HC Deb 14 August 1871 vol 208 cc1608-16

, in calling attention to the injury sustained by the cause of education amongst the working classes in Scotland, from the Provisional Orders applied for during the present Session of Parliament, under the Endowed Hospitals (Scotland) Act of 1869 not having been sanctioned by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, said, the subject was one of importance not to his constituents only, but to the country generally. In the Session of 1869, at which time the Endowed Hospitals were under consideration it was proposed that an Act of Parliament should be passed making those institutions amenable to some general authority, in the same manner as similar English institutions. The managers of these foundations, however, represented that they were themselves ready to undertake the management on a more liberal and extended basis provided sufficient powers and authority were granted them. This was assented to by the late Lord Advocate (Mr. Moncreiff) and the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, and an Act was passed which gave the managers a permissive power to act for two years in reforming these institutions, and with the proviso that the Secretary of State should have power to prolong the period for one year further. The Preamble recites— That it is expedient that provisions should be made to enable the citizens, managers and trustees from time to time to apply for and obtain powers and authority whereby the usefulness and efficiency of the said hospitals and institutions may be increased and the benefits thereof extended. And the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, in advocating the Bill, said he should not be at all afraid of giving to the managers of these great institutions the opportunity of showing whether they were or were not willing to do what they stated they desired to do, by putting them into a position in which they might carry out the changes required; and that he was willing to give them a helping hand. Now, it was the essence of his (Mr. M'Laren's) complaint that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had not only not given the managers that helping hand which had been promised, and which it was in his power to give, but had thrown obstacles in the way of reform. The House would observe that the power given to the Secretary of State was either to pass the Provisional Orders submitted to him, or to pass them with such alterations or modifications as might seem expedient—no power was given to refuse to pass them altogether without reasons assigned—they were then to be laid on the Table of the House, and if not objected to they became law. In the succeeding Session of Parliament the Merchant Company of Edinburgh applied for four Provisional Orders in respect of four separate institutions—one of them being Gillespie's Hospital—with the purpose of "extending the benefits of those institutions." The changes they proposed were sufficiently radical, but they were not radical enough for the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, who proposed that they should seek power to shut up the institutions altogether, and apply the funds to the purposes of education. The Provisional Orders finally received the sanction of Parliament; and it would give some idea of the radical nature of the reform effected, that the 45 aged persons who were maintained in the hospital had been pensioned off—to their great comfort—and the building was converted into a school, in which 1,200 children were educated. In the same Session of Parliament the managers of another Hospital—Heriot's Hospital—applied for a Provisional Order. All the managers desired was to reduce the number of boys maintained in the Hospital to 60, giving out-door allowance to those whom they thought would by that course be better provided for, be more comfortable, and obtain a better education: but bearing in mind the declared opinion of the Home Secretary in respect of the Merchant Company's Hospitals, what they applied for was to shut up the Hospital altogether, and apply the funds for the education of the poor children of the city. It was doubted whether that course was quite within the powers of the Act of 1869; but, having the authority of the Home Secretary's opinion in the other cases they made that application in July of last year. As the Session was then approaching its close the Home Secretary refused to grant the Order as applied for; but he gave an assurance that when Parliament again met he would issue the Provisional Order early in the Session. When, however, the Session arrived and the Provisional Order was applied for, the application failed. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to doubt whether he had not exceeded his powers in respect of the previous Provisional Orders, and asked whether certain applicants could obtain for him the opinion of counsel on the subject of their application. This was done. Sir Roundell Palmer, Sir J. Wickens—the present Vice Chancellor—and Mr. Gordon gave a joint opinion that the changes sought for were within the powers of the Minister. But the right hon. Gentleman was not satisfied, and he asked the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown for Scotland. The opinion of those Law Officers was that those powers were not given by the Act of Parliament. It followed, if that opinion was correct, that the four Provisional Orders already granted were illegal. He (Mr. M'Laren) admitted that having taken the opinion of the Law Officers of Scotland the Home