§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. DIXON
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said: Mr. Speaker, I have first to express my regret that the measure on primary education announced in Her Majesty's most gracious Speech has not yet been laid upon the Table. If it had been so, I probably should not have thought it necessary to trouble the House further with my Bill; and, in any case, by the introduction of that measure the ground of discussion would have been cleared by the elimination of those points upon which that Bill might have proved that we were agreed. There may probably be some hon. Members who think that, under any circumstances, the promise of a Bill from the Government ought to have prevented me from going on with a private Member's Bill. But, Sir, we are aware that it is not an unusual occurrence that a Government Bill, even when announced in Her Majesty's Speech from the Throne, should sometimes be dropped. Last year we had a notable instance of this in the case of the Bill in which my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) took so deep an interest. I hope that what may be said to-day will have the effect of materially clearing the way for the debate on the Government measure when it is introduced. Now, Sir, last year I tried, as far as possible, to bring before the House all the reasons which induced me to think that the country was well prepared for the extension of the principle of compulsion to the agricultural districts. In reply to the arguments which I brought forward, the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council observed that they were mainly based on assumptions and theories; and he met those assumptions and theories by the statement that the country was not yet prepared for direct compulsion. My chief duty to-day will be to show, in addition to what I thought were the strong evidences of public feeling which I brought forward last year, what circumstances have occurred since which prove that the opinion of the country 1252 is rapidly tending in the direction of my Bill. I showed last year that there were large classes of people who had expressed themselves strongly in favour of compulsion, and amongst others I instanced those whom I thought I was entitled to call the leaders of the agricultural labourers. The noble Lord the Vice President of the Council met that argument of mine by stating that I hadcited the opinion of certain delegates of agricultural labourers who recently met in Birmingham; but when these men found themselves in a town where the most enlightened Liberalism was supposed to exist, it was not surprising to find them yielding to the blandishments of gentlemen who told them that there ought to be universal school boards."—[3 Hansard, ccxxiv. 1604.]Now, Sir, I thought at the time that that was an insinuation scarcely worthy of the noble Lord; but I made inquiry from the Secretary of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union what were the real facts of the case. He assured me that the resolutions passed at the Birmingham meeting were prepared by the men themselves, and would have been carried wherever that Conference had been held. I am glad to be able to say that I had an opportunity in the course of the autumn of corroborating this statement of the Secretary of the Union, for another Conference of these same delegates was held at Oxford—a town where certainly the influence of the Birmingham League is not likely to be felt. The House must remember that these delegates on that occasion numbered between 60 and 70, and were deputed by the branch societies of the Union, which branch societies exist in the Midland, the Western, and Southern counties of England—counties mainly, if not exclusively, agricultural. These deputies were instructed by their societies to bring certain subjects before the Conference for discussion; and I shall read to the House three instructions, given to the delegates by different branch societies on the occasion of the meeting of the Conference at Oxford. The Cirencester branch instructed their delegates to bring this question forward—That the failure of the Agricultural Children's Act be discussed at the Conference at Oxford, and that the Prime Minister be memorialized to employ such machinery as will give effect to the Act.1253 From Dorsetshire the delegates were instructed "to see that the labourers' children be educated and that education be made compulsory with school boards where practicable." From Luton, Bedfordshire, the following was sent up:—"That steps be taken to secure the compulsory education of labourers' children "There was thus evidence of a strong feeling in various parts of the agricultural districts that the question should be discussed at the Conference, and that compulsory education should be advocated. Upon this a resolution was brought before the Conference—That compulsory attendance at school should be enforced by means of school boards or some other bodies.That resolution was discussed during a period of more than two hours. The discussion was of the most animated character, and the resolutions that were arrived at were unanimous. In the first place, they struck out of the proposed resolution the words "or other bodies." Then they added other words to the resolution, and it was ultimately carried in this form—That education should be made compulsory, that it should be secular and free, and that compulsory education should be carried out by means of school boards.Now, Sir, I do not think that it is possible that there could be any more distinct or stronger opinion on the part of the agricultural labourers than that which I have just stated. I told these men that the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council doubted whether they entertained that opinion, and that I was anxious that they should give a most unbiased opinion of their own, so that I might state it in the House of Commons. I do not mean to say for one moment that the opinion of these leaders of the agricultural labourers—of these delegates—is necessarily the opinion of every agricultural labourer throughout the country; but what I do contend is this—that there is a sufficiently strong feeling amongst those who guide the opinions of the agricultural labourers in favour of direct compulsion to justify the House in passing such a measure. I do not believe that there would be any more opposition to the working of the measure in the agricultural counties than there has been in the towns. There is another evidence of the progress which 1254 this question has made since last year which will, perhaps, have more effect than that which I have just quoted with some hon. Members on the other side. The School Guardian is the organ of the National Society. The National Society has, of course, been invariably opposed to me, and has generally taken almost diametrically opposite views to mine; and yet on this point we are agreed. The School Guardian continues to advocate direct compulsion, and that it should be extended to the agricultural districts. Not only so, but a very large deputation waited upon the noble Lord the Vice-President of the Council a few months ago, headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and consisting, among others, of no fewer than nine Bishops. In the memorial which they presented to the noble Duke the President of the Council, there was a clause advocating the extension of direct compulsion to the agricultural districts. Well, we have further evidence of the progress of this question. I have been very glad to see during the Recess that some Conservative Members have thought that the time has arrived when they might advocate this question in Parliament, and support a Bill for the establishment of universal compulsion by machinery which they prefer to my own. That Bill has not been laid on the Table of the House, in deference, I presume, to the plan of the Government; and no doubt they are quite right in not bringing forward a Bill, as probably their views will be carried out fully and satisfactorily by the Government measure. We have had a Report from the Committee of Privy Council on Education since the last discussion on this question. That Report contains 18 Reports from Her Majesty's Inspectors, and amongst these no fewer than 16 refer to the question of direct compulsion, and they refer to it in a tone of so much directness and distinctness as to enable me almost to say that the opinion of Her Majesty's Inspectors is universally in favour of direct compulsion. There is still another matter which bears directly on this question, and which the House, I am sure, will consider of still more weight than anything I have said. The present Government not being satisfied—and no one could be satisfied—with the Agricultural Children Act—and wishing to have more information upon the working of the Factory Acts generally 1255 determined to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the operation of these Acts. This Commission was appointed in the earlier part of last year, and we have lately had the Report laid upon the Table. That Report embodied a strong and unanimous opinion on the part of the Commission in favour of direct compulsion. The Commission state that the Agricultural Children Act has been a failure, and that it ought to be considered as supplementary to a system of direct compulsion. Well, Sir, I think it is clear from what I have stated that however much I may have failed in the opinion of the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council to establish my case last year, the evidence is now nearly overwhelming that the time has arrived when the principle of direct compulsion may be safely extended to the counties. Now, Sir, I will give some evidence to show that we have further facts with reference to the school board system which demonstrate that there is reason to believe that this machinery for the enforcement of compulsion is becoming less objectionable, if not more popular, even, in the agricultural districts. The great argument that was used against school boards last year, which has generally been felt to be a serious one, was the argument of cost. Very exaggerated notions exist in the minds of many people with reference to this point. Certain exceptional cases were reported, and were much talked about where the cost of school boards had amounted to 1s. or 2s. in the pound; and frightened, at what after all were merely exceptional and small cases, many people adopted the notion that it was impossible to apply the school-board system without an enormous increase of the rates. I stated last year that that was entirely a mistaken notion, and I quoted the figures of Mr. Huxtable, the Chairman of the Charles School Board, in Devon, who went to the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council to establish the fact that these charges were enormous, but who however quoted figures which showed that the cost of electing school boards only amounted to ⅙of 1d. in the pound. I also quoted figures to show that the whole cost of school-board compulsion, where there were no schools to maintain, did not exceed on an average 1d. in the pound. That I put down as the total cost of 1256 carrying out my Bill. If hon. Members will refer to the Report of the Committee of Council which was placed in their hands last summer, they will find that there are tables given there which contain an analysis of the cost of all school boards. They will find there, if they look at columns numbered 1, 3, 4, and 5, that there are 75 school boards where there have been no expenses incurred for the maintenance of school-board schools; and where we may assume, therefore, that these expenses were solely on the ground of compulsion: these school boards had an average expenditure of 1d. in the pound, a remarkable confirmation of the figures which I myself gave last year, and which I collected from private sources. Beyond that, they will find in these tables that there are 182 civil parishes where elections have occurred for school boards; and that in these 182 parishes, where the elections for school boards took place last year, the average cost of the elections amounted to only a ½d. in the pound, or at the rate of ⅙of 1d. per annum, an exact confirmation of the figures which I gave last year with reference to the cost of these elections. If that really be the average cost of enforcing compulsion under such a system as that advocated in my Bill, it is very unreasonable to bring forward, this question of cost as being an argument against the Bill of so great magnitude as to make it utterly unacceptable to the House; but there are two Reports in that Blue Book which are of such an interesting character that I am sure it would repay any hon. Member for the trouble of reading them. The one relates to a country school board, and the other to a borough school board. At page 111 the Inspector reports that in the borough of Stockport, where they have a school board, but no board schools, there has been an increase in the average attendance between the years 1870 and 1874 of 68 per cent, and that there has been a decrease in the same period of juvenile crime of 53 per cent. This has been effected by means of a school board elected under precisely the same circumstances as all those school boards would be which I advocate under this Bill—a school board for carrying out compulsion where there would not necessarily, and, certainly, very rarely, be any board schools. The 1257 cost of this magnificent work in Stockport was 1d. in the pound. Can we wonder at The School Guardian, the organ of the National Society, saying, in reference to this matter, that this was a model school board? In the article referring to this question the journalist says that, out of 7,482 children in Stockport between the ages of 5 and 13, there were no fewer than 7,321 upon the rolls, or nearly every child in the borough; and that the Government Grant which in 1870 was at the rate of 10s. 1½d. had increased in 1875 to 14s. 6¾d., through the beneficent operation of the working of compulsion. Not one single denominational or Church school was injured by it; they were benefited by an increase upon the average attendance, and by an increase of nearly 35 per cent in the Government Grant for schools. Yet, I am told that my Bill, which proposes to extend the operation of such a law to all the agricultural districts, is a Bill that, in the language of The Standard, is "reckless and violent. "Now, let us take an agricultural village, or civil parish, which is the kind of district to which my Bill mainly refers, because it is in the agricultural districts that we have very few school boards. In the parish of Hanslope, in Buckinghamshire, on the 9th of May, 1873, there were 270 children of what was, under their school board bye-laws, school age—namely, from 5 to 12. On the 9th of May, 1873, the attendance at their schools was 272—that is to say, more than the total number of children of school age in the parish. In that case, the cost of the school board, exclusive of the expense of maintaining one of the schools, was only ⅜ths of 1d. in the pound. But I am inclined to think that in the agricultural districts—and I have always said so—the cost of enforcing compulsion under such a Bill as mine would be less than in the towns, and less than 1d. in the pound. I refer to these cases to show that my arguments were not, as the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council said, mainly based on theories and assumptions. I am not assuming anything here—I am quoting the Blue Book. This Report with reference to Hanslope, at page 128, contains a full account of this school board. It shows that there are upwards of 270 children in the parish, and that of these there 1258 were 201 in a board school. The total cost of these 201 children, being ⅘ths of the whole, only amounted to a rate of 2⅛d. in the pound. The interest on the loan raised for the erection of the board school amounted to 1d. in the pound, and the cost of the school-board officers was ⅜ths of 1d., making a total of 3½d. in the pound. Suppose that, instead of having 201 children in the board school, they had in that school every child in the parish, the total cost of the board school, of enforcing compulsion, and of the officers of the board, would not have amounted to more than between 4d. and 5d. in the pound. If this is the case, why are we told that the expense of these school boards must necessarily be so enormously great as to constitute an insuperable objection to them? On this board there are now two working men out of five members, and I understand that these working men are quite as anxious to carry out the compulsory bye-laws as the rest of the board; and that, in fact, they have taken part in having a notorious offender brought before the Courts and punished for not sending his children to school. There is another point which I wish to bring before the House, and which I think is of some importance. In the Bill to which I have made reference, and which has been prepared by certain hon. Members on the other side of the House, there is not only a clause extending compulsion to the whole of the country; but it is provided that the power of enforcing compulsion shall be placed in the hands of representative bodies. Now, Sir, I think that that is a very important fact. [Viscount SANDON: May I ask if that Bill is before the House?] It is not a Bill before the House; but it has been prepared by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. I referred to it before, when several hon. Gentlemen now in the House were not present.
