HL Deb 20 June 1910 vol 5 cc932-40

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government (1) whether agricultural colleges and institutions which at present receive or may be entitled to receive grants from the Board of Education and the Board of Agriculture may also receive grants from the Development Commissioners direct; and whether in those circumstances such institutions would be subject to the regulations of three sets of Government officials; and (2) how soon the Agricultural Commissioners will consider schemes to assist agricultural education. I also desire to move for the Minute (referred to in [Cd. 4886] of 1909) constituting a Rural Education Conference for the discussion of all questions connected with education in rural districts.

Your Lordships are aware that agricultural colleges are admittedly in great straits for Government grants. One of the greatest difficulties we had was the delimitation of the spheres of influence between the Board of Education and the Board of Agriculture, and the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture was able to inform your Lordships last July that an agreement had been arrived at between the two Boards. That was followed, in September, by the Memorandum to which I venture to call your Lordships' attention. It is not my business now to go into all the details of that Memorandum, but I regret that they are not more in consonance with the Report of Lord Reay's Committee. It had one feature, however, which appeared to be very desirable, and that was that His Majesty's Government intended to constitute a Rural Education Conference for the discussion of questions relating to agricultural education, and on which there were to be representatives of the Board of Agriculture, the Board of Education, the County Councils' Association, the Royal Agricultural Society, and other bodies. We were, according to this Memorandum, to have that body constituted last autumn, but it has not been set up yet, and I hope the noble Earl will be able to promise us the Minute this evening.

I should like to say a word as to why I am pressing personally for this Conference. The matter is, perhaps, a local one, but I think it is not altogether untypical. Under this Memorandum the college with which I am associated in the South of England has been turned over from the Board of Agriculture to the Board of Education, except in very small respects for outside work. The grants from the Board of Agriculture have ceased altogether, but the grants from the Board of Education have not begun, and we do not know what they are likely to be because they are wrapped up in the peculiar block-grant system to which I have already referred in your Lordships' House. We were anxious to know what we should get and we met the Board of Education officials, who told us that we had been working on wrong lines, and that in future we were to have short courses and the whole system was to be altered. The Board of Education may be right or they may be wrong, but we should like to know what money we are going to get before we carry out this local revolution. I venture to think that a great change of this sort is a matter which should be brought before this Conference, which would be a very suitable body to consider and advise upon it, and therefore I would ask the noble Earl whether he cannot give us a promise that the Conference shall be called together as soon as possible.

There is another authority besides the Board of Education and the Board of Agriculture which is appearing on the horizon, namely, the Development Commissioners. As I understood the Development Act, all grants to agricultural colleges were to come either through the Board of Education or the Board of Agriculture—that is to say, through a Government Department. But I understand that the wording of the law is by no means clear on that point. At any rate, local authorities do not quite know whether they will or will not receive grants direct from the Development Commissioners, and I think it would be to the public advantage to know how the grants to agricultural col- leges from the Development Commissioners are to be administered. Finally, as we hope a great deal from the money which will be received from the Development Commissioners, I would ask the noble Earl if he can hold out any hope that the Commissioners will soon get to work. I believe that a prominent member of the Commission is serving under the noble Earl the Leader of the House as Permanent Under-Secretary at the Colonial Office. No doubt that is a good thing for the Colonial Office, but we would like to know when we may hope that the Development Commissioners will get to work, and when we may see the result in some form of pecuniary assistance to agricultural education.

Moved, That there be laid before the House the Minute (referred to in [Cd. 4886] of 1909) constituting a Rural Education Conference for the discussion of all questions connected with education in rural districts.—(Lord Monk Bretton.)