Secretary was bound to act upon it—because although not a question of Scotch law exclusively it related wholly to a Scotch institution. The managers then applied to the Home Secretary requesting him to issue the Provisional Order modified in any way he might chose, and they submitted a scheme out of which they had struck everything that could be of doubtful legality, and offered to submit to any further modifications he might think fit to make. But the Home Secretary answered that he had not sufficient information with respect to educational matters in Edinburgh to enable him to grant the Provisional Order. Now, if the right hon. Gentleman had not obtained such information it was his own fault, because the Act of 1869 gave him special power to refer any such inquiry to two Commissioners—one the sheriff of the county, and the other a gentleman to be appointed by himself. But the right hon. Gentleman took no advantage of that power, and took no public means to obtain information. That was the only justification he had for saying he was not sufficiently informed as to the state of education in Edinburgh. The foundation in question was in a very peculiar position. Thirty-five years ago the trustees—who were a regularly incorporated body, and now consisting of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, six magistrates, 34 town-councillors, and 13 City ministers—54 members in all — obtained an Act of Parliament to establish out-of-door schools for the benefit of the poor of Edinburgh; and they had since 1835 established 11 such schools, which now gave an excellent education to 3,500 children. The children were not admitted by patronage, but simply by the parent filling up a schedule describing his position and family, and his need for gratuitous education — in fact, the more destitute the parent the better chance the child had of being admitted. They would have erected more schools but they were prohibited from touching their capital, and had actually £20,000 which they would, if they could have obtained the Provisional Order, have applied to the erection of additional schools which the revenue well enabled them to maintain. It might, perhaps, be supposed that, in their defective state of information, the Government refused to grant the Provisional Order from some suspicion of jobbery. If it were so, nothing could be more erroneous. The highest salary given to a master was £160, and the under-schoolmasters received about £50 a-year each. He believed the fact was that there was an undercurrent—first openly shown at the recent meeting of the British Association, which set in the direction of swallowing up Heriot's Hospital, and making it part and parcel of the University. The idea was to take it from the poor children, to whom it was left, and to make it into a "hall" in connection with the University of Edinburgh. In short, the plan was to rob the poor for the benefit of the middle classes. Another scheme was to treat the funds as if they were not intended for Edinburgh especially, but taken away from the City and applied to the benefit of Scotland generally. To what extent that idea prevailed he could not say; but, for himself, if Parliament passed an Act for any such purpose he should regard it as legalized robbery. Heriot was first a citizen of Edinburgh; but having come to London he became acquainted with the Blue Coat School, and his direction to the trustees was that the foundation he had instituted at Edinburgh should be conducted on the same principle; and it had been so conducted from that time to the present. Under these circumstances, he thought it would be a grievous wrong to apply these funds to any other purpose than that for which they were intended. The subject was altogether one of deep interest to those whom he represented, and it was at their request that he had brought the matter before the House.


said, he could quite confirm the hon. Member as to the spirit in which the Act of 1869 was passed. Those who supported it did so in the belief that, as no general measure was about to pass for the organization of higher education in Scotland, it was desirable in the meantime to give new powers to the trustees of these institutions, and to place faith in their good intentions. This confidence had been fully justified, for the schemes submitted for Provisional Orders by several of these bodies were highly creditable to them, and had been sanctioned accordingly. The present cause of complaint was that effect had not been given to the scheme for Heriot's Hospital. That, however, was not owing to any want of will on the part of the Home Secretary, but to want of power. The hon. Member had quoted opinions contrary to those of the Law Officers, but, at least, it seemed very doubtful what were the legal powers possessed by the Home Secretary under the Act. But what did the Home Secretary do? He gave Notice of a Bill, which had been read the first time, to enlarge the legal powers; and it was his hon. Friend (Mr. M'Laren) himself who, by his threatened opposition, destroyed all hope of the Bill becoming law this Session. He did not think the course the hon. Member now recommended the best course that could be pursued — namely, the extension of the operation of the Act and of the Order in Council. He thought a better course would be to leave it to the Government to propose what might seem most desirable next Session, when he hoped they would be in a position to deal with the question of primary in connection with that of higher education in a general Education Bill for Scotland.


