§ Order of the day for the consideration of the Commons' reason for disagreeing with the Lords' Amendments read.
§ Moved, "That the Commons' reason for disagreeing with the Lords Amendments be now considered."—(The Earl of Crewe.)
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, before your Lordships proceed to consider the Motion which has just been made I think it may be desirable that I should offer a few observations in regard to the peculiar position in which we find ourselves in consequence of the message which is on the Table. That message is of an entirely unprecedented character. I doubt whether the most diligent search of our Parliamentary records would reveal the existence of any communication made by one House of Parliament to the other bearing the slightest resemblance to this most momentous and extraordinary communication.
My Lords, we can scarcely weigh the full significance of that message without recurring to the circumstances in which the Education Bill passed through this House and went to the other House of Parliament. I have had a somewhat lengthened experience of the House of Lords, and I can remember no measure which has attracted so much close and earnest attention as this measure has attracted. I never remember so large an attendance of your Lordships. The discussion was the more remarkable on account of the number of Members of this House who took part in it, and who took part in it, having a right to express their opinion, I might almost say, as experts with regard to the questions of local administration and of education.
The discussion, which lasted, I think, sixteen nights in Committee, besides two nights on Report, was certainly not one of the tone of which anyone could possibly complain. It was thoroughgoing and in all respects temperate and reasonable. No one can say that this House arrived with headlong haste at its decision upon the measure. Your Lordships will remember that, in more than one 916 case, Amendments which met with a very large amount of support from various parts of the House and from this Bench were not pressed to a division because we had reason to suppose that they went somewhat beyond what the more moderate body of opinion of your Lordships would have been disposed to approve. Again, on the Report stage at least two Amendments of first-rate importance were removed from the Bill because your Lordships desired that our Amendments should not be pushed too far. All the Amendments that were in the Bill when it left this House were discussed deliberately and at full length, and in a manner which I venture to think was in marked contrast to the discussion elsewhere, where strong measures were taken to limit and curtail the progress of discussion.
Well, my Lords, our Amendments went to the House of Commons, and how were they received? We receive in return for them the message of half-a-dozen lines which lies upon the Table. I hope I do not do an injustice to those who framed it when I say that to the ordinary reader it appears to be curt in its language and almost contemptuous in its tone. That message is all that we have before us. Now what can we extract from it? We are told that our Amendments taken as a whole are inconsistent with the character and destructive of the principle of the Bill. We are not told the points on which these Amendments are opposed to the principle of the Bill. No guidance is given to us in ascertaining where it is that we have traversed the limits within which His Majesty's Ministers desired to confine our suggestions. We certainly shall not be told that the Amendments inserted by the noble Earl opposite were inconsistent with the principle of the Bill, and yet I am assured by someone who has taken the pains to measure the total volume of the Amendments put in by this House that out of about 100 Amendments fifty-two were inserted by noble Lords opposite and only forty-eight on this side of the House. I presume we may claim for the fifty-two Amendments inserted by noble Lords opposite that they were of that character which has been described as "good as gold," and that we are not likely to hear 917 any proposal to remove those from the Bill.
When noble Lords opposite speak to us about the principle of the Bill they generally give us to understand that the main principle of the Bill is that we should uphold public control over public elementary schools. We have heard lately that our local education authorities have become infected by a lofty ambition, and that it is their great desire to be masters in their own house. Now, I ask your Lordships where are the points at which we have really denied to these local authorities the right of acting as masters in their own house. So far as secular instruction is concerned that mastery remains complete in spite of your Lordships' Amendments. The squire and the parson have been dethroned, and on the day on which this Bill becomes law, so far as secular instruction is concerned, every voluntary school will be unreservedly under the control of the local authorities. So far as religious instruction is concerned, we have claimed and we continue to claim, that the control of the local authorities shall be tempered by some regard to the wishes of the parents; and we have further contended that, so far as it is possible without detriment to the efficiency of the schools, there should be an attempt to safeguard the rights of minorities. Both those principles were already admitted to some extent in the Bill of His Majesty's Government, and if we have gone further than they have, we are, at any rate, surely not open to the complaint that in that respect we have departed from the principle of the Bill.
It is remarkable that within the last few days we have been told that the most conspicuous invasion of public control is to be found in the Amendment which your Lordships inserted in the first clause. We have been told that the effect of that Amendment is to open all the council schools of the country to facilities. My Lords, there never was a more extraordinary misconception. The Amendment, far from having that effect, merely stipulates that in every one of these schools the school hours shall be so arranged that religious instruction should not at the very outset be excluded by want of time. That is all. There is no 918 attempt to introduce facilities, no denial of popular control.
