§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Lancashire, N.E., Darwen)
I beg to ask the Vice-President of the Committee of Council on Education whether his attention has been called to the action of the Department in calculating the amount of the fee-grant on the average attendance of the whole year, and to the loss thereby incurred by certain 698 schools which have placed themselves under the provisions of the Elementary Education Act, 1891, before the close of their school year, but whose average attendance is largest towards the end of the year; whether the average attendance, as defined by the Act and the minutes in force at its commencement, is so limited, or is "for any period," and in this case, therefore, for the fraction of the school year during which these schools have been under the Act; whether, on the other hand, the average rate of fees permitted to be charged under Section 2, Sub-section (2), is directed to be calculated upon a whole school year, but, nevertheless, at the end of the first quarter, the Department has ruled the fee-income received to be in excess, and thus these schools have incurred a further loss, in consequence of the fee-grant being further reduced under Section 1, Sub-section (2); and whether the effect of this reduction will be to bring the fee-income of these schools below what it was before the passing of the Act?
§ *SIR W. HART DYKE
Section 1 of the Act provides that the fee-grant shall be paid at the rate of 10s. a year for each child in average attendance, which is held to mean the average attendance for the school year irrespective of the date from which the school complied with the conditions of the Act, and the Department are advised that in framing regulations accordingly they acted on a correct interpretation of the Act. Upon the other point the case stands on a different footing, inasmuch as until a school year has been completed it is admitted that the Section provides no test for ascertaining with precision whether the conditions are being complied with, and the Department has therefore agreed to remit any deductions under this head, if at the end of the next school year it appears that the fees charged for the concluding months of the previous one were within the limits prescribed by the Act. I may also remind my noble Friend that the question involved in either point is of no permanent importance, as the whole difficulty is incidental to the fact that up to this date only fractional periods of a year have come under the operation of the Act.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
With regard to the calculation of the average attendance, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has consulted the law officers of the Crown as to whether his interpretation is a proper one; and if not will he do so in order to save the trouble and expense of litigation on the point?
§ *SIR W. HART DYKE
We have not gone so far as to consult the law officers, but we have taken a legal opinion, in which I have perfect confidence. If necessary, I do not object to consult them.