HL Deb 23 October 1906 vol 163 cc31-5

My Lords, I rise to ask the Lord President of the Council what will be the additional expenditure thrown upon the rates and taxes by the Education Bill; and whether he will lay upon the Table of the House a Return showing how the amount was arrived at, so that we may be able to consider whether it is possible to introduce any Amendments by which it may be reduced. Our rates and taxes are so high that it is very undesirable to impose any additional burdens on the nation which can possibly be avoided.

Certain members of the Government have during the recess been threatening your Lordships with I know not what terrible punishment if any Amendments of importance should be introduced. In their judgment the Bill comes to us with the moral support of a great majority at its back. On the contrary, though no doubt the Second Reading was carried by a great majority in the House of Commons, there seems no evidence of enthusiasm in the country, and if it were referred, in its present form, to a referendum vote many doubt whether it would be carried. The Liberal Publication Department, in their Report on the result of the last election, tell us that— On a total poll of nearly 6,000,000, the Liberal and Labour majority in votes is 837,000, or (excluding Ireland) 637,0U0. If the Government only held as many seats as this vote majority entitled it to proportionately, their seat majority would be ninety-four. As a fact it is 354. That is to say, 260 more than they are entitled to. They should, indeed, as it seems to me, have taken the opposed seats only, and in that case the number of votes in the House of Commons which they enjoy would come out at about 120 more than they are entitled to from the votes given in the country. There were a few candidates who did not belong to either Party, but not enough to make any serious difference. These 120 votes count, of course, for 240 on a division. The Second Reading of the Bill was carried by 206, so that if the balance of parties in the House of Commons had corresponded to the votes in the country, even according to my more moderate estimates, the Bill would have been thrown out by over thirty votes.

It is evident, therefore, that the Bill comes with the support of the House of Commons, but not of the Nation, and if it be possible by any Amendment to reduce the expense which the Bill will throw upon the rates and taxes, there is every reason to believe that your Lordships will be acting in accordance with the wishes and would have the support of the country. In order that we may know what is the additional burden which the Bill would impose on the country, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.


My Lords, in reply to the Question placed on the Paper by the noble Lord opposite I have to say that the extra charge thrown on the taxes under the Bill is the sum of £1,000,000 provided by Clause 12, added to the expenses of the Commission formed under Clause 9 and 10 of the Bill. As regards the expenditure to be thrown upon the rates, that may come under three heads; in the first place, an additional burden may, and no doubt will, be thrown on the rates in respect of the structural repairs of the voluntary schools which are taken over; in the second place, in respect of the sums paid by way of rent or otherwise on the taking over of the schools; and, in the third place, in the shape of new annual charges for interest and sinking fund in cases where new council schools have to be built in the place of existing voluntary schools. I think the noble Lord must admit that until we have had some experience of what arrangements are made under the Bill—arrangements, I mean, made between local authorities and the owners and trustees of schools—it is impossible to say to what sums these additional charges will amount. To do that, you would have to look into the minds of many thousands of people under conditions for which no certain data exists. All that we can say is that in naming this sum of £1,000,000—named, of course, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with reference to his Budget—we considered that these charges were sufficiently provided for.

I understand from the form of the noble Lord's Question that he is afraid there may be some extravagance on the part of local authorities—a subject on which I know he feels very strongly—under the provisions of this Bill, and it may be as well to remind him what the principles are on which the distribution of the new grant will be framed. When the new grant is distributed, regard will be had, in the first place, to the actual increase of local burdens consequent upon the passing of the Bill, and, in the second place, to the amount of the educational burden upon the area. As I have already stated, it is obviously impossible, for the reasons which I have given, to lay down any detailed scheme for the distribution of the grant at this moment; but next year the Government hope to introduce a Bill which will amalgamate all the existing grants for elementary education with the £1,000,000 provided in the Bill and distribute the money on the principles I have indicated. Following a practice not infrequent in this House, of embroidering Questions on the Paper, if I may say so respectfully, with observations on larger Questions, the noble Lord has touched on much deeper issues than those one would have expected from the Notice on the Paper would have been raised. With them, it would be impossible, and, I think, improper, to deal now.


My Lords, the Question put by Lord Avebury is of an extremely useful character, and it has elicited information as to the future proposals of the Government with regard to this expenditure. I remember stating, when the Education Bill was being discussed, that I was at a loss to know how the sum of £1,000,000 had been arrived at, and that I had come to the conclusion that in all probabality it was fixed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he had no more money to spare. I hope that when we deal with this subject in Committee we shall hear from the noble Earl some details as to how the amount was arrived at. I did not gather that it was the result of any calculation of the number of schools or the number of children. This is a very important matter, and other questions arise out of it.


I did not understand, from the Answer of the noble Earl, whether His Majesty's Government feel that they are not in a position to state what the additional expenditure involved in the Bill is, or whether they consider it will be covered by the £1,000,000. I did not quite hear what the noble Earl said on that point.


should also like to ask the noble Earl whether, if the £1,000,000 which comes out of Imperial taxation is found not to be sufficient to meet the expenses involved under the Bill, the extra expenditure will fall on the rates.


I hoped I had explained, in reply to the noble Lord's Question, that it is impossible to state until we know what arrangements are made under the Bill what the actual expenditure in any given case will be. The noble Marquess is perfectly right in concluding that the sum of £1,000,000 was not arrived at with reference to the possible outlay of any particular authority on any given schools in any given area. My noble friend Lord Wenlock will see that it would be obviously improper and utterly extravagant to promise any local authority that it would be reimbursed, from the Exchequer for any sum which it chose to expend under the provisions of this Bill. All that we say is that in distributing this £1,000,000, we shall have regard to the extra charge placed on the local authority by the Bill, and also regard to the actual sum expended for educational purposes in the area.


I am afraid I have not made myself quite clear. What I mean is this. The £1,000,000 is going to be allotted in the first place from Imperial taxation, and I should like to ask——


I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but would it not be better if he placed his Question on the Paper?


I should like to ask the noble Earl on what basis the calculation has been made with regard to the amount of money that will be required for the rent of these schools, and, in cases where they have to purchase the schools, what provision has been made for the interest on that money.


I am afraid I can add nothing to what I have already said in reply to the noble Lord.