An hon. Member
I rise to Order. I wish to know if it is not out of Order to refer to a Bill which is not before the House?
§ MR. DIXON
I will not refer to it as a Bill. I will simply refer to this fact, that in the opinion of certain hon. Members on the other side of the House, the proper machinery for enforcing compulsion should be existing representative bodies. That is a point of considerable 1259 importance. The House will remember that the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt) brought in a Bill last year which was based upon the same idea. I do not think that hon. Gentlemen need be ashamed of having taken part in a movement of this kind. It is an opinion that has the sanction of the organ of the National Society. The School Guardian, a short time ago, being aware that this opinion was entertained and was going to be advocated, had a leading article on the question, and reviewed the various methods by which direct compulsion might be enforced. It dismissed such methods as employing school managers, the magistrates, or the police. It said, I think, and with great reasonableness, that it would be highly objectionable to those persons themselves, and not advisable in the interest of education. The article went on to advocate the exercise of compulsion by existing local authorities, such as Town Councils, Improvement Commissioners, Local Boards, and Boards of Guardians. I would ask the attention of the House to the reasons that were urged by the writer of this article in favour of this course. He said, firstly, that there would be no unnecessary expense; secondly, that the delicate duty of compulsion would be devolved upon bodies which enjoyed more or less local confidence, in consequence of their being of a representative character; and, thirdly, that they possessed ample means of informing themselves of the circumstances of defaulters. I could not express my own opinions in better terms. I think that these reasons are most conclusive; but, in addition, I might say that the large deputation which waited upon the noble Duke the President of the Council, in February last, expressed an opinion that compulsory attendance, with proper safeguards, should be promoted in places where there was no school board, and that power should be given to existing authorities to enforce the attendance of children at school. I presume that they meant the existing local authorities. It is most natural that the clergy should object to the power of compulsion being placed in the hands of the managers, and that they should have come to the conclusion expressed in this statement. We are now, I think, becoming much more united in opinion upon this matter. The more it is discussed the more I 1260 think we shall find that there is a strong opinion not only that there should be universal compulsion, but that the power of enforcing attendance at school can only with safety be placed in the hands of representatives of the parents of the children who are to be compelled to go to school. If we have advanced so far as that, I would take the opportunity of saying that, for my part, I have never been unduly prejudiced in favour of school boards, as they exist now—of the particular form and constitution of school boards which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) adopted in his Bill of 1870. I thought there were certain objectionable features in them, but I knew that Government had very well considered these details; and, therefore, I did not think it was necessary to strongly resist the propositions that were made. But it always appeared to me that it was a great advantage, in any district, that there should be only one Governing Body, and not a multiplied number of Governing Bodies. I still hold that view; and I should be very glad if, in our boroughs, all the powers of the Town Council, the School Board, and the Board of Guardians, were thrown into one body, and if, in the country districts also, we could have one broad Governing Body into which you could throw the duties of administering the affairs of the whole locality. But I do not shut my eyes to the fact that, although theoretically this is the best plan, yet it will be some years before the slowly-moving English people will arrive at such a consummation; and, therefore, in the meantime, I am quite willing to adopt such forms of local authorities as may be suggested by Governmental Departments. Well, Sir, this was my opinion at that time, before the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford was brought before the House. I specially advocated that the duties and powers of the school boards should be invested in Town Councils, or in bodies appointed by Town Councils. At that time, I was quite aware of the difficulties and objections to having a separate body for this purpose. Then, there was another point, which always struck me as one of great doubt, in reference to the constitution of school boards; and that is the exceeding smallness of the area. I was always in favour of a larger area, because I thought that 1261 we should get a more efficient staff of members on the board, also that the cost would be less, and the government more effective. But, then again, there were admirable reasons given why that should not be the case; and in the end the small area, in the Act of 1870, was approved by the Council. That being the case, I would remind hon. Members that, if we could only get into Committee, and discuss the question as to the body who should be entrusted with these powers, taking into consideration what is to be said on all sides of the question, and then arriving at a decision upon it, I think that hon. Gentlemen would see, after all, notwithstanding even the arguments I have myself brought forward, that there is something to be said in favour of school boards. In the first place, they exist. They have been commended by a great Department, and they have worked with fair success in the boroughs. They exist, and it is awkward to have two different bodies to work out the same law. That, I think, would be an objectionable mode of working. But besides that, there is this to be said in favour of the school boards: they do really directly represent the parents of the children, whereas Boards of Guardians and other local authorities are elected by a different constituency—a constituency derived from those who are employers of labour rather than from the labourers themselves. We must also remember that not only do the school boards, as constituted in the Act of 1870, exist already in a large part of the country, but that it is exceedingly difficult to find any other body both able and willing to undertake the duty. It was proposed some time ago that the Board of Guardians should have this power conferred upon them; but they very soon showed that they did not think themselves fit to undertake it, and they were unwilling to exercise the power. In that case, some other body must be selected as the constituted authority for carrying out these compulsory powers. But whatever representative body may be selected, I think it is essential that we should confer upon that authority all the present powers of the school boards. I say that for two main reasons. One is this—when you come to enforce compulsion, under my Bill or any similar Bill, in those districts where there are no school 1262 boards, you will be met by a difficulty which I will call the Nonconformist difficulty. It is not my difficulty, because I am not a Nonconformist; but I am closely allied to Nonconformists, and I know what their feelings are upon this subject. You are going to enforce compulsion in districts where there are no board schools, and in most of those districts there are only Church schools. You are going to say to the children of all the Nonconformists in those districts—"We are going to compel you to attend the Church school, and as there is a Conscience Clause, we do not think you have any grievance." Now, Sir, the Nonconformists do not take that view of the matter. We cannot, and we shall not, be able to convince them that the Conscience Clause is a sufficient protection for them, and therefore, in my opinion, there will be a liability, to say the least of it, to dissatisfaction at the working of the powers of such an Act. There should, then, be some protection afforded to them. We know there is very frequently, throughout the agricultural districts, a strong disposition on the part, especially of the clergy of the Church, to use the influence which their position gives them to constrain children to go either to the Church, or to the Church Sunday school; and it is the use of that influence for that purpose to which Nonconformists so much object. A case occurred the other day at Cricklade, not by any means an exceptional or solitary case, because the same spirit that pervaded the managers of the schools at Cricklade has developed itself in many parts of the country. What occurred at Cricklade was this—the children of the Church school there were invited to attend at a distribution of prizes, to be followed by a feast. The Nonconformist children attended with the others, with the hope that there was some treat in store for them. They were placed in a separate part of the schoolroom. There were no prizes for them, because they were not Church children; and when the time came for feasting, they were informed that the hour had arrived when they were to go home; and so they went hungry away. There was great indignation felt at this, and there was a tremendous demonstration got up to give these Nonconformist children some compensation, 1263 and to protest against the narrow-mindedness of the clergy. This shows the feeling which exists on the part of the clergy, who are anxious to make use of the power they possess in their day schools, in order to influence, if not to force, all the children, including the children of Nonconformist parents, into their Sunday schools, or into their churches. Now, I think there ought to be some protection against that. I am quite sure that the Nonconformists throughout the country entertain a strong feeling upon this subject. I have been in communication with a great number of them during the Recess, and I find that they will strenuously resist any effort to impose and exercise this compulsory power throughout the agricultural districts, unless there be protection on the part of the school board. That protection, they suggest, might be used in this way. If such cases as this at Crick lade did arise, the school board might say—"The school is not what the Act means by a 'suitable' school for these children, and therefore we will afford them that protection which the Act enables us to give by providing for them a suitable school." I do not think that would have to be done, because the knowledge that it could be done would be sufficient to prevent clergymen of strong feelings carrying out their views to the extent I have described. But that protection is what I think the Nonconformists may fairly ask for; therefore, I think that the full powers of the school board ought to be given to the body entrusted with the powers of compulsion. But there is another educational reason in favour of that proposition. I believe there are many schools, as I explained at great length last year, which are not in a flourishing condition for various reasons. Their finances are inadequate to the proper maintenance of the schools in a state of efficiency, as required by the New Code, and by the opinion of the country. The difficulty of finding a sufficient amount of money to carry on their schools is alleged to be a hindrance to education, and it is probably an increasing difficulty; and I believe that many of the managers of these schools would be very glad indeed to transfer them to the school board, if a school board were there; and that such a transfer would be to the advantage of all concerned. The children 1264 would gain by having a more efficient school, and thereby education would be promoted. Now, if the managers wish that—if the clergyman is a party to it—and if the school board is willing to take such a school for the purpose of making it more efficient—why should we prevent that from being done; why should we object to it being done? The children will not suffer, education will gain, private interests will be respected; and, therefore, I think that, if you gave the