HC Deb 31 March 1890 vol 343 cc381-8
*(12.35.) MR. W. M'LAREN

I am sorry to have to detain the House at this hour; but unfortunately this is the last opportunity I shall have for bringing this scheme before the House, and it becomes law if not rejected before April 11th. The Government, or the majority of its Members, have already voted to-night in favour of altering another scheme of the Commissioners, and I sincerely trust that they will at least leave this an open question, and will not appoint their Whips to act as Tellers against my Motion. This is a matter of great importance to a large number of orphans in Edinburgh, and it is a subject on which the citizens of Edinburgh feel very deeply. It should not be called a hospital, the name is misleading; it is really an orphan home, and one of the best managed institutions in Edinburgh, It is not an old endowment absolutely; it is fully up to the requirements of the present time. It is true the original endowment dates from 150 years ago; but the endowment has gone on increasing, such satisfaction has the management given the people of Edinburgh, that for the last few years the capital has been largely increased by bequests and donations. I may say that in the attempt to upset the present management the Commissioners are opposing the wishes of donors still living who are perfectly satisfied with the present management. Since the Charter was granted in 1742 this has been a distinctly charitable and not an educational institution, in so far as charity and not education has been the standard for admittance: and it is one of the objections to the scheme of the Commissioners that under the new constitution it will become almost entirely an educational institution, the charitable element being almost eliminated. The existing management is conducted on the principle of providing destitute children with a, home, giving them also instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, and other subjects; but the destitution is a necessary element in the recipient of the charity. But under the new scheme it is provided that there shall be an educational examination. The capital value of the institution is E78,000, the building standing at something like £20,000; or I believe it is worth a good deal more now: it cost that amount to build many years ago. The Governors have found, on following out the career of the children, that not more than 1½ per cent. of the children taken care of in this institution have turned out badly in later life. I doubt if any institution can show such an extremely satisfactory result. The institution contains both boys and girls; it is not conducted on the monastic system, it is really like a well managed home, with all the comforts of home and the training that home life gives a child. The managers have circulated a statement in which they say the hospital was founded and has been extended solely on charity; it is unique in character; and the only qualification required is that a child is destitute, and therefore a proper object of charity, no inquiry being made into its state of knowledge. The 25th section of the new scheme upsets all this, and provides that the hospital itself shall be closed, and that children only shall be admitted to the foundation when he or she has passed an examination in the standard suitable to the ago of the child. Such a qualification will be required from every child before any benefit is received; and when there is a greater number of candidates than there are vacancies, which is almost invariably the case, the managers on selection are to have due regard to the merit of examination. It is perfectly clear that this will throw open the endowment not to the class for which it was intended, but to the children of parents who, having been well to do, were able to give their children a better education, and these, of course, will secure the exhibitions. The desire and intention of the founder, and of all those donors who year by year have added to the endowment, would cease to be respected, the institution will cease to be charitable, and will become educational. There is no need under the Endowments Act that this should be so; the 16th section of that Act provides that in framing schemes the Commissioners, in making selection of those eligible for the benefit of an endowment, may provide for examination or in such other manner as they may determine. Besides, this is not primarily an educational endowment. Another great point of objection is the compulsory closing of the hospital. The whole Governing Body is to be swept away, and a new Governing Body appointed of 15 members, eight to be elected by contributors and seven by the representatives bodies of Edinburgh—the School Board, the Town Council, the Medical Profession, the Legal Profession, and so on. This is a good enough constitution, no doubt; but it provides a new set of Governors under the new scheme, and there is no reason why a new set of Governors should not manage the hospital as they may think fit, to close it or to keep it open, but I object to the compulsory closing of the hospital in five years. The Town Council have petitioned against it, and so have 22,000 of the inhabitants of Edinburgh. A week ago the Governors held a meeting, and a resolution in favour of closing the hospital was only carried by the casting vote of the chairman. Therefore, I may say that half the Governors are in favour of keeping; it open, and but for the accidental absence of Sir William Muir the vote would have been in favour of keeping the hospital open. The opinion of this gentleman is entitled to weight, and he has urged his views very strongly. We want to leave this matter optional, and I do not think the Government should object to that. I do not wish to detain the House unnecessarily; it was necessary to make this explanatory statement, and I hope I have been brief. My objection really lies at the root of the scheme, and therefore I propose to vary the terms of the Motion as I have given notice of them, and to ask the House to object to the Whole scheme.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to withhold Her consent from the Scheme for the administration of the Orphan Hospital (Edinburgh)."—(Mr. Watter M'Laren.)

* (12.45.) THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. P. B. ROBERTSON,) Bute

I do not desire to canvass the arguments addressed to the House by the hon. Member for Crewe. I do not doubt that the scheme of the Commissioners is one which would have conferred very large educational advantages on a deserving class of persons; but one cannot shut one's eyes to two facts—in the first place, that the scheme constitutes a very material departure from the existing organisation, and probably from the intentions of the founder of the charity; and, on the other hand, that that change has not commanded that general assent which alone would entitle it to absolute Parliamentary confidence. Looking to these facts, I do not propose on the part of the Government to offer any opposition to the Motion of the hon. Member. I rejoice that he has had the courage of his convictions, and has departed from a Motion which would have embarrassed the charity without pointing out a clear path for its further development. While the Government assent to the Motion, I desire to add that that implies no want of appreciation of the very carefully considered scheme of the Commissioners; but merely, on the whole, that there is a general conclusion arrived at that the existing benefits are greater than those proposed to be conferred by the Commissioners.