May I be allowed to remark that this confidence which His Majesty's Ministers place so implicitly in the local education authorities seems to be exercised by them in a somewhat fitful and intermittent manner? They attach the greatest importance to it, but only, if I may say so, when it suits their book. When it suits our boot the tale is quite different. Let me mention two instances. My noble friend behind me has been taken to task for the Amendment which he inserted in the third clause; but, after all, what that Amendment does is merely to give the local authority a dispensing power which the local authority can exercise or not as it pleases. That is the intention of the Amendment; if it can be better carried out in different language we are quite ready to consider any proposals that may be made to us. Again there is an Amendment, which I had the honour of recommending to the House, and which has been made the subject of similar criticism. When we came to consider the Bill on Report we found it was so drafted that the absence of alternative accommodation for half a dozen children, or even for one child, was sufficient to prevent extended facilities being granted to a school in all other respects qualified to obtain such facilities. What did we do? We merely proposed that the local authority should be given a dispensing power which would enable them in certain special cases to relax the hard conditions which the clause as it stood imposed upon them. I mention that because I wish to show that in both those cases the basis on which we were proceeding was a desire to make the local authority master in its own house.
What are the reasons for which we are given to understand, not in this message but in the statements that have been made outside the House, that it was necessary to reject the Lords' Amendments in globo?I have considered with all the attention that I could give them the reasons which have been suggested. I am bound to say that they seem to me to be obstacles of a kind which seem insurmountable only to those who have no great desire to surmount 919 them. We have heard it said that if the Lords' Amendments had been discussed seriatim something like eighty questions would have had to be separately disposed of. I noticed that a few hours later the eighty questions fell to forty, which I think shows that the quotation was a somewhat vague one. But, my Lords, I think the best answer to the statement that it was physically impossible to deal with our Amendments elsewhere is to be found in the fact which is a matter of common knowledge, that on Thursday last week an arrangement had been come to by the gentlemen who manage the business of the House for both sides and I presume may be considered experts upon the subject of the disposal of Parliamentary time, under which it had actually been decided that our Amendments should be taken seriatim and that four days should be set apart for the purpose. We can only conjecture as to the reasons which led to the abandonment of that plan. What actually happened was that a debate took place, in the course of which various vague hints and various somewhat indefinite hopes were held out to us that some of our most material Amendments might yet find favour with His Majesty's Government. As to that I feel that we are confronted with a very serious dilemma. If it be indeed true that the concessions which His Majesty's Ministers have in their minds are material concessions, then I ask what becomes of the charge that the whole of the Lords' Amendments are subversive of the principle of the Bill, and what again becomes of another statement which was made by a colleague of the noble Earl opposite, that if our Amendments had been discussed seriatim in the House of Commons, the result would have been exactly the same, because they were all inadmissible? Then to turn to the other horn of the dilemma. If the concessions are to be only trivial concessions, how can noble Lords opposite expect to find us ready to come to terms with them upon the basis of such concessions?
Well, my Lords, how are we to deal with this extraordinary and unprecedented message? The noble Earl opposite the other day at the close of an interesting 920 speech on this subject counselled us to exercise forbearance in dealing with these questions. The treatment of our Amendments in the House of Commons is not a very striking example of forbearance. I suppose we may say that even in this House there is a certain amount of human feeling, and I wonder what the noble Earl and his friends think that any body of Englishmen would say if they were treated in the manner in which we have been treated by His Majesty's Ministers. Docs he know of any body of his fellow-countrymen who would take such treatment as that, to use a familiar expression, "lying down"? I doubt it extremely.
Now, I beg to be allowed to point out that this is not a question of good manners as between the two Houses or of the dignity or amour propre of your Lordships, either individually or collectively. The constitutional question which arises is a far more serious one than that. It is not too much to say that it involves the future usefulness of this House as part of the constitutional machinery of this kingdom. Your Lordships know, if I may say a word as to myself, that I am not inclined to take a pedantic view of these questions. The advice I ventured to give the House not many days ago as to the manner in which it should deal with the Trade Disputes Bill ought, I think, to prove that I am not one of those who are unable to see both sides of a question of this sort. But I ask your Lordships to consider with what feelings we can look forward to the future of the House of Lords if such treatment as this is to be entirely condoned by your Lordships. Is it not certain that if it be so condoned these tactics will be repeated as time goes on? Is it not certain that when the Government of the day finds that it has an inconvenient question to deal with in the other House, when it is called upon, perhaps, to recommend to supporters who are not entirely unanimous, proposals of a somewhat intricate and embarrassing character, resort will again be had to this simple expedient of ruling out the proposals of this House en bloc and sending them back as these proposals have been sent back to us with a brief intimation that they cannot be entertained?
921 It has been said, and I have no doubt that my noble friend will say it again to-night, that there was no intention of showing disrespect to this House. I am quite sure that the noble Earl opposite would not willingly lend himself to any course which would denote disrespect to this House; but I say that it requires an extraordinary amount of self-deception to imagine that such a course as that which has been adopted can be adopted without the appearance of grave disrespect to this House. The ability and tactfulness with which the noble Earl opposite has piloted this Bill through your Lordships' House mark him as one who in years to come cannot fail to take a most distinguished part in our councils; and I do venture to appeal to him to see to it that something is done to mitigate, at all events, the effect of the course which has been adopted by the House of Commons in regard to this Bill.
