Motion for Adjournment.

– in the House of Commons on 4th August 1922.

Alert me about debates like this

Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn.'

Mr. O'CONNOR:

I was saying, when the proceedings were interrupted, how vital to the people whom I represent is this question of secondary education, and that, having surveyed their position for many years, I have come to the conclusion that the great weapon for raising them to better things is education. We send out of our schools every year a large number of exceptionally clever boys and girls. Whenever I pay a visit to my constituents, and attend one of their school festivals, I am more than proud when find what a splendid position these schools have been able to take in the educational competitions of the city. What becomes of these young Irish boys and girls who leave our elementary schools at 14 years of age? They come, as a rule, from very poor homes, and their parents, small as their incomes are, have necessarily to make their domestic budgets equalise. The result is that at that age these children are compelled to go to work. They have not the money or the time to be apprenticed to a trade, and, consequently, very many of them go into what are called blind-alley occupations; and boys or girls who go into blind-alley occupations are usually doomed to what is practically servitude for the remainder of their lives.

I will illustrate what a splendid lot of material is thus wasted, not only for the Irish themselves, but for the country in which they have found a home. A young lady, the daughter of a friend of mine, is a teacher in a convent school in London. During the War she was approached by one of her pupils, a little boy about twelve years of age, who began to talk to her about the then dominant topic of submarines, and she was astounded to hear this boy of such tender years give an exposition of the inner working of a submarine that was worthy of an expert. She was so surprised and, if I may use the word, so edified, by the talk of this boy, that she insisted upon his giving a lecture to his fellow-pupils on the submarine, and he proceeded to do so for an hour, illustrating the subject on the blackboard with a piece of chalk. A boy of twelve who shows such a precocious knowledge of machinery has in him the divine spark of genius, and it is a waste to the nation that that genius should not have an opportunity of developing. As a matter of fact, and as I anticipated, this boy has gone into a blind alley employment. I am hoping in some way or other to watch his future career and perhaps to help him to get out of the rut into which he has fallen. I hope it will be possible to make provision in Scotland Road Division which will enable a large number of boys and girls of the Irish race—I must first look after my own people—to have bursaries which will carry them along from 14 to 18 years of age, and if that project should succeed and my health remains strong, I may be able to take another trip to America to raise a fund for that purpose. If I am able to accomplish that we shall see a better educated and more prosperous Irish class in this country. With this project in the air the President of the Board of Education has come forward and aimed a deadly blow at the secondary schools, which are the best method of improving the prospects of the people of my race. These are the reasons why I have seen this Circular with great regret, and these are the reasons why I think all the education authorities of the country, as well as my own people, are up in arms against it, and I find it necessary at this late hour of the Session to add my strong protest.

12 N.

Photo of Sir William Adkins Sir William Adkins , Middleton and Prestwich

I desire in my first sentence to associate myself with what has fallen from my hon. Friend, who speaks with such deserved authority for his fellow countrymen and his co-religionists, and it is perhaps not unfitting that the effect of this Circular upon those for whom he speaks should be the first aspect presented to the House. I speak from a slightly different angle, but at the same time in full accord with my hon. Friend, and I speak on behalf of all the local education authorities of England and Wales. There is absolute unanimity among boroughs and counties on this matter, and so far as I can do it I desire to present to the Government and to the House of Commons the essence of a grave situation. In the first place, may I, in all courtesy and without in any way diminishing my regard and affection for the President of the Board of Education, say that the method of procedure in this matter is gravely open to objection? The amounts of the grants to be available for secondary schools, whether they come from the Ministry or whether a proportion of the grant is made by the local authorities, was decided upon after prolonged discussion in this House, and the House may fairly be said to have taken its full share of responsibility in the matter, but to proceed by way of Circular, which has the force of law after it has been published in the "London Gazette" for a month, a form which cannot be altered by this House and which does not require a Resolution of the House, is to give the House of Commons the minimum of voice in the matter, and the least possible opportunity of making any protest or any suggestion. It is only your courtesy, Sir, and the willingness of hon. Members to make a House on the last day of the Session which enables any public discussion of this kind to be made, and now it can only be made in a way which permits of no Resolution and no decision of any kind, and I would say to my right hon. Friend, who knows probably better than any of us the extreme value of constitutional forms inspired by freedom, not to use his great influence to acquiesce in these methods which leave to the House so little opportunity.

