§ THE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (Sir JOHN GORST, Cambridge University) moved "That the Bill be now read a Second time." The right hon. Gentleman said that the object of the Bill was to correct a mistake made by the Education Department under the late Government. At that time a scheme was framed under the Welsh Intermediate Act, and it was approved by the Committee of Council on Education in 1894. Immediately afterwards a petition was presented against the Bill, and in consequence of this petition, the scheme, according to law, ought to have been laid on the Table of both Houses of Parliament for 40 days before it was brought into force by Order in Council. After the petition had been presented all the petitioners except eight withdrew their names, and it was supposed that the effect of that was to make the petition not in conformity with the regulations of the Act of 1873, and, therefore, without laying the scheme on the Table of either House of Parliament, it was brought into force by Order in Council. Then objection was taken in the House that the scheme ought not to have been so approved, but ought to have lain on the Table for 40 days. The Law Officers advised that a mistake had been made, but that there was no means by which this mistake could be set right except by annulling the Order in Council by means of an Act of Parliament. In accordance with that advice, in 1895, immediately after the present Government came into office, a Bill was introduced and read a Second time in that short Session, but it did not proceed further. It was introduced again in the last Session, but never had the advantage of a Second Reading. It was now once more before the House. It was a perfectly small affair, really, to correct a mistake which was inadvertently made by the Department. Nothing had been done under the scheme, and the Bill would place all parties exactly in the same position as if no such error had been committed.762
§ MR. HUMPHREYS-OWEN (Montgomeryshire)
proposed to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months." He submitted that the fact that an irregularity had been committed was not in itself a matter of sufficiently grave importance to warrant the rejection by the House of a scheme which was practically unanimously desired by the district. The rejection of the scheme would deprive the district of a very important addition to their educational machinery.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
pointed out that the merits of the scheme could not be discussed. The only question which could properly be raised was whether an irregularity should be put right, and that without reference to whether the scheme was a good or a bad scheme.
§ MR. HUMPHREYS-OWEN
said that the only question was whether the Bill should be rejected, and whether the irregularity was so great as to justify the repealing of the assent. As he wished on behalf of those interested to express their strong feeling in favour of the scheme as it stood, he formally moved the rejection of the Bill.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
seconded the Amendment. He said that the question was now reduced to such narrow limits that it was really difficult to bring before the House what were the feelings of the parishioners of Berriew with regard to it. The parochial electors of the County Council district of Berriew said in their petition that they believed the scheme of establishing another department in the Berriew elementary school would be of great benefit to the district, and they prayed the House to reject the Bill for repealing the Royal Assent. They knew what would happen if this Bill was Read a Second time. When a Conservative Government was in power these schemes, or any portion of them, might either be rejected in the House of Commons or in the House of Lords if they did not accord with Conservative instincts; and when a Liberal Government was in power the Conservative Party was always strong enough in the House of Lords to secure their object. It was therefore natural, when a scheme, of which a parish had approved, had become law, the Welsh Members should try 763 to prevent it from being upset. The Government had given the first place on a Thursday afternoon to a Bill which related to a single parish, and which was protested against by nearly all the inhabitants of that parish. There were 381 County Council electors in the parish, and out of that number 14 had refused to sign the petition, and 18 had not been asked. Every other person had signed the petition against the Bill; therefore, the Welsh Members came before the House with practically the entire body of feeling in the parish behind them. The consequence of passing this Bill would be that the parish would have to pay its share.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS
said it was extremely difficult to keep within the limits laid down. But the Government were actually putting down this Bill which applied to one parish, and was rejected by that parish, as the First Order of the Sitting; while the Government, when appealed to by the Welsh Members on behalf of the largest county in Wales, with a population of three-quarters of a million, to do something to correct a slight technical difficulty in connection with intermediate education, refused to do anything. The Government were surely not bringing this Measure forward because they had nothing better to do with their time. Wales had been waiting to see what the Government was going to do for it, and now this Bill was presented. He believed that throughout the length and breadth of the Principality the action of the Government would be looked upon as indicating a deeply-rooted hostility to the feelings of the majority of the Welsh people, and an unwillingness to do anything for that majority. In his judgment the Government had acted in a way that would be repudiated by the great majority of the Welsh people.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
