HC Deb 12 June 1890 vol 345 cc808-20
(12.10.) MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

Under the Endowed Schools Acts of 1869 a scheme for the re-organisation of Christ's Hospital has been laid on the Table of the House since the 8th ult., and to a part of this scheme I have to ask the House to express, dissent. I will occupy but a short time in showing why I ask the House to pass this Resolution. The question is not one into which Party politics enter. In the district of Shoreditch I represent, and in parts of the parish outside my constituency, there is a very strong feeling on the subject, wholly irrespective of political opinions. In 1661 money was left by will by Thomas Webb, and of this will I hold in my hand a copy made by the Vestry Clerk of Shoreditch. In this will the testator says:— I give and bequeath certain lands in the parish of St. Leonard Shoreditch to the President and Governors of Christ's Hospital and their successors for ever to the intent that the said President and Governors shall keep out of the profits and rents three poor children born in the parish of St. Leonard to be from time to time nominated and recommended by the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of that parish. And to the further interest and purpose that after the expiration of the said under-leases when the rents and profits of the premises will prove of greater value than they are now the said President and Governors of the Hospital shall for ever afterwards maintain and keep out of the said rents and profits six poor children at least born in the parish of St. Leonard Shoreditch. This was in 1661, and in the years from that time to 1790, the funds from the charity came to a very small sum, sufficient to support three children. In 1789 certain leases fell in, and in 1790 application was made to Lord Chancellor Thurlow and a degree given by which the number of children was increased to six, the income of the charity having increased to £130, and the cost of keeping' each boy being £19 4s. 6d., so that the cost of the children was within a small sum of the total amount of the charity. Lord Chancellor Thurlow, after giving the decree gave as an obiter dictum that when the funds of the charity would allow of it, application should be made for a still further increase. In 1850 leases fell in again, and the annual income of the charity increased from £130 to £1,300, and the number of inhabitants in the parish concerned had multiplied by 10 during the interval of time, so that the size of the charity and the number of population had grown together. The cost of each child at Christ's Hospital is at this moment £50, so that the children together cost £300. [Mr. DIXON-HARTLAND expressed dissent]. Well, whatever the cost may be, it is considerably loss than the £1,300 a year the charity now amounts to. There has been a re-organisation of the funds of Christ's Hospital, and the proposed scheme now lies on the Table of the House, and to this my Resolution refers. I want to call the special attention of the House to the fact that, in the quotation from the will of Thomas Webb, it is provided that if the rents and profits of the property increased, as Thomas Webb expected they would increase, provision should be made for six poor children at least. Now, if the fund—now £1,300—had been provided for the expense of the maintenance of six poor children, it might be urged that the residue should belong to Christ's Hospital, and not to the parish of St. Leonard; but the words "at least" and the obiter dictum, indicating the opinion in the mind of Lord Thurlow, show—and the same impression will be created in the mind of anyone reading the terms of the bequest—that the meaning is that the smallest number of children to be maintained is six, and that it might be a larger number. Now, the parish of Shoreditch does not ask that the whole of the £1,300 should be appropriated for the benefit of the parish; but they recognise that if six children were allowed by Lord Thurlow, when the income of the fund was £130, and the cost of maintenance £20 each child; now that the income of the fund is 10 times that amount and the needs of the parish 10 times as great, it is rather hard that, in the recorganisation scheme for Christ's Hospital, no attention should be paid to the words "at least" in the will. This is the more hard under the circumstances, inasmuch as Christ's Hospital is a large and wealthy Corporation, and the parish from which this fund is derived is one of the poorest parishes in London. I perfectly admit there may be property belonging to a wealthy Corporation upon which the parish in which the property is situated may have no claim. I admit there may be distinct and terminable claims of a parish upon such a fund; but I say the character of the bequest we are dealing with goes beyond a terminable claim, and leaves open the claims of the parish to re-consideration when the fund has reached 10 times its original value. The claims of the parish have been brought forward in a Petition from the vestry in which members of all parties and denominations have joined. These claims have been urged for many years, and there is a very strong and widespread feeling that the parish has been dealt with unfairly in this Christ's Hospital scheme. The claim is not in any sense for the whole of the fund; but I do say that it is a fair thing to ask that they shall have the maintenance of a larger number than six children; that the claim founded on the change of circumstances which have increased fund and parish tenfold should be recognised. All we ask is, that the scheme shall be referred back to the Commissioners for amendment before it receives the Assent of Her Most Gracious Majesty, that some concession shall be made in the direction I now represent. There has unfortunately been too much of a tendency in these schemes of the Charity Commissioners to divert funds from the benefit of the poor. This is an instance, and I am not at all sure that the whole of the scheme is not open to the same charge. There are objections to the main scheme for Christ's Hospital, but I refrain from bringing up the whole question. I limit myself to the matter which is the subject of my present Motion affecting my constituents in one of the poorest parishes in London. I know that the scheme, which I will not for a moment venture to discuss now under this Resolution, does transfer funds to the maintenance of boarding schools out of London and divert funds from the Metropolis; and I do not know whether Metropolitan Members may combine against these proposals at a later period; but I urge now the unfairness of neglecting the claims of one of the poorest localities in London in favour of a wealthy Corporation, and I earnestly hope the House will support me in what I hope I have established as a good claim.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to withhold her consent from the scheme of the Charity Commission now before the House for the administration of the foundation commonly called Christ's Hospital, until due regard had been had to the claims of the parish of St. Leonard, Shoreditch, for an increased share of the endowment known as Webb's Charity."—(Mr. James Stuart.)