My second point is that this is a most unfortunate time of the year to make financial alterations in education grants. Every local authority, acting in obedience to the directions that we have often had from the Government, makes its budget in the spring of the year. I should think before 22nd May, when this unhappy Circular saw the light—such light as was open to it—every borough and every county in England and Wales had already made its estimates for the year which ends at the end of next March, and they made those estimates, so far as regards education, on the faith of the considered policy of the Board, the Government and this House, and, therefore, if in the middle of the year a circular comes out which has the effect at once of diminishing by 20 per cent. the total grants available for non-provided secondary schools it means one of two things, either that they will have to go on to the rates, and, even then, it requires a supplementary estimate, or they will be neglected. wish to say, having, myself, the responsibility of being chairman of a county council, that it is very bad finance to force on any administrative body supplementary estimates half way through the current year. They are bad even here, in a legislative assembly. They are worse in a purely administrative body. I am sure my right hon. Friend sympathises in his heart, and I hope he will in his voice, when I put it to him that at this time of the year to bring in a change which diminished the money on which we are entitled to depend is mischievous financially, promotes bad administration and ought not to be done.

I desire now to deal with another matter, which is largely one of form and not of substance. A good deal has been said about the particular way the grants we are now talking about are paid. It is true that to a secondary school which is not maintained by a local authority help from public funds may come in two ways, one by a direct grant from the Board of Education and the other by a grant from a local authority. I am sure every one of us, from my right hon. Friend down to a mere backbencher like myself, could take up time and could use strong language as to the theoretical inconvenience of this double-barrelled method, and any correction of it, provided it did not involve the starving of this kind of education, would be a correction that all Members of the House would be prepared to consider, but it is no answer to the protest I am making to say that the present method of giving these grants is clumsy and awkward and not simple. We are not defending the present method of the double grant as being in itself good, and we do ask the Board of Education not to mix up the question of method and machinery as contained in the double grant, with the question of substance as to the total amount of the grant when it is properly earned by efficient schools. Therefore, any argument which may be addressed to us, or to the House generally, that the present method is open to every kind of logical bombardment, although it will be listened to with respect, will leave us quite cold, because we are not so much concerned about the double method as we are about the practical thing.

Having dealt with these three points of administration, I should like to deal with the merits of the case. What does this mean? It is done by the Board of Education, we understand, at the suggestion of the Geddes Committee. I desire to speak of the Geddes Committee with that profound respect with which one speaks of persons at once irresponsible and powerful, and, therefore, terrifying to the ordinary citizen, and the House will not hear from me any words of calculated disrespect. I am bound to say, however, that. when the Geddes Committee come to deal with education, they conceal their knowledge of education, or their interest in it, with such complete skill that it is difficult to realise that one is dealing with a Committee of highly-civilised persons. I have extracts from their Report, but I am not going to trouble the House by reading them. In effect, they say, "Here is a good deal of money given to non-provided secondary schools. You give it in two ways. Make the two ways alternative instead of cumulative and you will save money." That, of course, is quite elementary from one point of view, but hopelessly irrelevant from another. The question as to whether the money is deserved and whether it is money which ought to be spent, if possible, for the good of the community, is never grappled with at all by these admirable persons. Therefore, I do not propose to detain the House more on that point, and I pass from this respectful consideration of their personality and their policy to deal with the substance of the matter.