said that the introduction of this Bill on the present occasion was a gross abuse of the time and patience of Parliament. [Cheers.] Though he did not understand the merits of the scheme, he understood the merits of this Bill. The Irish Members had again and again pressed on the Government the necessity for some legislation with regard to the Erasmus Smith Schools, but they had always been refused. 764 on the ground that there was no time to deal with the question. This Bill set out a false statement on its very front when it was said that the Order should be annulled because of an inadvertence. If, for example, a suitor in any court in the kingdom was late, would a Bill be brought in to supplement his defects? The majority of the people of Berriew were in favour of the scheme, but a little knot of persons were opposed to it. On the facts being presented to them, this knot of persons withdrew their petition, and having withdrawn it, then the scheme became valid by law. But having become valid by law, and the scheme being obnoxious to this small section of the community, who happened to belong to the Church of England, the Government were now going to afford a small section the opportunity, by a special statute, to present a fresh petition. This was carrying legislation not merely to an excess, but into the grotesque. If ever there was a case for a private Bill, this would be the case. The Irish Members had been deprived by the Government of the Wednesday which they had obtained for their Land Bill. There had been very late sittings, and the Closure had been exercised freely on the understanding that the Government intended to get through some most important and stupendous legislation. But what had the mountain in labour produced? This Berriew School Bill—a Measure for two men and a boy in some parish in Wales. [laughter.] That was the business which was given the first place on the Order Paper that day, and the last business set down was almost equally important—namely, the introduction of a Bill for making regulations with respect to bicycles in Ireland. [laughter.] Members who had begged for nutritious legislation were offered this chopped straw instead. Here was a scheme formally made with the assent of the parish, as declared by a vast majority. A minute section of the inhabitants, however, petitioned, but did not proceed with their petition, and then some other people who would not put pen to paper——
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is now repeating the arguments with which he began his speech.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
observed that the Bill enjoyed one distinction—if nothing could be said in its favour, very little, 765 apparently, could be said against it. [laughter.] It was because this matter was so utterly unimportant that he protested against the time of the House being taken up with this discussion. The right hon. Gentleman had intimated that the Into Government were in some way committed to this legislation; but at any rate the late Government had abstained from bringing in any Bill on this subject. He was not surprised that the vast majority of the people of Wales should view with prejudice and dislike the action of the Government. It was instructive to contrast the way in which a small number of people in Wales were being favoured by the Government with the way in which Irish people had been treated in similar circumstances.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said that the Welsh Members were well advised in opposing the Bill, having regard to the prejudice that surrounded it, and protested against the policy of the Government in frittering away the time of Parliament upon pettifogging legislation of the sort.
§ MR. EDWARD CARSON (Dublin University)
thought that this Bill was far from being of a trifling character. He looked upon it as one of the best Bills that the Government had brought in. [Opposition cheers and laughter.] No one who examined the circumstances could deny that if this Measure had not been introduced parties who had been given rights under an Act of Parliament might have had their rights frittered away by departmental incompetency. An Act of Parliament laid down that before certain people could be interfered with by that revolutionary tribunal, the Charity Commission, the schemes propounded by it must be placed upon the Table of the House if that was desired. Parliament ought to insist upon that procedure jealously. As he understood this case, some persons who were interested in the Berriew School Hellenic petitioned against it, and asked that their petition should be laid upon the Table of the House. For some reason the Department concerned took upon itself to decide that the petitioners were not in earnest. It would be most unsatisfactory if the Department could disregard a petition on the ground that they had been informed that certain of the petitioners no 766 longer wished to have their names appended to it. The negligence or incompetence of the Department had led to a serious miscarriage of justice, and the object of the Bill was to preserve the rights given by Parliament to those who were interested in charities. They might congratulate themselves upon the fact that they had a Government in power strong enough to put an end to such gross acts of interference with the rights of the community. [Opposition, laughter.] He only wished that the same strength of purpose were exhibited when similar injustice was perpetrated in Wales. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
