HL Deb 21 July 1909 vol 2 cc650-63

LORD MONK BRETTON rose to ask the Lord President of the Council what steps had been taken to define the spheres of the Boards of Agriculture and Education respectively in the matter of agricultural education; to call attention to the Tables of Expenditure for Agricultural Education [Cd. 4569], of the present year; and to move for a Return showing the figures in column (c) of Tables I. and II. for the years 1906–7 and 1908–9.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in putting the Question which stands in my name I must ask for your. Lordships' indulgence because agricultural education is a very dull subject, and I am chiefly concerned with criticising tables of figures. Last December I called the attention of your Lordships' House to the Report of the Committee presided over by Lord Reay with regard to agricultural education in England and Wales, and great stress was laid in that Report on the necessity of increased grants for agricultural education. I called the attention of the House to a college in which my local authority is interested, and which is in danger of having its doors closed if more money is not available for agricultural education. We are waiting to see what action the Government will take on the Report of Lord Reay's Committee before we decide the fate of this college. But this is not a special case; it is the same all over the country. If we look at statistics, we find that since the year 1902, when the new Education Act came into force, such heavy charges have been thrown on the rates that local authorities spend£10,000 a year less on agricultural education than they did then. A deplorable feature in the situation is that the agricultural counties are the poorest counties; therefore, the counties which want more agricultural education receive less, and that is a matter which can only be remedied by grants.

Lord Reay's Committee gave very interesting statistics with regard to what is done in foreign countries for agricultural education. They told us that the Kingdom of Prussia, which has a population about the same as that of England and Wales, gives£100,000 a year, exclusive of local sums, for agricultural education. France gives£150,000. In South Australia one college receives from the State a grant of£9,000, which is nearly equal to the whole of the sums that are at the disposal of the Board of Agriculture; and in Ireland over£100,000 a year is given for the same purpose, exclusive of what comes from the rates. But Lord Reay's Committee could not tell us what sum was spent in England and Wales because statistics were not available, and I ventured last December to ask the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture whether he could grant a Return showing the amount spent in England and Wales. I made that request in order that we might compare what we do with what other countries do, and show, as I think we could show, that we lag behind in this very important matter. The noble Earl said he would try and grant a Return. Last Easter I put a Question on the Paper and gave notice to move for such a Return, but before the Question was reached I received a letter from Mr. Runciman telling me that he could not give the Return in precisely the way I had asked for it, but that he would give it in some form which he hoped would be of service. The result was this Command Paper No. 4,569, to which I would call the attention of the House.

The title of the Paper is "Tables of Expenditure for Agricultural Education (apart from Secondary Schools and Elementary Schools)." I call attention to the title because I am afraid the contents have very little relevancy. The Paper is taken up mostly with explanations of the difficulties of granting information. Every foreign country can give this information, yet apparently it is difficult to give it here. I venture to suggest that the difficulties come chiefly from the Board of Education; the Board have surrounded their grants with so many regulations and restrictions, and have entangled them with so many other subjects that it becomes exceedingly difficult to disentangle them. I would ask the noble Viscount to turn to page 5. Table I., which is given on this page, is headed "Exchequer Grants in aid of Universities and University Colleges which provide Agricultural Education." The first column is the column of the Board of Agriculture, and the total grants amount to£8,880. It is perfectly clear how this money is expended; there is no question about it, except that it is ridiculously insignificant.

In the next column are given the grants paid by the Board of Education in aid of professional and technological work, and they amount to the more respectable figure of£21,076. I was very surprised when I saw this column at the amount of money expended presumably in aid of agricultural education, and therefore I wrote to the Registrar or the Vice-Chancellor of each of the Universities and University colleges mentioned, and asked what proportion of this money was spent on agricultural education. They were all good enough to answer me, and I can assure His Majesty's Government that not one penny of this£21,076 has been spent on, or has anything to do with, agricultural education at all. I do not wish to weary your Lordships with the correspondence, but it is at the disposal of the noble Lord if he wishes to see it. I will merely quote the letter from the Vice-Chancellor of Leeds University, who writes— In making our claim for grants in respect of technical work we have carefully excluded all agricultural students from our list. Consequently the sum received by Leeds University would be absolutely unaffected if we had not a single agricultural student in the University. Therefore it is preposterous for the Board of Education to claim that this grant is in any sense a grant in aid of agriculture. I would like to quote to your Lordships the opinion of Lord Barnard, who is very much interested in this subject but is unable to be present to-day. He is chairman of Armstrong College (Durham University), and he states that, as far as that college is concerned, the Return of the Board of Education is misleading and ought to be withdrawn or corrected.