The substance of the matter is, that there are in this country to-day some hundreds of secondary schools which are not provided by the local authorities. Many of them have an ancient and famous history. They are of varying type. Some of them represent the intense convictions of certain forms of Christianity awl of the societies concerned. Some of them are not specifically connected with any particular body of doctrine or religious tradition; but they all have this in common, that they represent the ancient civilisation of England and Wales in the matters of education. However good the policy of the Board, however earnest our local authorities, the new schools built by them and started by them can never acquire within a few years that which is best in the ancient tradition that clings to these other schools. There is nothing which is dearer to Members of the House of Com- mons, I am sure, than to bring all that is best in our historic civilisation within the reach of the children of the poor and most needy, and that can only be done if you make the ladder for the clever child of the poorest to these old schools easy to ascend, and with no gaps in it. Therefore, grants to these schools are matters which ought to be dealt with very tenderly and very sympathetically by the Board of Education and by the Treasury, even at times of rigid economy.

My hon. Friend has referred to the fact that the non-provided school, whatever its other qualities, does, so far as it takes the place of the provided school, save the country great sums of money. We have all been familiar with those arguments in times when educationists were divided amongst themselves; I would point out to my right hon. Friend, and to the House, that in this case that we are arguing to-day there is complete unanimity between denominationalists and their opponents and between all kinds of persons who are concerned over education, because, whatever may be our controversy as to the type of school there ought to be for every child in a place where only one school is possible—that we know is a very acute controversy—we surely all want the child who can benefit by further education not to he cut off from that particular type of education, under whatever religious auspices it be given, which enshrines so much of the best civilisation of our country.

The proposal in the circular cuts off at once 20 per cent. of that part of the grant which is given through the local authority, or the equivalent from the Government grant. Not only does it do that, but it proposes to go on from year to year cutting it down more and mere until, at the end of five years, there is a total saving of £500,000 a year, and something like a halving of the grants I hat have beer made. What does the Government want, and what does my right hon. Friend want? Does he want, in the true interests of education, that the ultimate £500,000 should be found from the rates instead of the taxes? If he does, I must, with great respect, tell him that it will not happen. There was never a time since we had public education in this country when it was so difficult to get money from the rates for education. If I live, I may have to go through the same experience next year that I have gone through during the last year. The difficulty of getting rates in my own county for imperative educational purposes has been enormous. Within the last few days, in regard to a needed educational reform in the county in which I live, one had to say frankly that it was impossible to go on with it in the present state of pressure upon the ratepayers. The pressure upon the ratepayers is every hit as heavy as the pressure upon the taxpayers, and it is more difficult to deal with, because the ratepayers are a smaller class than the taxpayers; they are nearer to the place where the rate is levied, and they can, therefore, use their influence more directly and more effectively. This unhappy and ill-considered circular has had an extraordinary effect in uniting in the criticism of it all educationists and the representatives of ratepayers and persons who are speaking for the ratepayers. Surely it cannot be for the good of education to fill its friends with depression, and to give barb and point and additional reason to those whose temperament would lead them to cut down expenditure upon education. I can conceive nothing more unhappy in its certain result.

If it be impossible, as I assure the House it is, to make up from the rates what would be lost in the grant from the taxes, what is the alternative? I have here communications from some of the leading cities in the country, and some of the more prominent counties. In Dorsetshire it involves nearly £10,000 more from the rates this year, and in a few years it will mean £17,000 more from the rates. The Dorsetshire authorities say they do not know how they can increase the rates further, and they think that they must curtail the income of the schools. There are similar statements from Liverpool, Birmingham, Birkenhead, Lincoln and Leeds. It is no local geographical disturbance. It is not associated with any matters of controversy or difference between towns and counties, or between one part of the country and another. It is a universal feeling that you cannot at this time, with the best will in the world, supply this money out of rates. On the other hand, if you do not, who will suffer?

The real educational tragedy is that the people who suffer are not people like the sons and daughters of many Members of this House, who will still be able to go to good schools, through the resources of their parents, and not the ordinary boy or girl, who cannot expect to go beyond the elementary school and the continuation school afterwards. Those who suffer are the cleverest and most promising children of those very classes of the community who can least afford to give them proper opportunities for their gifts. If there be economy in education, as there has to be, it is the most cruel and improper form of economy to diminish the supply of educational facilities to those who most need and are most likely to benefit by them.

