§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
rose to ask the President of the Council whether the Minister of Education, when he confirmed on appeal the decision of the West Riding County Council to erect a council school at East Hardwick, was aware of the following facts:—That the existing voluntary school was enlarged in 1871, when the population amounted to 282; that the present population is 144, and the average attendance thirty, of whom only twenty-six reside in the township, and that the accommodation 12 admits of 14 cubic feet per child; that the managers submitted plans to the education authority carrying out their requirements, viz., to provide a playground, cloak-room, and lavatory in accordance with the recommendations of Mr. Marvin, the Inspector of the Board of Education, made in November, 1905, and that such plans never received the sanction of the local authority, and the Board of Education refused to allow the work to be carried out until such sanction was obtained; that it was not until May, 1907, that the West Riding Education Committee definitely refused to sanction the improvements proposed to be carried out in accordance with the report of the Inspector of the Board of Education, and decided that a new school was necessary; that a petition signed by every ratepayer and parent of children attending the school protesting against this decision had been forwarded to the Board of Education, and that the cost of the proposed school, to accommodate sixty children, would inflict a burden on the ratepayers of East Hardwick of 1s. in the £ in addition to the existing education rate of 8d. in the £ in a purely rural hamlet; that under Section 9 of the Education Act, 1902, the Board of Education in deciding on appeal as to the provision of a new school shall have regard:—(1) To the interests of secular instruction; (2) to the wishes of the parents as to the education of their children; (3) to the economy of the rates.
"To ask further, how, in view of the fact that the plans submitted by the managers to carry out the requirements of the Board of Education, which had met with the full approval of the district Sub-Committee, to whom the West Riding County Council submitted them, were never returned by the Board of Education to the managers so as to enable them to carry out the requirements of the Board, and have been in the hands of the Board ever since March, 1907, the Board can now condemn the Managers for delay, and propose to take compulsory powers in order to grant the demand of the West Riding County Council for a new council school, when they have never given the managers a chance of carrying out the requirements of their own inspector, by giving their sanction to the plans in question."
13 The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I think it will be for the convenience of your Lordships if, in asking the Lord President of the Council the Questions which stand in my name on the Paper, I give a very short statement of the facts of the case. I know the locality perfectly well, and I think the facts which I shall put before your Lordships do not admit of any dispute. The East Hardwick school has been carried on for 250 years as a Church of England school, and it has served a small rural hamlet comprising some 627 acres, with a rateable value of about £600. In 1872 when the population reached 282, which is its highest point, the school buildings were considerably improved and enlarged. Since then the population has decreased—in 1881 to 228, in 1891 to 193, in 1901 to 155, and at present, I believe, the population is 144. The average attendance in the school is, I believe, 30; this allows 14 superficial feet for each child. If 10 feet were allowed there would be room for 50 children in the school.
For some time prior to June, 1905, correspondence had been going on between the Education Committee of the West Riding and the trustees of the school with regard to the necessity of providing a cloakroom, lavatory, and playground. There was great difficulty in finding accommodation for the playground, and the managers referred to the Board of Education. The Secretary to the Board, in a letter dated 10th July, 1905, wrote in regard to the playground—I am, however, to inform you that in the opinion of the Board the local education authority have no power to require your managers to provide a playground.That was the opinion of the Board of Education in 1905. The managers, however, did their best to provide a playground. The difficulties which they encountered postponed their being able to make definite proposals for a playground until some time later than that at which they did send in plans for the other improvements; but they were eventually able to send in definite plans for a playground, and not only that, but to offer to the local education authority the exact piece of ground which the inspector of the local authority had said 14 would be sufficient and desirable for the purpose of a playground.
On 21st June, 1905, the trustees, after consultation with the vicar, the Charity Commissioners, the Board of Education, and the West Riding Education Committee, authorised tenders for the work of constructing the lavatory, cloakroom, etc., as soon as the plans had been sanctioned by the local education authority and the Board of Education. On 29th September, Mr. Marvin, on behalf of the Board of Education, visited the school, approved of the proposed alterations, and reported accordingly. On 8th November an inspector would the school on behalf of the West Riding Education Committee, and his report approved them also, with certain provisos as to the playground. On 10th November of that year plans were submitted by the trustees to the West Riding Education Committee, and in January, 1906, the trustees, having overcome the difficulties, agreed to lease a portion of the glebe land for a playground to enable them to carry out the necessary conditions. In accordance with this agreement, plans for the playground were subsequently submitted to the local education authority. So that definite plans, considered sufficient both by the inspector of the Board of Education and by the inspector of the local education authority, were submitted to the West Riding Education Committee.