(12.25.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

My remarks shall be brief, and I apologise to the House for intruding upon their attention at this late hour, but the importance of the subject justifies me in seconding the Motion of my hon. Friend. I contend that the Charity Commissioners in this scheme have not had due regard to the interests of the people of Shoreditch, and have, in fact, violated the Instructions contained in the Endowed Schools Amendment Act. I hope the House will not be alarmed at the appearance of this cumbersome volume, as my reference to it shall be but brief. In the Act, it is distinctly stated "That it shall be the duty of the Commissioners in every scheme abolishing or modifying the privileges or educational advantages to which a particular class of persons are entitled, or inhabitants of a particular area, or otherwise, to have due regard to the educational interests of such class." Now, I say, that in framing this scheme, the Commissioners have not had due regard to the interests of the inhabitants of this particular area. It may be recollected that, three or four years ago, a Committee was appointed by the House to inquire into the course pursued by the Charity Commissioners in reference to the method in which they had dealt with endowments left for the benefit of the poor. That Committee sat for two Sessions, and collected a very considerable quantity of evidence, which was laid before the House, and, in due time, followed by a Report, from which I propose to quote a few short extracts. The Committee seem to have gathered from the evidence that the Charity Commissioners had been somewhat lax in their method of dealing with endowments left for the benefit of the poor, and if they had not violated the provisions of the Amended Endowed Schools Act altogether, the Committee evidently had the impression that the Charity Commissioners had not paid due regard to the interests of people in particular localities, and this impression appears in the following passage in the Committee's Report:—"The Act provides that it shall be the duty of the Commissioners to have due regard to the educational interests of the class of persons prejudicially affected by the scheme. Schemes have been narrowed by judicial interpretation, and, therefore, they require to be strengthened." I contend that the Charity Commissioners, in framing this scheme, have disregarded this provision, and also the recommendation of the Committee which sat upstairs. If, therefore, the Charity Commissioners have not acted strictly in accordance with the Act of Parliament, and carried out the desires of the Committee upstairs, I think we have presented a very strong case in support of this Motion. I further propose to point out that what is proposed by this scheme will not remove the grievance of which the people of Shoreditch complain; and I hope that hon. Members will recognise that on the present occasion we are not merely representing Radical or Liberal electors, but that we are speaking in the name of the whole ratepayers of the district. This is not a Party question. Hon. Members on the other side are just as much interested, and many of them are just as anxious to safeguard the interest of the poor, as we on this side. What has been done in Shoreditch to remedy the grievances of which we complain? In the first place, the Local Authorities have several times urged on the Governors of Christ Hospital that there should be an increase in the number of children educated out of the funds provided by Webb's Charity, and their application has been invariably refused. The Charity Commissioners have been approached for leave to apply to the Court of Chancery to increase the number of children, in the same way as was done in the case of the charity to which my Colleague has referred. In that case it will be remembered Lord Chancellor Thurlow increased the number of children from three to six, and if it was right for the parishioners or the Local Authority to apply to the Court of Chancery at that time, surely the Charity Commissioners must have an exceedingly weak case when they persistently refuse to allow a similar application to be made when Webb's Charity has so largely iucreased in funds. I think, under any circumstances, in fairness to the people of this poor district, they ought to have allowed the appeal to be made to the Court of Chancery, but, as it happens in every instance, the Commissioners, like the Governors of Christ's Hospital, have rejected the prayer of the Memorials presented to them. A few days ago a public meeting was convened in Shoreditch on this subject. It was called upon a requisition signed by 30 Liberals and 30 Conservatives. I think the inhabitants of Shoreditch acted wisely in taking this question out of the region of Party politics. Some gentlemen on the other side of the House, who take a clerical view of endowments generally, may be interested to learn that the Vicar of Shoreditch and the whole of the Clergy resident there joined in the requisition, and many took part in the meeting to which I have referred. Then I have here Petitions which have been prepared hastily—in two or three days—but which have been signed by no fewer than 3,044 adult residents of Shoreditch. No Sunday school children have been allowed to append their signatures to the Petitions. They are as bonâ fide an expression of opinion as were ever presented to the House. The Conservative Association has worked heartily, and co-operated with the Liberals, in getting signatures to the Petitions, so that I think I have justified my statement that this is not a Liberal or Radical question, but that it is one in which the entire people of the ancient Borough of Shoreditch are concerned. Now, what is it the Petitioners desire? They consider that the number of children to be benefited by the Charity should be increased from six to 25. That is not an excessive demand, when it is remembered that the income of this Charity has risen from £130 to £1,300 a year. I think we may take it that each child costs £50 a year, although perhaps that amount will be lessened under the scheme prepared by the Charity Commissioners, because the scholarships to be devoted to girls—of which there are three—will involve an outlay of less than £50 each. But taking the general cost at £50 only, £300 of the income of the Charity will be thus expended on Shoreditch children, and the Charity Commissioners propose to take away the remaining £1,000 from the inhabitants of this poor district and use it for the general purposes of their new scheme. The people of Shoreditch regard this is an act of spoliation and robbery on the part of the Charity Commissioners. I think we have a reasonable ground for claiming that this endowment, which was left for the inhabitants of Shoreditch, shall be applied for the benefit of the children of the district, and that if this £1,000 is not to be used for the education of Shoreditch children, it certainly should be devoted to some other purpose advantageous to the welfare of the locality. I hope that the House, notwithstanding the appeal which, I understand, will be addressed to it from some Members on these Benches to reject my proposal, will see that it has been made in a spirit of equity and justice and fair play. Shoreditch is one of the poorest districts in the Metropolis, and I hope the House will agree to the Resolution which we have submitted to it.