Most of us are proud of the traditions of our country in education. Those of us, who, by the sacrifice of relatives or other people, have been able to take some share of what is best in these traditions, are anxious as far as possible that our less fortunate fellow citizens should have the same advantage. The limiting of this grant, at this time and in this way, makes it much more difficult to realise that desire. I hope that I have learned in this House that, however one presses the proposals which one thinks right, and however kind the House is in allowing expressions of feelings in criticising, one ought to conclude as far as possible with some definite constructive suggestion. Therefore I make this appeal to my right hon. Friend. Will he withdraw this until the end of the financial year and give Parliament an opportunity on the Estimates, early in next year, of discussing this matter fully and finally, and will he be good enough to confer with the representatives of the local education authorities on this matter? There may be particular points on which there may be economy. Some small part of these grants may he going in less desirable directions than I believe most of them go. it is the duty of everyone who can to help to secure economy where possible, but I do implore him not now, in the middle of the financial year when it is too late to re-arrange things for the rest of the year, to give the effect of law to this Circular. The result will be to make those who care for education sad, and those who care for local economy angry, and make a problem which is difficult now more difficult still to solve in future.

Photo of Mr Herbert Fisher Mr Herbert Fisher , Combined English Universities

There is much in the two eloquent speeches to which I have listened with which I sympathise. I have certainly every desire to express my appreciation of the admirable work done in many of the Catholic secondary schools, and I am fully in accord with the eloquent tribute which has fallen from the lips of the hon. and learned Member for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins) to the work accomplished in many of the non-provided secondary schools of this country. I am sure that the House will readily appreciate that it was no particular pleasure to me to see any abatement of the sums available from public resources for the promotion of secondary education. At the same time, the two speeches to which we have listened do illustrate in a very clear, forcible manner the difficulties which confront the Minister of Education when he finds himself compelled by the financial exigencies of the country to abate the Parliamentary grant. He is at once met with an outcry from all the education authorities, and he is also met, and necessarily met, in view of our present system, with an outcry from the ratepayers. My hon. and learned Friend has concentrated principally upon the procedure which is being followed by the Board. He admits that the double grant is in form indefensible. He admits that the Board is justified in abolishing it, but he naturally thinks that some alternative form of grant, satisfactory to the local education authorities, should be put in its place.

Photo of Sir William Adkins Sir William Adkins , Middleton and Prestwich

I only disapprove of two authorities voting money simultaneously.

Photo of Mr Herbert Fisher Mr Herbert Fisher , Combined English Universities

The hon. and learned Member does consider that the double grant as a form of educational finance is indefensible, but concentrates his criticism upon the procedure followed by the Board. In effect, he says that the local education authorities have not had sufficient notice, that they have made up their accounts for the year in the spring, and that it is unfair on the part of the Board, at this late period of the year, to launch a circular which in any way disarranges their calculations. My hon. and learned Friend has forgotten the fact that on 8th March I was asked a question by the hon. and learned Member for the Moss Side Division of Manchester (Lieut.-Colonel Hurst) as follows: LIEUT.-COLONEL HURST asked the President of the Board of Education to what extent the Board will continue to make grants to such non-provided secondary schools as receive grants-in-aid front a local education authority; whether he is aware that the Board's grant of £5,000 a year has contributed to the successful work of the Manchester High School for Girls; and whether he can give any assurance as to the continuation of this grant? To that question the following answer was given by me: I presume that the hon. and gallant Member is referring to the recommendation on page 115 of the first Interim Report of the Committee on National Expenditure, that where a school receives financial assistance from a local authority, the direct grant from the Board should cease and no further grant should be made to that school except through the local authority as an intermediary. While accepting the recommendations in principle the Government have decided to spread its application, as regards existing schools and arrangements, over a period of five years. It will of course he understood that no extension of such arrangement will be permitted. The Board will issue a circular on the subject as soon as passible. Therefore the local education authorities had notice as early as 8th March of the Board's intention to issue a circular in these terms. I think in these circumstances that there is very little substance in my hon. and learned Friend's complaint as to the procedure adopted by the Board. There has been ample opportunity for discussion on this matter. So much for procedure. Now for the substance. Let us attempt to form a picture of the financial consequences and implications of this proposal. I am told on the one band by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor) that it aims a "deadly blow" at education, and I am told by my hon. and learned Friend that it is a "cruel and improper form of economy." Then we have lurid pictures painted for us of promising boys whose avenues to higher careers are cut short by this cruel and improper form of economy.