We have, then, to ask ourselves what is the proper manner for this House to deal with the message from the Commons. In ordinary circumstances one answer and one answer only could be returned to that message, and that would be an announcement that your Lordships intended to insist upon your Amendments and require their retention in the Bill; I cannot conceal from myself that it may be necessary for us eventually to return that answer. But I humbly suggest to your Lordships that that answer should not be sent until it becomes clear that no other answer is possible. Among those who sit behind me are some who would, I dare say, not be very sorry if this Bill were to disappear and, so far as this session is concerned, to be heard of no more. I am afraid I do not entirely agree with those who cheered that statement. I am one of those who would give a great deal to see a truce to, if not a termination of, the bitter and regrettable struggle which has so long been going on in this country around this question. It is bad for education, it is bad for religion, and it is bad in its effect upon public life in this country.
It is, of course, also true that the judgment arrived at within the last few days by this House sitting judicially adds to the reasons why we should desire 922 a termination of this controversy. Therefore, if any means can be found, not of extricating this House from the difficulty in which it is placed, but of extricating His Majesty's Government from the situation in which they find themselves, I would say let us respectfully examine any proposals to that effect. I do not intend to suggest for a moment that the colleagues of the noble Earl should appear at the bar of this House in white sheets in order to profess penitence for what they have done; but I do ask that His Majesty's Government should not only tell us here in this House, that they do not desire to treat us with disrespect, but to make good their words and to tell us, in language plainer than any hitherto used, what are the proposals which they make to us with the object of saving this Bill.
The next move lies with them. I hope that will be understood. But let me add this observation that to my mind it would be idle to attempt to find such an exit from the impasse unless His Majesty's Ministers are prepared to offer us not one or two trivial sops, not one or two concessions on small points, but concessions which will effectually recognise the most material of the objects for which we have contended throughout these debates. If they will do this, if they will make us proposals of that kind, I for one should rejoice if it were found possible, on the basis of such proposals, either in this House or by private discussion outside this House, to arrive at a solution which might be acceptable to both sides. Those are the feelings I venture to entertain; and I do not think I can do better in order to focus the observations I have made than to embody them in a Motion which I will now lay before the House, and which I presume might be taken as an Amendment to the Motion which the noble Earl has made. I propose that your Lordships should agree to a Resolution running as follows—That this House, first, records its protest against the innovation in constitutional procedure by which the Commons have rejected the whole of the Lords' Amendments to the Education Bill including those proposed by His Majesty's Ministers, without assigning in any case specific reasons for the rejection of those Amendments; and, secondly, that this House adjourns the consideration of the Commons' 923 Amendments to the Lords' Amendments in order to afford His Majesty's Government an opportunity of making a definite statement in this House as to the course which His Majesty's Government are prepared to recommend to the House of Commons in regard to each material Amendment in the Bill.''Your Lordships will observe that that Resolution contains two separate limbs. In the first place, your Lordships are invited to record on the journals of this House your protest against the manner in which you have been treated. We propose, in the second place, that the further consideration of the message be adjourned until the noble Earl opposite has had an opportunity of laying before us in full detail the proposals which he desires to offer. I can only express my sincere hope that the noble Earl will think fit to avail himself of the opportunity we place within his reach, if not at once, perhaps after fuller consideration. We have no desire to press him unduly or to add to his difficulties. On the contrary, we look to him to co-operate with us to the best of his ability in bringing about a satisfactory solution of a situation which must be full of difficulty for himself, and which is regarded with the greatest concern by noble Lords who sit near me. My Lords, I beg to move.
To leave out all the words after 'That' for the purpose of inserting the following Resolution, viz.—("this House (1) records its protest against the innovation in constitutional procedure by which the Commons have rejected the whole of the Lords' Amendments to the Education Bill, including those proposed by His Majesty's Ministers, without assigning, in any case, specific reasons for the rejection of those Amendments; and (2) adjourns the consideration of the Commons message in order to afford His Majesty's Government an opportunity of making a definite statement to the House as to the course which His Majesty's Government are prepared to recommend to the House of Commons with regard to each material Amendment to the Bill)."—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)
*THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Earl of Crewe)
My Lords, I can assure your Lordships that I rise to address the House on this occasion with a feeling of most unusual responsibility, and it is by no means 924 diminished by the appeal which the noble Marquess opposite made to myself personally, couched, as is usual with him, in such kindly terms towards myself. Now, my Lords, two distinct questions arise out of the original Motion and out of the Motion and speech of the noble Marquess. There is in the first place the question of the Bill, of its Amendments, and possible modifications of those Amendments. In the second place, there the constitutional question arising between the two Houses out of the manner in which your Lordships' Amendments have been received in another place. Let me deal first with the constitutional question.