I have no complaint to make of this matter having been brought before the House, nor of the speeches of the hon. Members who have spoken upon it;but before I proceed further I should like to express my sincere regret that the hon. Members, who urge the adoption of this Amendment, are somewhat in a difficulty. They have stated that they have no wish to destroy this scheme as a whole, but that they are only appealing for justice for the particular district which they represent. But here comes the difficulty: This scheme has arrived at a stage at which it cannot be amended, according to the procedure of the Act, and though it might be possible to excise from it entirely that portion which relates to Shoreditch, the result of so doing would, unfortunately, be to leave those whom the hon. Member for Shoreditch represents in a worse position than they will be under the scheme. It has been suggested that this scheme inflicts serious injury on the poor. I do not deny that the best inheritance of the poor is a good education, but I suggest it is an astonishing and monstrous proposition that by this scheme the poor are unjustly deprived of that inheritance. What has happened during many years? Many attempts have been made to deal with this foundation; appeals have been made by the Corporation of the City of London and the Governors of Christ's Hospital to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The scheme has been amended in the direction ordered by the Judicial Committee, and as it now stands it represents an enormous sacrifice of patronage and privilege on the part of the Governors of the Charity for the sake of the education of the poorer classes. Therefore, the assertion that the scheme in any way detracts from the interest of the poor is entirely contrary to the fact. With regard to the scheme itself, the hon. Member who introduced this Motion has given an accurate description of the Trust up to a certain point, and therefore I need not follow him in that part of his speech. At this moment, the income of the Charity provides something like £1,196 per year. In 1852 the Governors of Christ's Hospital took special pains to find out their legal position. With regard to a proposal to increase the number of children provided for under the Trust, they obtained legal opinions, and were advised that they had no power to add to the number of the children. They appealed to more than one high legal authority, and the view which I have described was confirmed by the opinion of the present Lord Selborne. The Governors of Christ's Hospital are not bound in any way to maintain more than six children out of the funds of this Charity. It seems impossible to frame any scheme which will not give rise to some sense of grievance. The Charity Commissioners are bound to adhere to the conditions of the Act under which the schemes are framed. Their policy has been to observe the restrictions which they found laid down as to the number of children to be on the foundation, and if they had adopted any other policy it would have been impossible to frame any scheme at all. As it is, it has taken several years to mature the scheme. It is proposed that 179 children for Public Elementary Schools shall be placed on the foundation subject to the reservation as to the 49 that now enjoy the privilege. The hon. Member urges that Shoreditch has been left out in the cold; but the reply to that is that Shoreditch will enjoy the benefit of the scheme as a whole in common with the rest of the Metropolis. So far as I understand, the Commissioners had no choice whatever with regard to this matter. They have been obliged to act on certain lines. They have not only acted in accordance with the scope and intentions of the Act, but they have also been guided by the Report of the Schools Inquiry Commission and the Reports of subsequent Commissioners, who were in favour of removing the restrictions upon the use of educational endowments. The Report of a Committee in this House which sat in 1887 says— The Committee think that the general policy of the Commissioners should be to remove and not to retain such restrictions as may be calculated to limit the use of the endowments. I concede there is a strong feeling on the part of the constituencies of hon. Members of all shades of political opinion in regard to this matter. No man could be more anxious than I should be, if possible, to remove the difficulty in which the hon. Member is placed. I can only say that the scheme is for the benefit of the children of the poor in the Metropolis, because, at present, the children who are placed upon the foundation need not be Londoners at all, but may be drawn from all parts of the country. The essence of the new scheme is that the benefits shall be secured for the people of London generally. Before I sit down, I hope to be able to show that this scheme holds out a splendid educational prospect. It proposes that a large number of places in the Hospital shall be retained for children from public elementary schools. It affords a day school for 600 boys, and a night school for 400 girls. This surely is a splendid prospect for the poor of the Metropolis. There must, of course, be grievances in such a great scheme; but, looking at the vast interests involved, I do hope that the House will support the scheme as now framed, and will reject the Motion of the hon. Member.