*(12.48.) MR. C. S. PARKER (Perth)

I think the House has reason to complain that at the last moment the hon. Member for Crewe has withdrawn his Motion to amend the scheme, and has moved its rejection. I regret also that the Government are a consenting party to this, if they did not even prompt the change.


I first learned that the hon. Gentleman intended to alter his Motion about an hour ago from the hon. Member himself.


I apologise for having supposed, if it be not so, that the move originated on the other side of the House. The alacrity with which 'the right hon. Gentleman welcomed it suggested that idea. But the chief point to which I ask attention is this: the Lord Advocate represents the Education Department, by whom the Commissioners' proposals have been responsibly considered and approved. Yet, on the three last occasions when their schemes have been attacked he has lent his aid to their opponents—twice silently, without a word of explanation, and now this third time not upon the merits, but simply on the ground that in Edinburgh popular opinion is divided. It is true the Town Council and others have petitioned against the scheme as it stands. But only a few years ago, when a Commission, on which I had the honour to serve, looked into the question, public opinion in Edinburgh, and generally in Scotland, ran strong' against the system of keeping children together in hospitals, as against boarding them in separate homes; and the old Governing Body of the hospital, representing the subscribers, still support the proposed reform. The majority of them in favour of selling their building is small: but the feeling still prevails that even for orphans some kind of family life is preferable to collecting them within the walls of one large institution. The Governors also urge that, when they can educate the orphans free of cost in public schools, they are no longer justified in going to the expense of a separate teaching staff. I must add a word on the only other point raised by the Motion as entered on the Notice Paper, the mode of selection for admission. The scheme does not enforce competition, it only requires some examination suited to the children's age, and if they have been at school some "due regard" to their good con-duet, regular attendance, and satisfactory progress there. The measure of this regard is left to the discretion of the Governors. The children must all be fatherless and "needful." And there is nothing to prevent avowed preference of those who have lost both parents, or who most require help. I think it reasonable and right that in choosing among the needy some preference should be given to the deserving. I cannot, therefore, vote against examination and due regard to proficiency and character. If the hon. Member would confine his Motion to leaving the Governors free to sell or keep their building as they may find best, I would support that. But he seems to have made other terms with his allies; and against entire rejection of the scheme, compelling the Governors to continue the hospital system, I must protest.

*(12.50.) MR. J. A. CAMPBELL

I wish to say, on behalf of the Commissioners, that they do not agree with the view that this Orphan Institution is not a Hospital. They consider that it has all the defects of the hospital system, inasmuch as a large number of children are kept there with very little intercourse with the outside world; and that the objections which were so forcibly urged against the hospital system by the Commission on Endowed Schools and Hospitals, which reported in 1875, apply to this institution. The recommendation of that Commission was that the children in ordinary hospitals should be boarded out in families, and that in the case of orphans for whom boarding out was not considered suitable, there should be cottage homes provided, but not with so large a number of residents as would interfere with the domestic character of the home. The Commission felt that this orphan hospital was not a home, and that what was desirable for these orphans was that they should be placed in cottage homes, in so far as that could be carried out. I wish to say so much in defence of the scheme of the Commissioners.

(12.53.) MR. HALDANE

I wish to call the attention of the House to the extraordinary position taken up by Her Majesty's Government. This is the third of these schemes which has been rejected by them. Only a few minutes ago we were discussing another scheme prepared by Commissioners acting under an Act of Parliament for which Her Majesty's present Government at all events are constructively responsible, and carrying out a policy which they have sanctioned, and the Lord Advocate, without a single word and without any warning, went into the other Lobby and throw overboard the scheme of the Commission. We are aware that the head of the Commission is a Conservative nobleman, who is not altogether popular in all sections of his Party; but I recognise him as a man of great ability, and a man for whose opinion I have the greatest respect, as I have also for that of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. J. Campbell). But I do think we have cause to complain that the decision of Lord Balfour of Burleigh and of the hon. Gentleman should have been overthrown on the last occasion without any word or without any warning, and on this occasion by a more general statement, which, if it comes to anything at all, goes to impugn the principle which underlies the Act of Parliament. I do not know what occult influences have been at work with the Lord Advocate, or what outside pressure has been brought to bear upon him; but this I do know: that it is a very extraordinary circumstance that in this House the work of one of the best Commissions that has sat in Scotland for many years past should be treated as it has been treated by the Government.

Question put, and agreed to. Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to withhold Her consent from the Scheme for the administration of the Orphan Hospital (Edinburgh).

To be presented by Privy Councillors.

  2. c388
  3. RIGHTS OF WAV (SCOTLAND) (NO. 2) BILL. 55 words