The noble Marquess has dealt with this constitutional issue in a speech which was on the whole marked by moderation of tone, although he made a more free use of adjectives and adverbs than is customary with him; so it becomes my duty to represent to the House circumstances which may possibly induce some of your Lordships to modify the conclusions at which the noble Marquess arrived. In the first place let me point out that this constitutional grievance is not all on one side. I think it is true to say that each House considers that it has been somewhat cavalierly treated by the other in this matter of the Education Bill. I will endeavour to show why in my opinion it is that the House of Commons thinks so, no less than your Lordships do. In doing this it is necessary to refer to the general position which now obtains between the two Houses—the general state of affairs with regard to the rejection or modification by your Lordships of Bills upon which the House of Commons has expressed a definite opinion.
The aspect of this question has somewhat changed of late years, and this fact is due in a large measure to the change both in the views and in the practice of the Conservative Party which holds sway over your Lordships' House. The old Tory Party professed to be the guardians of the ancient institutions of the country, and, in the main, I think, carried out its raison ďêtre by safeguarding them. It was also distinguished by a warm 925 interest in the humane or benevolent side of social reform. When the Tory Party thus existed, the House of Lords acted as a check upon the only people—the Radicals of the day—who proposed novel schemes of legislation, and in so doing it un doubtedly caused from time to time considerable annoyance to those who wanted to go fast; but the position was in the main accepted.
Now an entirely different state of things obtains. Conservative or Unionist Governments make themselves responsible for schemes of legislation as large and as drastic as those which any Liberal Government ever proposed; and I cannot give a better instance of that fact than the last education measure, the Education Act of 1902. It was, if there ever was one, a Radical measure in its strictest sense—it effected a root and branch change in our system of national education. Whether that measure was demanded by the country will never be known; but your Lordships never asked the question whether it was so demanded or not. It passed through this House with very little amendment, and such amendment as there was was in the direction of further enforcing the views of the Party majority of that time. If there was to be a real reciprocity in this matter, that Bill of 1902 ought to have passed through the ordeal of a second Chamber containing a working Liberal majority of at least 150—such as that which your Lordships are able to bring to bear on the consideration of this Bill.
People tolerably patient under coercion will rebel against unfairness; and it is this absolutely one-sided element, the essential unfairness of the state of things which I have described, which explains to a very great extent the impatience which is felt over the dealing by your Lordships with such a measure as this Education Bill which we have now once more before us. The contrast between 1902 and 1906 is almost dramatic, and it is by no means only frenzied partisans who take this view of the matter. I can call to witness the noble Lord opposite, Lord Newton, whose speeches always introduce so much ozone into the sometimes rather stagnant atmosphere of our debates. Lord Newton, in an article in the National Review for this month, says that your 926 Lordships' House would stand in a stronger position in this matter if you had ever amended one Conservative measure. I really believe that there are many of your Lordships who do not keep closely in touch with another place, and who do not realise the extreme soreness created in the minds even of moderate men by the very drastic treatment which this Education Bill has received.
I am not going to repeat what I said on the occasion of the Third Reading of the Bill with regard to the nature of the changes which your Lordships have made or how far, in the judgment of those who sit on this side of the House, they entirely altered its character; but I confess I felt when the Bill was passing through this House that your Lordships seemed altogether to ignore the fact that the Bill had passed through another place with quite exceptional majorities. For all the consideration that the Bill received here, though I personally received so much, it might have been a measure originated by some private Peer to whom the subject was of personal interest. I must remind your Lordships that you can hardly mention a measure of the first class that has reached you backed by so tremendous a majority. The Irish Church Bill of 1869 offers a close parallel to this Bill in one respect, in that it was the primary measure brought in by a Government just returned by a great majority in the country. In 1869 the Irish Church Bill reached this House after a Third Reading majority of 133. By 1872 the majority of the Government, as happens to all Governments, had begun considerably to diminish. The Ballot Bill reached your Lordships by a majority of fifty-eight only; and yet both those measures were accepted in this substantial form by your Lordships' House. Now this Education Bill came before you with a majority of 192 on Third Reading, and in spite of that fact it has been altered in a great many most material respects.
I pass to the treatment which your Lordships' Amendments have received in the House of Commons. I can only assure the noble Marquess and the House, on behalf of His Majesty's Government—and not only on behalf of those Members of it who sit in this House, but also of 927 those in the other House—that we had not the slightest intention of inflicting any slight upon this House or of derogating from, the proper claims of the House of Lords. Before it is assumed that any slight was intended or committed it rests upon noble Lords to show that there was really some other less abrupt course which could have been taken consistently with carrying out this task as a matter of business, and with keeping the Bill alive as we desired to do. When the noble Marquess says that these are tactics of which he fears a repetition, I can only assure him that there was no question of tactics in the matter. We simply took the course which we thought most reasonable in the circumstances.