thought they owed a debt of gratitude to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for bringing the House to a sense of the importance of the Bill before it. When he wished to ascertain the relative importance of proposed Measures it was his practice to refer to the Speech from the Throne, and in that speech this year he found this Bill distinctly foreshadowed. The first passage addressed to the House of Commons said:—A Measure for the promotion of primary education, by securing the maintenance of Voluntary Schools, will be laid before you.That had been done. Then the Speech went on: —If time permits, you will be invited to consider further proposals for educational legislation.Well, time had permitted, the Government having prevented them from discussing important subjects which were not connected with education. The Necessitous Board Schools Bill they knew was an after-thought, and therefore the present Measure was what the Government must have had in mind when they foreshadowed "further proposals for educational legislation." He trusted that the Welsh Members would be duly grateful. The Government would never have placed this Bill first on the Paper on the Thursday before Easter—one of the most important days in the Session—if they had not believed it to be an important Measure. It was an important Measure, and its importance lay in its preamble, which raised a question upon which they ought to have the advice of the 767 Law Officers of the Crown, who, however, were not in their places. Why were they not present to advise the House upon a Bill which was founded entirely upon technicalities? He wished to know whether the scheme was at this moment the law of the land? If the answer was in the affirmative, he would ask the Attorney General to show by reference to the Acts of Parliament on what he founded his opinion. If the answer was in the negative, what was the use of this Bill? What was the good of annulling an Order in Council which was itself a nullity? The Vice President indicated that the scheme was the law of the land. Then, in considering this Bill to amend the law, they were entitled to discuss the merits of the law.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
submitted that as the scheme which the Bill would destroy was now stated to be part of the law of the land, they were entitled to discuss its merits.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
This is a Bill for the purpose of removing an irregularity, and of giving the House an opportunity of discussing the merits of the scheme on a future day.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
, on a point of order, called Mr. Speaker's attention to his ruling on this Bill on September 2, 1895. The Speaker then said:—I have read the proposals of the Bill, and I cannot say that it is out of order for an hon. Member to refer to the scheme, but I hope he will not do so in more detail than is necessary.And, later on, the Speaker said,It appears to me the hon. Member is discussing the history, and not the merits, of the scheme,suggesting that it would be in order to discuss the merits.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I have not referred to "Hansard," and do not know in what context or under what circumstances those observations were made, but, having fully considered this Bill—I do not know whether it is the same Bill— I am clearly of opinion that the merits of the scheme cannot be discussed [Cheers.]
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
desired to point out the position in which the House 768 was placed. This being a mere Bill to amend a departmental irregularity and to give the House an opportunity of again discussing an Order in Council, could have no possible effect upon the law of the land. If the Bill did not amend the law, its passage would leave the scheme in precisely the same legal status as now. This was a question on which the House was entitled to be advised by the Law Officers, and until they received that advice the House would be neglecting its duty if it took part in the ignominious farce of proceeding with a Bill, the real scope of which no one seemed to understand, and the issue of which would be the production of a mere nullity.
MR. BRYNMOR JONES (Swansea Boroughs)
said that, if he rightly followed the right hon. Gentleman, his knowledge of the actual facts connected with the petition and the circumstances of its withdrawal wag somewhat imperfect. Otherwise he could not understand when the right hon. Gentleman did not tell the House what were the circumstances which induced the gentlemen who withdrew their signatures to take that course. He would state what he understood to be the actual facts of the case. The Montgomeryshire County Council in due course adopted the Intermediate Education Act of 1889; and by so adopting it they took power to levy a halfpenny rate on the whole county. Proper education committees were formed, and, ultimately, a scheme for the carrying out of the Act in Montgomeryshire was adopted by the proper authorities. Part of the scheme involved the bringing into the general system of the county of the endowed school at Berriew. The matter went before the Charity Commission and the Education Department. Shortly before the time for petitioning had ended, a petition was sent up by 20 ratepayers in the parish of Berriew. This was done in pursuance of the Endowed Schools Act, 1873, which allowed not less than 20 ratepayers to petition against a scheme. The effect of the petition, if it was bonâ fide, was to make it incumbent upon the Department to lay the scheme on the Table of the two Houses of Parliament. But before anything further was done, 12 of the 20 ratepayer who had signed the petition withdrew their signatures. He would like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman in his 769 researches had found that they stated their reasons for so doing. As a matter of fact, he understood that they made the reason of their withdrawal perfectly clear. It was this, that they had been induced to sign the petition by misrepresentations made by those concerned in getting it up. These gentlemen were told that if Berriew School was brought under the scheme there would be a halfpenny rate levied on the parish, while if the school was kept out they would escape the rate. That was an entirely inaccurate representation. Whether Berriew School was or was not brought within the scheme, the halfpenny rate would be levied on the parish just as in every other parish. He brought before the House a declaration signed by these twelve gentlemen in the presence of an impartial witness to the following effect: "We, the undersigned, hereby declare that we were induced to sign the petition against the Berriew School Scheme because we were told that the scheme would involve a rate." The Law Officers of the Crown advised that, notwithstanding the withdrawal of the signatures, the petition having been presented, the necessity arose for laying the scheme on the Table of the two Houses. In regard to that he would like to ask, was it stated in the case laid by the Department before the Law Officers that the petitioners, having signed, afterwards merely capriciously withdrew their signatures: or did the case state that the petitioners withdrew because of alleged misrepresentation? There was nothing in the Act of 1873 to take the whole of this machinery out of what might be called the general law of the land. And what he would submit to the Solicitor General was that fraud vitiated everything. If it was true that these 12 gentlemen were induced to sign the petition by misrepresentation, then the question that ought to have been submitted to the Law Officers was this. Assuming that these signatures were obtained by misrepresentation, was there any bonâ fide petition, from beginning to end. That was really the crux of the case. He submitted that this unprecedented Bill ought not to pass without most careful investigation into the facts, and as a possible solution he would recommend that the Debate might be adjourned in order that the right hon. Gentleman might inquire into the facts 770 of the declaration he had brought before the House. Passing from that, he thought there was a great deal in the point made by the hon. Member for Louth. The nature of this procedure appeared to him to be judicial rather than executive. The promoters of a scheme of this kind had to go through a long and somewhat cumbrous form in order to obtain the ultimate Order in Council. The Order in Council was obtained here, and this scheme for Montgomeryshire, including the Berriew Scheme, was the law of the land. He said that was the case of a judgment, and that the matter was resjudicatœ. What they were now asked to do by the Government was, in consequence of an accidental blunder on the part of the Education Department, to give judgment against the promoters of the scheme. Suppose this had been a judgment of the House of Lords in ordinary litigation, or of the Court of Appeal, the position of the Government would be, that because somebody at some initial stage of the proceedings had committed a blunder, therefore they could not discuss the merits, but were to set aside the judgment of the House of Lords or of the Court of Appeal. What practical reason had the Government shown for correcting this injustice? The Courts in England did not give a new trial, and did not set aside a judgment on mere technicalities unless there was substantial injustice involved. Where was the substantial injustice in this matter? And, above all, what did the Government mean to do? Did they mean to annul the scheme, or oppose it when it came before the House? The right hon. Gentleman spoke in a very pacific spirit, but he did not give any undertaking us to what might be the action of hon. Gentlemen behind him in the matter. Unless the Government were in earnest, and said, "We object to the scheme, and intend to oppose it," what was the practical good of re-opening the matter at all? Above all, when they found a great county like Montgomeryshire acting together in this matter, and only a few people in a particular parish who were really objecting to the consequence of this inadvertence—if they liked—what really was the practical need of going on with the Bill? For these reasons he should certainly oppose the Second Heading of the Bill.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
remarked that the hon. and learned Gentleman had said that the judgments of the Courts could not be quashed by reason of any technicalities. He believed, if it was shown that material facts were withdrawn from the jury, then the judgment would be quashed.
MR. BRYNMOR JONES
What I said was that a new trial was not granted in the Courts of Justice on some technical grounds. There must be some substantial injustice done at the trial.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES
entirely adopted that view, and said he was endeavouring to make the hon. Gentleman understand that a substantial injustice was done here. That injustice was that one of the parties was kept out of Court by an irregularity. He was going to support this Bill, though not entirely for the same reason that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University had given. In matters of this kind he had a plain rule on which he acted. He voted with his Party always when they were right, often when they were wrong, and invariably when he did not understand the question. Well, that was his position upon this occasion. He did not understand the merits of the Berriew School Scheme, but it seemed to him the merits of the scheme were not in question. What was in question were the merits of the Education Department in the year 1894, at a time when it was presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rotherham. He thought any opposition that came to this Bill came with very ill grace from hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen the consorts of the right hon. Member for Rotherham. They, at any rate, ought to pay a high tribute of generosity to Her Majesty's Government for coming forward to cover their misdeeds; and he had been surprised that in the course of this Debate the culprit in whose real interests this Measure was introduced as a Bill of indemnity—that was the right hon. Member for Rotherham—had not himself risen to support the Government in bringing in this cloak for his wicked misdeeds. The right hon. Gentleman was the man who did it, and it was no use to tell them that this was a technical or slight irregularity. The Education Department had put over it one of the most eminent Members of the Party in 772 power, for the very reason that it was a particularly