The next column in Table I. refers to Treasury grants. I think it is common knowledge to anyone who knows the subject of agricultural education that these Treasury grants have very little to do with agricultural education. I received a communication from Aberystwyth University College, in which it was stated that not one penny of the£4,000 which is credited to them had anything to do with agricultural education; and apart from a few hundred pounds which may be the proportion of the salaries of teachers who give some of their time to agricultural lectures, I do not believe any portion of the total of£42,900 under this head has anything to do with agricultural education. The last column in this Table is merely the aggregate grants as shown in the three previous columns, and is, consequently, useless. Therefore, on this Table I say that there are the Board of Agriculture grants of£8,880, and there are, perhaps, a few hundred pounds from the Treasury, but nothing whatever from the Board of Education.

I would now direct attention to Table II., which refers to Exchequer grants in aid of agricultural education in county areas. Again in the first column we have the grants from the Board of Agriculture. They are perfectly clear and quite insignificant, amounting to a total of£3,350. Then we have the Board of Education grants amounting to£7,847, and I should like to criticise that having regard to the value of the previous column of the Board of Education. The Board of Education in the year 1906 issued some new technical instruction regulations, and under section 34 of those regulations they produced a new system of giving grants for agriculture and other purposes. They called it the "block grant system." It was an inclusive grant to local authorities for the local authorities to decide in what way it should be spent, with the approval, of course, of the Board of Education. In his evidence before Lord Reay's Committee, Mr. Ogilvie, who represented the Board of Education, laid great stress on this block grant system, and it might be gathered from his evidence that the Board relied largely upon it in order to develop their system of agricultural education. If you look at this Table you see that the counties in receipt of money under the block grant system are indicated, and if you add up the money given in this column under the block grant system as opposed to what is given otherwise, you find that the block grant system comprises the major part of the money. Out of the£7,847 more than£4,000 was given under the block grant system. I contend that this money does not go to agriculture at all.

Take the county of Wiltshire, which receives the largest amount in this column— £692. Before the block grant system was instituted the county of Wiltshire was only receiving£55. Therefore, this is a great advance for that county, and one might suppose that the accounts of the county of Wiltshire would show a corresponding increase in agricultural education. But what are the facts? The expenditure of the county of Wiltshire on agricultural education is very nearly what it was five years ago; consequently none of this£692 has gone to agricultural education. I venture to suggest that the block grant system does not aid agricultural education at all, but, as in the county of Wiltshire, the money has merely gone to the relief of the rates. The same remark applies to East Suffolk. I believe none of the money credited to East Suffolk under the block grant system has been spent on agricultural education. I think the block grant system has proved unsuitable to the agricultural community. I know that in my own county the regulations with which it is hedged are extremely tiresome, and that, so far as our farmers are concerned, we have never been able to make use of the block grant system or to get any money out of it. You cannot treat farmers as you would a class of boys learning wood-carving or young ladies taking drawing lessons. You cannot give them grants according to the number of their attendances and according to the hours they are there per week. They have their business to attend to, and they have a long way to come, and their business naturally makes their hours very varied. Therefore, the block grant system has proved a failure, and I think it should not be relied upon, as it apparently is, by the Board of Education to increase agricultural education. At the same time, Lord Reay's Committee reported very strongly in favour of itinerant lectures, and it would be a great misfortune if they were not assisted.

There is another criticism I wish to make of the Board of Education in this respect. The Board of Education grants are very unfair in their incidence. I will take a large agricultural county, the county of Norfolk. At the last census the agricultural population of the county was 47,000, and the grant from the Board of Education for agricultural purposes is only£46; but the county of Hereford, with an agricultural population of only 15,000, has a grant of£391. There is another way of criticising these Board of Education regulations. It may be said that the Board spend their money in proportion to what the local authorities spend, but even in that way their system does not hold water. Lancashire spends£7,600 a year on education, and the grant is£27, together with£242 for a small agricultural college. Meanwhile the county of Cheshire, which only spends£4,700, gets a grant of£587. There is neither justice nor reason in the way in which these grants are allocated. I need not call your Lordships' attention to the last column of this Table—"Board of Education grants for further education (including technical) in agricultural areas." That is not agricultural education and has nothing to do with it. It may include singing, wood-carving, and anything else.

