HC Deb 23 March 1899 vol 69 cc271-81

Motion made, and Question proposed— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying her graciously to withhold her consent to a scheme under the Endowed Schools Act, 1869, and amending Acts, for the management of Queen Mary's School, Walsall, which was presented to this House on the 7th day of February last.—(Mr. Gedge.)

* MR. GEDGE (Walsall)

Mr. Speaker, I am very sorry to detain the House, if only for a few minutes, at this hour of the night, but, of course, it is well known to Members that this is the only opportunity that a Member has for presenting a statutory Address to the Queen against a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, and unless it is done to- night, my time will be out before Easter. The question is a simple one, and if honourable Members will kindly give me a, few minutes' attention, they will see that the opposition of my constituents to this scheme is very reasonable. Once only before have I moved the rejection of such a scheme, and that was eight or nine years ago, with regard to Christ's Hospital, when I moved as a private Member and as a Governor of the hospital. I did not go to a division, because then the Government put on their tellers, and opposed me. I am glad to believe that that will not be. the case to-night, and that the matter will be judged on its merits. I would remind honourable Members that that scheme turned out to be exactly what was foretold, and the Charity Commissioners had afterwards to remodel it. This new scheme does not go as far as that, but I think it is objectionable, for the reasons I will state. The Queen Mary's Grammar School at Walsall is a secondary endowed (foundation school. It has been carried on very successfully, indeed, with marked success, during the last three or four years, under a very excellent scheme framed by the Charity Commissioners, after consultation with the Governors and the Corporation, in the year 1893, and they only wish that that scheme may be left alone. Before that scheme was framed there were two Acts of Parliament, passed in 1890 and 1891, for encouraging and assisting technical instruction, which is now so much wanted, especially in an important industrial town like Walsall, with its 80,000 inhabitants. According to these Acts, any local authority, either the local authority of the place where the endowed school is situated or any neighbouring local authority which has children in its district who can be best educated in technical instruction in this particular school, may make grants-in-aid of that instruction. Under these Acts, if a grant-in-aid be made by any local authority, you have to take the amount which is spent out of the income of the school by the Governors on technical education on one side, and the amount of the grant on the other, and then the local authority is permitted to appoint representatives upon the governing body in the same proportion to the total number of the Governors as the amount of their grant bears to the amount which the Governors spend on technical instruction. For instance, supposing that in this school there were 15 Governors; supposing that they spent, we will say, £300 a year on technical instruction; that the local authority of their borough makes them a grant—because they, of course, have no power of rating, but only their endowment of £1,500 a year—of £100 a year; then the local authority would be able to put on five representatives for the purpose of the Act. Supposing a local authority in the county of Stafford, which has children in the immediate neighbourhood, does this, they would have five representatives; and supposing the local authority of Birmingham were to do the same, then there would be ten representatives. These men are put on according to this Act simply for the purpose of the Act—that is to say, they have a voice in the technical instruction, but they have no voice whatever in the other part of the education in the school. Now, in this particular case there are two schools, one for boys and the other for girls. The boys' school is a grammar school as well as a commercial school; it instructs in a great many subjects which have nothing to do with technical instruction. In the girls' school it is the same. They have not the smallest objection if they obtain the grant, which they very much want, to this representation, and if the Charity Commissioners would only leave matters alone there would be no difficulty. My Governors want to apply for a grant, I believe, but are prevented by this new scheme. It is a very short scheme of two clauses, and we have no objection to the second. The first runs— The scheme of 1893 is hereby amended so as to give effect to the following provisions; There shall be added to the governing body such additional representative Governors, if any, as may be appointed for the purpose of the Technical Instruction Act, 1889, by a local authority under that Act. In other words, when the local authority either within the borough or outside the borough makes a grant, and claims to be represented under the Technical Instruction Act, the Governors so put on are to have a voice in the management of both schools, and that with regard, not only to the technical instruction, but also to all subjects of education given in the schools. Now, the local authority of the borough, the Corporation, are already well represented on the governing body of the school. The governing body consists of 15–12 gentlemen and three ladies. Seven of these are appointed by the Corporation, the local authority, four are appointed by the School Board, and the other four are co-opted by these 11. Consequently, if the seven who are appointed by the local authority choose to vote together, they may themselves select the four co-opted members. The Corporation have not done so, but they might. They have seven out of 15 Governors and the Corporation are perfectly content with the representation. They have no desire whatever to have any further representation for all purposes, though, no doubt, if they do make a grant-in-aid of technical instruction, they will very properly have a proportionate number of representatives taking part in the management of the school as regards that instruction. The county council of Stafford have been very anxious indeed to get a representative upon our governing body, and when the scheme was originally brought in a year and a half ago it provided that the county council of Stafford was always to have one representative Governor added to our 15. This was stoutly opposed by the existing Governors, and the Charity Commissioners have only recently been over-ruled with regard to a similar provision that they tried to enforce upon Newcastle-upon-Tyne That has been dropped, and is not now part of the scheme, and I only mention it to show the spirit in which the Charity Commissioners have acted towards the school. But when we remonstrated against this over-riding of the Act of Parliament by making these new Governors representative Governors for all purposes, when the Act of Parliament said, very properly that they should be appointed for the one purpose for which they subscribe the money, and that purpose only, the Charity Commissioners met us by saying, "Oh, there is inconvenience attaching to Governors being in and out in this way." I suppose, like Irish Members having their own Parliament——


Mr. Speaker, I would ask if this long explanation is really necessary?


