HC Deb 17 March 1890 vol 342 cc1092-100
*(12.20.) MR. HOZIER (Lanarkshire, S.)

I am extremely sorry to be compelled to trespass, even briefly, upon the time and attention of the House at such a late hour, but that is one of the disadvantages under which we all labour, when we find it to be our duty to bring up for revision or rejection any of the schemes of the Educational Commissioners. I wish that some more satisfactory arrangement were adopted for dealing with these questions by the appointment of a Select Committee, as has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Seconder of my Motion; but, in the meantime, this is the only course open to us. The facts connected with this scheme are well-known to the Government and to Scottish Members. Mr. Ferguson died as recently as 1856. He made a very handsome provision for his relations, and after leaving about £50,000 for general educational purposes, he bequeathed the residue of his estate as a permanent fund for specific purposes, little Wringing that Commissioners would ever be appointed to divert such, funds. This residue of the estate he bequeathed for the benefit of five special Churches, which he named. In order that these five Churches should have exclusive control of the fund, he arranged that there should be 13 Trustees, all of them to be communicants of one or other of the five Churches, according to the proportions in which the various Churches were to be beneficiaries under the Trust. Three of the Trustees were to be communicants of the Established Church, four of the Free Church, four of the United Presbyterian, one of the Reformed Presbyterian, and one of the Congregational or Independent Church. He specially laid down, as the Trust Deed shows, that his Trustees should have an entirely free hand as to the various proportions in which they were to allocate the fund to the various objects connected with these churches. The very keynote of his intention was that the fund should be a permanent supplement to voluntary effort connected with these five Churches. I emphatically say "voluntary effort," inasmuch as the old parish schools were excepted, because they were not voluntary, and the Established Church was only to be a beneficiary so far as quoad sacra Churches were concerned— that is to say, Churches without any regular endowment. No real complaint has ever been made by the people of Scotland in regard to the management of the Trustees; on the contrary, the greatest satisfaction prevails. The provisions of the scheme to which we strenuously object are that the Trustees of the fund should hand over £1,600 a year as well as the income of the Ferguson Scholarship Fund, which was founded by the Trustees out of an entirely separate fund, to an entirely new Governing Body, who need not necessarily be in any way connected with any of the five Churches; and that the annual amount, after paying the Ferguson Scholarships and the necessary expenses of management, should be devoted to making grants to assist schools in giving, not religious education, but higher instruction. Moreover, the scheme points to the largest centres of population and the richest districts as being those to which the grants should be allocated. Many objections may be urged against the scheme. One objection is with regard to the additional expense of the management of the fund if there is to be a new and distinct Governing Body. The present management of the permanent Fund would have to be continued at the same expense as hitherto, while I believe that the additional expense would amount to at least £300 a year. That would come out of the £1,600. But the great and insuperable objection to the scheme is that it traverses the expressed intentions of the founder, who, after leaving what he considered ample—namely, £50,000—for general educational purposes created by the Ferguson Bequest Fund what he hoped would be a permanent endowment of the five Churches for purposes directly connected with these five Churches. There has been no scheme of the Endowment Commissioners that has given such, general dissatisfaction throughout the length and breadth of Scotland. The vast majority of Scottish Members are opposed to the proposals contained in the scheme, as is clearly shown by the signatures to the Memorial promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire (Mr. Hugh Elliot) and myself. Let us most carefully bear in mind that the Founder of the Trust died as recently as 1856. Up to the year 1887 three of the original testamentary Trustees were still alive, and they entirely concurred in the present management of the Trust. One of these original testamentary Trustees—Dr. Paterson—is still with us, to record his most emphatic protest against the proposals of the Commissioners. I hope the Government may see their way to acquiesce in this Motion which I now beg leave to submit.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to withhold Her consent to the Scheme of the Educational Endowment (Scotland Commissioners for the management of the Endowment known as the Ferguson Bequest Fund."—(Mr. Hozier.)

(12.25.) MR. HUGH ELLIOT (Ayrshire, N.)