All this time the plans for the building, submitted to the local education authority, had neither been approved nor returned to the managers, and they were advised by the Board of Education that they had no power to improve the school without the sanction of the West Riding Education Committee. On 16th November, 1906, that body, though they had never returned the plans or communicated with the managers, announced their intention to provide a new school to accommodate sixty children. The managers remonstrated, and in March, 1907, the West Riding Education Committee's architect attended the school—that is more than a year after the plans for the improvement of the buildings had been sent in—and proposals to erect a cloakroom and lavatory and to provide a certain amount of glebe land for a 15 playground were again discussed, and the managers' willingness to provide the same without cost to the ratepayers when their plans were sanctioned was again brought forward. The managers were prepared to do this at their own cost, and the architect promised that the proposals should receive the early attention of the West Riding Education Committee.
Two months later the Education Committee definitely refused to sanction the plans submitted on 10th November, 1905, and never returned them, and intimated their intention, with the consent of the Board of Education, to compel the building of a new council school to accommodate sixty scholars at a cost of £14 per head, making a total cost of £1,000 for the whole work. Upon this a public meeting of ratepayers was held on 22nd June, 1907, to protest against the county council's proposal to saddle the hamlet with a council school which they did not wish to have, and all were unanimous in condemnation of the proposal. The managers appealed to the Board of Education and supported their appeal by a petition from all the inhabitants of the district and the ratepayers, but the Board of Education, under Mr. McKenna, refused to alter its decision and that of the local education authority, and did not grant a legal inquiry in accordance with its powers. Nor did Mr. McKenna consider, as I submit he was bound to do in making his decision, under Section 9 of the Education Act, 1902, first, the interests of secular education; secondly, the wishes of the parents as to the education of their children; and, thirdly, the economy of the rates.
When this decision became known a lady who lives in the locality very generously offered to build a new school to accommodate fifty children, the school to remain a voluntary school similar to the one it was to replace. The West Riding Education Authority, however, refused the offer, the chairman stating that it was a deathbed repentance, whereas the delay in carrying out the alterations was entirely due to the county council and not to the managers of the school. An appeal to the Board of Education met with the same result, 16 the vicar of East Hardwick, who attended on behalf of the offer to build a new school, being told that Mr. McKenna had already decided that there was to be a council school. The Board of Education, on the petition of the West Riding County Council, has now introduced a Bill into your Lordships' House, on 5th May, asking for compulsory powers for the purpose of compelling Mr. Thornton, of Pontefract, to sell part of his land for the site of the proposed new council school, the West Riding Education Committee having failed to find a single owner of property in East Hardwick willing to sell and for such a purpose.
The cost to the ratepayers of a council school will amount to an additional rate of 1s. in the £, making a total education rate of 1s. 8d. in the £. That is a plain statement, I believe, of the facts. There is no pretence for saying that there is not adequate accommodation for the children who attend the school. There is accommodation in the school for fifty children. The Education Blue-book, published in 1907, shows accommodation for fifty children in the existing school, and, in point of fact, only thirty children attend. All the children who attend the school, with the exception of one, are over five. The figures supplied by the local education authority to the Board of Education as to the number of children of school age whom the new provided school would serve, include all children over three, two boys attending the Pontefract grammar school and who would not attend this school at East Hardwick, and eleven children who are in the habit of attending a school belonging to another parish. No legal inquiry into the matter was granted by Mr. McKenna after he had received the petition from the inhabitants of the district.
In regard to the interests of secular education, if the proposed alterations were such as to make the school sufficient, as is admitted on the report of both inspectors, obviously the secular education would be quite as good in the one building as in the suggested new school. The wishes of the inhabitants have been entirely disregarded, as shown by their petition and their absolute refusal to sell any property for a provided school. And 17 in regard to rates, I have already told your Lordships that it will mean an increase of 1s. in the £ in the education rate paid by this poor and small hamlet. Disentangled from complications, the plain fact is that the local education authority required certain improvements to be made in the East Hardwick school, including the provision of a playground, which, as I have informed your Lordships, the Board of Education said they had no power to compel; that the proposed alterations were considered sufficient; that the managers did find a playground, though it was not necessary for them to do so; and that, in spite of all this, the local education authority, with the consent of the Board of Education, refused to allow the plans to be carried out and insisted upon building a new provided school, at a great increase to the rates and contrary to the wishes of all the inhabitants. In face of these facts it is almost impossible to deny that what really determined the action, both of the Board of Education and the local education authority, was the desire to substitute a provided school under the local authority for the non-provided school which had always existed in the parish. This is made sufficiently obvious by the fact that when the managers offered to build a new school their offer was refused.
