HC Deb 12 July 1875 vol 225 cc1328-30

asked the Vice President of the Council, Whether, considering that doubts have been raised as to the legality of causing a School Board to be formed in any district where there is a sufficiency of school accommodation, he will give an assurance that no School Board shall henceforth be formed in any such district until the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown has been taken upon the subject?


Sir, hon. Members who were in the last Parliament will remember, and it may be seen by reference to Hansard's Delates, on June 30, 1870, that Clause 12 of the Education Act of 1870, to which my noble Friend's Question refers, was introduced as a fresh clause in Committee by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brad- ford (Mr. W. E. Forster), as he stated at the time in the House, for the express purpose of enabling localities which had sufficient school accommodation, and therefore could not be compelled to elect school boards, to have school boards if they desired, for the purpose of compelling the attendance of children at school and of paying the fees in existing schools for the children of parents whom they considered unable to pay them. The clause was fully discussed on its merits at the time by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and it was finally passed with only a division against a proposal that 20 ratepayers, instead of a majority of ratepayers, might claim a school board, even where there was no school deficiency, for compulsion, &c., only. Ever since the passing of the Act, and in a large number of cases, the Education Department, under this clause, and acting under their usual legal advice, have allowed the election of school boards, at the request of a locality, where there was no school deficiency—Manchester, Macclesfield. Stockport, and other large towns being among the number. Until my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowen) recently raised the question no doubt has, as far as I know, been raised in Parliament, in the country, or by a single ratepayer as to the legal sufficiency of Clause 12 to carry out the intention of Parliament to enable localities to have school boards, if they desired, simply for compulsion and payment of fees. The Lord President stated last week to a deputation at which my noble Friend was present, that the only way properly to test the correctness of their views as to Clause 12 was for a ratepayer to try the matter in a Court of Law. I need not say that we have given careful consideration to the views of my noble Friend and the other hon. Members who share them; but, as we cannot see any reason to believe that the Government and the country have been under a misapprehension on the subject for the last five years, and as the intention of Parliament is beyond dispute, we do not consider that we should be justified in unsettling the country on this important point by referring the matter to the Law Officers of the Crown, whose opinion, it must be remembered, would not be final. It is obvious that we must act in a case of this kind on our independent judgment of what is right, sorry though we are if that judgment prevents us, as in this matter, from complying with the wishes of some of our Friends.