full powers of the school board to the body to be entrusted with compulsory powers, you would then enable them to do that which would be a very great benefit to education. Well, Sir, I have already mentioned that The Standard newspaper has expressed an opinion that my Bill is a reckless and violent one. I should not make reference to what is stated in the newspapers, if it were not that I am afraid there is a mistaken notion abroad as to what my Bill really is. The Standard says that—Every proposal coming from Mr. Dixon must be regarded with vigilant distrust and obstinate suspicion.I invite criticism, but I do not think I deserve distrust and suspicion. But is it true that this Bill is a reckless and a violent measure? What is it? And I would ask the House to consider, not only what it is, but what such a Bill, coming from such a quarter as the National Education League might have been. This Bill is a Bill for the purpose of carrying out direct compulsion in the agricultural districts, and that is a measure about which there is a general concurrence. [An hon. MEMBER: Where?] Well, everywhere. It is carried out in the towns now. ["No, no!"] Is not compulsion carried out in our large towns? Then, the Bill proposes as machinery for carrying out compulsion by school boards, or some representative body. This machinery, as I have already shown, would not cost the country more than 1d. in the pound; and anyone who will reflect upon the probable operation of the Bill will see that it is very unlikely, for some time to come, that there will be many transfers made under it. I think there will be some, for the reasons I have mentioned; but, in all probability, the number of transfers at first 1265 will be small, and the absorption, as it is called, of the voluntary schools in the national system will, under this Bill, be very slow and very gradual, and will never take place, except when there is an agreement among all the parties concerned. In reference to existing schools, the Bill gives no power to interfere with them. You cannot enter the school, you cannot control the managers, and you cannot injure it in any way whatever. I would also say that there is no attack whatsoever made in this Bill upon the religious teaching in our elementary schools in the country. The subject is not referred to, and it cannot be brought forward as being, in any degree an emanation from this Bill. But, Sir, what might I have proposed to the House? There is one thing I might have proposed—perhaps I ought to have proposed it, at any rate some people think so—namely, that, for the protection of Nonconformist children, which, in some parts of the agricultural districts, are a numerous body, there should be a board school within the reach of every child. That proposal is one which was made years ago by the Wesleyans; and I do not think there is anything unreasonable in making such a proposition. At any rate, what was said during the discussions on the 25th clause by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, and quoted throughout the country, about the right of children to choose the school to which they could go for that kind of teaching which they preferred—I think that right of choice, which was so much thrown at us a few years ago, is an indication that even our opponents think there are very strong grounds—and reasonable grounds—for saying that Nonconformist children also ought to have the right of exercising that right of free choice. But I do not ask that. I do not go so far; I am so moderate in my proposals to the House—I believe I am wise in being moderate, but still I am moderate. I might have gone further, because there are a great many people who think that the old-fashioned English rule of taxation and representation, going together, ought to be applied even to that local institution—the elementary school. And there are some people who advocate now, and will hereafter advocate, the propriety of saying that there should be no Government Grant made to any school that is 1266 not under the control of the tax-payer. But I do not make any such proposition—nothing of the kind. If I did, there might be some colour for the remarks that have been made. But I might have gone even further still. I might have said that the time had arrived when all religious instruction should be excluded from Government schools, when the schools should be purely secular, and when religious instruction should be left entirely to the action of the Churches. I believe there is a very great deal to be said in favour of that proposal. I believe that religion would gain. But I do not ask for that; because I wish to propose to the House a measure which might pass at once, as being a measure which the times and the country call for. But these propositions, which I have mentioned, but which I have not introduced into this Bill, are propositions which will come before the country, and will have to be considered. In the United States of America we find already schools that are entirely in the hands of the people. In Switzerland, in 1874, when they revised their Constitution, one of the fundamental laws of that revised Constitution was that the Cantons should provide primary instruction which should be obligatory, free, and placed exclusively under the direction of the civil authority. In the Australian Colonies they are progressing rapidly in the same direction. Therefore, when I am aware that these opinions have not only been carried out in those colonies, in America, and in Switzerland, but that they are advocated by many persons of great weight in this country—and yet when I merely ask that we shall now pass a measure for compulsion, which the country has shown itself to be fully prepared for, to be carried out by a body of representative men already recommended by the Department and adopted with the unanimous approbation of this House, and found to work well for 5 or 6 years, I think I am proposing a measure which, whatever else may be said of it, cannot be described as otherwise than a very reasonable measure. The Standard says that a proposal coming from me is to be regarded with distrust and suspicion. Well, Sir, it appears to me that there is something else that may be regarded by this House with distrust and suspicion; and that is, that policy of apathy and of obstruction, which prevents a great question of this 1267 kind from being actively proceeded with by the House—a question, which, I think, more than any other question that can be brought before this House, concerns the future prosperity of this great country. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Dixon.)
§ MR. SANDFORD
, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, he was opposed to compulsion, not because it emanated from the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon); he should oppose it even if it came from the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon). He opposed it not as a matter of statistics, but of principle, for, much as he valued education, he valued the liberty of the subject more. He believed the father of a family was the best guardian of the interests of his family; and that, though in some cases a parent might be erroneous in judgment, and in others neglectful, yet, generally speaking, the interests of the family would be better consulted by its natural head than by the State, which would be a very bad substitute. For his part he could not see how far State interference was to be carried, once it was begun. There were people who wished the State to step in and say what we were to eat, drink, and put on; and although, in many cases, individuals might form erroneous opinions on these matters, still it was far better that the State should leave to a free people the free exercise of a free, if erroneous, opinion. There was a great difference between permissive compulsion as it at present existed and compulsory compulsion, such as was proposed by the Bill. Under the present system the persons elected could consult the wishes and feelings of the district; but under the Bill before, the House, they would be forced to adopt the system of compulsion, however distasteful it might be to the neighbourhood. Even now compulsion had become so repugnant to the feelings of the inhabitants that—as in the case of Devonport—the magistrates did not enforce the bye-laws, because they were so distasteful. That state of things existed in other towns in 1268 England. If anything were needed to prove that the system of compulsion was not popular it was afforded by the fact that the London School Board expenditure for carrying out the compulsory bye-laws was increasing year after year. He objected to the principle of compulsion not only as violating the liberty of the subject, but also because it was a dangerous interference with the labour market; and in reference to the point he had received a communication from the Maldon Union, begging him to call the attention of the House to it. As one of the few Representatives of the agricultural labourer in that House, he asserted that the feelings of that class were very much opposed to compulsion, and he contended that social progress and moral improvement would be less promoted by having a whole family in the workhouse, than by having one of the children at work instead of at school. The principles that he advocated were those avowed some years ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham—namely, that it was the duty of the State to provide for those who could not afford it a sound education, in order that those who liked might avail themselves of it for their children, and he objected to Algebra, Latin, French, and German being taught to poor children at the expense of their neighbours. Champagne and truffles were good enough things in their way; but he was not going—neither was it necessary—to give them to paupers; but that was precisely an analogous case to teaching Algebra, Latin, German, and French to persons who did not require such instruction, and who could not afford to pay for it. Any Government which should appeal to the South of England upon this question would carry the whole of the constituencies with them. Apart altogether, however, from the principle of compulsion, the Bill was open to objection, inasmuch as it dealt with the transfer of denominational schools. Now, he had always understood by the Act of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, that these schools were not to be swept away, but only supplemented. But the Bill under discussion would sap and undermine every denominational school in the country. He apprehended that one of the first duties of education was to teach the poor to work, and that the House 1269 had a right to ask not only which system gave the soundest, but also which gave the most religious, education. Those who were acquainted with the working of the Board system in South London informed him that its result had been to disorganize the whole of the children—the girls were unwilling to enter service, and the boys were unwilling to work. He considered it a most dangerous thing to convert a nation of labourers into a nation of clerks. There was no greater proof of the decay of a country than when its inhabitants despised manual labour. Our colonies were constantly saying—"Send us labourers, but, for heaven's sake, do not send us clerks." The hon. Member had referred to the comparative cost of the two systems; but his figures were very different from his (Mr. Sandford's). He found from an estimate which had been prepared for him that the cost of school board education amounted to £2 11s. 3d. per head, while in denominational schools the cost was only £1 10s. 2d. In the metropolis the school board rate had risen to 4½d. in the pound—more than double the income tax—and was likely to increase. Was that to be taken as any proof of the small expense which parishes throughout the country were likely to incur if they had these school boards thrust upon them? Such an increase must necessarily lead to a reaction against a system which taught children Algebra, Latin, French, and German at the expense of the ratepayers. He left it to hon. Members opposite to show how a sound education could be promoted by subverting denominational schools, and how universal compulsion was compatible with individual freedom.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Sandford.)