In seconding the Motion, I may mention that I have more than once suggested that these schemes should be sent to a Select Commtttee of this House. I regret that the suggestion has not been accepted, because such a Committee would give them a far better consideration than a scheme can receive in this House at this time of night. I can hardly conceive a scheme which calls more for the intervention of the House than the present one. Here is a gentleman, a contemporary of our own, who died, leaving ample provision for all his relations, and who, in the exercise of his legal right, left a certain sum to Trustees, who were to be members of certain churches, for the use of those churches and the religious work of those churches. I admit that the word "education" occurs in the will, and is one of the objects of the legacy; but it is an education which is to be more or less religious—education controlled by religion. Mr. Ferguson's intention was that the people should be educated, but religious too. There is nothing objectionable in that. It is praiseworthy, and the endowment has worked very well. But the unfortunate word "education" induced the Commissioners to stop in, and they have disconnected education from the religious connection Mr. Ferguson intended to give it. They gave this money to useful objects, no doubt—to higher education; but if we want higher education, let us provide it from proper funds. Do not let us strip churches or anybody for the purpose of establishing higher education. Often and often since the passing of the Act of 1882 has Parliament been asked to step in and check these schemes; but the check that this appeal to Parliament was to provide has hitherto been useless, I think, and votes have always supported the Commissioners. To-night, however, I hope for better things. We have a strong case, which my hon. Friend has put very clearly, and I think we may look to the issue; with some confidence.


As my hon. Friends the Mover and Seconder of this Motion must be aware, the House has been hitherto slow to interfere with the discretion vested by Statute in the Commissioners, and I hope it will retain that reserve in disposing of the remaining schemes which have to come before it. Most of these schemes are in a general sense local, and sometimes the interests involved are minute. I am quite certain of this: that whatever opinion may be entertained of the merits of this particular scheme, there can be but one estimate of the exceeding ability, attention, and pains bestowed by the Commissioners upon the several subjects which have come under their cognisance. Accordingly, in considering the present question, I am certain there is in no part of the House any intention to disparage the judgment or discretion of the Commissioners. But we cannot ignore the fact that the Act of Parliament leaves with the two Houses of Parliament the ultimate decision and responsibility. The question on the present occasion is whether there are adequate grounds for Parliament interposing in order to arrest the due action of the Commissioners in regard to this scheme? My hon. Friend has been able to present a case in which the interests at stake are considerable, the amount of the endowment is large, and, what is more, a large part of Scotland is directly interested. Several counties are beneficiaries, and almost all the larger religious denominations are amongst the custodiers or Trustees of this endowment. Accordingly, it is impossible to regard this as one of those purely local questions. Then my hon. Friend very justly dwelt upon some of the other salient features of the case. One, which my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark- shire commented on, was the very recent date of the will. I am quite aware that the Act of Parliament places within the review of the Commissioners all endowments founded as late as 1872; but, at the same time, the fact that this gentleman only died in 1856 raises a very striking peculiarity in this case. Another point is that some of the wills which have come under the cognisance of the Commissioners have indicated some obscurity, or want of complete following out of all the objects and means which the testator might be presumed to have contemplated. That is not the case here. There is most careful and minute attention to the following out of the scheme through all its various phases. There is also what was of immense importance—there is a very anxious choice of those who are to be the guardians of the interests under the Trust. Accordingly, I find in this case several large features standing out distinguishing it from those which have previously been under the attention of the House. But there is one which I think still more important It is said this is an educational endowment; but the bequest is so embedded in the other provisions of the will, and so closely connected with the provisions in favour of Religious agencies, that positively the amount to be given to education in any one year is to be determined by the Religious Bodies with reference to their religious requirements. Accordingly, it cannot be said that to separate and segregate the educational part of the fund from the rest is a very complete or effectual carrying out of the intention of the testator. I have, therefore, come to the conclusion that this is a case open to Parliament to consider whether the scheme—assuming it to be the best possible—ought to be adopted, or whether the intention of the testator should be given effect to. I find that question prejudged by the opinion of Scotland. There is, unquestionably, a strong and warm feeling on this subject. Most useful and beneficent influence has been exercised by the existing administrators of this money. Under these circumstances, I am bound to say that it is the opinion of the Government that Parliament may well interpose. I wish the House to understand that we do so not to pass any censure or adverse judgment on the scheme of the Commissioners. The Commissioners, of necessity, took up and dealt with the case, inasmuch as it fell within the terms of the Act of Parliament. But we cannot divest ourselves of the responsibility of judging whether this is not one of those cases where Parliament ought to vindicate the endowment as being more usefully applied to its present purposes than to those projected. I have observed, from the opinions expressed in this debate, as well as in the Lobby, that that is the sentiment which generally prevails. I am quite certain, so far as I and my hon. Friends are concerned, that there is no reluctance to interfere in defence of what is practically a religious endowment, and not the less because that endowment is in the hands of Dissenters as well as of members of the Established Church.