Now, my Lords, what courses were open to His Majesty's Government in another place? So far as I am able to judge from the precedents, it is clear that, considering the character and extent of the changes made in the Bill and the time of the year at which we have arrived all precedents would have made us immediately reject your Lordships' Amendment by moving that they be considered this day three or six months. When the Bribery at Elections Bill of 1834 was very materially altered by this House, and when it went back to the other House, Lord John Russell moved that the Lords' Amendments should be taken into consideration. But a private Member rose and suggested that, considering it was near the close of the session, and the sweeping character of the Amendments, they be considered that time three months, and that was accordingly done without further discussion. That was a course which we desired to avoid, because we wished to keep the Bill alive.
Then there was the alternative of considering your Lordships' Amendments seriatim. It was understood that only four Parliamentary days could be set aside for that purpose; and it is perfectly true that at one time we were disposed to consider that that course might be taken. But the more we reflected on the matter, the more we became sure that it was impossible to arrive at a real discussion of those Amendments to get at the real heart of the matter and find what were the 928 vital points in that time. It would simply have meant, under the most rigid guillotine that could have been devised to deal with this enormous number of Amendments in this brief period, that there would have been a great deal of talk at large on special points which might have commended themselves to this or that shade of opinion, for in the other House as here there is a great diversity of opinion on this subject. We did not believe that it would have been possible within the time to arrive at a really valuable discussion of the vital points of the Bill. Your Lordships will understand that I speak without a tinge of disrespect for your Lordships' House, and that I am only desirous to justify the course taken by His Majesty's Government, when I say that the real reason was that the Bill, as your Lordships returned it, was not a systematic measure. It was amended on no distinct principle. It is perfectly true that the tone of the discussion in this House was everything that could be desired. But the measure was not returned in a sufficiently coherent form to make it possible for the Amendments at that stage to be taken singly.
The noble Marquess declared that it had been asserted that the whole of the Lords' Amendments were subversive of the principles of the Bill. I do not recognise those words; but to say that the Amendments as a whole were subversive of the principles of the Bill—that is an admirable and accurate description of them. I confess that on this side of the House we did hope that your Lordships would have been prepared, when the Bill came here, with some definite scheme of Amendments. We hoped so all the more because the Bill did not come hurriedly up to this House, but the whole of the autumn recess was at the disposal of noble Lords for considering how they would like to amend the Bill. But as a matter of fact, when we came to the Committee stage—and I defy contradiction—Amendments were inserted singly, without much reference to what had gone before or to what was coming afterwards, and without any attempt to form a really coherent scheme.
I remember that the most rev. Primate—whom we are all glad to see back again 929 —and Lord St. Aldwyn said that it was necessary to do this, because it was impossible otherwise not to run the risk of leaving out something which might ultimately be wanted to form part of a compromise Bill. On 10th December Mr. Balfour spoke of the right of every parent to decide what religion he would, like to be given to his children, and he said—That is the basis on which the House of Lords has worked, as far as I can see, in all the modifications which they have introduced into this Bill.It is very natural that Mr. Balfour, who has many other duties, should not have followed entirely the course of discussion in your Lordships' House. But as a matter of fact the contrary is really the case. It is by no means the case that a very considerable part of the Amendments carried were moved, supported, or argued on the ground of the parents' wishes. Many of them were supported on various grounds, and on mixed grounds, but I think your Lordships must remember that a great many of them were advocated, not on the ground that they carried out the wishes of the parents—that is to say, of those who now send their children to school—but they were advocated on the ground of the amount of money that had been spent by pious people in the past in building denominational schools. Those are two entirely separate lines of argument, and you cannot combine them in a single Bill.
What I call the parents' side, advocated by Lord Balfour of Burleigh in his Motion for general facilities, which carries out the idea of parents' rights to the fullest extent, was not accepted as an Amendment by your Lordships. It was only in the very last stage of the Bill that an Amendment intended to some extent to carry out that principle was inserted on the Motion of Lord Salisbury. But you cannot combine the question of the rights of parents with the question of the historical claims of denominational schools. In other words, if you have all round facilities you cannot have Clause 4, and, very largely because your Lordships' Amendments were bandied about from the one principle to the other without any real care to get them on a defined line in one or the other direction, I think the House of 930 Commons found it difficult to deal with your Lordships' Amendments seriatim.
The fact is, that the House of Commons did not know what the real mind of your Lordships was in making these Amendments. I will go a great deal further than that. I will say that I myself have not the faintest idea what is the real mind of your Lordships in this matter. I have studied your Amendments as much as most poeple in or out of the House, but when I am asked to say what is the total sum of your Lordships' opinion—that is to say, what is the scheme which the whole House would send down as the proper way to amend this Bill—I confess that I am entirely at a loss; and if I, who had the honour of watching your Lordships amending the Bill all these days, am still, as I can most truthfully say, in doubt, I am not surprised that my friends in the House of Commons, who had not that advantage, should have been in a greater difficulty than I am.
