HC Deb 07 August 1890 vol 348 cc211-5
(1.30.) MR. ASHER (Elgin, &c.)

I have to apologise to the House for intruding upon it at this very inconvenient hour with regard to a matter which, however important to my own constituency, is, I must admit, of purely local interest. The Motion which I ask the House to adopt has for its object the effecting of a very slight alteration in a scheme prepared by the Educational Commissioners for Scotland with reference to an institution known as the Elgin Institution for the support of old age and the education of youth. I desire at the outset to say that my Motion is not framed in a spirit of hostility to the scheme as a whole, or towards the Educational Endowments Commissioners, whose valuable services I cordially recognise as well as the fair and courteous manner in which they endeavoured to hold the balance between the founder's intentions, on the one hand, and those changes on the other which were necessary for adapting endowments to the altered circumstances of the time. The endowment in question was founded in 1833, and it had three objects in view; in the first place, the maintenance of a hospital for the support of indigent men and women upwards of 55 years of age; in the second place, a school of industry for children of members of the labouring class who were unable to educate and maintain their children; and, in the third place, the establishment of a free school for the education of children of the same class, bat whose parents were able to maintain and clothe them. Now, Sir, the Commissioners have dealt with the endowment in this way. As regards that portion which refers to the support of old and indigent persons, they have not interfered with the endowment at all. It was, indeed, almost entirely beyond the scope of their Commission. With regard to the free school, that, under the scheme, is handed over to the School Board at Elgin on the condition that it is to be maintained in the future as a school. The school of industry is a somewhat misleading term, because it merely consisted of an institution into which children were received, and there maintained, educated, and clothed. With regard to that school, it has been substantially abolished, and there has been substituted for it a number of foundations for both male and female children at tenable public schools throughout the county to be approved of by the Commissioners. An endowment of £250 is set apart for the purpose of school fees, books, and stationery, and also food and clothing for certain children whose parents are unable to provide these for them. With the scheme, as a whole, I am not finding fault. Power is given by the scheme to the Governors, under certain circumstances, to bring female foundationers to the institution for residence and for the purpose of being educated there. The circumstances under which the Governors have that power is where female children have lost one or both parents and the domestic circumstances of their homes are such as to make it inexpedient that they should be left there. Now, the only alteration which by my Motion I propose to make in the scheme is that the Governors should have the same power with reference to male children. It seems to my constituents desirable that the Governors should have that power in the case of boys who are foundationers, but who are in the same unfortunate circumstances as the girls may be in having a home in which it is inexpedient they should remain. I do not propose to make it obligatory on the Governors, but merely that they should have the same powers with reference to the boys as to the girls. This matter excites a good deal of interest in the locality from circumstances connected with the life of the founder, General Anderson, who was an officer in the East Indian Army, and who left to his native town a fortune sufficient for the erection of a large handsome institution, with a revenue attached to it of nearly £2,000. The circumstances of his (General Anderson's) infancy and boyhood were by contrast of a very striking character. His mother had neither house nor home, and his early days were spent within the precincts of the ruins of Elgin Cathedral amidst circumstances of destitution and poverty of an extreme character; and there is a widespread feeling throughout the community that this munificent gift took the form which it did largely from the desire that poor boys similarly situated should find in the institution a home where they could be nurtured and educated in the way he wished. That circumstance largely accounts for the feeling prevalent in Elgin, that it is doing unnecessary violence to the will of the founder that boys should be excluded from this particular benefit of the foundation, and I hope the House will see its way, under these circumstances, to accept the very small alteration which I propose. It will not, I acknowledge, do all that many who live in the locality would wish to see effected, but, at any rate, it will be a step in the direction desired, I think, by the whole community of that neighbourhood. I should not be justified at this hour in detaining the House longer. I hope the Government will assent to this proposal, which will undoubtedly be in the line of the founder's intentions.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to withhold Her consent from that part of the scheme of the Educational Endowment (Scotland) Commissioners for the administration of the Endowment in the burgh and county of Elgin, known as the Elgin Institution for the Support of Old Age and the Education of Youth, which consists of the following words, viz., 'for girls' and 'female,' in the third line of section 29; the word 'girl' in the second and fifth lines of section 32; and the words 'girl,' in the first line, and 'female,' in the third line, of section 33 of the said scheme.—(Mr. Asher.)

(1.40.) MR. SEYMOUR KEAY (Elgin and Nairn)

As I represent the County of Elgin, I hold that I have a mandate from my constituents in this matter, and I only wish to say that I most cordially concur in what has fallen from my hon. and learned Friend. I am prepared to add my personal testimony to the statement which he has made. I think there is no doubt that the scheme put forward by the Commissioners has, whether rightly or wrongly, raised a certain amount of suspicion in the mind of a considerable class of the population, and I believe that the Amendment which has been proposed will certainly tend in the direction of allaying any fears which have been raised. Consequently, without entering into details further, I beg cordially to second the Motion.

(1.43.) THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR SCOTLAND (Mr. M. T. STORMONTH DARLING, Edinburgh and Aberdeen Universities)

After the admonitions addressed to the Government last night not to depart from any scheme for the administration of an educational endowment which has received the sanction of the Education Department, I think the House will not be surprised to hear that we have considered anxiously whether we ought to assent to the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend. Undoubtedly he is quite right in saying that the proposal which he makes involves no invasion of principle. I believe that the Commissioners, whose work in all these matters has been so valuable, were actuated in the decision to which they came by considerations which were very prevalent in Scotland at the time the scheme was framed against what was termed the Hospital system, and apparently they thought it better to reduce that system within limits by confining the benefits of the Institution, so far as the Hospital is concerned, to girls. There is, however, a great deal in what has been said by my hon. and learned Friend, both as to the antecedents of the founder, and also as to the moderate and permissive character of a proposal which does no more than confer the power on the Governors of the Institution to admit boys to its benefits as well as girls. These considerations, coupled with the fact that there seems to b a general consensus of local opinion in favour of the Motion, have induced the Government to assent to it and to invite the House to accept it.

(1.45.) Question put, and agreed to.

Address to be presented by Privy Councillors.