I know what will be said in answer to my questions. It will be said, first of all, that the plans were retained by inadvertence, which I think is an extremely lame excuse; and, next, that the plans were carefully considered and deemed insufficient. If the proposed alterations, as is not denied, were considered sufficient up to 1907, what suddenly determined their insufficiency in May, 1907? I do not like to make the suggestion, but it is almost impossible that the thought should not occur to one's mind that it was the same administrative action which has been threatening the training colleges, which in this case was applied to an elementary school in a poor country village. In regard to the detention of the plans, I would like to draw your Lordships' attention, for it is an instructive comment upon all this, to what occurred in the neighbouring hamlet of Wentbridge. There there was a non- 18 provided school which was admittedly insufficient. The managers offered to build a new school, and submitted plans for that purpose. The plans were detained by the local education authority, and representations were made to the Board of Education that the managers were unwilling to take any steps to meet the requirements of the local education authority. Upon the strength of those representations, which were false, as I shall show in a manner that cannot be contradicted, the Board of Education sanctioned the erection of a provided school. The managers were subsequently able to prove to the Board of Education that the information supplied to them by the local education authority was incorrect, with the result that the Board of Education rescinded their Order. In their letter to the local education authority, a copy of which I have in my hand, the Board of Education state definitely that inasmuch as they had ascertained that the information supplied to them was incorrect they had rescinded their Order to erect a new provided school. The managers were in consequence allowed to carry out their plans, and this hamlet has now a non-provided voluntary school in the place of the provided school which would have been forced upon them if they had not been able to prove to the Board of Education that the information supplied by the local education authority was, to use a mild expression, absolutely incorrect.
It appears to me that when we are told, as we are constantly being told, that the inhabitants of this country are quite indifferent whether they have a denominational or an undenominational, school, the facts in the case of this little school of East Hardwick prove diametrically the reverse; and I would ask your Lordships what chance of peace there is likely to be in regard to this education question if in all the single school districts in the country, in which the single schools are largely Church schools, we are to have this sort of treatment adopted towards them on the part of the local education authority? I myself attach much greater weight to the question of the character of the school than I do even to the question of the rate; but I think your Lordships will 19 admit that the question of the rate is not an unimportant one, and that it is absolutely intolerable that the rate should be raised against the wish of the whole of the inhabitants when everything that the parish itself wished for, and was necessary for educational purposes, could be got without difficulty and without adding a penny to the rates. I must say I think it a very astonishing thing that proposals of this sort should come from those who profess that the wishes of the inhabitants should be respected, and that such proposals, so diametrically opposed to the pecuniary and other interests of the parishioner, should be sanctioned by the Board of Education. I now beg to put the Questions standing in my name, and I would ask the President of the Council whether, in view of these circumstances, he will not withdraw the Bill for taking compulsory powers and give the managers an opportunity of carrying out the improvements which they are quite ready to do.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
My Lords, I find myself in rather a curious position in regard to the House and the Questions of the noble Viscount. I have no official knowledge of the subject at all, I have only been at the Privy Council now for about a month; and this matter has not been brought under my notice before to-day. In any case I do not know whether the Privy Council has any power to deal with it. So far as I can make out, the Privy Council consists principally of secretaries and messengers. There is a splendid room, and a splendid inkstand, but otherwise I do not think the President of the Council has anything to do. At any rate, the control of education and the control of agriculture has been taken away from the President of the Council. In this matter, therefore, I must confine myself to reading the brief which has been supplied to me by the Board of Education. I do not think it is a good custom for Ministers to read typewritten replies, but I am sorry to say that in this case I am compelled to follow that course, and I apologise to the House therefor.