The conclusion I believe to which the House of Commons came is that it is absolutely necessary, before any conclusion can be reached in a matter of this kind, that the issue should be narrowed, and the only people who can narrow the issue, as it appears to them, are your Lordships. That is the reason why the Bill was returned as a whole to your Lordships. It was the mainspring of the Government's desire all through to pass the Bill in a reasonable form, and I think surely it is clear that the arrangement from the very fact which the noble Marquess brought out on the word of some laborious person, namely, that my own Amendments, returned, with just the same want of ceremony, if want of ceremony there is, formed rather more than 50 per cent. of the total Amendments to the Bill.
As regards the form of the message, I can only say that if this House think that the message was too curt in form, the Government most sincerely regret it. There have been very long messages sent from one House to the other in the past; none, I think, of very recent years; they all date from a more ceremonious, and also, I think, a more long-winded age 931 than the present. The noble Marquess said that there was no precedent for so short a message. I think he will find if he looks to 1878, when a Conservative Government was in power, that the House of Commons insisted on its disagreement with the Amendments of noble Lords on the Poor Law (Amendment) Act of that year without giving any reason whatever. Our message may be curt and incomplete, but still that precedent does exist for a Bill being returned to the House without any reason at all being given.
I have no hesitation in saying, and in saying quite seriously, that if His Majesty's Government had supposed that it was due to this House to return a more elaborate and formal message they would have certainly done so. Whatever may be said of his Majesty's Ministers in another place, it cannot be denied that many of them possess a natural and highly-cultivated literary sense; and no doubt they would have been proud to devote some of their literary skill to the composing of a message couched in terms more satisfactory to your Lordships than the present one. We are anxious seriously to maintain the traditions of courtesy which we all agree ought to govern all transactions between the one House and the other. The Bill has thus been returned, not in a spirit of insult, but simply because it was thought more fitting to remit it in this way than to reject it; and we did so confident in the belief that the majority in both Houses desire to see this Bill passed. I am well aware that there are some in this House who do not even wish to see it pass in the form in which it went back to the other House, like those who followed the noble Duke opposite into the lobby on the Third Reading. I am also well aware that at the other end of the scale, among some valued supporters of ours, there are people who think that the Bill as it came up to your Lordships went too far in the direction of encouraging denominational schools. But I do believe that this House and the other House as a whole would echo the desire of the noble Marquess that if, without compromising our principles, it is possible to arrive at an arrangement, such an arrangement we ought to arrive at.
932 The noble Marquess has moved an Amendment to the Motion on the Paper. Its terms are new to us on this side of the House, and consequently I have a certain amount of difficulty in knowing what course would be most likely to meet the views of the majority of your Lordships. I gather that the noble Marquess is rather disposed to think it might be desirable to adjourn the debate with a view to enabling us to tell the House rather more than what my right hon. friend was able to tell the House of Commons with regard to the character of the Amendments which we might possibly be able to accept. In this matter I am very much in the hands of the House, but I do not know whether an adjournment would enable me to state any more than, I may be able to state to the House at this moment. Consequently, in these circumstances, though I think it is exceedingly possible that it might be advisable that your Lordships should agree to adjourn before proceeding to the actual consideration of the Amendments, I propose to say a few words on the subject of the Amendments themselves.
I have said that it is absolutely necessary to narrow the issue before we could arrive at any kind of conclusion, and the question is—"Can we take this matter in hand and reduce our points of difference to the smallest possible number?" Now, I think it should be made clear at once that we are not prepared to sacrifice the main principles of the Bill or in any way to alter its framework. It is also to be made clear that in anything I have to say it is surely obvious that I cannot pledge the majority of the House of Commons to take the same view of a particular matter which the Government do. All I can do is to state certain modifications dealing with the more important points of the Bill which, in the view of His Majesty's Government, might be agreed upon in existing circumstances in consideration of the Bill's passing, and which, accordingly, we should be prepared to recommend in consideration of the passing of the Bill.
We have been subjected, and our Bill has been subjected, to a great deal of criticism, but there is one class of criticism which I confess I myself have always 933 carefully regarded and have always endeavoured to treat with respect. It is the criticism which does not seek to alter the actual structure of the Bill, but which seeks to show that in some respects the facilities which we have proposed to offer in the Bill cannot be taken full advantage of by those for whom they are intended, owing to the existence of other restrictive provisions in the measure. If noble Lords opposite are able to make out a fair case, either that our extreme anxiety to preserve the consciences of the children, or our anxiety to maintain the independence of the teacher, or our wish to safeguard the liberty of the local education authority, has made us in some respects too strict, I can assure noble Lords that we are not too proud to reconsider these points. But in doing so I once more safeguard myself from it being supposed that in any case we can agree to any modification which really affects the principle of the Bill.