(12.50.) MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

I wish I could vote for the Motion, if for no other reason than that its adoption would have the effect of throwing out a scheme which I am afraid will prevent us utilising these funds in the most desirable manner. To my mind, the class most in need of educational assistance is the upper poor and the middle class. But I know it is not proper for me to attempt to argue this question on the present Motion. If my hon. Friend asked me to vote for his Motion on the ground which he stated, I am bound to say that I think the arguments adduced by the right hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat appear to be absolutely conclusive, for he points out that the Commissioners have in this matter acted entirely on the lines of the Statute which governs their proceedings, and that they have also acted in conformity with the recommendations of the Schools Inquiry Commission, and of a Committee of this House. It would be most undesirable now to revive the system which the Act of 1869 put an end to. No doubt it is reasonable for the people of Shoreditch to feel aggrieved. Certainly, my hon. Friend has taken a proper course in this matter; but I venture to say that the House would set a dangerous precedent if they adopted the Motion, for they would immediately stimulate small localities to set up claims adverse to the general interests of the whole community. On this ground lam afraid I must vote against the Motion of my hon. Friend.

(12.55.) MR. DIXON-HARTLAND (Middlesex, Uxbridge)

As one of the Governors of the Charity, I wish to say that we have taken a great deal of trouble with regard to this case. No doubt the Webb bequest provides for the education of six children only. We have taken counsels' opinion, and we have been advised that we have no power at all to increase that number.

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

By whom were you so advised?


By the late Lord Chancellor. The result of the adoption of this Motion will be to throw the whole of the scheme back for perhaps another 12 years. We have been long trying to frame this scheme in a manner which will give general satisfaction; and I think it would be a great pity if now the House were to adopt a Resolution which would practically render futile our labour for the past 12 years. While sympathising with the hon. Member for Shoreditch I appeal to the House to pass the scheme, which has been approved by the Charity Commissioners.

(12.58.) MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)

I quite agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch has taken a proper course in this matter; but I must ask the House for a minute or two just to consider something of the history of this scheme, It has been before the Charity Commissioners for the last 12 or 14 years, and it has been delayed by vested interests of the most extraordinary character. Claims of a complex and complicated character have been put forward, and scheme after scheme has been completed and destroyed, until those who took an interest in the question began to regard as almost hopeless the task of framing a satisfactory scheme. At last, however, the House has before it a scheme which deals with the largest sum with which the Charity Commissioners have ever had to deal, namely, a sum of £60,000 a year. Through the delay which has taken place no fewer than 3,000 children have been deprived of the education of a lifetime, and you will continue to deprive these children of this education, if you adopt the Motion of my hon. Friend. The Commissioners have to deal with all the parishes on the same principle, and if they admit the special claim of the people of Shoreditch they will have to go into the claims of other parishes, and the whole scheme must be taken to be at an end. I sincerely trust that the House will pass this scheme, and I may add that I should regard it almost as a national calamity if it should fail.

MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Stockport)

I wish to ask whether, in the event of this Motion being either carried or lost, it will be open to me to bring forward on a future occasion a Motion praying Her Majesty to refuse her assent to the scheme, not on this point only, but on general grounds?


Yes; I think it will be competent to the hon. Member to raise on another occasion an objection to the whole scheme. The present objection turns upon a special point, namely, the alleged grievance of Shoreditch.

(1.10.) The House divided:—Ayes 87; Noes 115.—(Div. List, No. 132.)

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