§ MR. MORLEY
said, that having been from the first a member of the London School Board, he wished to say a few words on the subject of compulsion. He was glad to bear testimony to the spirit of moderation which had characterized the statements of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sandford) who moved the Amendment, the more so as he felt that 1270 on this subject there must be some compromise on both sides if the question was to be satisfactorily settled. As some reflections had been cast upon the School Board, he begged to offer a few statistics, proving that exceeding advantage had resulted from the exercise of compulsion. Since the Spring of 1871 the total increase in the average attendance in efficient schools was 114,196, of which an increase of 35,189 had taken place in voluntary schools, and 78,607 in Board schools—whether new or transferred. In other words the increase in the average attendance had amounted to 65 per cent. It had been said that the action of the visitors had been tyrannical. Now, as member for the City division, it had been his duty to summon nearly 300 parents, to account for the fact that their children were playing about the streets; but he had never had occasion to bring one of that number before a magistrate, having in some way been able to compromise the matter. In the large proportion of cases he found those people were rather the objects of sympathy than of compulsion; and by giving the option of night-schools, half-time, or by affording a little delay, he found the parents had been induced to send their children to school. That had been the result of kindly sympathy and a desire to ease off the difficulty. But he felt something must be done to get these children into school. At the same time, he had no idea that one stereotyped system would do for the whole country, although they would have to adopt compulsion for the agricultural districts. On the whole, the School Board up to the present time had issued 4,500 summonses, of which number only 21 cases had been dismissed by the magistrate. That, surely, was a sufficient vindication from the charges of violence and harshness which had rather recklessly, he thought, been brought against the Board. It was essential that those who had to deal with the schools should be armed with power, but he also maintained that gentle and kindly treatment should always be exercised. He could appeal to the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council (Viscount Sandon)—who for two years was a member of the Board, and from whom he could say he had rarely differed—whether there had not been much time, thought, and attention devoted by the 1271 Board to this subject, which he believed was tending very much to the solution of the question. He had no misgiving as to the ultimate success of the School Board. It was the system of the future, they might depend on it. If they could only get rid of their ecclesiastical preferences, a fit and common ground might easily be found. A good deal had been said about the expenses of the London School Board. The average expense during the six years, of which nearly one had to be worked out, would be about 1⅘d. in the pound. The precepts had been in 1871 something under ½d.; in 1872 a trifle in excess of ¾d.; in 1873 again ¾d.; in 1874, 1¾d.; in 1875, 3d.; and in 1876, 4½d. They were now, he believed, coming to the end of their expenditure. They had a magnificent system of schools—erected no doubt at a great cost, but they were not built for a day, but for future generations; and although in some instances there might have been unnecessary expenditure, on the whole, the School Board had been most successful in these buildings, and in carrying out a system of education which it would be very difficult to compete with in voluntary schools. The teaching was sound, thorough secular teaching with the reading of the Bible and fair reasonable explanations, without Catechisms or denominational dogma. He heartily supported the Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, although he was not prepared to adopt it entirely, as it would require alteration in some of its details. He supported it because it embodied a principle which would be of great value to those who were seeking to get children into the schools.
§ MR. BIRLEY
said, he would admit that the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) had shown great moderation in his speech, and it had even been exceeded by the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Morley), who spoke with great authority as a member of the London School Board. He hoped the tone of moderation which had characterized the debate would be continued to the end of the discussion, for he believed there was a general concurrence of opinion on both sides of the House as to the importance of some degree at least of compulsion with reference to elementary education. Above all things, it was essential that in carrying out those com- 1272 pulsory powers, it should be done with the greatest moderation, and a due regard should be had to the feelings and necessities of those who came under the law, for a great deal of popular dislike would have to be overcome before the people of this country would be reconciled, to their use. In the time of attendance also some consideration should be given beyond the bye-laws themselves. The prejudice against compulsion was not confined to the families who were immediately subjected to it, but often extended to the neighbourhood where it was arbitrarily exercised. The hon. Member for Birmingham spoke of the small expense of school boards, but he appeared to leave out of sight the cost of the maintenance of the schools. The particular cases which had been referred to by the hon. Member were familiar to him—he had heard them all cited before in this House. The hon. Member had suggested that, in towns, corporations should have the power of compulsion. Now, members of corporations were elected simply for the ordinary municipal duties, and it would be highly objectionable to introduce into municipal elections the elements of political and religious strife. It was said that the great grievance felt by Nonconformist parents was that their children should be educated at Church schools. He thought they had long ago got rid of that bugbear, for in 1870 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (the author of the Education measure) stated that he had found very little reason to attach any weight to such allegations. In his (Mr. Birley's) experience he had found very little reason to give credit to such a charge. He did not say there had not been cases of indiscreet clergymen; but in many alleged instances of indiscretion he believed, if they had all the facts before them, they would be found to present a very different complexion. He would only say this, that when the hon. Member for Birmingham talked of the conscientious scruples of Nonconformists, because they had not confidence even in the Conscience Clause, he must ask them to remember that Churchmen also had conscientious scruples; and, in many cases, objected to send their children to schools where there was no religious instruction. It would be well, therefore, that the hon. Member for Birmingham 1273 should induce his friends to reconcile their system of school management respecting religious education with the feelings and conscience of the country. The two principles of this Bill were the general enforcement of education and the universal establishment of school boards. He (Mr. Birley) hoped the House would not agree to the second reading of the Bill, not on account of the principle of compulsion, but on account of the proposed universal establishment of school boards, to which he could not consent. So far from believing them to be the system of the future, he doubted not that in many of them their imperfections and short-comings would before many years necessitate the calling into operation the coercive sections which were inserted in the Act of 1870.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, he had a strong conviction that that was the last time the House would discuss the Bill in its present shape. A good deal of inconvenience was caused to both sides of the House by the fact that the Government measure had not been introduced; but, so far as the principle of compulsion was concerned, it was affirmed by the House and the country, and he hoped the Government would bring in a Bill making it universal. The principle was becoming the rule in all civilized nations. France had practically adopted it; Russia was trying it; Italy had declared it part of its programme; Switzerland and Germany were making great sacrifices to raise the character of their education and make compulsion universal, the Swiss Confederation having two years ago surrendered its cantonal rights in order to effect the purpose. If hon. Members would inquire into the working of the compulsory bye-laws of the London School Board they would support them loyally in their noble and patriotic attempts to improve a large proportion of the most wretched population in the world. The Home Secretary, during the Recess, declared himself most absolutely for the application of compulsion. The most decisive evidence on the subject was furnished by the Report of the Commission on the Employment of Children in agriculture and manufactures. Four of the six Members who signed the Report were strong supporters of Her Majesty's Government, and were in favour of the present Bill. They ex- 1274 amined 700 witnesses; they prosecuted their inquiries in both rural districts and manufacturing centres; and their conclusion was that justice, expediency, and consistency alike required that the attendance at school should be enforced by law, whether they were at work or not, and that there ought to be no distinction made between children in the rural and manufacturing districts. Surely, then, it might be said that the question of the application of compulsion was authoritatively settled; and he did not see how Her Majesty's Government could get rid of it. Those who supposed that the carrying out of compulsion meant in all cases the dragging of children before the magistrates had not the faintest idea of the way in which the work was being actually done under the system instituted by the London School Board when the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council (Viscount Sandon) and Lord Lawrence were members of the Board. He recently attended in Spitalfields a meeting of a School-Board committee, before which there were summoned 50 or 60 parents, chiefly women; their cases were inquired into with patience and kindness: the committee exercised a moral influence, the value of which was not to be over-estimated; questions of wages and means were gone into; in some cases it was arranged that the Board should pay the fees, and in others, under exceptional circumstances, compulsion was deferred and in all cases, except one, the parents were glad to do what was required of them. The one exception was a man of the Bill Sykes class, who had just come out of prison, and who set the School Board at defiance; and no one would contend that such a man should be permitted to allow his child to run about the streets. The chaplain of Newgate said—"The surest road to Newgate is the street;" and the School Board of London was doing more to keep children out of the streets and out of Newgate than any other institution. He strongly deprecated the attacks made upon the London School Board, whose members comprised the leading philanthropists and citizens of the metropolis, and he asked hon. Members not to believe the charges which were brought so recklessly against that Board. When it was remembered who the members of the London School Board were now, and 1275 that among its earlier members who began the work were the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council, Lord Lawrence, the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith), the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Morley), the charges that were made so recklessly ought not to be entertained; and it must be admitted that the noble Lord the Vice President had always repelled them in a proper spirit. The objections to compulsion were mainly objections to the machinery of the school board, which might be improved. He did not deny that school-board elections were too costly and frequent, not through any fault of the boards themselves, but because Parliament had not consolidated the local machinery for the purpose of local government. He could not see why there should not be one local election annually for the members of all local boards and authorities. When hon. Gentlemen urged that some other means than school boards should be adopted, he would ask whether anything like an educational police could supply that tender application of compulsion and produce that great moral result which was now brought about by the action of school boards? He might mention in proof of this, that the Sheffield School Board had been so unanimous that in six years he did not think there had been half-a-dozen divisions; and with a total absence of the ecclesiastical element—thanks to the influence of a shrewd and sensible vicar—it had had no religious difficulty. It had in six years, besides considerably advancing the status of education in the town generally, raised the average attendance from 12,000 to 27,614, which was a net increase of 120 per cent; only 937 parents had been summoned before the magistrates; and the members had founded scholarships by means of which boys could go from the board schools to higher schools. The vice president of the board was about to expend £15,000 in founding University buildings for the borough of Sheffield in connection with the school board. Could anything but a school board have brought about such results? Another instance of University extension was to be found in the fact that the secretary of the trades unions of Sheffield last winter received the certificate from Cambridge for passing the second-class examination in po- 1276 litical economy. That was a new feature in the history of Sheffield and trades unionism, and all this stimulus was owing to the public-spirited action of the school board. Again, the London School Board had done more to benefit the metropolis than any other institution, and he was ashamed to hear complaints about its cost. He had reason to believe it had reached the highest point of expenditure at 4½d., which would probably cost some hon. Members £10 and others £6 a-year. Well, they paid twice or thrice the amount in sewer rates, and in 1874 the gas and water rates amounted to 40 times the sum levied by the School Board. In fact these payments were only equal to what they were willing to spend in some trifling amusement, or for their daughters to walk in the Horticultural Gardens. It was not worthy of the House to complain of the cost of education. While the poor rates of the country amounted to 11 per cent of the property on which they were levied, school-board rates amounted to less than 1¼per cent. Let them consider the cost of pauperism and crime. The reports of the Roman Catholic and Protestant chaplains to the Liverpool prisons showed a diminution of 35 per cent during one year in juvenile crime, and the chaplains stated that it seemed to them as if compulsory education would have the effect of minimizing, if not of extinguishing, juvenile crime, and juvenile crime led as a rule to adult crime. If this rich nation could afford to raise £100,000,000 a-year in Imperial and local taxation, and to spend £100,000,000 in drink, and could not afford to spare £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 for education it would be highly discreditable. The principle of compulsion being conceded, the Government could not now recede from that principle, and the only question was one of machinery. It should surely be that which would apply the principle of compulsion with the utmost consideration and care, and should be a representative body, and he did not think they could ever hope to apply it in that way, except by a school board. He therefore supported the Bill.