It appears that in 1901 the Board's attention was called to the absence of a playground for this school. In 1903 20 the Board were informed that the state of the premises was unsatisfactory (there was no cloakroom, lavatory, or water supply, and the roof was leaking) and that there was no playground. The attention of the managers was called to these defects, and they were warned that, unless the defects in the premises were removed, no further annual grant would be paid. On December 13th, 1904, the Board were informed that the defects in the premises had not been removed, and they again called the attention of the managers to the matter on 23rd February, 1905. It appears that plans were prepared by the managers for the improvement of the premises and submitted to the local education authority early in 1905, and the local education authority returned the plans to the managers, with certain additional requirements. Plans for the improvement of the premises, but not including a playground, reached the Board from the managers on 6th July, 1905. On 10th July, 1905, these were sent by the Board, in accordance with their universal practice, to the local education authority for their observations. Considerable discussion took place at this period as to the necessity for a playground. A special visit to the school was paid by His Majesty's inspector, and he advised that the requirement of a playground should be supported, and on 28th September, 1905, the Board endorsed his recommendation. The plans were again returned by the managers to the Board, still without provision for a playground, on 15th December, 1906, when they were again sent by the Board to the local education authority. The local education authority had previously, on 4th December, 1906, given notice to provide a new council school. On 8th February, 1907, the local education authority informed the Board that, on the advice of their architect, they were unable to approve the managers' plans. On 18th February, 1907, the Board received an appeal against the proposed new council school from the ratepayers and inhabitants of East Hardwick. The managers' plans, including the provision of a playground, appear to have again reached the Board from the local education authority on 5th March, 1907. These plans were at once sent to 21 His Majesty's inspector, who reported that, even if they were carried out, the premises would still be very poor. The local education authority expressed a similar opinion on 26th March, 1907. On 19th May, 1907, the Board decided, after consideration of all the circumstances of the case, that the proposed now council school was necessary. This decision was communicated to the local education authority and the managers, and, in letters dated 17th June and 18th July, 1907, the Board explained to the managers that they had taken the proposals of the managers into account in forming their decision that a council school was necessary, and that they considered that, even if the alterations, including the provision of a playground, were carried out, the premises would still be very poor, and not fit on that account for recognition permanently. The plans were, by inadvertence, not returned to the managers when the Board's decision was communicated to them, and the managers did not call attention to the omission until 16th April, 1908. The plans were returned on 30th April, 1908. It will be seen from these facts that this case was decided against the managers of the voluntary school on its merits and not on the ground of delay. Having decided that the proposed improvements in the voluntary school would not make it fit for permanent recognition and that the erection of a new council school was necessary, the Board had no alternative but to assent to the exercise of compulsory powers by the local education authority, since they were unable to acquire a site by agreement. I am afraid that is all the Answer I can give the noble Viscount. It is, I think, a very clear and definite Answer. As to the merits of it, I cannot take any responsibility.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I should like to call attention to the reply which has just been given by the Lord President of the Council. What is the mode by which His Majesty's Government can be approached in your Lordships' House on educational matters? Here is a question brought up, and the Lord President tells us he is afraid he has no official knowledge on the subject and apparently has no access to such knowledge.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
Are we unable to obtain any responsible replies to such Questions in this House?
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
The noble Lord says he represents the Board of Education. That being so, I do not understand why he has no official knowledge. I am puzzled by the statement of the noble Lord that powers in regard to education had been taken away from the Privy Council. Presumably powers with respect to education lie somewhere, and there must be some one in the House responsible for answering Questions in relation to education.
I pass from the frame that surrounds the Answer, and come to the Answer itself. As far as I could see, the noble Lord read an account corresponding in its entirety to the statement which had been previously made by the noble Viscount. If the facts are accurate, what is the explanation? The point is not so much the bullying attitude of the local authority as the endorsement given to that attitude by His Majesty's Government. We have been told over and over again that we should trust the local authorities in matters of this kind. We have heard many arguments in the last few years to that effect, and I plead guilty to being one of those who have constantly urged that our duty in these matters is to leave the responsibility upon the local authority who have been entrusted by Parliament with these important functions. In this instance it appears to me, as far as I can follow it, that the local education authority not only have no case, but have not even attempted to present a case.
But I confess that what staggers me is less the instance of the tyranny of the local education authority—though that is somewhat alarming and bewildering, for it is exercised contrary to the wishes of every ratepayer in the parish and of 23 the parent of every child in the school—than the endorsement given to such action by the Board of Education, who appear to have stated that they saw no ground for regarding the action of the local education authority as other than right. If I understood the reply of my noble friend just now, he stated that the Government had no alternative but to sanction a council school, that being, by the admitted facts, contrary to the wishes of all the parishioners and all the parents. But I would point out that a lady had offered to build an entirely new school, which would have saved the whole of the expense to the parish. The argument, therefore, as to the inadequacy of the old building entirely falls to the ground.
The Board of Education have taken up this position in the teeth of the Act of Parliament, which says that in deciding cases of this sort they are to have regard, first, to the interests of secular instruction (obviously not impaired by the nature of the building, which was to be new), secondly, to the wishes of the parents as to the education of their children, the parents being in this case unanimous; and, thirdly, to the economy of the rates, upon which must be placed now the whole expenditure which a private individual would have been willing to bear. The statement which we have heard from the Lord President did not seem to me to be any attempt at a practical reply.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, while we are on this subject I should like to say a word or two as manager of a voluntary school under the West Riding County Council in connection with which we have suffered very much the same kind of treatment as that of which the noble Viscount complains. I approach the matter from a rather different point of view from that of the most rev. Primate. The most rev. Primate says he is not so much concerned with the tyranny of the West Riding County Council or the local education authority as with the answer of His Majesty's Government. I think the answer of His Majesty's Government really amounts to very little. My noble friend below me, Lord Tweedmouth, explained the 24 difficulty he was in, and that this was an intricate matter of which he had no personal knowledge. What I wish to ask is whether, where you have the tyranny of a body like the West Riding County Council, the Board of Education is of any use to us? Or is it absolutely powerless when it comes to close quarters on a matter of this kind with a strong and determined body like the education authority of the West Riding County Council?