My Lords, I can give the noble Lord an answer to his first Question at once. Agricultural colleges and institutions are not debarred from receiving grants direct from the Development Fund by reason of their receiving Government grants from the Board of Education or the Board of Agriculture. There is no prohibition in the Act forbidding grants in such cases, and it would be unfortunate if there were, as a number of the leading agricultural institutions in the country would be ruled out. Each case must be dealt with on its own merits. At the same time, care must evidently be taken to prevent overlapping grants and jurisdictions. Steps to this end were taken when the recent agreement was arrived at between the Board of Agriculture and the Board of Education as to the limits of their respective functions in regard to agricultural education. This was laid before Parliament in a Command Paper in 1909, and under it institutions giving, first, advanced instruction, and, secondly, instruction in a special branch of agriculture, were assigned to the Board of Agriculture; and the other institutions—farm schools, county lectures, and so forth—were given to the Board of Education, except that farms in connection with farm schools, of which, I think, there are three, are to be maintained under the supervision of the Board of Agriculture. As between the two Departments, therefore, there should cease to be, even if there were any in the past, any overlapping of functions.

Though it is premature to make any promises until the Development Commissioners have recommended specific proposals, it may confidently be stated that it will be the policy of the Treasury to prevent overlapping between the Commissioners and the two Departments. In considering what sums should be placed on the Estimates for agricultural education this year, the Treasury, before the appointment of the Development Commissioners, had occasion to consider the point with the Board of Agriculture, and the Departments agreed that grants for aiding original research and equipment grants for agricultural institutions should not be placed on the Board of Agriculture Vote, but should be considered as charges upon the Development Fund.

The noble Lord put a personal question to me in regard to a college in which he takes a great interest—the college at Uckfield. There are only two of these institutions in regard to which the amount of the grant to be given has not been settled, and I am sorry to have to tell the noble Lord that Uckfield is one of the two. I am afraid I cannot say more at the present moment. Every application, other than those by a Government Department, for assistance from the Development Fund must be referred by the Treasury, under Section 4 (1) of the Development Act, to the Government Department concerned, who will forward it with their report thereon to the Development Commissioners. This arrangement we hope will be a further safeguard against overlapping.

In his second Question the noble Lord asks how soon the Agricultural Commissioners will consider schemes to assist agricultural education. The Agricultural Commissioners are presumably those members of the Development Commission who are interested in agriculture. Your Lordships will remember that there were originally six, but these Commissioners have been increased in number to eight. Lord Richard Cavendish is the Chairman, and Sir Francis Hopwood is the salaried Vice-Chairman. The preliminary work of reporting on schemes to assist agricultural education will be done by the Departments concerned, and it is not possible to state at present how soon the Development Commissioners will be able to apply themselves to this work. I have endeavoured to make the answer as plain as possible, and I hope it will to some extent be satisfactory to the noble Lord.


May I ask whether the noble Earl proposes to lay on the Table the Papers from which he has been quoting at some length in the course of his reply?


Yes, with pleasure.


My Lords, I do not think the noble Earl has answered the latter part of my noble friend's Question as regards the Conference to be held to consider this question of agricultural education. In the Minute which is in your Lordships' hands there occurs a paragraph to the effect that the Conference will be constituted by a later Minute to be issued in the course of the autumn—that was the autumn of last year. We are now well advanced in the year 1910, and I should like to hear from the noble Earl when this Conference is to meet. I do not think that the Board of Education or the Board of Agriculture can complain that those who are interested in agricultural education have not brought this matter before His Majesty's Government. I have before me a number of Questions asked in the other House upon it. In March last a Question was put by Mr. Bathurst and replied to by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, Mr. Trevelyan, in which an assurance was given that if we would wait a little longer we would find that there would be no delay in the Conference being held. Then on April 12 Mr. Bathurst was reassured by Mr. Trevelyan that every effort was being made to expedite the Conference. Again, as lately as the 15th of this month the President of the Board of Education, Mr. Runciman, stated that the noble Earl hoped to be in a position to make the promised announcement in the course of a few days. Those few days having elapsed, my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton considered that it was time the point should be raised again and an endeavour made to ascertain from the noble Earl why, notwithstanding those assurances, nothing has been done to appoint this Conference which has been promised now for upwards of a year.