SIR JOHN SCOURFIELD
hoped that he should not depart from the tone of moderation which had characterized this discussion. This moderation had been very conspicuous indeed, for it ap- 1277 proved school boards without expensive schools, compulsion if it were adopted without being made disagreeable, and secular education provided that Bible-teaching might be introduced. In short, it seemed to him very like the play of Hamlet with the part of Hamlet left out. He was afraid these happy visions would not be realized, and that they were far off the time when there would be general agreement on those points. The hon. Member who spoke last (Mr. Mundella) said that the London School Board could not be accused of extravagance; but he (Sir John Scourfield) had been furnished with a list of charges which led him to a different conclusion. The amounts disbursed by the Board in enforcing compulsion and in legal expenses had grown largely, and their distribution might account for the zeal of some persons in school-board work. The expense of the London School Board was spoken of as being only 4½d. in the pound; but when the Education Bill was first introduced an impression prevailed, in consequence of the speeches delivered in that House, that 3d. in the pound would be the charge. Here, then, was an increase of 50 per cent. He should like to know what hon. Members would say if the Chancellor of the Exchequer exceeded his Estimates in a similar degree. It was very easy for the advocates of school boards to say that the expenditure was small; but was it so? It was very well for those who had not to pay for it to say so. It must be remembered that this rate was levied on a limited portion of the property of the country, and if an income tax had been imposed, it would have practically tested the sincerity of the Gentlemen who spoke of small expenditure. The voluntary schools of the country had not had fair play. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had said that the principle of his measure was to supplement the voluntary schools. That principle had not been carried into practice, for in many instances they had been suffocated. The demand for voluntary schools had been great; but the school boards wished to see their own system prevail. He could speak most positively as to the unnecessary demand for increase of accommodation. The provision of this extra accommodation involved a large amount of expenditure. School-houses 1278 had been erected at a large expense, and he saw that at Dorchester a school had been erected capable of accommodating 1,200 children, and that they could not get more than 600 to attend it. People talked about educational expenditure being small. In a parish in which he held a small property the proprietors had contributed in the proportion of 3s. in the pound for an educational purpose. He should like to see the face of the philosopher who was called on to pay 3s. in the pound for income tax for such a purpose. Certainly he would not be one of the laughing philosophers. Having risen to second the Amendment of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford), he wished to say a few words with reference to the question of compulsory powers. He had always, from the beginning, been opposed to these powers of compulsion. It was all very well to say that for the present these powers were exercised with great forbearance, but people felt that compulsion was on its trial; and that when once the principle was established a rigorous system would grow up, for it was capable of inflicting very great hardship. He had no doubt that if the compulsory system were enforced, it would be very interesting to ladies to attend on Saturday nights and see the children all washed. When people spoke of compulsion they spoke of some measure of compulsion, but it was important to know what degree of interference was implied. The question of the employment of the police had been mooted, but there would be a very general feeling against employing the police in educational matters. Such a course would bring the police into great disfavour in the country at large. If they had not the police, they must have Inspectors for this purpose; but the country had already so many Inspectors that it would hardly wish for more. He also objected to bye-laws that gave the power of imprisonment. That was a very strong measure. People often resented interference in the sending of their children to school; but he did not see why a man was to be sent to prison because he gave a surly answer, or because his manners were not agreeable. The case had recently been cited of an infant school-room which had been opened at Chelsea, where the attendance was at first five, then it dwindled 1279 to four, and subsequently rose to eleven. Could they expect that the ratepayers would submit tranquilly to such burdens when they saw that the practical results of education were so small in proportion to the expense incurred? Bricks and mortar did not constitute education. There were those who wished to pay for results; but it must be remembered that this plan might work great hardship, for it depended very much on the character of the children with whom the teachers had to deal. Altogether he did not see anything in the present system either so useful, so agreeable, or so satisfactory as to justify Parliament in giving additional compulsory powers. There was nothing more to be deprecated, or that the people resented more than minute and vexatious interference. The world was so constituted that it did not like disagreeable people, and certainly the people connected with the administration of education seemed to have the art of making themselves more disagreeable than any other persons in the kingdom, and created by their correspondence and otherwise a great and unnecessary amount of exasperation. It was very easy for an examiner to puzzle an examinee; but the examinee might be found, in many instances, to know a great deal more than the examiner. There were persons who were fond of expressing their sentiments on education in such a way that they treated others with a very great deal of discourtesy. If hon. Members desired to extend education they must respect what was the average feeling of the country; and over-interference would create a prejudice against boards of education which must prove most fatal. For these reasons he cordially supported the Amendment of his hon. Friend.
§ MR. WYKEHAM-MARTIN
agreed as to the evils caused when the police were employed to hunt children to school. He should not have ventured to take part in the debate, unless his own position had been peculiar. In one large agricultural parish he was chairman of the committee of management, elected in open vestry; and in another parish he happened to be the school board, or the person who represented it. One of these parishes was in Kent and the other in Warwickshire; and in one case the police were about to look up children under the Agricultural Chil- 1280 dren Act, which he regarded as a very objectionable proceeding, his opinion being that they could not employ a less desirable force than the police in such a duty. The agricultural parishes to which he referred were very small, and they had no need of police to discharge a duty which they felt they could so much better discharge themselves. The real question for the House to consider was, was education necessary for those two parishes, or was it not? He thought it was, and that the effect of the existing system had so far been highly beneficial; and he could state that so far as the work of teaching the children was concerned, they had most efficient schoolmasters and mistresses. He remembered the time when no boy in those parishes could work a sum except on his fingers; but since that time they had had boys in their schools who stood and passed with credit through competitive examinations, and one of them had taken the first place. There was, however, one great drawback which was complained of by the masters of country schools—namely, the irregularity of attendance of the children, and it was the greatest curse that the friends of the children had to contend against. They had, however, at that moment 600 children in the board school at Rochester, and it was rumoured that it was contemplated to enforce the provisions of the Agricultural Children Act. It had been said that the agricultural labourers were very anxious to have compulsory education. Well, he wished it were so; but, as far as he had observed, it was only a minority who wished their children to go to school at all. A great majority of agricultural labourers were apathetic, if not hostile; for in counties where there was a great demand for the labour of children, and where their earnings were a matter of importance to their parents, the question assumed a new aspect. In Kent, for example, where fruit and hops were grown, it was one long-continued harvest from spring to winter; and was it right to compel parents to send their children to a school in the management of which they had no voice, and the master of which they might consider inefficient? There had been extravagance, no doubt, in carrying out the Education Act, but it had mostly been in bricks and mortar. The Education Department had, for example, driven him into an expendi- 1281 ture of £250, when he might just as well have flung the money into the Thames. Schools had, indeed, been built for children who did not exist, but when the schools were once built that source of outlay would not recur. However, the mischief had been done, and whether a parish should be governed by a school board which would in 99 cases out of 100 consist of the same individuals who now managed the schools, or by a committee, he did not see why there should be a farthing more expense than there was before. With regard to denominational schools, it had been said that the school boards were anxious to discourage them; but he was enabled to say that while the board schools with which he was acquainted were attended by large numbers of children, the denominational schools did not seem to have lost any of their children. They were well supported, and would continue to be supported. One word in conclusion. His hon. Friend opposite complained of the Education Department; but for his (Mr. Wykeham-Martin's) part, it was only an act of justice to say that, having been engaged in almost incessant correspondence with it, he could bear testimony to the civility which he had received from the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council (Viscount Sandon), Sir Francis Sandford, and all connected with the Department. This was true also of the Inspectors, except one, and he was a savage bear whom he should not name. From all the rest he had received every courtesy.
