficult controversy; indeed, both were simple cases, in which no new departure had been taken by the Department, and in which it had maintained the policy of the Act of 1870 in conformity with the practice adopted since 1870. He could not go into the question of over-pressure then, but should be ready to do so on a future occasion if desired. The Rothwell case was the creation of a School Board contrary to the view of the majority of the ratepayers. In the case of Yetminster no question was raised, or could be raised, as to the necessity for the creation of a School Board; and the question was, whether a Board having been created, it was to be required to supply the school deficiency, or whether it was to be at liberty to accept the accommodation from a Voluntary School. The parish of Rothwell, for the last 20 years, had been supplied with education by two schools —a Church School and a British School, a Nonconformist School—which supplied education to a considerable minority of_ the parish. The Education Department were compelled to address requirements to the British School, which the latter were unable to fulfil. More accommodation was wanted, which the British School could not supply. The result was that the British School closed its doors. In these circumstances, the Education Department adopted the ordinary course of requiring the parish to set up a School Board. Then followed two important facts. First, the managers of the Church School professed themselves ready to undertake the schooling of the whole parish; and, secondly, a majority of the ratepayers—310 to 255—voted against setting up a School Board; but that majority represented the friends and supporters of the Church Schools; and it was not the duty, and had not been the practice, of the Department to be absolutely governed in such cases by the vote of the majority. The only way in which they could insure that sufficient school accommodation should be provided without delay was by taking the course they had taken. In "another place," Mr. Forster had given a long list of cases in which the Department had acted in opposition to the majority of the ratepayers. In a parish under the circumstances of Rothwell, it would not have been proper to allow the whole management of education to be centred in one religious body, which, in that case, happened to be the Church of England, but in other cases might be a Dissenting body, or might be the Roman Catholic Church. Such a course would have completely changed the conditions which had existed for 15 years, and would have raised much ill-feeling, and caused grave difficulties in the parish. It had even been stated that if they were to increase the Church School, it would be impossible to compel Dissenters to send their children, and that many of them would be fined rather than do so. If, in such a case, when the creation of a School Board was the best way of dealing with the matter, they had instead provided one Denominational School, they would have outraged the feelings of a large, portion of the parishioners. The case of Yetminster was a singular one. The managers of the National School, which was a girls' and infants' school, unanimously determined to close the school. The clergyman of the parish was chairman of the managers, and being unable to execute repairs, proposed to hand over the education of the parish to a School Board, which was accordingly set up. That clergyman died, and his successor wished to carry on the school again on the voluntary principle. The School Committee and the School Board applied to the Department to be allowed, instead of the School Board's carrying on the school, to accept the revived school. The Department had, however, been obliged to decide, in accordance with many former decisions, that they had no power to accept such an offer. Under the terms of the Act, when once a School Board had been created, the Education Department was bound to require that the School Board should itself supply the deficiency of school accommodation on account of which it was brought into being. Doubts had been expressed on this point, and a case had been prepared and laid before the Law Officers of the Crown, who were asked to advise whether there was an imperative obligation on the Education Department to require that the deficiency should be supplied by the School Board, or whether the Department could accept the offer of volunteers to supply the requisite accommodation. He was confident that there had been no change of policy on the part of the Education Department.


complained of the action of the Privy Council. They had, in the first place, caused a deficiency of school room at Rothwell, and then, when a body of persons came forward to supply the deficiency, the Department refused the offer on the ground that it was made by Church people, who were the majority of the inhabitants there. Now, he wished to ask what right the Office had to refuse any such offer, and especiallyuponreligiousgrounds? There being a Conscience Clause to protect all children, it was impossible to say that the minority of Dissenters could not use it, or that their feelings would be outraged. He understood the noble Lord's statement to amount to this—that when Church people were a majority in a parish, and offered to supply any schoolroom deficiency, the Department had no alternative but to refuse that offer, and compel the formation of a School Board. That was contrary to the spirit of the Act and to the interests of education. The Yetminster case involved a still greater assumption on the part of the Office—that when once a School Board was formed, no other body, however much it was desired by the parish, could afterwards supply any school-room. He could not think the Law Officers would indorse this bye-legislation of the Office.


said, it was clear, from the Vice President's statement, that a new School Board could always supplant the Voluntary Board. He was glad to know that in the present case many Dissenters had sufficient respect for religion to stand up against the action of the Board in this matter. When once a School Board got into a parish, there it would stay, if the interpretation placed on the Act of 1870 by the Department was correct.


said, that the Education Department had no confidence whatever in this case that the deficiency of accommodation could have been supplied by the Voluntary Schools; and he believed that, under all the circumstances of the case, they had done their duty by the parish. The noble Earl said it would make no difference what- ever to Nonconformist children, whether they were required to go to a Board School or a National School. But the fact was, that a Nonconformist child in a Board School had religious instruction. [Lord ELLENBOROUGH laughed.] He did not know whether the noble Lord understood what he was laughing at. In a Board School a Nonconformist child obtained religious instruction of a kind which suited it, because creeds and catechisms were not taught; but in a Church School he might have to walk out while the religious instruction was given. The difference, therefore, was between a child receiving the religious instruction he required, and not receiving any religious instruction at all.


remarked, that he had heard of a case in a Court of Justice the other day of a child nine years of age who had never heard of the Deity, did not know what the New Testament was, and did not know the alphabet.


, in reply, said, the Lord President had cited precedents for this arbitrary conduct from Mr. Forster's administration; but could he cite any such under Lord Sandon? Why were popular votes overridden only by Liberal Administrations, and, if so, what was the use of extending the franchise?


said, with regard to the noble Lord's (Lord Carlingford's) remarks as to the religious education being given in Board Schools, in the Birmingham School Board no religious education was given at all.

On Question? -Resolved in the negative.