At the same time we are told that the Circular will impose a crushing burden on the rates. Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. If the ratepayer is to make good this deficiency, if he is to come forward and assist the schools, there is no "cruel and improper economy," and there is no "deadly blow" made at secondary education, and the secondary schools will be as well off as before. But we are told by the hon. and learned Member for Middleton that there is no chance of this sum of £500,000, spread over five years, being made good locally. I am not so sure. Let us consider what this sum means, spread over the whole country. It means that in five years' time the local authorities will be asked for an additional halfpenny rate on higher education. It means that this year, if they come forward entirely to fill the deficiency, they will he asked for one-ninth of a penny rate. My hon. and learned Friend is rendering, and has rendered, very great service to the cause of education in Northamptonshire. What will happen in Northamptonshire? In that county the effect of the Circular will be that there will be a reduction at the end of five years of £175. Spread over five years that is all the loss that Northamptonshire will incur.

Photo of Sir William Adkins Sir William Adkins , Middleton and Prestwich

I am sure that my right hon. Friend does not mean it, but his statement really has the effect of giving a most misleading impression. The fact is that at present we should be spending more money in this direction if we could possibly afford it. The fact that this is shut down upon us prevents our carrying on education in the way that we would desire. It is not fair to say that only £175 is at stake. That would be true if you stereotyped things and stopped everything where it is. The Circular hinders development, and the effect of it will be enormously greater than the right hon. Gentleman has indicated.

Photo of Mr Herbert Fisher Mr Herbert Fisher , Combined English Universities

The effect of the Circular is simply to abolish the double grants. If you consider the Circular in isolation, it has the effect upon Northamptonshire of reducing the sum available for secondary education by £175, at the end of five years. Its effect, therefore, will be negligible in that county. I would remind the House that a Committee is now engaged inquiring into the whole subject of grants in aid of education.

Photo of Sir William Adkins Sir William Adkins , Middleton and Prestwich

Why not leave this matter alone until that Committee has reported?

Photo of Mr Herbert Fisher Mr Herbert Fisher , Combined English Universities

It is desirable that there should be some economy in education, and it is obvious that if you conclude that there should be some such economy it is very difficult, if not impossible, for the Board to retain a form of grant which is admittedly indefensible. How can you defend any system of public grants under which a certain class of secondary school receives £500,000 more than another class, not because the schools in that class are more efficient, but simply because they are aided? As soon as you look at the problem in that way, you see that the system is indefensible. The Board took the only possible course, which was to terminate so illogical a system of grant. I will take the effect of this Circular upon the county of Lancashire. It is a very important county. It has a number of important secondary schools. So far as we can estimate the effect of this Circular, it will mean the transfer of a sum of about £16,000 from the taxes to the rates, at the end of a period of five years. That is the "deadly blow" to secondary education in Lancashire. I submit that this whole matter of the abolition of the double grant has been invested with art importance which it does not really possess, and that, in relation to it, very exaggerated language has been used which cannot be sustained. In Lancashire there will be this year an additional charge, assuming that the locality makes good the deficiency, of one-ninth of a penny rate, and ultimately a charge of a halfpenny rate. The charge upon Lancashire will be exactly proportionate to the charge on the whole country.

