HC Deb 11 February 1873 vol 214 cc289-97

in moving that a Select Committee be appointed "to inquire into the operation of the Endowed Schools Act, 1869," said, he should detain the House but a very few minutes in making this Motion, inasmuch as his proposal followed naturally from the last clause in the Endowed Schools Act of 1869. That Act gave very considerable powers to certain Commissioners and to the Education Department to frame schemes for the management of Endowed Schools; but the last clause of that Act directed that those powers should cease and determine at the end of 1872, unless they were prolonged by the Privy Council for one year; and that in any case they should finally expire at the end of 1873. In the exercise of their discretion the Government had had no hesitation in using the authority thus given to them, and they had extended these powers until the end of 1873. The House, however, before regranting those considerable powers, would naturally expect an account of the manner in which they had been exercised, and it was also desirable that the amendments which experience had shown it to be desirable to introduce into the Act should be laid before them. Under these circumstances, he begged to move for the appointment of a Select Committee who could take evidence as to the past working of the measure, receive the suggestions which the Commissioners were prepared to offer, and make a Report thereon. He should also be glad that there should be an opportunity of explaining before the Committee how much work had been done, and how much remained to be done under the measure. In moving for this Committee he wished to offer two further remarks. In the first place, although the Government wished to avail themselves of the assistance of this Committee, they by no means desired to divest themselves of their present responsibility as to the way in which the work was to be carried out. They would gladly avail themselves of the information that might be elicited by the Committee; their Report would receive their greatest attention and consideration, and they should look upon it as a guide in the course they might adopt; but, at the same time, they should act under a full sense of their own responsibility in the matter. There might be a difference of opinion with reference to the work already performed, and which was about to be performed under the provisions of the Act; but the general opinion was that the reform of the Endowed Schools should proceed, and it would be the duty of the Government, acting under a full sense of their responsibility, to direct how that reform should be conducted. In the second place, he was anxious that the Committee should be in a position to make their Report as speedily as possible in order that the Government might decide this year how the work was to be carried on. He also wished it to be clearly understood that the Government and the Commissioners were anxious that the work they had done should be thoroughly investigated by the Committee. As he should have ample opportunity of expressing his opinions on the subject both before the Committee and on presenting their Report to the House, he should not detain hon. Members further at the present moment. When the Bill was first brought before the House, it contained not only a provision of the necessary machinery for the reform of the Endowed Schools—which were, as he had stated, of a temporary character—but also permanent provisions for the examination of schools and scholars, and for certificates in the case of schools endowed or otherwise; but, owing to the pressure of time and other circumstances, this part of the Bill had been dropped in 1869. Circumstances, however, had now altered, and the Commissioners thought it necessary that the Endowed Schools should attain and be kept up to a right standard, and that those interested in the teaching of private schools should have some means of testing their efficiency. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the appointment of a Select Committee.


said, he was anxious to know what proceedings were to be taken with respect to these Commissioners and the schools that they were already dealing with. People were very much dissatisfied with the body of the Commissioners; in fact, they had no confidence in them at all; and therefore, seeing the Government were of opinion that an improvement should be made in regard to their power, and that directions should be given to them by a Committee of this House as to the course which in future they are to pursue, it seemed extremely hard that certain schools should now be submitted to a body which had not the confidence of the House of Commons. He wished to know what would be done between the present time and the Report of the Committee now moved for—because a great deal of injustice might be committed in the interval. It was very hard that those who were in their clutches should be left to their tender mercies.


said, that the manner in which the Endowed Schools Act was carried through the House reflected the greatest credit on right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and he did not know of any measure which had gone forth with greater promise, and which had proved more abortive than this Act. The Act was passed in 1869, and out of 3,000 endowments, for which schemes had to be prepared, the Commissioners had only dealt with 24; so that, according to that rate, it would require 200 years to get through the work. If the object of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Forster) was not only to continue the present powers of the Commissioners, but also to give them more extended powers, then he (Mr. Goldney) thought the right hon. Gentleman had taken a very unfortunate course; because the Commissioners, instead of attending to those rules which were laid down in the Act, and with regard to which the right hon. Gentleman was so much complimented for his firmness in allowing them to continue in the Bill, had ignored the whole of them, and stated that they were only bound by three sections of the Act which related to religious disability, and that the whole of the machinery of the schemes, the appointment of the governing bodies, and the principles regulating the education and maintenance or not connected with it was entirely in their discretion. He doubted whether it would not be better for Government to bring in a Bill, and leave the House to deal with it. The great principle on which the contest had arisen between existing bodies and the Commissioners was that the Commissioners declined to recognize anything like gratuitous education, which they considered to be on a level with indiscriminate almsgiving. The object of the Act was to free governing bodies of schools from those trusts which hampered them in the carrying on of education, and it provided for the framing of a scheme within six or twelve months, according to the size of the school. The Commissioners could not be said to have gone at all into this matter. In the case of Christ's Hospital the Governors had appointed a committee, consisting of very able gentlemen, and a great deal of trouble had been bestowed upon the preparation of a scheme, which was sent to the Commissioners two and a half years ago. Now the Commissioners had never dealt with it in the slightest degree; the scheme remained unattended to, and it was considered that during these two and a half years the Hospital had been injured to the extent of £25,000. Was this a thing to go on? If the Committee was appointed it should inquire into the operation of the Act, and make its provisions more obligatory upon the Commissioners, so that the intentions of Parliament, and not the mere personal views of the Commissioners, should have effect.