difficult department to keep straight. Thus the right hon. Gentleman opposite was put in that position; otherwise he might have been made Minister for Foreign Affairs, or put into some other inferior position. But for the position of Vice President his Party recognised that they required a man of the highest ability', tremendous determination, industry and acumen, and that was why the right hon. Member for Rotherham was selected. In 1897 they were confronted with this blunder, which the right hon. Gentleman allowed to be made and as to which he was particeps criminis. The whole total effect of the Bill was to throw a cloak over the misdeeds of the Department. In his opinion, the misdeeds which ought never to be forgotten were the misdeeds of a public department. In this particular instance no kind of excuse could be made for pleading ignorance of the conditions of the Act of Parliament. The Department knew perfectly well it was necessary to lay the scheme upon the Table of the House. It knew that unless the scheme were so laid on the Table, a proper and final judgment could not be obtained upon it, and that unless that proper and final judgment was obtained the Order in Council would have been obtained by something not very distantly resembling fraud. With all this knowledge before it the Department deliberately omitted to perform its duty. As a result of that he should have thought the right hon. Gentleman himself would have introduced the Bill of indemnity which he and his Department required. But no; he and his Party left office, and it was reserved for the unfortunate victim, the scapegoat of the Committee of Council on. Education—that secret body of whom they knew so very little—to bring in a Bill of indemnity to cover the misdeeds of the Department. He attached all the more importance to this kind of Bill of indemnity, because they were becoming daily more and more department ridden; and if, every time a Department made a mistake or committed a crime— and Departments were constantly doing both—they were to have, as a matter of course, a Bill of indemnity brought in— not even by the side guilty of the crime, but by the other side—he said that all security was lost. He was bound to sup- 773 port this Bill of indemnity, because he did not understand it, but he did so with misgivings, and he hope:! it would be the last Measure of the kind that would be brought in.
§ MR. A. H. DYKE ACLAND (York, W.R., Rotherham)
believed the Vice President had stated all the facts, and the only reason why he rose was because the hon. Gentleman opposite had made a statement which he wished to correct, to the effect that he, knowing this to be illegal, deliberately failed in laying the matter on the Table of the House. In this case, and certainly in one former case, probably others, it was honestly believed by the officials of the Education Department, that a notification sent in at the last moment withdrawing certain signatures to it, did withdraw the petition. In this particular case the petition was withdrawn without his knowledge, and in accordance with the traditions of the Department. In the former case—the case of the Dauntsey Charity—great interest was taken in it by the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
§ MR. ACLAND
replied that a new scheme was brought in, and a former Member of that House, now deceased, not being satisfied with the new scheme, presented a petition against it. Then his friends—and he believed the Under Secretary for the Home Department—induced him to persuade those who had signed it to withdraw their signatures to the petition. They did withdraw their signatures, and, in consequence, the scheme was not brought before the House. That was one of the precedents upon which the officials of the Education Department acted in the case of this Berriew Scheme. All he had to say was that when this matter was brought to his knowledge, and the point arose as to whether that was a legal act on the part of the Department, he at once saw that no course was open to him but to refer the matter, as a purely legal one, to the Attorney General and Solicitor General.
MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)
said every opportunity had been afforded for persons opposing this scheme to appear before the Joint Education Committee and submit any reasons 774 showing that their interests would be unjustly affected. This Joint Committee was a body of five Members, of whom three were Churchmen and two Nonconformists. Further than that, the trustees, including the vicar, assented to the proposal. The twelve men who withdrew their signatures were induced to sign the petition by a false representation that a new rate would be the natural corollary of the passing of the scheme. A specific question he desired to put to the Government. The effect of passing this Bill would be that an opportunity would be offered of wrecking this scheme, and before the vote was taken he would like to know whether opposition to the scheme would be taken in this or in the other House, because that was of vital importance to the question at issue. Hon. Members, perhaps, did not know the inner history of this Bill. The House was not asked to pass it really and solely to remedy a technical mistake, that was not the real reason, and if there had not been a force behind working on the Education Department this Bill would never have been heard of. An article in the National Review for November, signed "A Layman," gave the reasons for the Bill. Referring to Measures which the writer hoped would pass he said: —Among smaller Measures there is one called the Berriew School Bill, a short Bill to bring back within the cognisance of Parliament a scheme under the Welsh Intermediate Education Act. which by accident was illegally passed, without proper time being given for consideration. The scheme is regarded by Churchmen as unfair to the Church"—
§ * MR. SPEAKER
said the hon. Member could not, after his ruling, proceed to argue on the merits of the scheme by quotation from and comment on an article in a periodical.