I would naturally view with no little dismay the educational situation if the local authorities did not, during the course of the quinquennial period, make good the whole or the greater part of this deficiency. Let us assume, however, that that is not done; let us assume that the worst happens. Even so, the aided schools at the end of five years will be in a far better position, as respects assistance from public funds, than they were in 1918. I must give a few salient details in order to bring that proposition home to hon. Members. I will take three schools. Take the secondary boys' school at Clitheroe. In 1918–19 this school received from public funds £799 10s. Five years hence, assuming that the deficiency is made good by the local authorities, it will receive £1,640 from public funds. Take Lancaster Royal Grammar School. In 1918–19 it received from public funds £2,984 11s. 8d. Five years hence, on the same assumption, it will receive £5,464. Take the Ashtonin-Makerfield Grammar School. In 1918–19 it received from public funds £1,829 17s. 6d. Five years hence, on the same assumption, it will receive £3,860.

I think the House will recognise that in spite of the special strain of this period the Government have not been ungenerous to secondary education. I am well aware that our system of grants in aid of secondary education leaves much to be desired. It has in particular one defect. We have not yet seen our way to take into account the differences between the wealthier and poorer areas in making our grants in aid of secondary education, as we have in the case of elementary education. In the case of elementary education, we have, as the House knows, an arrangement which enables us to give more to the poorer area than to the richer area. We have not been able, so far, to introduce an arrangement of that kind into our grants for secondary education. This is a difficult problem, but I hope it is not insoluble. I am not by any means sure that the last word has been said upon secondary school finance. I am afraid, however, I cannot undertake, as my hon. and learned Friend has suggested—much as I should desire to fall in with the views of so distinguished an educationist—to withdraw the circular which has been issued. The estimates of the Board of Education are framed upon the supposition that this circular holds good.

As I have already explained, the circular involves this year a reduction in the Board's grant of £100,000, equal to a rate of one-ninth of a penny. My hon. and learned Friend has suggested that we might have an exchange of views, or a consultation between the Board and the local education authorities. I am always very desirous of meeting local education authorities. I know how much the system of education in this country owes to the self-sacrifice of the men and women all over the country who work upon these bodies. I find it difficult to express my sense of the indebtedness of the Board to the work of men like my hon. and learned Friend and many others, upon our local authorities, and I am indeed sorry that any step which the Board has taken should involve them in any additional anxiety. At the same time the Estimates of the Board have been settled. They have passed the House and they assume that this circular will hold good, and in these circumstances I hope my hon. and learned Friend will appreciate the reasons which make if impossible for me to accede to his suggestion. If he thinks that any good would come from any conference upon points of detail between the Board and the local education authorities, I can assure him we shall be very glad to have such a conference and to consider the situation.

Photo of Mr Ernest Gray Mr Ernest Gray , Accrington

In the course of a very few moments, I desire to support the appeal made to the President of the Board of Education to suspend the operation of this circular, at least until the Autumn Session, and until we have a conference of local education authorities upon the subject. The answer given by the right hon. Gentleman is quite insufficient to meet the case which has been made out against this circular. I am not quite of the opinion that this dual grant is indefensible. I have some recollection of its origin. It was introduced in order to induce the governors of these secondary schools to submit their schools to inspection. In view of the country's anxiety to see that the schools were thoroughly efficient, the Board agreed, in co-operation with the universities, to inspecting the whole of these schools, and as a consideration for such inspection gave a grant of £7 per scholar. I want to know whether, if the grant is going to be withdrawn, these schools are still to submit to inspection by the Board of Education. If the grant is withdrawn, will they remain subject to the regulations of the Board in regard to secondary schools? I recollect that within recent years there were no regulations of the Board for the conduct of secondary schools. When the Board acquired from Parliament the power to give State grants to these schools, they were then able to impose certain conditions on the schools in order to secure increased efficiency. Are these conditions to remain while the grant is withdrawn? The circular throws no light upon the subject, and it is a very disturbing influence. The governors of the schools do not know what will be the future of the schools and the local authorities do not know.

