HC Deb 19 March 1891 vol 351 cc1512-6
*(12.30.) MR. KNOX () Cavan, W.

I rise to move— That an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty, praying Her to withhold Her consent from a Scheme for the management of the Gilson Schools, Oldcastle, County Meath, provisionally approved by the Lords Justices in Council on the 13th November, 1890, unless provision be made in the Scheme for the representation of the Board of Guardians of the Oldcastle Union upon the Governing Body of the said Schools. I should like to explain that the scheme relates to a Charity amounting to about £800 a year, which is intended to be applied to the purposes of technical education, and I think there could be no better object. Under the will of Mr. Gilson the funds were bequeathed for the purposes of an elementary school. It was expressly provided in the Will that the school was to be open to all denominations. The master might be a Catholic or a Protestant. There was to be no distinction of religion in the management. The school was not a success, and the scheme now proposes to apply the money to purposes of technical education. It is agreed on all hands that no better object could be found, but a difference has arisen as to the constitution of the Governing Body of the Charity. The objection is that no popular authority is represented on that Body. A scheme was first drawn up by Lord Justice FitzGibbon and Lord Justice Naish, and under their scheme the Governing Body was to consist of two persons appointed by the Protestant Bishop of Meath, two by the Catholic Bishop of Meath, one person representing the National Education Board, two persons representing the Board of Guardians of the Oldcastle Union, and two persons co-opted by the other members of the Board. But, for some reason, religious bigotry came in, and the scheme was furiously opposed by a partisan body of the Privy Council, presided over by Lord Ashbourne, whose tendencies I need not describe to the House. This partisan body struck out of the scheme the representatives of the Board of Guardians on the ground that that Board might appoint two Roman Catholics. The object of the school is to teach the people to make good butter, and can it make any difference whether there is one more Catholic or one more Protestant on the Governing Body? In the North of Ireland in similar cases a Protestant majority is always given on the Governing Body. The majority of the people of Meath are Catholics; 88 per cent. of the children hitherto attending the school are Catholics, and the Catholics might fairly claim a Catholic majority upon the Governing Body. But they do not ask for a Catholic majority as such. They merely ask that the Board of Guardians, who under the Technical Instruction Act, 1889, are the Local Authority for the purpose of technical education, should not be deprived of the right to appoint two members of the Governing Body of a technical institute. I submit that the House ought to refuse its sanction to a scheme drawn up on such bigoted and narrow principles. I wish to point out, also, that this Union forms part of three Parliamentary Divisions, and two of them are represented by Protestants, although the vast majority of the people are Catholics. In the circumstances, it would be the narrowest bigotry to refuse to the Guardians of the Oldcastle Union the right to nominate two Governors on this Trust.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her to withhold Her consent from a Scheme for the management of the Gilson Schools, Oldcastle, County Meath, provisionally approved by the Lords Justices in Council on the 13th November, 1890, unless provision be made in the Scheme for the representation of the Board of Guardians of the Oldcastle Union upon the Governing Body of the said Schools.


The hon. and learned Member, in the lucid statement which he has just made to the House, has asked it to dissent from the opinion deliberately arrived at by the Privy Council of Ireland. What is his main reason for objecting to the scheme? It is that it makes no provision for the representation of the Board of Guardians on the Board of Management of the school. I should like to ask whether Boards of Guardians are in any way specially qualified to supervise educational institutions? To lay down that they are would be to establish a dangerous principle. The hon. and learned Member has, I think, missed the real point which influenced the Privy Council in coming to a decision. Under the will of Mr. Gilson the school is to be for the benefit both of Protestants and Catholics, and in order that their interests may be considered equally the will lays down that the management of the school shall be divided between Protestants and Catholics, and the institution is put under the control of the clergyman of the parish and of the priest. Some 30 years ago the question of the management was brought before the Court of Chancery in England, and the Court held that the representation on the Board of Management should be equal as between Roman Catholics and Protestants, adding as additional manager the Chief Secretary, who might or might not be a Protestant. Subsequently the Privy Council in Ireland came to the same conclusion. The plan advocated by the hon. and learned Member would probably give an absolute majority on the Board of Management to the Roman Catholics. This the hon. Member would probably justify by saying that the Roman Catholic population of the district is larger than the Protestant. No doubt it is, but it was so also at the time when the testator made his will and expressed his intentions. The only way to ensure fairness is by preserving the equal representation of both creeds upon the Board. If there is to be a permanent. Roman Catholic majority on the Board, who can doubt that the head master would always be chosen from amongst those who professed that religion?


Special provision is made that one of the masters shall be a Protestant.


But that does not affect the head master. I hope the House will reject the Resolution moved by the hon. and learned Member. Considering that the Government have on their side the will of the testator and the opinion of the English Court of Chancery and of the Irish Privy Council, I hold distinctly that no sufficient grounds have been shown for departing from the practice which has hitherto prevailed.

*(12.51.) SIR J. POPE HENNESSY (Kilkenny, N.)

We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman that it was the wish of the testator that the managers of this Charity should be equally divided, so far as religious opinions are concerned. But the right hon. Gentleman did not quote the will of the testator, and he has given us no authority whatever for that statement; but has only said what he believes to have been the wish of the testator. But I find in the opinion recorded by Lords Justices FitzGibbon and Naish a very different view, for they declare that "equal denominational representation was not provided for by the founder in his will, or by the present Chancery Scheme." Therefore, the view of my hon. Friend (Mr. Knox) was correct, while the Chief Secretary is mistaken in his idea of the will. But the statement of the right hon. Gentleman threw light on something more important; it threw light on the intentions of the Government with regard to Irish Local Government, and on this point we shall have something to say on a future occasion.

(12.53.) COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)

I may say that the hon. Member who last spoke has not quoted the will of the founder, nor did the proposer of the Motion.


But I have it here.


At any rate, we on this side have in our favour the decision of the Court of Chancery in 1858, which distinctly provided that the two denominations shall be equally represented. The school will be closed to Protestant children if the Governors are in a large majority Roman Catholics, and I think it would be perfectly monstrous if that were permitted. I trust that this House will support the decision of Her Majesty's Privy Council. I was surprised to hear it called a partisan body, and do not think such an observation in order.

*(12.58.) MR. ROBY (Lancashire, S.E., Eccles)

As I have had a good deal to do with schemes of this nature, I may, perhaps, be permitted to intervene in this Debate. As I understand the question, this testator lived 80 years ago, and the point is not what were his wishes in regard to this Charity, but what is the best scheme for administering the Charity now. I submit it is altogether out of place for the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to rest upon a Judgment of the Court of Chancery delivered 30 years ago. One of the main objects of the Endowed Schools Act was to get rid of the intervention of the Court of Chancery so as to entrust the localities specially interested with the duties of dealing with them. Is it not a reasonable and natural thing that the people of the district most affected should have a voice in the government of the schools? In many cases endowed schools may be a curse rather than a blessing to the place—a curse if they are not conducted according to the best spirit of the time. I do hope the House will assent to this Motion, because, whilst it gives, to my mind, too limited an amount of popular government, it at any rate proposes to give some. It also provides that the institution shall be carried on largely in accordance with the intentions of the founder, and, as far as I can see, there is nothing in the scheme which is at all contrary to the will. It is in accordance with the principle which Parliament has over and over again acted upon. I hope the House will assent to the Motion.

(1.0.) The House divided:—Ayes 36; Noes 88.—(Div. List, No. 98.)

It being after One of the clock, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put.

House adjourned at ten minutes after One o'clock.