§ MR. PELL
regretted the debate that had occurred that day, because the whole ground would have to be gone over again, and those who took part in the debate were like actors who were engaged in a dress rehearsal. He feared that under a school board in an agricultural district the most feeble excuses would be accepted for the non-attendance of a child. With respect to the question generally, he understood the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham to take the view that school boards should be established, and that they should be managed by representative men, and men representing the parents of the children who would go to those schools, and he intended that all those boards should have bye-laws and compulsory powers. But did the hon. Member really believe that in the country districts, at all events, and in many of 1282 the suburban districts, after those compulsory powers had been in force against the working men, we should not have members of the boards elected by the parents with the object of giving effect to their own views? No board would be of much use which did not consist of men who were real friends of education. It would be a waste of time to constitute a school board without giving them compulsory powers, but he feared that the country generally was not prepared to accept this. He wished that England was like Scotland, and that there was a unanimous instinct and an inborn feeling in favour of education, such as would make a debate of that kind unnecessary. No doubt that time would come; but meanwhile it would be wise to do nothing to damage the cause of education by premature legislation. In some cases the rates, already too high, had been increased by school boards paying the school-fees of children whose parents were well able to pay them. That was the great blot of the measure of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford. As to legislation in favour of education for children employed in agriculture, he must say that they had no assistance in favour of carrying out the law. Under the Factories and the Workshops Acts, children were sent to school, whilst agricultural labourers, who, during the winter, sent their children to school, afterwards found the wages of those children depreciated by competition with children whose parents had not obeyed the law by sending them to school. It was painful to see one's neighbours breaking the law; but it was not the duty of children to support their parents, but the duty of parents to support their children. He regretted that the vote of the Premier at Buckinghamshire Quarter Sessions, when that body was considering whether the police of that district should be instructed to enforce these provisions had given certain people the opportunity of taunting hon. Members like himself (Mr. Pell) with being at variance with their Leader on this question, and he was very sorry that they did not get from those who sat upon the front bench the assistance which they ought to have. With respect to children in the country, the fact was, that the police never were employed to compel their attendance at school, and the police would exceed their powers if they so interfered. Although 1283 he was not going to vote for this Bill, he still hoped that there was in store for them some legislation, to be proposed from the Treasury bench, which would get rid of the anomalies which existed, and that there would be less difficulty in the future in insuring to children at the cost of their parents that education which was necessary.
§ LORD FRANCIS HERVEY
, who had on the Paper an Amendment which he could not move, in favour of adopting further measures to secure the attendance of children at school, but against multiplying school boards for that purpose, supported the Amendment of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford). He complained that the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) had taken an unusual, an inconvenient, and even a disorderly course in discussing the provisions of a Bill which had not yet been introduced into the House. The hon. Member had also placed the House in an awkward predicament by introducing his Bill, when a measure on the same subject, which had been mentioned in the Queen's Speech, was about to be brought forward by Her Majesty's Government. The Bill of the hon. Gentleman might be considered from two points of view—in the first place, it might be regarded as a measure for enforcing the attendance of children at school; and, so far as it provided for compulsory attendance, it had his (Lord Francis Hervey's) sympathetic and warm assent. The time had, in his opinion, come when the question of compulsory attendance should be taken up and settled, and he trusted that a measure having that object would shortly be carried. He was not insensible to the force of the arguments for compulsion in whichever aspect the question was viewed, as affecting society, or as affecting the individuals. It was true that compulsion was by some of his political friends regarded with dislike—and naturally so—and it was to the credit of those who looked upon it with suspicion that they should so regard it; but he must remind them that times had changed. Let them consider the matter from a practical point of view. Was it consistent, he asked, that they should have compulsory provisions in force in one district and in the adjoining district no such provisions existing? Was it not a great waste of means, and the throwing away 1284 of large sums of money, to have built schools for children, and yet not to have the children for whom they were built attending them? He knew it would be said that the difficulties and obstacles in the way of carrying out a compulsory system were so great and numerous that it could not be enforced. He was aware of those difficulties and obstacles, and believed them to be greater and more numerous than many supporters of the compulsory system were aware of. It was not, as represented by flippant doctrinaires, merely a question of school fees, or of the earnings of children; the fluctuations of trade, even the prevalence of the north-east wind created difficulties, as did also the outbreak in crowded alleys and rookeries of measles and scarlatina, which removed many children to a place where no school boards existed, and where Birmingham conceits were at a discount. It was said, too, that the compulsory system led to oppression and tyranny, and he did not deny that such was the case. Instances had come to his knowledge in the metropolis in which the school board officers had broken into the houses of poor parents, and even into the rooms of women who were ill, or had just been confined; but those objections were not conclusive against the system. Enlightened public opinion would, in his opinion, prevent an oppressive exercise of power on the part of the school boards, and they had already signs that the high-handed and arbitrary exercise of such powers would soon cease. Therefore he was prepared to see a compulsory system carried out. He now came to the second question raised by the Bill—namely, the machinery by which its object was to be carried out. The hon. Member for Birmingham proposed universal school boards. To these he (Lord Francis Hervey) had more than one objection. This country under a general system of school boards would become actually debauched by elections, of which they would have some 12,000 more every three years. Then there was the increased expense; and there were the bad feelings which these school board elections called into play. The system of school board elections had not on the whole been successful hitherto, and he could scarcely help regretting that, in 1870, the original proposals of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford were not accepted, in which 1285 case these expensive, troublesome elections with which they had been since deluged might have been avoided. He therefore could not agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham in thinking that school boards afforded the best machinery for putting compulsion into force. He would now consider the hon. Member's proposal to establish universal school boards from another point of view. The hon. Member said when objections were made to his Bill last year, that it was not school boards that he was anxious to have established, but compulsion—[Mr. DIXON: I said school boards were not the principle of the Bill]. He (Lord Francis Hervey) maintained that school boards were a leading principle of the Bill, and would refer to the object set forth in its Preamble—namely, to render attendance obligatory, and for the formation of school boards. The formation of school boards was plainly of co-ordinate importance with the establishment of compulsion, and whatever the hon. Member might have said last year, on this occasion he had unmistakeably shown the cloven hoof. The hon. Member had dealt with the difficulty which he said would arise in country districts where there was only one description of school. He said Nonconformists were deeply suspicious of compulsion, lest their children should be driven into the schools of the Church of England. Well, Nonconformists no doubt entertained these suspicions on conscientious grounds; but they appeared to be, if he might so say, the most unclubable portion of the population; there was no proposal, however sound, salutary, and beneficial, which they were not prepared to resist, because of some obscure and imaginary dangers which they believed to be lurking in the background. But how did the hon. Member propose to meet their views? There was, or soon would be, sufficient school accommodation throughout the country, there was an ample Conscience Clause; but, in the face of those facts, the proposal was to build fresh schools at the charge of the ratepayers solely for the children of Nonconformists. Surely that was not a reasonable proposal. They had often been told that all bigotry and intolerance were to be found in the Church of England; but he asked, where might the charge of bigotry and intolerance be laid, when they were told they must 1286 set up side by side with existing schools other schools for a certain small number of those who did not conform to the Church of England? He could not regard the Bill of the hon. Gentleman as interpreted by himself as a reasonable Bill, and should therefore support the Amendment.
§ MR. A. M'ARTHUR
said, he should support the Bill, on the ground that ample information had been supplied to the public proving the necessity there was that school-attendance should in all cases be compulsory. It had been urged against the Bill that it would interfere with parental authority. Well, if all parents were what they ought to be, there would be something in the argument; but there were numbers of parents who had no education themselves, who cared nothing about it, and very little about their children. Again, there were many poor children whose parents were not living; and was it, he asked, unreasonable, for their own sake, and for the sake of the nation at large, to compel all such children to go to school? Then, again, it was said that a system of compulsion would increase the rates. Hon. Members would remember that when the London School Board was established commissioners were appointed by the Society of Arts to make inquiries, and it was found that at the East-end of London, within an area of one square mile, there were, at the lowest estimate, 19,000 children growing up in ignorance, while within the same area there were 165 public-houses and 166 beer-houses, in which at least a sum of £45,000 per annum was spent. Would it not be an incalculable benefit to themselves and a saving to society if those 19,000 children, instead of being reared in ignorance, were by any means brought into school and educated? With reference to the remarks of the noble Lord the Member for Bury St. Edmund's he regretted to say that there was an equal amount of feeling against Nonconformists by members of the Church of England as there was on the part of Nonconformists against the Church of England, and he thought it an unfortunate state of affairs. In many of the agricultural districts there existed a wish that children should not be educated too highly; but by the present arrangements for school attendance, there was not much chance of their being over-educated, He hoped that 1287 hon. Members on both sides were agreed upon this—that, however it was to be accomplished, the children of the poor of this country should not be allowed to grow up in ignorance; and, believing, as he did, that without a compulsory system that most desirable end could not be attained, he cordially supported the Bill of his hon. Friend.