I cannot square the answer given to-clay with the answers made to me earlier in the Session, on the question of grants to secondary schools. When we had the Economy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill before us a few weeks ago, I understood that the grants this year in respect of secondary education to local authorities were practically the same as in the past year. Now, I gather, that under this Circular there will be a certain amount of reduction in the secondary schools grant. Really, we do not know where we are in the matter of secondary education, and the Session is closing down, leaving the situation in a state of grave uncertainty. I understood, for example, that the question of the number of free places in secondary schools had been brushed aside. Only this week I received an intimation that in the case of a new secondary school the Board has positively refused to recognise more than 25 per cent. of free places, and the number of free places is being reduced. I feel this is the worst form of economy which the Government could practice. It will fall upon a few of the brightest and most promising pupils in our public schools, and while I regret the immediate loss, I also look forward to the ultimate loss which the nation will incur, through failure to train its children. I gave a pledge I would not intervene for more than a moment or two, but speaking as a member of the largest education authority in England, I must say that we regard this position with grave apprehension. I hear from Mr. Leslie, secretary to the Association of Educational Authorities, that they are gravely disturbed by this proposal. The headmasters are wondering what is to be the future of the schools.

These schools are in a desperate condition at this moment. When the President of the Board refers to this as a mere bagatelle, a matter of £100 here and a few score pounds there, he does rot appreciate the position of some of these schools. Many of them have heavy overdrafts which they see no prospect of meeting. Fees have been increased to a stage beyond which increase is impossible. The burden is falling very heavily on the middle classes who are striving to pay these fees. The local authorities have given the utmost they can out of the rates, and I agree that it is quite impossible to get further sums from the rates at the present moment in support of popular education. Not only that, but this grant from the State is, in a way, an equalisation of the rates throughout the country. People are called upon to contribute through the State grant who do not contribute through the rates, although they profit by the education which is given in the schools. We have always felt that when we have argued the case in regard to rate aid and State aid. These schools are in serious difficulties, and the withdrawal of a portion of this grant now, and the ultimate withdrawal of the whole of it, will place many of them in grave financial embarrassment, but it is not a question of a few pounds. They do not know the conditions under which they will have to serve; whether they will have to conform in the future, as in the past, to the Regulations of the Board, their income becomes absolutely uncertain, and what is it all for? For what is called an economy. It is no economy. It is a transference of a burden from one pocket to the other.

It is the complaint that I have made here again and again, that the economies recommended by the Geddes Committee are not real economies in the way of avoidance of expenditure; they have been merely a transference of burdens from the taxpayer to the ratepayer, and I cannot regard that as any real economy. Nay, more, I do not think it is justified, because the charge which falls upon the taxes is more equitably distributed than that which falls upon the rates. Therefore, in these quite brief and imperfect sentences, I join in the appeal that this matter shall be held in suspense, and I will say this last word. In my judgment, the distribution of Parliamentary grants should be determined by the House and not by any Ministry. We are told, again and again, that Parliament ought to exercise control over expenditure. We have had no opportunity of exercising any effective control over this expenditure. An answer to a question was the notice given to the local authorities. The Government take the time of the House. Measures of greater importance arise from day to day, and we are driven to the last few hours in order to raise a question of grave public importance, not merely from the educa- tional, but from the financial point of view. I therefore feel very strongly, indeed, that this matter ought to be adjourned, or held in suspense, until the House of Commons itself can pronounce a judgment upon the matter, and when that judgment is obtained, I have no shadow of doubt that the whole House, irrespective of party, will determine that there shall be no stinting of funds for the promising child, that genius shall have the opportunity of going forward, although in its youth it may be clad in rags.

Photo of Mr Herbert Fisher Mr Herbert Fisher , Combined English Universities

I can only speak again with the permission of the House, but as the hon. and gallant Member has asked me a question, perhaps I may answer him. He appears to be in doubt as to whether the effect of the circular may be to dispense secondary schools from the necessity of inspection by the Board. These schools would still receive the £7 grant, and, consequently, they would still be subjected to the inspection of the Board and the regulations of the Board. I cannot see how there can be any possible doubt on that subject. Then the hon. and gallant Member alluded to the restriction of the number of free places, and said there had been a considerable increase in that restriction. Let me give the figures. In October, 1913, there were 61,266 free places, and in October, 1921, there were 121,646 free places. In other words, the number of free places has increased.