said, that if it was true that under the Act of 1869 he possessed sufficient legal power, and if it was also true that the scheme then put before him was sufficient, he admitted that a good case had been made out against him by the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren). But he did not consider that the Act conferred on him sufficient legal power, and he arrived at that conclusion with very great hesitation and unwillingness. As to his hon. Friend's suggestion that there was a suspicion of jobbery on the part of the managers of Heriot's Hospital, he would at once set it aside. He had had repeated opportunities of meeting those gentlemen, and had never seen a body of men more earnest or single-minded in their endeavour to do their duty; and he would also say that he had not a shadow of doubt that the scheme they proposed was a very considerable improvement upon the present mode of applying the great educational endowment of that Hospital; but after every inquiry, and after consulting with those whose opinions in regard to a matter of this nature it was his duty to take—namely, the Law Officers of Scotland, he arrived at the conclusion that he had not legal power to sanction this new scheme. The hon. Member had said that a different conclusion had been arrived at by very eminent English counsel on the subject of Gillespie's Hospital; but the case of Gillespie's Hospital was essentially different from that of Heriot's Hospital. As to the want of information, it must not be forgotten that the Home Secretary had not in his office the means of making the best inquiry as to the application of these funds. The Home Office was not an educational department, and with the best will in the world the Home Secretary must feel that he was wanting in that fulness of knowledge and information which would enable him speedily to arrive at the best conclusion on the subject. The question was one which was of great importance to the education of Scotland. The funds in Scotland immediately devoted by former donors to the purposes of education in Scotland might be put at £75,000; there was also £25,000 a-year additional, so that the whole educational endowments might be stated at about £100,000, upwards of £50,000 of which sum arose in the City of Edinburgh alone; and he submitted that in dealing with the question of Heriot's Hospital, he had to consider not merely the case before him, but the case of all those other endowments for the purpose of education in Scotland, and determine what was the best manner in which they might be applied. The hon. Member for Edinburgh naturally wished to see the funds applied to the education of the poor in that city; but they knew that in Scotland there already existed very large means for educating the poor. At that moment there was before Parliament a Bill which, unfortunately, they were not able to pass, which would extend to Scotland the same means for providing for elementary education which existed in England; and that being the case, it was most important to see that those great funds were not simply applied in relief of the rates, but in the manner best calculated to promote education in Scotland. Now, they could not in Scotland draw that distinction between the rich and the poor which, unfortunately, was drawn in this country. In Scotland all the people had an eager desire for education, and there was hardly anyone who, if he had energy and ability, might not obtain the best education which that country afforded. He thought, therefore, that the duty of any person who had to deal with this great question was to see how those funds might be applied, so as to enable the very poorest in Scotland to obtain the most ample and the best education. In his opinion the scheme laid before him, although a great improvement upon the existing scheme, and containing many points well worthy of consideration, was by no means a complete scheme. That being his opinion, he brought the subject before the Government, and their opinion was, that the best mode of proceeding would be not to attempt to enforce the scheme—the legality of which was denied by their legal advisers, and of the efficiency of which he was himself doubtful—but to bring in a Bill greatly to enlarge the powers of the managers, and also to give enlarged means of inquiry. With reference to the means of inquiry, the hon. Member said that sufficient means already existed, and that the Home Secretary, in case he had wanted information, might have referred the matter to the sheriff and some other gentleman to be appointed by himself. In one case that was done; but he confessed that as regarded these large endowments of Heriot's Hospital, he did not consider that that was a sufficient means of inquiry. The Bill the Government brought in provided, to a considerable extent, for existing deficiencies. He had no doubt that that Bill was capable of improvement in some respects; but the hon. Member for Edinburgh must excuse him for saying that that measure would have become law this Session if it had not been for his persistent opposition. He deeply regretted that they had not been able to go forward with that Bill. It would have enabled the Government, he thought, to have met the wishes of the people of Edinburgh, and given them large powers, which they did not at present possess. With respect to the whole question of education in Scotland, it must occupy the attention of the Government. They were as pledged to deal with that question as they could possibly be, and he should deeply regret if, when they came to deal with elementary education in Scotland, they did not take some means to secure the wise and useful application of the endowments which had been left by the liberality of successful promoters of education in Scotland.


said, he was sorry to hear the views that had just been expressed by the Home Secretary. The consequence of the course pursued with reference to Heriot's Hospital had been that the poorer classes of Edinburgh had been deprived of the education they would otherwise have had. They were now promised an Education Bill for Scotland next Session; the same thing had been promised them for the last three years; he confessed he saw no better prospect of obtaining it than in 1869. The excuse was that there had not been time to consider the Bill in the present Session; but there were down on the Paper for that evening three Irish measures which would take more time to discuss than a Scotch Education Bill. He did not, therefore, think that that was the sole reason for postponing that question.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.