I have wearied your Lordships with these figures in order to make some estimate, if one can, from this Paper, of what the Government really does spend on agricultural education. Under the first Table I find that the Board of Agriculture grants amount to£8,880, with a hundred or two more from the Treasury—say£9,000 in all. Then we have under Table II. Board of Agriculture grants amounting to£3,350, and if you deduct the block grants from the Board of Education table you have a further£3,500—that makes a sum total of money spent on agricultural education in England and Wales of the ridiculous figure of about£16,000. I do not think it is fair on the farmers of this country, who have a great deal drawn from them through the rates, that they should receive so little from His Majesty's Government in comparison with what is spent on the promotion of agricultural education by foreign countries. The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture, who is setting up so many small holdings, will, I am sure, appreciate that fact. I believe that this deplorable result is largely due to the fact that you have these two Departments—the Board of Education and the Board of Agriculture—who are not in agreement with one another. At any rate, there is a great deal of overlapping and underlapping, and agricultural colleges fall between both and receive very little assistance. The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture told us last December that there were intricate questions which must be thrashed out before any system could be devised for complete co-ordination of agricultural education. I know that in my own county we have been refused assistance by the Board of Education because questions between that Board and the Board of Agriculture were under consideration. That was nearly a year ago, and I hope the noble Viscount or the noble Earl will be able to give some information to-day with regard to an arrangement between the two bodies.

I am not going into the spheres of influence suggested by Lord Reay's Committee and the delimitation between the two Departments; but I will merely say this, that as the Board of Agriculture advise the farmer, my humble opinion is that they should also train the farmer, and that the line should be drawn below the agricultural college and above the evening school. At any rate, I can say that it will not be a popular matter for farmers if their colleges are taken over by the Board of Education. Here is a resolution of the Farmers' Club on that point— The influence of the Board of Education has not been felt, and there has certainly been no driving power in connection with technical training in agricultural matters. The agricultural produce of this country amounts to from 150 millions to 200 millions a year, and it really is a matter of importance that the utmost scientific knowledge should be given to its development.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us the other day that there was to be a Development Fund of£200,000, and that some of it, at any rate, was to be used for agricultural colleges. Perhaps His Majesty's Government can tell us whether that money is going to be spent through the Board of Education or through the Board of Agriculture. I have put down a Motion for Papers. After what I have heard from the Universities I will not press for the figures in Column (c) of Table I., but having regard to the necessity of criticising the development of block grants I do move for the figures in column (c) of Table II. I move for these figures in order to ascertain the progress of the block grant, and when we have got them we shall be able to see what effect the block grant has had on agricultural education. I beg to move.

Moved, That there be laid before the House a Return showing the figures in Column (c) of Table II. of the Tables of Expenditure for Agricultural Education [Cd. 4569.] for the years 1906–7 and 1908–9.—(Lord Monk Bretton.)


My Lords, my noble friend the President of the Council has asked me to reply to this Question for him, and, with your Lordships' permission, I will do so. I hope my noble friend opposite will forgive me if I do not go in detail into the points that have been raised in his interesting speech, but I hope I shall be able to reassure him that some progress has been made. I am happy to say that we have this morning arrived at some understanding which will be of advantage to both Departments. The Board of Education and the Board of Agriculture have arranged general lines of direct co-operation in relation to the educational work carried on for rural areas, and in particular with a view to the improvement and extension of specialised instruction in all grades bearing on agriculture, and the maintenance of a close relation between such instruction and the practice and progress of the various sections of the industry. An inter-departmental committee of officers of the two Boards will consider questions that may arise as to correlation of work and of grants. It is further proposed to bring outside agricultural opinion into direct contact with the Board of Education by constituting a rural education conference consisting mainly of representatives of county councils and of agricultural associations. At the present moment I am unable to give any more details of the proposal, but everything is working most harmoniously between the two Departments, and I hope at an early date to be able to give some further details to noble Lords who take an interest in this subject. As to the Motion for a Return showing the figures for the years 1906–7 and 1908–9, my right hon. friend Mr. Runciman wishes me to say that the Board of Education are laying on the Table the figures asked for by my noble friend as regards the year 1906–7, but the figures asked for in respect of the year 1908–09 are not yet available, as that year does not expire till the end of the present month. I hope that the statement I have made will be satisfactory to the noble Lord.


