§ MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
I beg to ask the Vice President of the Committee of Council on Education whether he is aware that the Macclesfield School Board have postponed action on the recent communication from the Education Department, and have caused the petition of parents in Macclesfield for free education to be printed with the names of the signatories; whether he is also aware that the names of the signatories have been supplied to the head master of Christ Church Voluntary School and the masters of other schools; and that the head master has publicly called the children of the petitioners out of their classes and asked them why their parents had signed the petition, what wages the parents and other members of their families are receiving, how many children there are in each family, and has also informed the children that they must ask their parents to write a letter to him stating their willingness to withdraw their signatures from the petition, in default of which the children would be expelled from the school; whether the communication of the signatories to the head master and the subsequent action of the head master are illegal, and in contravention of the Education Act of 1891; and whether the Education Department will take steps to stop proceedings calculated to prevent parents from exercising their rights under the Act of 1891? The hon. Member said he wished to ask a supplementary question of the right hon. Gentleman, as follows: Whether he was aware that the petitioners had been further intimidated by the publication of their names and addresses in the local Press; and whether the memorandum of the Department on the Act of 1891 did not expressly lay down that free education was the unconditional right of every parent, and that any special inquiry into 1365 the circumstances of a parent, or his reasons for asking for free education, was not contemplated by the Act.
§ MR. BROMLEY-DAVENPORT (Cheshire, Macclesfield)
I beg to ask the Vice President of the Committee of Council on Education whether the signatories to the representation which he has received from Macclesfield asking for free education have previously made application to the school authorities for free places, and whether he has reason to believe that there is any lack of free places in the borough; whether he is aware that certain of the signatories allege that they signed through misrepresentation of the object in view; that in one instance a blank sheet of paper was taken into a mill for the purpose of collecting signatures; that many of those who signed are persons who either have no children attending elementary schools or have children who are already being educated without payment of fees; and whether he will cause specific inquiry to be made into the truth of these allegations?
§ THE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (Mr. A. H. I. ACLAND,) York, W. R.,Rotherham
I believe the names have been published in the local Press. The School Board are, I understand, making inquiries in accordance with the request of the Education Department. The Department do not discourage reasonable publicity with respect to petitions for free education. But if any such direct or indirect pressure should be put on parents as will deter them from exercising their absolute legal right to free education, it is much to be deprecated. With reference to Christ Church School, Her Majesty's inspector has visited it and has forwarded the information which he received on this question from the head master. As I have received a number of letters from parents and others which are of a more or less conflicting character, I propose shortly to send an officer of the Department to inquire into the whole matter, and cannot at present make a definite statement on the case. As to the question which appears lower down on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Macclesfield, it is not necessary under the Act of Parliament that those who claim free education for their children should apply to the school authorities 1366 before sending a petition to the Department, and I am not aware whether they did so in this case. The lack of free places and the other matters mentioned in the question will be subjects of the inquiry to which I have referred.
§ MR. BROMLEY-DAVENPORT
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware that the originator of these charges had endeavoured to escape from an action for libel by tendering a written abject apology and retractation, and whether, in fairness to honourable public servants, he would see that the result of any inquiries made would be given the same measure of publicity as had been given to these unjust accusations.
§ MR. ACLAND
Yes, Sir. I desire to make the fullest possible inquiries into the matter. I have had so many statements from the Vicar and many others, I want to get to the bottom of the matter.
§ MR. CHANNING
asked whether all the matters referred to would not be fully investigated by the gentleman who conducted the inquiry, who, he hoped, would be absolutely impartial.