HL Deb 15 August 1904 vol 140 cc541-4

My Lords, on a recent occasion I called the attention of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland to the delays in connection with the building and repairs of national schools in Ireland. The Question I put to the noble and learned Lord was as follows— To ask His Majesty's Government whether they have taken any action, and, if so, what action—and, if not, whether they will take any action in the near future—to terminate the vexatious and mischievous delays almost invariably experienced by managers of national schools in Ireland with regard to the building and repairs of said schools. I thoroughly understand that the Lord Chancellor is only the mouthpiece of the Irish Office, and I do not impute any inaccuracy to him personally; but this was the reply I received— There has been no avoidable delay in dealing with applications for grants towards the building of national schoolhouses. The number of applications for building grants received by the Commissioners since the 1st January, 1901, is 286. Within the same period grants have been made according to the existing scales in 168 cases, which include ninety-five grants made in respect of applications received prior to 1901. Twenty-four applications have been rejected; twenty-three have been withdrawn; and in fifty-seven cases investigation is proceeding. In the remaining 109 cases the applicants have decided to postpone their applications pending the decision of the Government on the revised plans and estimates. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has stated that a decision on the recommendations of the Committee on Building Grants in respect to a revision of the plans and estimates would be deferred until the inquiry into the educational system in Ireland is completed. The Report on that inquiry is at present receiving the consideration of the Government. Now, from that reply one would imagine that there was no delay whatever. But the contrary is the fact. Mr. Dale, in his Report on Primary Education in Ireland, pointed out very emphatically the scandalous condition of the national schools. Mr. Dalton a senior inspector of national schools, was also referred to the delays occurring in the building and repairs of national schools in Ireland. Then there is the Report of the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland, from which I cannot quote direct inasmuch as it is not before your Lordships, as it should be. But the following summary of the Report appeared in The Times newspaper— The Commissioners of National Education in Ireland in their Report for 1903, just presented to Parliament, reply to the adverse comments of Mr. Dale, one of His Majesty's Inspectors of Schools in England appointed last year to report specially on the condition of Irish schools. Mr. Dale severely criticised the condition of the primary school buildings in Ireland, and pointed out the serious defects in the schools under the management of the National Board. The Commissioners admit that a large number of schools are in a wretched condition; but they defend themselves on the ground that for many years past they have been urging successive Governments to make adequate provision in the annual Estimates for building and maintaining schools which are under the management of the National Board. As the result of these representations, an Inter-Departmental Committee inquired into the whole system in August, 1902, and reported to the Government; but up to the present neither a copy of the Report nor the decision, if any, arrived at by the Government and the Treasury has been communicated to the Commissioners, and nothing has yet been done by the Executive to give effect to the recommendations of the Committee. The Commissioners complain that this inaction on the part of the Government has not merely been indirectly injurious to the provision of suitable schoolhouses, but that it has actually brought to a standstill in hundreds of cases the work of building. Replying to the comments upon the dilapidated state of the school buildings, the Commissioners say that, as a rule, there are no organised local funds for repair and maintenance, and they have no funds at their disposal for such purposes, and no means of enforcing such reforms unless by resorting to the inadvisable expedient of withdrawing the grants, which would punish the teachers and not improve education. The Commissioners hold that these unsatisfactory school buildings are largely responsible for the slow rate of educational progress and for the irregular attendance of pupils. With regard to the progress of primary education in Ireland, the Commissioners claim for the national system that, while in 1831 education was at a very low ebb in Ireland, and even in 1851 47 per cent. of the population was illiterate, in 1901 the percentage of illiterates to the population was only 14 per cent. This is regarded as creditable, in view of the fact that the Board have not had sufficient funds at their disposal to provide suitable schools and to maintain them in a satisfactory condition. If what the Commissioners of National Education say in their Report be true, the Answer which the noble and learned Lord gave me the other day is inaccurate. I think we are entitled to know who is in the right and who is in the wrong. In an interesting speech in another place Mr. Wyndham made several very important admissions as regards the system of national educational in Ireland. Among other admissions was this one, that it would cost £40,000 to put the national schools of Ireland into a state of sanitary repair, and a further £12,000 to put proper heating appliances into the schools. This means that the little children attending these schools, frequently inadequately clothed and having had but a scanty repast before leaving their homes, which are often a considerable distance from the schools, have to sit shivering, not infrequently in wet clothes, in damp, unventilated, and overcrowded rooms. There is plenty of money obtainable for such purposes as the Uganda Railway and the Tibet Expedition, the latter of which is costing £50,000 a month money is gaily forthcoming when the virtuous direction is the lap of purveyors of drink, degradation, and demoralisation; but when it comes to a question of £40,000 to be devoted to such a mean purpose as the putting of the national schools of Ireland in a sanitary condition, Oh, that is regarded as an exorbitant amount? As a manager of national schools myself, I have been trying, without success, to get the Board of Works to undertake the repair of my schools, and what I say may be said by almost every school manager in Ireland. The question is a very serious one.


My Lords, if the noble Lord had given me notice that he intended to raise this question I should have fortified myself by inquiries in the proper quarter so as to have given a full answer. I can assure the noble Lord that I will have his statement considered and I am sure that those who are responsible will attend to the matter and see how it really stands.

Honse adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.