My Lords, it seems to me that the criticisms which my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton has made on this Return are at all events worthy of some reply. To my mind, my noble friend proved conclusively that this Paper, which is issued on the responsibility of the Board of Education, which is a Parliamentary Paper, and which will have the effect, if it is not challenged, of leading the country to believe that very considerable sums are given for agricultural education, is entirely misleading; and I am bound to say I had expected that some attempt would be made to make out a case in answer to the undoubtedly strong criticisms made by my noble friend.

This is a matter of the utmost importance. The Return, if it is not challenged, will be relied upon, and we shall be told afterwards, if the figures in the Return are accepted, that we are doing very little with the large sums of money given by the Board for agricultural education. The matter is of such great importance that I should like to dwell for a moment on a particular part of the Paper to which my noble friend has not referred—Column (d) on page 8, which professes to set out the grants for agricultural education in the different counties. That column totals a sum of£23,377, and, if my information is correct, a very small part indeed of that can in any way be said to be devoted to agricultural education. I have said that the Return is misleading. I do not wish to say that we are being purposely misled, but I do say this, that at all events the explanation with regard to that column is a very remarkable one indeed. I would ask noble Lords who have this Paper in their hands to turn to page 7, where it is explained how these figures are arrived at. It is there stated that— the grants paid under the regulations for the year 1907–8 for all schools and classes situate in areas predominantly agricultural have been separated out, and the figures thus arrived at for each county will be found in Column (d) of Table II. These figures, of course, relate not merely to the work done in classes in specialised agricultural technology …but include all other county provision of technical and further education for these agricultural areas. That is to say, these specific figures which we suppose are for agricultural education include all the grants given for other subjects, supposing they are in what are called "predominantly agricultural areas." This is the process. A certain number of areas are picked out, not by the counties themselves but by the Board of Agriculture, as being predominantly agricultural, and then all the grants within those areas for any purpose whatever are set down in the Return as money given and received for agricultural education.

Let me go a little further and show how this works out in practice. Having some knowledge of the money which we receive in my own county—the county of Nottingham—I was astonished to find, in looking over this Paper, that under heads (a), (b), (c), and (d) a considerable sum was paid to the county of Nottingham for agricultural education which certainly is not received or used for that purpose. In column (d) I find that the grants to Nottingham are set out as£620. I have taken the trouble to get the officials responsible in my county to work out the figures, and out of that£620 we can only trace£532. The Paper, however, admits that the figures are very approximate; therefore, I suppose we may consider the£620 as pretty accurate. How is this£532 accounted for? I find that the "predominantly agricultural areas" contain a number of places which are not predominantly agricultural at all. There are several places containing a large number of miners, and I find that the greater part of the grants which make up the sum of£532 are for mining, engineering, and matters of that sort, and the only sum which can be traced as going to rural education is£84. If the figures in respect of the other counties are as accurate as these figures, you may safely divide the total of£23,377 by about seven, and then you will be much nearer the mark as to the amount that is given for agricultural education.

One word on another point. I very much regret that my noble friend Lord Reay, who was chairman of the Agricultural Education Committee, is not able to be in his place to-night. He asked me to represent him as far as I could, but I am fully aware that it would have given much more weight if the noble Lord himself had been here to speak on these matters especially on those which refer to the manner in which agricultural education should be carried on in the future. The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture stated that an arrangement was being come to between the Board of Agriculture and the Board of Education. I sincerely hope that this arrangement will not be drawn up in a spirit adverse to the recommendation of the Committee of which I was a member and over which Lord Reay presided. I would call attention to the particular part of the Report which contains their recommendations with regard to this matter. The Committee stated— The Committee have come to the conclusion that scientific and practical instruction in agricultural subjects when provided by Universities, agricultural colleges, farm institutes, and winter schools by means of special classes should be under the Board of Agriculture, whilst all instruction in agricultural subjects forming part of courses in such primary or secondary or evening schools as are in definite communication with elementary schools should be under the Board of Education. I refer to that because that proposal has been supported by almost everybody interested in agriculture in this country. The County Councils Association passed a Resolution in favour of that division. Most of the great agricultural bodies supported it also, and the teaching bodies, such as the colleges themselves and the Universities, were also in favour of that division; and if the arrangement which has been arrived at is likely to be adverse to that decision and to continue the dual control which is now so unfortunate for agriculture, I am afraid it will be injurious to the establishment of a national system of education, which, to my mind, is one of the most important questions now before the country. It would be very difficult to have a national system of education, going up from the bottom to the top rung of the ladder and giving those interested in agriculture every opportunity of receiving the highest possible education afforded by the Universities, if there are to be two controlling bodies, one body having part of the system under its control, while the other body deals with a different part of the same subject.

