HC Deb 12 December 1906 vol 167 cc379-83

Order read, for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [11th December] on consideration of Lords' Amendments, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendments."—(Mr. Lough.)

Question again proposed.

*DR. MACNAMARA (Camberwell, N.)

said this Motion, though very drastic, was the only possible Motion in the circumstances. Here they were with the biggest Parliamentary majority of modern times. They had been charged to set up popular control and remove tests for teachers. The Government had set to work and prepared a Bill, and he thought he might say that this Bill showed greater solicitude for denominationalists than was ever likely to be shown again. They had spent forty-nine Parliamentary days on the Bill, read it a first time without a division, a second time by 410 votes to 204, and a third time by 369 votes to 177. It went to the House of Lords backed by the largest Parliamentary majorities since the Reform Bill of 1832. It was road a first and second time in the House of Lords without a division, which, he had thought, in his own simple-minded fashion, meant that noble Lords had adopted its main principle. That opinion was supported by one or two remarkable utterances made by representative Peers on the eve of going into Committee. Lord Lansdowne on 14th October, at Nottingham, said— It should be clearly understood that the Unionist Party did not object to popular control, and that they did not wish to impose religious tests upon teachers, and that they certainly were not engaged in an attempt to run church against chapel. On hearing that he thought, in the curt and apt phrase of the comic song, "Now we shan't be long," for that was their Bill. Lord St. Aldwyn four days after said practically the same thing, with greater emphasis on the undesirableness of imposing tests for teachers. The most rev. Primate went into Committee, on 25th October, with these words on his lips— The Amendments I shall either propose or support are not in any sense what can be called wrecking Amendments of a mischievous kind. Everybody knew what had happened since. He confessed he had a touch of sympathy with the Lords; for ten years they had had nothing to do but cry "Content" and go home, and, therefore, they fell on this big Bill—their first chance—with horse, foot, and artillery. In ten years the Tory Party sent up to the House of Lords ten great Conservative measures, including the Education Bill of 1902, the Irish Land Bill of 1903, and the Licensing Bill of 1904; aud the House of Lords devoted fifteen days in Committee to the whole of the ten Bills. That was precisely the time they spent on the first measure the present Government sent them. The circumstance was an illumination and a portent. The Lords had made this Bill a hopeless tangle of administrative impossibility, the Board of Education could not administer it, and the local authorities would not if they could. His right hon. friend had pointed out that the Lords had either destroyed or crippled the discretion and power of the great local education authorities. The Leader of the Opposition said, "Quite so, but what the Lords have taken away from the local authorities they have given to the parents." He confessed he was a little amused when he heard that, because he remembered that in 1902 his hon. friend the Member for East Mayo moved an Amendment proposing that of the six managers in every denominational school two should be parents. But the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who was now the particular friend of the parents, would not look at it. "By their fruits ye shall know them." But was it true that the Lords had taken away from the local authority to give to the parents? Take the case of Clause 6; their own clause. That clause said to the parent, "You can please yourself, you shall be the arbiter whether you send your child to the school during the time of religious instruction or not, that is a matter for parental discretion." What happened to the clause? The Lords said to the parent, "You shall send your child, whether you like it or not, at the time of religious instruction." That might be right or wrong, but what became of the inalienable right of the parent? In his long and rather bitter experience on the London School Board he had received petition after petition—honest, not bogus petitions—from parents asking for a board school, and these were always bitterly opposed by the Church and Tory Party on the school board, who now posed as the particular friends of the parents. Whenever he heard hon. Gentlemen opposite advocating the claim of the parents he picked up a fascinating little book on biographies called "Dod's Parliamentary Companion," and found almost without exception either that they were not parents themselves or that they would not under any conceivable circumstances send their child to a public elementary school. The Party opposite was making a cat's-paw of the parent. Lord Heneage's Amendment—[OPPOSITION cheers]—he observed that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and hon. Members behind him cheered very stoutly that Amendment—was designed plausibly enough for the permanence of religious teaching in the schools of the country; but if he was any judge it would make for quite the contrary, by the irritation and controversy which would follow its imposition. This matter was threshed out in the long debates of 1870, and Parliament decided to leave the question to the local authority. Did the right hon. Gentleman in 1902 put in any Heneage Amendment? No, he left the law as he found it, because at that time one of his pet phrases was, "Trust the local authority." All over the country, clergymen, Nonconformist Ministers, and Roman Catholic priests sat down together in the most amicable way—asthey always did when the platform squabbles were over—and devised the most admirable schemes under which religious teaching was to be given day after day in the board schools to the satisfaction of everybody. In advocating the Heneage Amendment in another place, the most rev. Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury quoted from a Return, which was incomplete and which seemed to have been badly summarised by the National Society, to show that there were sixty-eight local education authorities out of 300 who issued no regulations with regard to religious teaching in the schools. The statement might probably be literally correct; but the inference drawn from it was grossly misleading. The fact was that the bulk of these authorities came into existence in 1902, and gave a formal endorsement to the policy of the school boards they supplanted. In most of the schools they gave religious teaching, and in practically all the others the day was commenced with a religious service. The Minister for Education, when he questioned the right hon. Gentleman, said that, so far as the Board of Education could make out, they thought that the return was so incomplete that it was only nine authorities, and not sixty-eight, that had neither religious instruction nor observances. That was a very serious drop; but even in the case of these nine local authorities the inference drawn was grossly misleading. He had gone into this matter very closely, and he had received official or other letters from all these authorities, except one, to say that they had formally carried on the regulations of the school boards they succeeded, and that in the bulk of these schools there was religious instruction or religious observances. The nine places were Hyde, Glossop, Rawtenstall, Ebbw Vale, Carmarthen, Cardigan, Brecon, Pembroke, and Denbigh, and from every one of the authorities of those places, save from Hyde, he had received assurances that there were religious observances, and in some cases lessons. In the outstanding case of Hyde it appeared that it never had a school board, but had eleven schools made up as follows:—one Roman Catholic, four British, four National, one Church, and one Dissenting. Then he would take the case of Ebbw Vale, which was described as one of the godless board schools. Here was the syllabus of that godless school—