In my particular case, the local education authority absolutely disregarded, not only the wishes, But the experience of the people for whom they were supposed to be acting. It was the case of a small voluntary school established in an old toll-house. I quite admit that the school was perfectly inadequate to the educational needs or ideals of the present day, but there were only twenty-five or twenty-six children in attendance, and sometimes the number went down to sixteen; it was never above twenty-eight. The other day we were told—and I was perfectly willing to recognise the justice of it—that we were to put up a new school to serve this side of the district. We suggested sites and gave reasons and so on, but the local education authority paid no attention to any suggestions we made, although they were accompanied by arguments which we thought to the point regarding a likelihood of a dislocation of population. They chose their own site and put up the school.
I do not mind so much their disregarding the site we recommended, but as a matter of fact they have erected a school which will accommodate sixty or seventy children, at a cost to the ratepayers of between £1,100 and £1,200. And now that they have done this and have discovered that there are not nearly enough children to fill the school, we are to be put to a large additional expenditure to provide a heating apparatus, because it is pointed out that the few children who will attend will be starved to death in the cold weather unless this provision is made. When I saw the plans I suggested one or two alterations; I suggested a limestone wall, but instead of that they have given us the sort of railings which you find round villas at Surbiton. 25 They paid no attention at all to our suggestions, and the building they have erected is the sort of thing you see in the Bois de Boulogne where you go and take tea. It has a chalet appearance with Surbiton railings round it. I gave the ground and was glad to do it, but when I was asked to be present and open the new school, I replied that I would have nothing to do with such wanton waste of public money. We did all we could to bring our views forward, but when the matter went to the Board of Education the Board were powerless or afraid to do anything. I should like to ask whether that is a desirable state of things.
§ VISCOUNT KNUTSFORD
My Lords, I venture to think that this state of things is very unsatisfactory, both as regards this House and the information it gets, and also as regards the particular case brought forward by Lord Halifax. I am puzzled to understand the position which the Lord President of the Council takes up. When a Minister answers a question he is supposed to have looked through the Papers himself, and to deal with the House as one who is satisfied that the statement he is making is correct; whereas I understand Lord Tweedmouth has merely read to us a typewritten document supplied by the Board of Education, and with which he says he has nothing to do. He simply read it without having verified it in any respect himself, nor has he favoured us with his opinion upon the subject brought before us. I consider that a very unsatisfactory state of things. If the Lord President of the Council cannot answer for the Board of Education we should have some other noble Lord who can. The other point which seems to me to be very unsatisfactory is that we have had no answer to the question why, when an appeal was made to the Board of Education, backed up by all the inhabitants of the district, and the ratepayers, the Board of Education did not hold an inquiry under Section 9 of the Education Act of 1892 to verify the local statements, instead of simply upholding the local education authority without any inquiry at all. I consider these two matters extremely unsatisfactory, and I hope we shall have some further explanation of them.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I would be the last person to say anything of an unfriendly character towards the noble Lord who occupies the position of Lord President of the Council, but I agree with the most reverend Primate and the noble Viscount who has just sat down that our position is very unsatisfactory, and it will become impossible when the Education Bill comes up unless we are to have a representative of the Board of Education on the Front Bench opposite who can really go into the questions and answer points raised in debate. Until a short time ago the noble Earl who is now Secretary of State for the Colonies was Lord President of the Council, and I doubt if any one in your Lordships' House knew so much of Mr. Birrell's Bill as he did. Consequently I remember the noble Earl was congratulated on the manner in which he conducted the debates on that measure, and I venture to think that if another Bill of great importance is to come to this House, whoever represents the Board of Education on the Front Ministerial Bench should be, I will not say as conversant with the matter as the noble Earl, for I think that would be almost impossible, but at any rate thoroughly acquainted with the details of that measure.
The substance of the answer which has been given to-day in no way meets the case made out by Lord Halifax. If there is to be a combination between the local education authority and the Board of Education to tyrannise over voluntary schools, then indeed the greatest injustice possible can be anticipated by supporters of denominational schools. We have had put before us to-day a variety of reasons why the Board of Education should not have adopted the line they have, and I cannot think we have had one clearly-put argument as to the reasons why they have taken that course. I should like to ask whether the cost of this school, which is not wanted by the ratepayers and is objected to by the inhabitants, will come out of the £100,000 grant or out of the rates. In any case, the ratepayers of East Hardwick will be burdened with a rate which they do not desire. In 27 1905 the managers advised the Board of Education that they proposed to put the school in a satisfactory condition. The Board's architect thoroughly approved of their proposals, and they were approved by the architect representing the local education authority. Therefore, I would ask on what grounds the Board of Education declined to permit the managers either to improve the school or to build a new school. With regard to the playground, in all probability I was myself responsible for the answer that was sent, to the effect that no claim could be made upon the managers to provide a playground. But, in spite of that, so anxious were the East Hard-wick managers to meet any requirements, that they were prepared to provide a playground adequate for the purpose.
