HL Deb 02 April 1897 vol 48 cc374-9

  1. (1.) This Act shall not extend to Scotland or Ireland.
  2. (2.) This Act may be cited as the Voluntary Schools Act 1897.


, in reply to the Archbishop of Canterbury, assured him that what had previously fallen from his Grace as to the constitution of the associations would be carefully considered and attended to by the Education Department. There was not the least desire that these associations should be constituted in any way that would give rise to distrust or to want of confidence on the part of the managers. The object of the Government was that the associations should be constituted on the initiative of the schools themselves, and it would be the desire of the Department not to impose conditions which they were unwilling to accept. ["Hear, hear!"]


wished to draw attention to what might be the consequences of not allowing any Amendments to be made, and of setting the precedent of proposing Bills in this shape, and sending them through the House of Commons without a single Amendment, and then bringing them up to that House, where, from the nature of the Bill, no Amendments could be made. They could not fail to see that it might be possible for future Governments, acting on this precedent, to deprive that House entirely of any voice in the educational system of the country. Though for his part he did not deny that he shared in some respects the opinions expressed by the late Prime Minister, he at the same time could not conceive anything more disastrous than that as long as that House existed in any form as a revising chamber, it should be deprived of expressing an opinion upon the educational system of the country. He did not believe that there was anywhere a body of men more fitted than their Lordships, from their experience of affairs and their knowledge of the systems, to express an opinion on such a subject. He therefore could not help expressing regret that this Bill had been so conducted and so framed and so dealt with by the Government throughout, that Members of the House had been debarred practically from using the knowledge they possessed for the purpose of giving their advice with regard to a Bill of great importance which must affect the future of our whole educational system—introducing an era, he feared, of bitter and prolonged controversy on the whole subject. ["Hear, hear!"]


said he could not help saying, as he unfortunately came within, the noble Earl's observation, that he thought the noble Earl had a little confused the question by the use of a grand phrase like "our whole educational system." This was a Bill for the distribution of a sum of money which had been granted in aid of existing schools by the House of Commons, as to which he did not propose to enlarge at present. The House of Commons had always claimed the right of having unfettered discretion as to how it would appropriate the money it had granted. That might be right or wrong. That was the principle, and that was the only precedent their lordships had established. As to Amendments, the noble Earl seemed to think that if a Bill was so well drawn that it required no Amendment, it was a very bad Bill, and that if it was drawn so that it could be amended it was a good Bill. [Laughter.] He did not concur in that. ["Hear, hear!"]


said he differed fundamentally from the view taken by the noble and learned Lord with regard to the scope of this Bill. Could anyone who considered the Bill be so blind as not to see that this Bill was not merely a Bill giving a little money to this or that school, but disturbed for the first time in the most serious manner the old compromise of 1870, and raised the whole question of the educational system of this country; and if noble Lords opposite supposed that this matter was going to rest, or that there was not on the part of very large bodies of people in the country the greatest possible opposition to the Bill, they were entirely mistaken. There were large bodies of men who felt the greatest indignation at the passing of the Bill. The Bill stirred up controversy on the education of the country. Though it was called a Bill for the distribution of a little money, an important change in the educational system was tacked on to it.


said he agreed that the doctrine of the privilege of the House of Commons might be so pushed as to oust their Lordships' House from all legislative jurisdiction on Measures of the most important kind. If Measures greatly altering any system now prevailing were pushed through that House with the adjunct of money, on account of which alone their Lordships were not to touch them, that would be a most dangerous doctrine which, he should join with his noble Friend opposite in resisting. But he could not look upon this Bill as a case in point. It was really almost exclusively a money Bill. On the face of it it was a Bill to give money assistance to certain schools, and he thought noble Lords opposite had very much exaggerated its scope when they said it altered the educational system of the country. He could not admit that the Bill was an invasion of the compromise of 1870. It was the intention of that compromise to maintain the Voluntary Schools, and noble Lords opposite had expressed no desire to abolish them. They were, however, in danger of being abolished from pecuniary necessity, and the object of the Bill was simply to secure that they should not be allowed to fall. There was nothing in the Bill but a fulfilment of the compromise of 1870. He thought exaggerated importance had been attached to the establishment of associations. It was a mere question of machinery. Parliament could no longer teach religion directly, and then were no other means of doing it than by giving assistance to denominational schools. That was the principle of the compromise of 1870, and there was nothing in this Bill contrary to that principle. Although his noble Friend assured the House that he was not opposed to Voluntary Schools, the whole spirit of his speech was strongly opposed to them. He attacked the clergy by name, and in the clause he proposed he intended to dictate to the various religious bodies the number of clergymen who should or should not be upon the management of schools. He was not himself, as he believed his hon. Friend was, a member of the Church of England; and if his noble Friend thought that he was in favour of what he called sacerdotalism—


I never thought of accusing you of that.


No, but he said that the system he was supporting was a system of sacerdotalism. The Church of England did not consist of the clergy only, but also of a great body of the laity, and he agreed that the laity should be largely represented; but surely it was the business of the laity to assert their own position in the government of their Church, and he had no doubt that they would succeed in getting a due share of influence. Where did the money come from? In a large degree from the laity, but he believed that the clergy had subscribed to their schools in a proportion to their incomes far greater than any other class, and he believed that the system of education would not have reached the comparative success it had now reached had it not been for the self-sacrificing zeal of the clergy. This Bill had adopted the principle of supporting Voluntary Schools for two great objects—one to secure, as it could not otherwise be secured, the religious education of the young; and the other to save to an enormous extent the immense burden that would be thrown on the ratepayers if the Voluntary Schools ceased to exist.


said that the noble Duke had insisted that the action taken on the Opposition Benches had been dic tated by hostility to denominational schools. He could assure the noble Duke that that was not the case. They had never expressed the slightest desire that one penny less than the Bill gave should be given to Voluntary Schools, but they did assert that the compromise of 1870 was disturbed unless the money was given to Voluntary and Board Schools alike. The Bill appeared to them a distinct infringement of a Measure the principle of which was that the aid grant should be given irrespective of the question whether or not a school was a Voluntary or a Board School. They could not move in that House to make the grant available for Board Schools as well; and the only; way in which they could act was the way in which they had acted; and he did not; think that the noble Duke would dispute that that was a perfectly fair way of asserting an opinion on the subject. If they could have increased the grant, no doubt they would have taken that course. His contention was that, if the Government came to the conclusion that the grant to Voluntary Schools should be increased, the principle of the Act of 1870 should be maintained, and the grant should be extended to Board Schools as I well.


contended that there was no claim that could possibly be made by the Board Schools for a grant such as was now being given to Voluntary Schools. The Board Schools had both Treasury and rate grants already. The whole cost of elementary and higher education was already given to Board Schools, and the claim of the Voluntary Schools was that only half was given to them. All that was now claimed by Voluntary Schools was that the additional cost of the higher education which had been added to the system of elementary education should be supported by the State. The position of the Voluntary Schools was that, if higher education was to be carried on in those schools, it must be at the expense of the Treasury, as in the Board Schools it was carried on by rates to which they contributed.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported without Amendment; Standing Committee negatived; and Bill to be read 3a on Monday next.