§ MR. HEYGATE
said, he should oppose the Bill. The question of compulsion was by no means the sole issue which the House was called upon to decide. He would appeal to two classes of persons in that House, one of which, he considered, was compelled by every consideration of honour, and the other by every consideration of interest, to record an emphatic negative to the measure. The first class were those who sat on the Front Opposition benches. He could not understand how it was that those who acted with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, and who persuaded the House and the country to accept the measure of 1870, could now, consistently with their past promises and the expectations held out to the country, vote for a Bill that would have the effect, if carried, of falsifying every promise and pledge then made. The late Prime Minister, speaking in July, 1870, said—It was with us an absolute necessity—a necessity of honour, and a necessity of policy to respect and to favour the educational establishments and machinery we found existing in the country. It was impossible for us to join in the language, or to adopt the tone which was conscientiously and consistently taken by some Members of the House who look upon these voluntary schools, … as admirable passing expedients, fit indeed to be tolerated for a time, … but wholly unsatisfactory as to their main purpose, and, therefore, to be supplanted by something they think better … that has never been the theory of the Government."—[3 Hansard, cciii. 746.]Such was one of the pledges given to the House and the country by the late Government, without which the Bill would not have passed; and was it now to be disregarded? The alternative was offered to the supporters of the voluntary system, of complying with the new and extended requirements of the Education Department, or adopting the school board system; and what had been the result? It was this—that out of 14,000 parishes, 2,000, excluding London and the municipal boroughs, had adopted the school-board system, leaving 12,000 under the voluntary system, and in most cases they 1288 had met the new and extended requirements necessary to keep them without the operation of the Act. Since 1870 the Church of England had provided increased school-accommodation for 424,000 children, the British and Foreign School Society, the Wesleyans and other Nonconformist Bodies for 230,000, and the Roman Catholics for 77,000, making together additional accommodation for nearly three-quarters of a million of children; and the increased average attendance had risen in the same proportion. Moreover, the Church of England spent in building and enlarging schools in 1870, £101,000; in 1871, £120,000; in 1872, £367,000; in 1873, £347,000; and in 1874, £145,000, making a total of £1,100,000; and the adoption of the Bill before the House would have the effect of making these sacrifices useless, so far as they were concerned, and therefore it was that he claimed the support of the Front Opposition bench against the Bill on the faith of the promise they made in 1870. He would also appeal for the support of those hon. Members of the House who belonged to the Roman Catholic Church in opposing the Bill of the hon. Member for Birmingham. Those hon. Members were bound by considerations of the highest interest to join in opposition to the measure, for the members of their Church, who were also taxpayers, looked upon school boards as agencies which compelled them to pay taxes for which they obtained no equivalent, because they declined to send their children to schools in which religious education, from their point of view, was not afforded. If, however, what was wanted by the hon. Member for Birmingham was universal compulsion in the matter of attendance at school, that could be attained by other means than school boards, and he, for one, strongly objected to any attempt to bring about this result by mixing it up with another and entirely different question. If it were necessary to adopt a system of the kind, it would surely be fairer to ask Parliament to sanction it pure and simple, than to bring forward a measure in which it stood side by side with a proposal which was obviously unfair and most distasteful to a very large class of the community. Hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House were not less anxious than other hon. Members that their countrymen generally should reap the advantage of a 1289 useful education; but the Bill before the House was not the best method of attaining that result.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
The speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House (Mr. Heygate) appears to me to have very little to do with the question mainly before us. He condemned the Act of 1870, he condemned the system of rating; and, in point of fact, I think he may be held to be one of those for the most part, and almost altogether, opposed to all that has been done with the view of establishing any public education. [Mr. HEYGATE said, he did not condemn the Act of 1870.] I listened attentively to the hon. Gentleman's speech, and I thought there was scarcely anything in the Bill of 1870 he approved. The Bill before the House is a very simple one indeed, and I think I may congratulate my hon. Friend and Colleague on the fact that, if there be some difference of opinion as to a portion of his Bill, and as to his machinery, there is really almost no difference of opinion as to the main object he has in view. There are two hon. Members below the Gangway on the other side who were afraid that people were getting too much education—that is, education in too high subjects; that under a system of public rates children were being furnished with what may be called the luxury of education, which it is unnecessary should be provided for them, they thinking that that which is necessary is all that a public system of education should give. I think there is a good deal to be said in favour of that view. My own opinion is, that we may make a great mistake in trying to teach too many things. What I would wish to see in this country is that every child should be able to read, and to comprehend what he reads; that he should be able to write, and to write so well, that what he writes can be read; and that, at the same time, he should know something of the simple rules of arithmetic, which might enable him to keep a little account of the many transactions which may happen to him in the course of his life. I think that kind of education would enable every young man—and every young woman, too—but I am speaking of young men—to put his foot upon the ladder, and if nature has given him faculties, if he has virtues and qualities and cultivates them, he may make further steps, and may advance himself 1290 to whatever position he likes or has the power to reach. I say my hon. Friend may be very much satisfied with the discussion that has taken place on the Bill. Nobody confesses to any objection—to any hostility to education; but judging from some accounts which we read of speeches delivered in the country districts, I believe some of the constituents of the hon. Gentlemen opposite are not yet convinced that it will be for their good, or that of the labourers themselves, that their children should be universally taught in schools. Now, there is a great dread of a modern institution called the school board. It is one of the most amusing hobgoblins that we have had brought before the public in my time, and I have seen a good many of that class. Now, why do you object to school boards? You object because they are troublesome to elect, and one hon. Member last year was very angry that having once elected a school board he found there was no power to get rid of it. You say you object because a board is troublesome to elect, and costly when you have elected it. As to the cost of the election, I agree with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, who quoted what I said some years ago. I think the whole system of election in all these things is stupid. It is not becoming a rational people or a rational House of Commons. I take the case of the constituency which I partly represent. There are, I think, about 60,000 electors there—I mean on the list—who can vote in a school board election. There may be one vacancy, and yet I believe two or three persons in the town—I forget exactly how many—can force on a contest for all that vast constituency for the election of a single member of the board. There was an election not long ago for two members, and I am not able to say the sums paid, but I heard an estimate passed last time I was in Birmingham of the amount that was paid in that election by the three parties who had candidates in that contest. That is a thing which Parliament can, if it pleases, easily get rid of, and hon. Members opposite will find Members on this side of the House perfectly willing to unite with them in any reasonable mode that will be a great improvement on the existing mode. As to the cost when the board is elected, that is entirely a question of what the school board does. If there is nothing to do 1291 there is no great cost. In the town in which I live, and in which there are probably 70,000 inhabitants, we have had a school board from the first, and during the whole period it has not yet, I believe, built one single school. The reason is, that it was found that the schools within the borough of Rochdale were so numerous—some under the auspices of the Established Church, others under the care of the various Nonconformist sects—that there was no occasion to build other schools. What the school board has done has been to take over the British schools and two or three others—I do not recollect precisely the number; but the whole educational wants of the town are apparently provided for. But if education be a good thing, and if you propose to offer it to your population, as a matter of course, it must cost something. Does not everything cost something? If you have new roads, they must cost something. Would that be an argument against having a highway board? If you have gas, water, or sewerage—if you have any of those things which make life comfortable and possible, of course something must be paid for them, and it is so with regard to education. I cannot help telling hon. Gentlemen opposite that I think for the last four or five years they have made a great mistake on this question of what they call local taxation. I do not like local taxation any more than they do, or their farmers do. A Bill passed the House only three Sessions ago, which, by the extension of the boundaries of my borough, included within it some land and considerable manufacturing premises of which I am part owner, and which are in the employment and possession of the firm of which I am a partner. I did not oppose that Bill. My name was on the back of it. There were other parties in the town who did oppose it. But that Bill brought upon us an increase of rates of certainly more than £300, and I think nearly £400 per annum, because it brought us within the limits of the borough, we being before outside it. What a howl and what a cry would have come from hon. Gentlemen opposite if they had been treated by an Act of Parliament in that manner. But it was necessary for the borough that the extension should take place, and thus some who happened to live within the limit proposed to be included were 1292 brought within the borough, and brought within a considerable number of rates from which they had hitherto been exempt. Hon. Gentlemen opposite—I am afraid for the purpose of using it against us as a political weapon when we were on that side of the House—made a great outcry on the subject of local taxation, and they have made it as impossible for hon. Gentlemen who sit on that side now to treat the question as they ought to do, as they made it impossible for us to treat it some years ago. I know perfectly well that landed property is of more value far than ever it was before. You know the produce of all your land—that which your farmers grow upon your land is in some cases 50 per cent more valuable than it was 30 years ago, and in other cases even higher than that. ["No, no," and "Hear, hear."] I am not speaking of quantity, I am speaking of price, and that is 50 per cent higher than before. There is no doubt about it. You know it yourselves, and there is no man who can deny it. The only article of produce in which that rise of price has not taken place is wheat. I say then that in view of all this there was no necessity for this outcry, and that it was rather a political outcry than one based on a fair consideration of the facts of the case. You made it a weapon of warfare against us, and now you put your Leaders and your own Government in such a position that they can scarcely deal with one of the greatest questions that is before us on account of the ignorant outcry which you have raised in your own counties. ["Oh, oh!"] It is a fair question for discussion whether the education we give, be worth the price the country has to pay for it. With regard to the school boards, let me ask Hon. Gentlemen whether it is not something in favour of their being made universal that the Act of 1870 was passed, and that the Parliament of 1870 established a school board system as the machinery by which the Education Act was to be worked? That system has been established now in all the boroughs of the country with but few exceptions, and is it not an additional argument in favour of school boards that this system which Parliament found so good in 1870, has been found to work admirably in all the boroughs of the Kingdom? If it had failed in the boroughs, of course the noble Lord would have been foolish to 1293 have suggested, as I should be foolish here to defend, an extension of the school board system to the counties. But you know perfectly well it has succeeded admirably in the boroughs. I am not speaking now of the mode of election, but of what the school boards have done since they have been established. And I venture to say there is no Member of this House who has had any practical experience of the working of school boards who will not be forced to admit that, looking at the question of compulsion as one of great delicacy, it would be impossible to point to any other kind of machinery, or any other power, that, in an interference in families between parents and children, would have been able to conduct the whole transaction connected with the compulsory sending of children to school better, or so well, as it has been done by the school boards. And it stands to reason that it must be so. Whom do we trust most? Why, somebody we have elected to do our work, of course. The ratepayers elect to the school board, and the school board is the representative of the ratepayers. It consists of gentlemen who have the confidence of the ratepayers, or else they would not be elected. Those whom they have elected, forming the Board, can all feel the pulse of their constituents; they know exactly the state of opinion in the district with which they are connected, and they can carry out their operations with regard to the forcing of children to go to school with the amount of pressure, or the amount of delicacy, which exactly meets the necessity of the case, and in a manner, I undertake to say, which it would be impossible to do under any other kind of machinery which might be established. Do not suppose my hon. Friend and Colleague would, regret much to see some good system of compulsion established, if it were possible, on some other basis, and by some other machinery. The noble Lord the Member for Bury St. Edmund's (Lord Francis Hervey) has said a good deal against compulsion, and as much against this Bill. If he will bring forward any plan, or if the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council will bring forward any plan, I think I can promise that hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House will give perfectly fair and impartial consideration to that plan. School boards may not be the best plan; but we are not wedded to school boards. If you can produce one 1294 better, or as good, I, for one, for the sake of unanimity and the general concurrence of the House, will be ready to accept it. But I believe that as Parliament adopted the school board plan in 1870, as it has been tried in almost all the boroughs in England, and is being tried universally in Scotland, and as there is no complaint from either England, Wales, or Scotland, of the failure, misconduct, or want of success of a school board, then, I say, these things are strong arguments why we should ask Parliament to extend the system of school boards; and I say my hon. Friend would have been much to blame if he had introduced a Bill without asking the House to confirm that which a previous Parliament and which experience has proved to be a wise method of procedure. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to have a lingering dislike to what was done in 1870. I was surprised to hear from an hon. Member an attack, which I think he would not have made if he had understood the question, on the London School Board. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol (Mr. Morley), in a short and admirable speech, communicated facts to the House which were an answer to that attack. I am one of those who, looking back to the Act of 1870, have no hesitation in saying that I thought then, as I think now, that it was a great measure with some great deficiencies. Perhaps those deficiencies were inevitable from the state of opinion in the country and in the House; but if we look at the effect of the Act as regards London alone—if it had applied only to this the chief city of the United Kingdom—I say its results are such that my right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster), who was mainly entrusted with the carrying of the Bill through Parliament, ought to be eminently satisfied with the work which he did during that Session. I went last year with the present Chairman of the School Board, Sir Charles Reed, and with Lord Lawrence, who preceded him in the office of Chairman, to Bethnal Green, in the East End of London, and we spent a morning in looking through two of those magnificent schools which have been erected in that district. We went through all the rooms; we saw the principals and the subordinate teachers, and we saw all the scholars, to the very smallest, and I think we saw some of those poor little blind children to whom 1295 something was being attempted to be taught. We saw some of the children exercising in the yard as we came out, and I confess I did not know whether most to rejoice or whether to weep. I could rejoice to see what I had seen, and what is now being done. I could have wept at the thought that for so many generations children of this class in this country and in this City have been almost absolutely and totally neglected. It is a common thing to talk in a slighting way about Nonconformists. I think, if I heard aright, I heard the noble Lord who has spoken in this debate (Lord Francis Hervey) say they were "unclubable" people. I do not exactly know what that means; but I know what has been done, and what is now being done. When I think of what has not been done in the past, my mind for a moment wanders across the ocean to that part of the American Continent which goes by the name of New England, and especially to the State of Massachusetts. The men who went over there were Nonconformists, and 250 years ago they established a system of education as perfect and complete for their time as those great schools are perfect and complete now in London. There have passed through those schools in 250 years no less than eight generations of children, who have had the advantages of an education as good, for the most part, as that you now pretend to give, and, for the most part, as they needed. In the same period during which those eight generations of children have been taught, the humblest and poorest people of this city have been almost entirely uneducated, and as I remembered that I hardly know whether it is a time to rejoice or a time to weep. I have never looked back upon my visit to those schools without thankfulness that the Parliament of England has at last done something in so great a matter—something that our forefathers ought to have done before us—something that our children and posterity after us will be proud that we have no longer neglected, and that we have attempted to do it in our day. The noble Lord the Vice President of the Council will shortly address some observations to the House. He cannot have listened to this debate without feeling that there is a general concurrence in the House in favour of getting, if possible, all these children to school. He knows very 1296 well what has been done in towns, and it seems to me that it must be much easier to get compulsion in the rural districts than it is in towns. In towns there are thousands and thousands of children who have never been subjected to any kind of discipline, or who have enjoyed any kind of decent home life. But in your agricultural districts that is not so. Families are not so crowded together; children are not so outcast and neglected; and I should think it will be far more possible, and far more easy to establish and work a system of compulsory education in agricultural districts than it is in the great towns. It may be that some hon. Members fancy—I believe that there are some farmers who do think—that if their labourers are taught, they will be worse labourers. I will not stop now to argue that question. The country has decided that education shall be made a great public matter. Parliament has passed a great measure for the purpose of promoting it, and it is at work almost universally through all the great centres of the population, and throughout all the towns of the country. I think it is obvious that it cannot be allowed to be a dead letter in the agricultural districts—in the counties which so many hon. Gentlemen opposite represent. The noble Lord the Vice President of the Council is about to bring forward a measure on this subject—perhaps he will not explain its provisions now, though he may tell us something if he likes; but I think it would have been a good thing if it could have been introduced before Easter, so that the country might have had a little time longer to consider it. I ask him, I entreat him, when he determines what shall be the nature of that Bill, to bear in mind the tendency of this discussion—that as far as compulsion is required the House is willing to adopt it—that compulsion can only be carried out in some distinct and definite mode—that you have a mode distinct and definite in the boroughs, which Parliament established some years ago—and that if Parliament were now to deal with it again, with the additional evidence of five or six years' experience, it is not likely that it would go back from that system. We, in the boroughs, knowing what that system is, are honestly willing to help hon. Gentlemen opposite to carry out in their counties what we have got in our bo- 1297 roughs. If they cannot produce a plan better, or any plan so good, I hope that they will have the courage to say that the system which has been so successful with us may be successful with them, and that the noble Lord may, without fear of opposition, ask this House and Parliament to accept a Bill which, in principle, is the same as that which my hon. Friend has offered to the House.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
said, he had heard with regret that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in which he referred with severity to what he had called the ignorance of hon. Gentlemen who were opposed to his views on this question.
§ MR. BRIGHT
, in explanation, said, he had not referred to the ignorance of hon. Members of that House, but to the ignorance which existed in some of the constituencies.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
said, he was glad to have drawn the explanation from the right hon. Gentleman, because, as he apprehended the words of the right hon. Gentleman, they formed the only discordant note in the discussion, as he understood the right hon. Gentleman to have spoken of the ignorance of hon. Gentlemen opposed to him on the subject of local taxation. He congratulated the House upon the calm, moderate, and friendly tone which had pervaded the debate—a debate which he should not continue at any length, because it would be contrary to rule to enter lengthily into a discussion of the education question in all its breadth and fulness before the Government measure was laid on the Table of the House. The right hon. Gentleman had, as a matter of fact, in his closing sentences, "let the cat out of the bag" when he asked him (Viscount Sandon) to give a hint as to what the Government measure would be. He had been subjected, during the last two months, to a great amount of that kind of inquiry. Hon. Members in society and in the Lobbies frequently opened a conversation with him with reference to the weather, and then artfully endeavoured to ascertain his opinion by saying abruptly—"I suppose such and such a proposition will be contained in the Government Bill on education. "He had of course to steel himself against these allurements, and he could not therefore on the present occasion succumb to the attack of the right hon. Gentleman. With regard to 1298 the question generally, he did not conceal from himself that the object of the Bill before the House was to lead to the universal and compulsory establishment of school boards. Now, with respect to that subject, it had frequently been discussed before, and he did not believe that the feeling of Parliament had altered in the least since the former decision had been come to on the matter. He could not see any popular feeling in favour of school boards, and in his office he was frequently brought face to face with the squabbles going on to avoid what were considered very serious burdens. He was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) state that the agricultural labourers as a class desired education for their children; because he earnestly desired that every child of the labouring and artizan class, both in town and country, should receive the education which had been provided for children by law. The hon. Member for Birmingham had expressed an opinion that the question of cost was, the main obstacle to the establishment of school boards everywhere; but there were other difficulties, and one of the most formidable among them was, that in many cases the establishment of such bodies would lead to the severance of all those old friendly ties which had subsisted among gentlemen of different religious opinions, and whose existence had tended to the advantage of the communities in which they lived. He also feared that if the proposal was adopted, it would before long lead to the elimination of religious teaching altogether from the instruction given in board schools—a result which had already occurred in some places. It was well known that the hon. Gentleman was in favour of secular, as distinguished from religious education; and it was therefore necessary to scan very carefully any proposals on the subject which emanated from him. He could not but notice in the course of the hon. Member's speech that he did not speak with the same heartiness on the imperative necessity of school boards which had distinguished some of his former utterances on the same subject; and he could not refrain from thinking that in the country generally there was not so strong a feeling as at one time existed in favour of school boards as the best, if not the only, machinery for carrying on the work of educating the masses of the people. The 1299 hon. Member for Sheffield had also expressed doubts on this point——
§ MR. MUNDELLA
I only expressed a doubt as to whether the education was the best. I never expressed any doubt as to the school boards.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
thought at any rate the hon. Gentleman had not spoken so highly of them as he did two years ago. As far as his (Viscount Sandon's) own view on the subject went, he thought the real fact was—and they could not conceal it—that to leave the education of the country solely dependent upon the compulsory election of school boards everywhere would be to risk a wreck of the whole concern. Even the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Morley) thought the Bill of the hon. Member for Birmingham would require great alteration before it could be properly worked; but he (Viscount Sandon) failed to see how "great alterations" could be made in a Bill which contained only two principles—namely, universal compulsory attendance at school and universal compulsory school boards. No one could feel more strongly than the Members of the present Cabinet the importance of securing to the people of this country a sound, sensible, and general education; and he had heard with great satisfaction the opinion of the hon. Member in charge of the Bill that soundness should characterize the education which was to be afforded to those who came under the operation of the existing or any future Education Act. Her Majesty's Government had considered the question from all points of view, and had certainly lost no opportunity of making themselves acquainted with the opinions of hon. Members on both sides of the House with reference to it. He must decline to go further into the various proposals which had been made that day; his mind was so full of education from the attention he had paid to it during the Recess that he might be easily drawn into a discussion on the subject. He accepted with great satisfaction the very sensible remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham; and he hoped that when the Government measure on this subject was brought forward, it would be approached in the same spirit of kindly consideration and of general forbearance which had characterized the discussion of this afternoon. This was a subject that could not be regarded as a Party one, and in 1300 the interests of sound education he must protest strongly against the conjunction of the great and noble cause of popular education with what he believed to be the fatal principle of universal school boards. He therefore asked the House to say, in no hesitating or doubtful tone, that the questions of popular education and of universal school boards would be approached separately and distinctly; because, unless they did so, he was afraid that there would be such a reaction on this question among the labouring population and among other classes in this country as would throw back the cause of education for, probably, a generation.
§ MR. DIXON
, in reply, said, that the modifications he proposed to meet the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite had not been received with that spirit of mutual concession without which no measure could or ought to be carried through Parliament. The principle of the Bill was not the machinery of compulsion, but compulsion itself. In that view, he denied that he had changed his opinion on the subject in any way, he being now, as he had been from the commencement, in favour of school boards, they appearing to him to be the best educational machinery that could be obtained.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 160; Noes 281: Majority 121.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Six o'clock.