I come back to the main question. Why was the desire of the ratepayers not to have a new school entirely overridden by the Board of Education? Surely there must be some reason behind all this. It seems to me that the Board of Education have not acted in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1902 in dealing with this case; and on this point I would ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether the Board has not been guilty of an illegality in infringing the provisions of Section 9, which enacts that—The Board of Education, in deciding an appeal as to the provision of a new school, shall have regard, first, to the interests of secular education.Is the secular education insufficient or badly administered in this East Hard-wick school? Surely not, or the school would not be receiving the Government grant.Secondly, to the wishes of the parents as to the education of their children"—My noble friend has told us that meetings of the inhabitants and ratepayers have been held, and that they almost unanimously object to the proposal to build a council school. In that matter the action of the Board of Education is contrary to the Act. The section continues that the Board of Education shall have regard—thirdly, to the economy of the rates.I do not think that any Member of the Front Bench opposite will assert for a 28 moment that they are considering the economy of the rates. Therefore, I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether by their action the Board of Education are not infringing the provisions of the Act of 1902.
I ask, on what grounds did the Board of Education refuse the legal inquiry for which the managers had every right to ask? Surely that is contrary to the spirit and desire of the Act. After all, the Board of Education is not a political body. It should decide impartially in the interest of good education, and therefore I again ask on what ground was an inquiry refused. I can only think that the action of the Board of Education, in combination with the West Riding Education Authority, is to squeeze out denominational schools. If that is the case, it is a most unfair way in which to deal with political opponents. It is nothing more nor less than introducing politics into education. I hope, before the conclusion of the debate, we shall have some further explanation from His Majesty's Government.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (The Earl of CREWE)
My Lords, this is a case which involves the administrative discretion of the head of a Department. It is one of those cases which, when I had to deal with them, always made me wish that a reform which, for all I know, may be some day proposed, had already been adopted—namely, that Ministers were permitted to deal with Departmental cases in either House of Parliament. These are, as I have said, purely cases of personal discretion in administration, and it is very difficult for those who are not immediately concerned in the business of an office to deal fully and adequately with questions arising out of its administration.
I think that the most rev. Primate and subsequent speakers were somewhat hard on my noble friend behind me, the Lord President of the Council. These are among the most difficult class of questions to understand and follow of any that I know. My noble friend has not long held his present office, 29 and I think it is not surprising that he has not yet mastered all the intricacies of administration which arise under the Education Act of 1902. If I had been confronted with a similar question when I had been only the same time in that office I should have found myself obliged to give what my noble friend frankly admitted was a somewhat formal answer instead of a reasoned argument of the whole case.
This, as I say, is a question of administrative discretion. This school is over 200 years old. That is, no doubt, an interesting fact, and a fact which, of itself, arouses some sympathy with the continuance of the school; but it is not a fact which, as such, can be said to appeal to the Board of Education. The Board of Education has to deal with schools as they are, and it is not disputed that for some considerable time this small village school was in certain respects behind the general modern standard of comfort for the children who attended it. For instance, for a long time there was no playground, and the managers argued, if I remember rightly, with some obstinacy against the idea of providing one at all. That is a point on which the Board of Education, though willing to do all they could, were obliged to put their foot down. Then the cloakroom and lavatory accommodation was for a considerable time inadequate, and it was not until something like four years after the attention of the managers had originally been called to that fact that plans were submitted and a change made.
The question, as I have said, is one of the administrative discretion of the Minister. The noble Marquess opposite has correctly pointed out three grounds on which the head of the Board of Education has to act under Section 9 of the Act of 1902 in deciding whether or not a new school is necessary. Those are, as we know, the interests of secular education, the wishes of the parents, and the burden of the rates. But, my Lords, the Minister for Education of the day can, as I have often pointed out from this Table, lay any degree of stress upon any one of those considerations to the exclusion of the other two. We have often held that the task imposed upon any 30 head of the Board of Education to decide between incompatible and very often opposing things was a really impossible task to perform. The result is that the matter is left to the discretion of the Minister of the day, and therefore when the County Council of the West Riding of Yorkshire applied to have a council school erected, my right hon. friend, Mr. McKenna, had to make that decision.