During the period I was President of the Board of Education I took great interest in the agricultural education of the children in rural elementary schools, and I did so for this reason. I considered that if we were to retain the children as agriculturists on the land in the future the objects and interests of agriculture could not be too early instilled into their minds. I remember quite well appealing to my noble friend Lord Onslow, who was then Minister for Agriculture, and he placed at the disposal of the Board of Education a very valuable gentleman, Mr. Dymond, who assisted us in the instruction of these children in all matters of country life. Therefore, having seen this system working well, I am anxious to see an efficient scheme of agricultural education set up in the rural schools of this country. It stands to reason that the curriculum in a school situated in a rural district should be different from that in an urban school, and that children attending rural elementary schools should be interested in the industry to which it is hoped they will eventually devote their interest. Time is flying, and those children who are waiting for agricultural instruction in rural elementary schools may be leaving those schools before having an opportunity of deriving that benefit which my noble friend had intended should be placed at their disposal. It is because I think no time should be lost that I regret that the noble Earl has not given a decided answer to the question as to the holding of this Conference. The noble Earl's colleagues in another place have repeatedly promised the representatives of agriculture that the Conference should take place "shortly," yet the Conference seems to be further off than ever.


My Lords, before my noble friend says a word in reply to what has just fallen from the noble Marquess opposite, I should like to make one observation with regard to the speech of the noble Lord who initiated this discussion. My noble friend behind me dealt with the general question, but I think I can venture once more to reassure the noble Lord on this question of overlapping. He spoke of a third Department being brought in to assist in administering affairs which are already administered by two Departments. My noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture pointed out that so far as it is possible to avoid overlapping in a mixed subject such as this particular kind of technical agricultural education the arrangements now proposed will avoid that defect. Of course, it is obvious that where you have to deal with a subject like education, which is under the control of one Department, and agriculture, which is under the control of another Department, you can hardly in a sense avoid some double action, even though you may do your best to avoid overlapping. But so far as the Development Commissioners are concerned, they will not introduce any third element which could be described as overlapping. What I take it would happen would be this, that in the event of a request being made to the Development Commissioners for a grant the matter, as my noble friend behind me pointed out, would become the subject of discussion between the Departments concerned and the Development Commissioners. The Development Commissioners, in considering it, would naturally take into consideration the whole scheme of such an institution as an agricultural college, and before deciding whether they would make a grant, with the administration of which they should not concern themselves, they would have to be satisfied, no doubt, on this question of overlapping, among others, and on the general merits of the particular case.

Then the noble Lord opposite spoke about the position of Sir Francis Hopwood, the Vice-Chairman of the Development Commission, on which I ought, perhaps, to say a word. It is quite true that Sir Francis is still acting as Permanent Under-Secretary at the Colonial Office. That is an arrangement which, of course, cannot be permanent, but it is necessitated by the special rearrangements necessary in view of the creation of a new Department. If the noble Lord will reflect he will remember that it very frequently happens that for a time some important Civil Servant holding the position of Undersecretary is employed on work outside his office, as, for instance, on the work of a Royal Commission, which takes sometimes a considerable part of the day, and in an office such as the Colonial Office special arrangements have, of course, to be made to see that an undue burden is not thrown upon the individual concerned. I can assure the noble Lord that so far as the present temporary arrangement is concerned, we do our best to see that Sir Francis Hopwood is not overburdened. He takes his share of his work at the Colonial Office, and is also able, I am glad to say, to give such time as is required in its initial stage for the work of the Development Commission.


My Lords, I must apologise for not having answered the noble Lord's third Question, but I did not understand that he put all three Questions together. I may say that, far from complaining of, we are indebted to noble Lords opposite and members of the Opposition in another place for the co-operation and assistance they have given us in this matter, and we value very much Lord Londonderry's practical work in days gone by in this direction, which I can assure him is in no way forgotten. The Minute for the Conference was signed by myself on Saturday, and I believe it has also been signed by my right hon. friend Mr. Runciman, and will be issued without delay. It looks, on the face of it, as if there had been a good deal of unnecessary delay, but I think noble Lords opposite will see that it was not easy to get the answers all at once. We issued invitations to the various associations who are to be represented at the Conference. Those invitations went out on January 15 of the present year, and the last reply was received as lately as the 9th of this month. It is a very large Conference. Forty-two or forty-three noblemen and gentlemen have consented to serve, and I hope that the names will receive the public appreciation which in my judgment they so thoroughly deserve. I will lay these Papers at once on the Table of the House.


I presume that the Conference will begin sitting as soon as possible? That is important.


I will do all I can to get the Conference to meet as soon as possible.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.