thought the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Forster) contained conclusive reasons for inquiry. Without that a debate would take place without any adequate power of explanation on the part of the Commissioners, and the House would have nothing but one-sided statements, which might be correct or not, to proceed on. He thought the Government had adopted a wise course in proposing the appointment of this Committee, and he trusted that a Bill would be brought in as soon as possible.


said, that no Act of Parliament could have been passed with better intentions or for more patriotic and liberal reasons than the Endowed Schools Act. He had anticipated great things from it in the equalizing of the general machinery of education in this country, but the Act had been spoilt in its administration. The egg was fresh enough and perfectly sound, and had in it the germ of life; but it had been addled, by whose influence it was impossible for that House to determine. It was therefore most wise on the part of the Government to refer the operation of the Act to a Select Committee. He heartily supported the reference, and earnestly hoped that the inquiry would be unrestricted, so far as reason might dictate. His hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield had given Notice of a Motion as to the propriety of having one of the Commissioners to represent a large body of middle-class people who were now utterly excluded from representation by the constitution of the Endowed Schools Commission. He agreed with his hon. Friend that English Nonconformists, by their numbers and social position, were fairly entitled to such a representation.


said, he hoped that if the Committee were appointed, one thing would not be lost sight of, and that was the necessity of giving the House a better opportunity than had ever been accorded to it of challenging any scheme which the Commission might think of handing over to the Government for the purpose of laying it on the Table of the House. One of their schemes had been laid on the Table at a time when there were only six or seven clays during which it could be discussed, and practically nothing could be done upon it. All schemes should be laid on the Table fully 40 days during the sitting of Parliament. He would only add that he did not think it well to take away from the poor of this country the privilege of free education which had hitherto been granted to them in connection with some of these endowments.


thought it would be a cause for great regret if the Commission were not renewed in some form or other. He urged that in any future settlement of schemes for charities religious belief should not be any ground for excluding a man from the governing body of the school. It had been a matter of discussion whether a Dissenter could not be placed on the governing body of a school. In the Ilminster Case the Master of the Rolls decided that a Nonconformist was qualified to act on the governing body of the school; but the Lords Justices overruled the decision. It was carried to the House of Lords, and two Law Lords held one way and two the other, and the consequence was that the disqualification of the Nonconformist was confirmed. That question should not be left open to litigation. If the Commission was allowed to expire, the question to which he was adverting would recur to its former position, and could only be settled by litigation. He hoped, therefore, the result of the Committee would be that in some form or other the Commission would be renewed. It had been said that the Commissioners had only disposed of 24 cases up to the time of their Report. Whilst this was true, it was also true they had under consideration, in various stages of progress, between 500 and 600 cases; and it should be borne in mind that these 24 cases, if it had not been for the Commission, would have been 24 Chancery suits before any schemes could have been settled for the schools. Now, one of the great advantages of the Endowed Schools Commission was that it found a Court to supersede the necessity of going to the Court of Chancery, and so far from its being a reproach that they had disposed of no more than 24 cases in four years, it was a matter of praise that they had disposed of so many in a time so much shorter than would have been taken in Lincoln's Inn. The proposed Committee would, to his mind, be a great calamity if it should result in this Act being discontinued. Great objection had been made to the manner in which the Commissioners had worked the Act of Parliament, and he was not at all surprised at this, considering the sphere they had to work in and the nature of their duties. They had to investigate the concerns of various charities which, for a long series of years, had been conducted in a manner which did not give to the public the full advantage that might have been derived from the endowment, and were unaccustomed to any real investigation of their affairs. It was natural enough that there should be remonstrance and dissatisfaction with any Commission that inquired into such matters. The hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney) had spoken very strongly against the objection of the Commissioners to purely gratuitous education. But their object was to apply the funds to education, which was a stage above mere elemental education. Gratuitous education to a certain extent pauperized those who received it; whereas the plan of the Commissioners would keep alive a spirit of self-help and desire to rise on the part of the children of this country. The more he looked into the Reports of the Commissioners the more he became convinced that they were actuated by an earnest desire to do what the Act directed them to do, and to make the endowments available in the best possible way for the instruction of the children of the poor.