I think it is evident from, I am afraid, the little time I have been able to give to the subject, that it was a very nicely balanced case, and I cannot say what my own decision would have been had I been President of the Board of Education at the time. I should have been in considerable doubt on the subject, but my right hon. friend, in the exercise of his discretion, did decide—primarily, I take it, on the ground that even if the proposed repairs and alterations were made to the school it would be essentially un unsatisfactory school—in favour of the West Riding County Council. As I have said before at this Table, I hold no brief for the West Riding County Council in these matters of education, though I was once a member of that body in the happy time when complaints of this particular order did not arise; and I think I have said on former cases that the particular pressure which the West Riding County Council has occasionally thought fit to exercise upon voluntary schools was not one which I was in any way concerned to defend. As regards the Wentbridge case, I know nothing of the particular circumstances. Still less do I know anything of the illustrative case presented by Lord Ribblesdale, which did not bear directly upon this case but merely formed part of a general indictment against the West Riding County Council as a local education authority.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I must again point out to my noble friend that this is a matter entirely in the discretion of the Minister of the day. That may be an unfortunate fact, but he gives such weight as he chooses, in relative proportion, to the three considerations 31 referred to. And when the noble Marquess opposite attempts to point out that the interests of secular education are satisfied by the fact that the school had been receiving the grant, I would point out that this is not the case. The interests of secular education must mean the general efficiency of the school, and would also, of course, include the condition of the school from sanitary and other points of view. Then the most rev. Primate said that my noble friend the Lord President had stated that there was no alternative to the action of the Board of Education. This, I think, was a misapprehension on the part of the most rev. Primate. Of course there is that discretion which I have already described. What my noble friend stated was this, that after the council school had been declared necessary no offer to build a new school had been considered. That, I think, was the only point on which that particular question arose.
The noble Marquess who has just sat down asked whether any part of the £100,000 grant would be devoted to the erection of this school. I understand not. This case is taken entirely on its merits as the provision of a council school in the ordinary manner, and therefore the whole sum will be provided out of the rates in the proportion with which the noble Marquess is, of course, familiar. Cases of this kind are, no doubt, usefully debated in your Lordships' House, but we come perpetually back to the point that the Minister of the day takes his own view as to how he will exercise his discretion. It is quite right, no doubt, that those who object to that exercise of discretion should comment upon it where they think the Minister has acted wrongly, but as the Act of Parliament stands the absolute discretion does rest with the Department, and it is clearly impossible to go behind what Mr. McKenna did in this instance.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
My Lords, I would ask the noble Earl whether it is not possible for some steps to be taken to prevent the compulsory powers applied for being granted to the local education authority to provide a site. The Bill for compulsory powers has been referred 32 to the Examiners, and it will very shortly, I suppose, come before this House, when I presume it will be competent for any Member of your Lordships' House to move that the Bill be not agreed to. As to the playground, I should like to read to your Lordships an extract from the surveyor's report which was sent to the local education authority on this question. He first of all said, in regard to the suggested site—This site is available, and if the vicar will hand it over to the trustees it will provide the site necessary for the purpose.That site for the playground was acquired for the school, and therefore there is no question that the playground could have been provided. The surveyor added—In the circumstances the question of adding to the rates by the provision of a provided school should not be brought forward until all other means of making the necessary playground provision had been exhausted.This was the report of the surveyor of the local education authority itself. The necessary site was forthcoming, but, nevertheless, the local authority and the Board of Education insisted upon a provided school.
LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
My Lords, I feel that this is a very difficult matter to discuss without a fuller statement of the facts on both sides. The facts as presented by the noble Viscount opposite are, no doubt, very strong in his favour, and I should be inclined, if those facts were incapable of being refuted, to give him a rule nisi. But there are two defendants in this case—the Board of Education and the West Riding Education Authority. I should be perfectly willing to say, on the facts as presented to-day, that the local education authority, while it might have been perfectly right in the earlier days in pressing for a suitable school, used its powers oppressively at the latter part of the negotiations. We have not, however, a leading member of the West Riding County Council here to tell us from his own knowledge what passed, and therefore I do not like to condemn one party to a dispute when that party has not been properly heard.