I am aware that we have no information to go upon as to what the proposals of the Government are with regard to this matter. I hope that this Development Grant is going to afford a substantial sum, which will really start a national system of education. If that is done, and if the system is put under the Board of Agriculture, who are in direct touch with the farmers, to whom the farmers look for assistance, especially in the scientific part of their work, and in whom the farmers have expressed their confidence by repeated resolutions, then I think there is a chance in this country of a great development, which will be of the greatest possible benefit to the agricultural interests of this country. I should deprecate any solution which would be likely to continue the present unfortunate state of affairs.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton, in the course of his observations apologised for the dulness of the subject which he was bringing before your Lordships' House. I cannot help thinking he was too apologetic. The subject is one, to my mind, of immense importance, and a most interesting subject. I hope many of your Lordships have looked, as my two noble friends evidently have looked, carefully into the Report of Lord Reay's Committee. It is an extremely painful Report to read. It appears to me to show conclusively that in this country we have fallen lamentably behind other countries in what we have done for the agricultural education of our people. I will not enter into details, but throughout the Report you will find evidence of the neglect in this country of agricultural education both elementary and higher, and the result is that, as the Committee have to tell us, a desire for knowledge of this kind is not a marked attribute of the agricultural classes in England. How should it be a marked attribute amongst the agricultural classes when the Government has shown such extraordinary indifference?

The Committee go on to report that the agricultural system pursued in many parts of the country is of a most thriftless and unscientific character. And they go as far as this—they say that every branch of agriculture in this country is capable of improvement. That is a very serious indictment; and when they come to the question of the teachers who are entrusted with the task of imparting this kind of education to the children in the agricultural districts, the Committee tell us that the education given in these schools leads those who receive it to forsake the land. At a time when the noble Earl opposite is doing so much to attract people back to the land, is it not rather absurd that another Department of the State should be giving them an education which leads them, not to the land, but to forsake the land? I think my two noble friends showed conclusively that even the not very extravagant amounts which appear in this Return as spent upon agricultural education do not really find their way to that education at all. The figures are entirely misleading, and my noble friend assures us that for the whole of England and Wales something like£16,000 only is spent on agricultural education—a startling and unsatisfactory figure, if it be correct.

The noble Earl opposite gave us, as usual, a very conciliatory answer. It appears, however, that only this morning His Majesty's Government were able to come to a conclusion of some kind upon this most momentous question. I gather from the noble Earl that His Majesty's Government are determined that there is to be co-operation between the Department of Agriculture and the Board of Education with a view to the improvement of the agricultural education given. They desire closer relations between the two Boards. There is to be an inter-departmental committee and a rural education conference. Well, these are very important suggestions and indicate a most favourable spirit on the part of the two Departments concerned, but they do not really carry us very much further in the direction of the kind of knowledge which my noble friends desire to obtain. The noble Earl was entirely silent upon one of the most important points. Do His Majesty's Government under this new system, or do they not, intend to adopt the recommendation made by Lord Reay's Committee—the recommendation, I mean, that higher agricultural education should be under the Board of Agriculture and elementary agricultural education under the Board of Education? That really is a question of policy, and although the Report of Lord Reay's Committee was laid before Parliament in the month of July, 1908, exactly a year ago, His Majesty's Government appear not even at the conference of this morning to have been able to face that question of fundamental policy.

Nor, again, did the noble Earl, so far as I was able to follow him, say one syllable upon the question of funds. Is it the intention of His Majesty's Government to follow the recommendation of the Committee and to be a little more liberal in their dealings with agricultural education? Of course, I do not at this moment expect the noble Earl to come down and promise a colossal expenditure on agricultural education, but I think a few encouraging words, after what was said by the noble Lord who moved the Motion, might well have been spoken. I must say that this question does seem to me a very critical one at the present time, because it is quite clear that in the view of His Majesty's Government the time has come for replacing the system of land tenure with which we are familiar in this country by a different system—a system which will place the cultivator of the land in a position of much greater independence and much more closely under the Government and less under his landlord than heretofore. If that is going to be your policy in the future, does it not follow that it is your duty to do all you possibly can to educate those people who are really going to be their own masters upon their own holdings? The whole position is, I think, wisely summed up in a single sentence by my friend Sir Horace Plunkett. He said, in a paper published recently, that what we want in these days are not merely economic holdings, but an economic system and an economic man to carry it out. And you will not get the economic man to carry out the economic system unless the Government of this country take some pains to give him a proper education.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.