MR. HERBERT ROBERTS
said he would not pursue that line of argument, but the article went on to speak of the Bill about, to be introduced and which was now under discussion, referring to the reasons why it should be brought forward. The article spoke of the failure of the Government to pass the Bill last year, and continued: —To fulfil their promise, they introduced the Berriew School Bill, but it was opposed by Welsh Radical Members, and the Government, with a faintness of heart they had shown in other instances when Church interests were at stake, gave way, and abandoned the Bill.775 And then the writer went on to hope that the Government would not give way to faintness of heart and desert Church interests during the Session. That was the view of supporters of the Bill, that it was introduced, not in order to remedy a technical mistake, but in order to keep from the parishioners interested an educational been which would be granted to them under this scheme. This was why Welsh Members very heartily objected to the Second Heading of the Bill.
§ MR. HEYWOOD JOHNSTONE (Sussex, Horsham)
said they had been told that, though passed by inadvertence, the Order in Council had all the force of law, and so far as the Berriew School was concerned, it was law, and he could not see the necessity for upsetting the scheme. If, as he did not doubt, the right hon. Gentleman was correct in his law, there did not appear to be any necessity for the Bill. The people of the parish of Berriew and the inhabitants of Montgomery were the best judges of their wants and wishes, and they had expressed these through their representatives and by petitions presented. It could not, of course, be expected that a parish would be absolutely unanimous, and, no doubt, two or three "cranks" would be found even in a Welsh parish, but they had practically shown their feeling in favour of the scheme, and as they were, in his opinion, entitled to a reasonable amount of autonomy in a matter of this kind, he should vote with the Welsh Members. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said Welsh Members were exceedingly obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his very sensible remarks in support of their view. As a general principle, he rather welcomed the ruling of the Law Officers that where signatures were withdrawn from the petition it ought necessarily to fall through, and another opportunity should be given to petition against a scheme. Would the Solicitor General explain what the ruling of the Law Officers really was?
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (SIR ROBERT FINLAY, Inverness Burghs)
said perhaps the hon. Member would get his explanation from the hon. and learned Member for York, who, at the time, was Solicitor General under a Unionist Government. [laughter.]
§ SIR FRANK LOCKWOOD (York)
said he had the greatest possible pleasure in replying on behalf of the Government— [laughter]—that the opinion of the Law Officers was as the hon. Gentleman had stated. The view taken by Her Majesty's Government, and which, he presumed, had not altered since he left the Government—[laughter]—was that it would be inexpedient that it should be open to persons to put a collusive petition on record, and to leave it until the last-moment and then to give notice that certain names were withdrawn which would prevent a certain number of bonâ fide petitioners from presenting a petition. That was the view of Her Majesty's Government.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, then there was no necessity for the Bill at all, for there had been nothing to prevent the parishioners of Berriew from presenting a petition. The House ought to have some guidance from the present Law Officers. This was not a purely technical matter. The late Vice President of the Council had mentioned the Dauntsey case, a charity in Wilts, in which case signatures to a petition were withdrawn, and the then Vice President proceeded as if no petition had been presented, and the scheme became law. There was no Bill brought in on that occasion, and why was a distinction made in the present instance? If the present Government had been guilty of what the hon. Member for Lynn Regis called "misdeeds," they should make reparation, but they were not called upon to do so vicariously on behalf of the late Liberal Government. It was not true that one of the parties to this matter had not had an opportunity of presenting their case against this particular scheme. They had an opportunity first of all of raising their objections before the Joint Committee of Education, and then before the County Council of Montgomeryshire, but they did not take advantage of either of the opportunities afforded them. It was only at the last moment, by means of a false statement of fact—by what in law would amount to fraud—that 20 ratepayers 777 were induced to sign a petition to the Education Department. It was known perfectly well that it' the matter went to the House of Lords, where the facts were not known, it was only necessary to make the suggestion that this was an ecclesiastical question, to insure the scheme being upset without any regard whatever to its merits. This matter had been going on for three years, and during the whole of that time the parishioners of Berriew had been deprived of all the advantages of the intermediate education scheme for the county of Montgomery. In addition to that, if this Hill were passed, the matter would go on for another year or two, so that, probably for six years the parishioners of Berriew would be deprived absolutely of all the benefits of the intermediate scheme. That would be the result of annulling this scheme, while, in addition, they would be deprived of a sum of £300 which was simply awaiting the scheme being put into practical operation. He thought it was exceedingly unfair to the parishioners, and to those who were interested in Welsh education, and had been trying to perfect a system of secondary education, that these matters should be constantly brought before the House of Commons. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER, Isle of Wight)