*(12.36.) MR. W. P. SINCLAIR (Falkirk)

I congratulate the Government on having in so handsome a manner given way on this matter, to what I may fairly call the general desire of Scotland. I believe it to be the general opinion throughout Scotland that had the Government insisted upon this scheme being carried into law, as they might easily have done with their strong majority, the feeling of dissatisfaction throughout the country would have been great. The administration of the Trust has been entirely satisfactory in the past, and I may add my conviction that the future administration of the charity, which this decision of the Government leaves unchanged, will be found as satisfactory in the future as it has been in the past.

(12.37.) MR. D. CRAWFORD (Lanark, N.E.)

I would remind the House that this is a very grave decision at which it appears it is likely to arrive. I am far from saying that strong grounds have not been made out by the Mover and Seconder in favour of their contention; but I believe that this is the very first time in a series of years on which a scheme of the Education Endowment Commissioners has been upset by this House. I regret that the suggestion which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire, in favour of further inquiry, has not been persisted in, and has not been acceded to by the Government. It is true that a great deal may be said in favour of the proposal for the rejection of this scheme; but I think if we had in this House a local guardian of higher education, the case might have been more adequately presented to us. I do not take upon myself to say that the decision which the House is about to come to is wrong; but it is with a feeling of very great reluctance that I join in upsetting a decision of the Commissioners, whose previous action has always stood the test of the most minute examination, and whose labours have always resulted in the utmost benefit to the country.

*(12.40.) MR. J. A. CAMPBELL (Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities)

As one of the Commissioners responsible for the scheme I may perhaps be allowed to say a word or two, not in opposition to what appears to be the general sense of the House, but in explanation of the action of the Commissioners. First, I should like to point out that Parliament imposed on the Education Endowment Commissioners the duty of re-organising the educational endowments of Scotland, and it therefore became incumbent on them to take cognisance not only of endowments which were wholly educational, but also of all charitable endowments which had an educational side. We were thus forced to deal with the Ferguson bequest. The Founder had named education as one of the objects which his residue fund was to assist, and his Trustees acted upon that instruction in a way which I will immediately mention. I must demur, however, to this bequest being described as one for the benefit of the churches named. It was not for the benefit of the churches, but for the prosecution of religious and educational work under the care of these churches. Well, the trustees of Mr. Ferguson for 16 years previous to the passing of the Education Act contributed a large sum every year in grants for the promotion of education. During those years the average amount of the grants for education from the bequest was £2,078 a year. On the passing of the Education Act of 1872, as hon. Members are aware, there was a great change in Scotland in the management of education. The churches named in Mr. Ferguson's will, which had maintained schools before, may be said to have discontinued them, or handed thorn over to be maintained by the School Boards. The Ferguson Trustees, having no longer the same applications from the churches for assistance to educational work, bestowed their grants on other useful objects, and so it came about that for 13 years after 1872 their grants for education averaged only £290 a year, instead of £2,078, as before. But I would ask hon. Members to look at the case from the point of view of the Commissioners. They will see that the Commissioners thought they had here an endowment with an educational side—one which was in part an educational endowment; and, guided by the action of the Trustees themselves before the Education Act was passed, they considered they were not asking too much in claiming £1,600 for education, as representing what the Trustees' estimate was of Mr. Ferguson's view in giving education a place in his will. As to applying the money to higher education, I would remind the House that it was part of the instruction from this House that the Commissioners were, as far as might be, to secure in educational endowments an adequate portion for the promotion of higher education. I hope that as the Government will not allow this money to go to the purposes of higher education, they will make up for the loss in some other way. I will add that although the scheme has been petitioned against there has been also many Petitions in its favour. I will also add that in claiming part of this endowment for education, the Commissioners do not dispute the good work done by the Trustees. Our scheme was not intended to cast any reflection on the proceedings of the Trustees.

*(12.50.) MR. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

At this late hour I rise only to say one word—I may conscientiously say that the Ferguson bequest is one of the best administered Trusts in Scotland, and I sincerely thank the Government for acting as they have done. I have had many representations made to me in favour of it, and only one—from the Educational Institute of Scotland—in support of the scheme now before the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

House adjourned at five minutes before One o'clock

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