observed, that the subject was about to be referred to a Select Committee, and this should be done in the most unrestricted manner, with the view to inquiries as to what had been done, and recommendations as to the future being fairly entered upon. It seemed to him, therefore, to be most unwise that they should discuss the acts of the present Commissioners, or what the Commissioners of the future were likely to do, on the present occasion. If they did so, they would be sure to have the matter over again, for the most careful Committee could not produce such recommendations as would be acquiesced in by the various Gentlemen who entertained different views in that House; and therefore he hoped that upon a fair and free Committee being given they would be content to wait until that Committee should have reported before they entered upon a discussion on this matter.


said, that it was his intention to leave the Committee entirely unrestricted as to what had been done or should be done for the future. It was the object of the Government in asking for the Committee that no question relating to the conduct of the Commissioners or of the Education Department should be kept from being fairly brought before the Committee. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham) had given Notice of a Motion; but no doubt in his discretion he would think that, as the whole matter would be fully before the Committee, it would be better that he should not bring his Motion on until the Report of the Committee was before the House. He was quite aware that there would be charges made by other persons. There were some Nonconformists who thought that the Commissioners had been too partial to the Church, and some Churchmen who thought that they had been too partial to the Nonconformists; and he believed that there was an influential Committee in London, connected with the Church, appointed to bring forward the decisions which had been given in favour of Nonconformists. He did not, however, think that the present was the proper time to enter into a discussion of the conduct of the Commissioners; though, as he felt that he must to some extent defend them, he would first ask the House to wait until the Report of the Committee was before them before they made up their minds as to the conduct of the Commissioners. He was sure that the House would act unjustly if they withdrew their confidence from the Commissioners before they had seen the Report of the Committee. They would see that it was one thing to bring forward a general measure of reform, and quite another matter to carry out that measure in detail. Even those who had supported a general measure would oppose the application of it in detail in particular cases; and he believed that the Commissioners would be able to show that it was owing to the opposition they had experienced that they had not made greater progress than they had hitherto done. The hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney) said that the Commissioners had done but little work; but still the fact was that they had framed 89 schemes which had received the Royal Assent, and there were 55 more now in the Department. They also entered into negotiations with the governors of schools throughout almost the whole country. One of the problems would be how they could obtain greater expedition. Christ's Hospital had been alluded to, and it was supposed to be a matter of wonder that the future management of that institution had not yet been settled; but he thought, on the other hand, that it was rather unfair to complain of the Commissioners, or to express surprise that so very difficult a work had not yet been completed. The opposition that had been made had not increased the power of the Commissioners; however, negotiations were now in progress between the Governors of Christ's Hospital and the Commissioners that might lead to an agreement. The hon. and learned Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) asked whether the labours of the Commissioners would be suspended during the sitting of the Committee: he (Mr. W. E. Forster) must say that he did not think that it would be right that such should be the case. The Commissioners and the Education Department would of course bear in mind that the Select Committee were sitting; but the hon. Member himself would not wish that a work should be stopped where it was proceeding satisfactorily. [Mr. LOCKE: Satisfactorily to both sides.] If the Commissioners were to suspend all operations except those which were satisfactory to everybody, that would mean that they must suspend all operations whatever, because every scheme affected some individual interest or other, and if an individual knew that his opposition would stop any further proceedings he would be sure to interpose.


hoped that amended schemes to which opposition was raised would not be laid on the Table of Parliament while the Committee were sitting. It would be unfair to ask the Commissioners to suspend work altogether; but it would not be unfair to ask them to take no further steps in regard to schemes which in their amended form were still disapproved by the parties concerned. There was, for example, the great foundation of Dulwich. It was probable that an amended scheme would shortly be laid before Parliament which had excited the greatest possible opposition. Would it be desirable that the Commissioners should go on with this scheme when a Committee was sitting whose principal object was to condemn in the main the proceedings of the Commission?

Motion agreed to.

Select Committee appointed, "to inquire into the operation of 'The Endowed Schools Act, 1869.'"—(Mr. William Edward Forster.)

And, on February 14, Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. WILLIAM EDWARD FORSTER, Mr. HARDY, Dr. LYON PLAYFAIR, Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH, Mr. LEATHAM, Mr. WELBY, Mr. ILLINGWORTH, Mr. KENNAWAY, Mr. TREVELYAN, Mr. COLLINS, Mr. ANDREW JOHNSTON, Mr. HEYGATE, Mr. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH, Mr. POWELL, Sir THOMAS ACLAND, Mr. JOHN TALBOT, and Mr. HARDCASTLE:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.

And, on February 17, Sir JOHN PAKINGTON and Mr. Alderman LAWRENCE added.

And, on February 25, Mr. KENNAWAY discharged, Mr. NEVILLE-GRENVILLE added.

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