But may I point out to the noble Viscount a course which he and his friends 33 might properly take whereby this question would be fought out in the best possible way? A Provisional Order is at this moment being promoted to acquire the proposed site by compulsion. That Provisional Order takes the course of an ordinary private Bill. The owner of the site proposed to be taken can oppose, and he can give any evidence he pleases to satisfy the Private Bill Committee that it is not a proper case for the exercise of compulsory powers. I understand that the Board of Education has not yet removed this voluntary school from the list of public elementary schools. Therefore it is quite competent for the owner of the proposed site to show to the Committee that this school is at the moment recognised, that the managers are ready and willing to do everything, to the extent of actually building a new school, and that therefore there is no occasion for Parliament to grant powers for the purchase of a site on which to erect a council school. If that were done both sides would be heard before an impartial tribunal. It cannot be satisfactory to debate a question where we have only the case, temperately put, I admit, of one side.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the noble Earl who leads the House apologised for the somewhat meagre explanation afforded by his colleague on the ground that the Lord President is a novice in his present Department. The Leader of the House cannot plead that he is a novice in regard to matters of education; indeed, he has, on the contrary, always been regarded by us as a high authority upon the subject. Therefore, when we find his explanation not more satisfactory than that of the Lord President, we may, I think, conclude that the Government case is not a very strong one. Neither of the two noble Lords can be surprised if we are dissatisfied with their explanations; and it is to be observed that both of them carefully avoided accepting an ounce of responsibility for the action of the Board of Education. The Secretary of State for the Colonies explained to us that this was a question involving the administration of a Department, and that the matter lay enttirly within the personal discretion of the head of that Department. I do not know whether we are to 34 expect in this House that whenever an awkward question is put to the Front Bench opposite we are to be told, if the head of the Department does not happen to sit on that Front Bench, that the matter is one concerning the personal discretion of the Minister at the head of the Department.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
May I explain that the peculiar character of the discretion which rests with the Minister for Education under the Act of 1902 is what made me draw attention to the point in this particular instance. I should by no means say that of every administrative act of every Minister.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I accept my noble friend's interpretation of the matter; but if he tells us that the question is one concerning the administration of the Department, and that the administration rests with the head of the Department, then I say that it is the recent administration of the Education Department that fills us with apprehension. This is not a solitary case in which the administration of the Board of Education had been of an aggressive, and, I would almost venture to say, of a vindictive character.
I will not recapitulate the history of this case at length, but just let us fix our attention on the salient facts. Here is a small school in an out-of-the-way part of the country, but this episode has thrown a flood of light upon the educational policy of His Majesty's Government. This little school has been for 250 years a Church of England school; it is big enough, is admitted to be big enough, to meet the wants of the decreasing population. It requires only one or two alterations to bring it up to modern requirements, and it is quite clear to any reasonable mind that there is no difficulty in providing those modern alterations. The matter was investigated again and again; everyone was consulted, the trustees, the West Riding Education Committee, the Charity Commissioners, the Board of Education, and all went perfectly well until the month of March, 1907. Even the two architects sent down by the local education committee 35 and the Board of Education were satisfied with the alterations that were proposed. Then what we want to know is why, in the spring of 1907, there was a sudden change of front, and why at that particular moment this new, and, I venture to say, aggressive policy was set in force? What has happened? A new council school is to be built to accommodate sixty children, the present attendance being thirty, and at a cost of £1,000. The ratepayers naturally objected, but the Board of Education refused an inquiry.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
Can the noble Marquess tell us what was the foundation of the original school—who built it, and who was responsible for it?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I am informed that it has been a Church of England school for over 200 years. Is that challenged?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Then why did the noble Lord interrupt me? I am assured by my noble friend behind me that there is no doubt whatever on the point.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Even assuming that the alterations originally proposed and acquiesced in by everybody, including the Board of Education, are insufficient, and that something more must be done, we can fall back on the generous offer made by a lady to build a new voluntary school at her own expense. Why is that offer brushed on one side? Why are the ratepayers to be compelled to find the money? In spite of the local indignation aroused at this high-handed conduct, inquiry is refused. The noble Marquess behind me appealed to the noble and learned Lord (Lord Loreburn) who was sitting upon the Woolsack at the time the noble Marquess was speaking for an opinion as to the legality of the action of the Board of Education. I 36 should be perfectly ready to accept one from my noble and learned friend who is sitting upon the Woolsack at this moment (The Earl of Halsbury). The clause in question runs—The Board of Education shall, without unnecessary delay, determine, in case of dispute, whether a school is necessary or not, and in so determining, and also in deciding upon any appeal as to the provision of a new school, shall have regard to the interests of secular education, to the wishes of the parents as to the education of their children, and to the economy of the rates.We want to know why an investigation upon those lines was peremptorily refused by the President of the Board of Education. To my mind this case is of very peculiar importance, because it seems to me to throw a good deal of light upon the sincerity of the professions of Ministers who tell us that they are in favour of a reasonable compromise on the education question. Within the last few hours a colleague of the noble Lord opposite, speaking in another place, said that His Majesty's Government had an earnest desire to obtain a lasting settlement of this controversy. He said that the great majority of the public were anxious for peace, and he dwelt upon the prevalence of a spirit of practicability and common sense. How far has the action of the Board of Education in the present case been animated by a desire for compromise or by a spirit of practicability or common sense? I venture to say that unless the administration of the Board of Education shows a greater amount of consideration and a less aggressive tendency, the chance of a reasonable settlement of this most difficult of all questions will be enormously decreased.