I deal first with the facilities under Clause 3. Those facilities in ordinary circumstances in schools of moderate size we think could quite well be given by an outside teacher, in many cases by the clergyman. We have all through felt bound to impress upon your Lordships that if the school teacher in a small country school was empowered to give this Clause 3 teaching, a great many people would say, and say with justice, that the school was so maintaining its denominational character that the transfer was not worth making at all, and the result would be that in those rural districts a number of children would receive Catechism teaching contrary to the desire of their parents. But we do admit that that argument does not apply in all cases.
There are, no doubt, a considerable number of large schools, especially urban schools, where it would undoubtedly be exceedingly difficult for the Church of England, or any other religious body, to find volunteers who would be prepared to give the special denominational teaching. We desire not to mix up the head teacher in this matter. We think that the head teacher in the schools, now that these schools become in the main undenominational schools, should be a neutral person, but we do think that 934 it would be possible for assistant teachers, of their own accord and by agreement with the local authority, to give this teaching in other than single schools in rural parishes. If it could be shown—and upon that I am not certain, because it would demand the close investigation of figures—that, outside that limitation, there are a considerable number of really large schools at which it would be difficult to have volunteers to give this teaching, it might be possible to extend this privilege to schools outside such areas of really large size.
There is one other point which markedly affects the schools under Clause 3. It is raised by the new clause inserted at the instance of the Duke of Devonshire. The noble Duke proposed that the taking over of all schools should be subject to an appeal to the Commission, who, if I remember aright, were to be the absolute arbiters in the matter, and were to proceed on common-sense lines as to whether a particular school ought or ought not to betaken over. We have felt compelled to draw a distinction between Clause 3 and Clause 4 schools in the matter of redundancy. We have always agreed that where it was a case of Clause 4 redundancy should not be taken into consideration. There might be many cases where schools which could be shown to be redundant ought to come under Clause 4. But in the case of Clause 3 schools we have taken a somewhat different line. At the same time, without admitting that there ought to be a general obligation to take over redundant schools I think it is quite possible that a half-way house might be reached in this matter. And if the noble Duke would agree, I should be entirely prepared, supposing your Lordships proposed to adjourn the debate, to consult and consider with him as to how that half-way house should be reached. I by no means despair of our arriving at a conclusion which would at any rate go a considerable way to satisfy the desires of the noble Duke and, I think, of the House as a whole, in this matter of not allowing a capricious refusal of schools by the local authority.
I pass to Clause 4, on which I think my noble friend in another place was more explicit than on the matter to 935 which I have just been alluding. We certainly should not be prepared to agree to the Amendment of Lord Lansdowne. We are not prepared to admit single schools in rural areas to the provisions and privileges of Clause 4. We pointed out at the time that whatever the noble Marquess's Amendment might be designed to effect, its actual effect was that in many circumstances village schools in single school parishes might become Clause 4 schools. To that we could not agree, but short of that we should not be found rigid on the question of area. And we should also be prepared at any rate to meet the noble Marquess as far as we could by an Amendmet to make it clear that a very small number of children should not be able to prevent in any case those schools from obtaining the privileges of Clause 4.
As to the numerical point—that of four-fifths or three-fourths, or two-thirds—we should be compelled to adhere to the principle that the proportion, whatever it is, must be the proportion of all the parents and not of those who vote. That we are obliged to do, because the contrary traverses what we think is one of the main principles of the Bill—namely, that these schools must be regarded as exceptional; and it is only by actual proof that there is a substantial majority that their claim can be shown. But we do admit that adherence to this principle undoubtedly makes it more difficult for the schools to receive those privileges, and we think that fact ought to be taken into account in estimating the number. Consequently we should certainly be prepared to accept, at any rate, a considerably lower number than our original proposal of four-fifths.
Then we should agree to insist on the Amendment, of which I think I expressed general approval when it was moved by Lord Clifford, giving a prior right of entry to children of a particular denomination; and, although this is a matter which I know has caused heart-burning in influential quarters which we respect, we should, I think, be prepared to recommend that a parents' committee should have a definite consultative voice in the appointment of the teacher. That is as far as we can go, and I think noble Lords opposite will recognise that to attempt to 936 give anything like a veto in these circumstances would be too much to expect of us; because, of course, it would be a direct and very large infraction of our principle of no tests for teachers. We should also be prepared to recommend to the House that, where a new Clause 4 school is desired, there should be a right of appeal which was not stated in the original Bill.