said he had intended to be present during the whole of this Debate, but a meeting of the South African Committee, which had been taking place, required his attendance, and that was the reason for his absence from the House during the greater part of the proceedings. ["Hear, hear!"] He understood the point had been raised as to whether or not this scheme was law. He had no doubt whatever that the scheme was law. The Statute provided that, when an Order in Council had been passed, all the formalities should be deemed to have been observed, and the scheme had the force of an Act of Parliament. He should like just to remind the House of what was the necessity for this Bill. All he knew at the time that he went into the matter was that a petition, perfectly correct in form, and signed by qualified people, had been presented. The hon. Member below the gangway said that those signatures were obtained by some improper means. He knew nothing about that, and he was 778 perfectly satisfied that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for York knew nothing of it. The petition having been presented, all the lawyers who looked into the matter came to the conclusion that there was the condition established which necessitated the scheme going before Parliament—that was to say, the subsequent withdrawal of the names, however obtained, did not prevent them from coming and asking the House to express its opinion upon it. That was in no sense a party opinion. The late Law Officers so advised the Member for Rotherham when he was Vice President, and it was his duty when he came into office, in 1895, to advise. Her Majesty's Government that that view was correct, la the Dauntsey case, to which reference had been made, there actually was an objection taken in the House, and the ultimate settlement of that scheme was in consequence of the objections which were taken in that House to the scheme so laid on the Table of the House. The Dauntsey case was an instance of the right which any persons who objected to a scheme had to have the opinion of the House taken. Therefore the Dauntsey case was a distinct authority in favour of the view which they urged ought to be followed by the Education Department. But there having been this unintentional hitch, and persons having been deprived of their constitutional rights, he did not think any course could be adopted except to put the parties exactly in the position they ought to have been, and to allow objections to the scheme, if any existed, to be raised in a constitutional manner. It was a tardy act of justice, but it was an act of justice that ought to be performed. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 22-1; Noes, 102.—(Division List, No. 164.)
§ Main Question put, "That the Bill be now Head a Second time."
§ The House divided:—-Ayes, 219; Noes, 88.—(Division List, No. 165.)
§ Bill Read a Second time.779
§ SIR J. GORST moved, "That the Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Law, Etc."
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
begged to move to leave out the words "the Standing Committee on Law, Etc.," and to insert instead thereof the words "a Select Committee." He said it was most important that they should have evidence, and if the Bill should be referred, as proposed, to the Grand Committee on Law, no evidence could be taken. ["Hear, hear!"] It was admitted that the original signatures to the petition were obtained not only by fraud, but by gross misrepresentations. Evidence on that point ought to be taken. The statements made on the other side had been controverted. The very fact that it was alleged that the motive which actuated the Government was that this was a question of hardship, called for evidence. At least, let them have evidence as to hardship. Then there was the question of precedent to be explained. Whenever it was proposed to refer some small Irish Bill to a Grand Committee, the First Lord of the Treasury got up and said, "You call this a small Bill, but it involves questions of the most enormous importance." They ought now to inquire whether, after the scheme had become the law of the land, under which parties had got vested rights, it should be set aside by ex pant facto legislation. The Member for Rotherham said there was a precedent, and the Attorney General controverted that and said there was no precedent. It was very remarkable that they should get different advice from the two Front Benches, and yet they were asked to rush the Bill through at railroad speed. They must get at the facts, and not legislate in the dark. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS
seconded the Amendment, and said that if evidence was not taken a grave injustice might be done to the people of Berriew. It was said that there had been a total misrepresentation of the facts. He had seen a document from 12 persons who signed the petition against the scheme, and what did they say? They said: —We, the undersigned, hereby declare that we were induced to petition against the Berriew Bill because we were told that it would involve a rate.Instead of taking money from the parish it would take money from the townships 780 and put it into the parish. Under these circumstances it was necessary there should be an investigation.
§ Question, "That the words 'the Standing Committee on Law, Etc.,' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 210; Noes, 95,—(Division List, No. 166.)
§ Bill committed to the Standing Committee on Law, Etc.