These are the principal points on which I have been trying, I hope with sufficient definiteness, to enlighten the House on the clauses about which the religious controversy has arisen. These concessions are—as I think your Lordships will agree when you have time to consider them—of a very substantial character indeed; and I must repeat that they must only be taken as forming part, so to speak, of an agreed Bill, and that, taken alone, we certainly should not be prepared of our own volition to include them in the measure. Many of those who support us will think that these concessions go much too far. I desire to show how anxious we are to arrive at a compromise on this matter, and I hope that noble Lords I opposite will also be prepared in a substantial degree to sink their own personal preferences and predilections, and see whether we cannot arrive on these lines at, I hope, speaking at any rate in a political sense, some final settlement of this question. If by adjourning your Lordships desire some time to consider the matter, it would seem a most reasonable demand. There is no need for me to reiterate the extreme inconvenience and, to some extent, the real national danger which would follow from the loss of the Bill.
As regards our attitude towards the House, I can only say that, so far as I am concerned, all my political recollections are connected with this House. I never sat in the other House. I was a candidate, but I succeeded just before the general election in 1885. Consequently all my political past, such as it is, is bound up with your Lordships' House. During all the years I have been in the House, I have sat under five different Liberal leaders, and they have all, from Lord Granville down to my noble friend behind me, given the most ungrudging service 937 to the House of Lords, and I think it may be said of all of them that they have shown themselves just as careful and sensitive of the real dignity of the House as noble Lords who sit on the Benches opposite. I repeat that I am very anxious that this Bill should not be lost in a fog of misunderstanding, or be impaled on a point of punctilio. At any rate, let us consider the whole question on its merits. I believe that if we do give cool consideration now to the whole matter in the light of what I have been able to tell your Lordships, it is by no means impossible that we may be able to arrive at some successful conclusion without any real sacrifice of principle on either side.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marquess of Ripon)
My Lords, as no noble Lord has risen for some moments to continue the debate, I beg to move, in accordance with the suggestion of the noble Marquess opposite, that the debate be now adjourned; but if that is not agreeable to noble Lords opposite I will, of course, withdraw the Motion.
§ Moved, "That the debate be now adjourned until to-morrow."—(The Marquess of Ripon.)
§ LORD STANMORE
Before the Motion for the adjournment is put by the Lord Chancellor I wish to ask whether His Majesty's Government include any concession with regard to the teaching of religion during the course of school hours.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
We do not propose to attempt to restore our original Clause 6, which left the attendance voluntary.
*LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
My Lords, I feel very strongly that it is an embarrassing thing for any of us to assent to the adjournment of the debate 938 on a mere verbal statement of proposals we ought to see in writing, and of which we do not know the exact terms and the exact scope. I take it, of course, that whatever is not conceded in the speech of my noble friend in charge of this Bill is not conceded in fact, and that therefore the whole range of the concessions is that set forth in the speech. I must say that I feel sure there are many outside this House who have supported the Government throughout this Bill who would not be prepared to support several of the concessions indicated unless those concessions are much more clearly explained and much more strictly limited. For instance, I cannot imagine agreeing to the adjournment sub silentio with the very vague and doubtful suggestion that some private arrangement should be talked over between the noble Earl in charge of the Bill and the noble Duke sitting on the cross benches as to what his been called a "half-way house" between the absolute right of the local authority to use its own judgment in taking over or not taking over schools and some coercive action to be applied to that local authority. I feel that there is no half-way house between the right of the local authority to have regard solely to efficiency of education and economy of the rates and the subjection of the local authority to any external power. Any half-way house which would give any manager of a school a title to claim from any external power the right to be taken over irrespective of what the local authority might consider the general interests of education would be a serious matter. It is all the more serious because it would impose in many cases a very heavy burden on the rates. I can quite understand that redundancy is a matter which does become material in the case of Clause 4 schools; but redundancy is by no means the only ground which would be a reasonable ground of rejection under Clause 3. Every town feels the importance of consolidating the schools, of dealing with them as they think fit, and of combining or rebuilding them if thought desirable. I take it that the willingness to adjourn shown on the other side of the House implies some sort of willingness to consider not unfavourably the compromise suggested; but I think it would be very 939 Unfortunate if we were to go for a compromise now without knowing the exact limitations of what we are proposing to give up. There are many things I would be willing to give up for peace and settlement, but I think there are one or two things which certainly will strain the loyalty of Liberals throughout the country even to breaking point.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Lord Tweedmouth)
My Lords, I hope I may appeal to your Lordships not to follow the course adopted by my noble friend behind me. No one is more worthy to express opinions on this subject, which he has made so entirely his own. But I think the House as a whole must feel that we have arrived at a most critical moment when there really is a serious and probable chance of our coming to a sound arrangement. Therefore the least said at the present moment from any quarter of the House, the better it will be. I therefore earnestly hope that the representatives of the different sections of the House will refrain from speaking now, and endeavour to-morrow to come to such an arrangement as will enable us to carry the Bill through the House.
§ On Question, debate adjourned until to-morrow.