Order, order‡


I am sorry I used the illustration, if it offends the honourable Member; it was only to bring before the House the point. We do not believe that any practical inconvenience would be sustained; at all events, it seems to us that if that were so the Act of Parliament should be altered. Then the Charity Commissioners write and say, very coolly, "Oh‡ you need not have the money if you do not like this; and if you do not like this, do not take the money." But surely that is a very wrong way of putting it. We are in favour of taking the money if the local authorities are disposed to give it to us. Their children are being educated in our schools. Parliament desires technical instruction to be improved. Parliament made this provision in order that technical instruction might be improved. Our resources consist of only this endowment of £1,500 a year and the fees, and I ask, Was it right for the Charity Commissioners to attempt to override the Act of Parliament in this way, and to say, "You shall not receive the benefits that Parliament intended to give you," even after Parliament itself imposed this arrangement, because the Charity Commissioners chose to think it is inconvenient? They therefore impose a, new condition, and coolly tell us that if we do not like the condition we may go without the money. Yes, but what are the poor children to do? Then the next inconvenience is this, that under the new scheme these representative Governors are in all for a period of five years. No doubt under the Act this representation only lasts as long as the grant-in-aid lasts, but if this scheme is passed the result will be this, that these gentlemen, having been put upon our governing body for all purposes, and not only for the purposes of the Act, will go on sitting as representative Governors under the scheme; and, therefore, even if the Act be withdrawn after a year, they will still be there for four years longer. The county councils of Stafford, Birmingham, and Wolverhampton, if they are giving a grant-in-aid, will be represented for all purposes upon this Board for five years, which clearly cannot be right. My right honourable Friend the Vice-President of the Council shakes his head. I do not profess to vie with him in construing an Act of Parliament, but I have had some experience of that sort in my life, and I cannot see my way out of that conclusion. Under the scheme it is said distinctly that the representative Governors are on for five years—that is the period that the new scheme says; that these people who are put on for the purposes of the Act shall have representative Governors and shall be put on for all purposes; and therefore I maintain, without fear of contradiction by a law court, if a case ever came to be tried there, that they will be on for five years. That is not, no doubt, a very large grievance, but it is a grievance, and I therefore submit to the House that we ought to be allowed to get this money on the terms which Parliament itself imposed in 1889 and 1891, and that we ought not to have a new and harsh construction put upon it; and the argument of the Charity Commissioners that it is now a common form, and has been applied in 200 cases, comes to nothing, for this reason, that these 200 cases mostly consist of small endowed schools scattered about the country. They are not in county boroughs. Now, the borough of Walsall, being a borough of nearly 80,000 people, and a very thriving industrial town, is very proud of its position as a county borough. It does not chose to be put in the position of small towns which are not county boroughs. This decision has been made by Parliament independent of the county council of Stafford, and we object to being put under them in this way by a few gentlemen sitting upstairs, who, having failed to ruin St. Paul's School, now want to try their hands at smaller fry and see if they cannot work some mischief with regard to this school. I therefore, Sir, move the He-solution standing in my name.


formally seconded.


This is a very short and simple point, which I think the House will understand in a very few minutes. Really, this clause is a common clause which is now put by the Charity Commissioners into every scheme of this kind, and it has not been objected to by any people save those in the town of Walsall, which my honourable and learned Friend represents. The clause has been put in because of the practical inconvenience which was found to exist. As the honourable and learned Member explained to the House, if the Governors of an endowed school receive aid from any of the local authorities in technical instruction a certain number of Governors have to be put on to represent the technical instruction authority, and according to the Technical Instruction Act these Governors are only put on the governing body for the purpose of that Act. That includes a very large part of the school instruction, because honourable Members must remember that technical instruction in the Act does not mean what technical instruction does in the common use of language. Besides that, technical instruction includes every subject for which a grant is made by the Science and Art Department. It includes modern languages, and it includes what is called commercial education. Indeed, it includes almost everything that is taught in a school of this kind except the dead languages. Now, the House will very easily see that for these gentlemen to be Governors for this purpose, and not to be Governors for the purpose of instruction in the dead languages, makes it very difficult to tell at any time whether a man has a right to have a voice in the discussion which is going on in the governing body or not. They are in and out, and they are in and out in a most inconvenient way, because it is almost impossible to say with reference to any particular subject, or at any particular time, whether these Governors who are put on under the Technical Instruction Act are on for the purposes of the discussion then going on, or are not. Therefore, to remedy that practical inconvenience the Charity Commissioners are now in the habit of putting into their schemes that those persons who are on as representing the local authorities under the Technical Instruction Act shall be on for all purposes, and not for the purposes of the Technical Instruction Act only. That clause has been accepted everywhere, not only in these little villages of Tamworth and Lichfield, but even in the great town of Wolverhampton, and it is only in Walsall that they seem to have made this objection. The answer to the objection is that you are not obliged to take aid from these local authorities. You are not obliged to take aid from the county of Stafford unless you like, and if you do take it from the county of Stafford, and if people are put on your governing body in accordance with the Act by the county of Stafford, it is much more convenient that the should be on for all purposes, and not for the purposes of the Technical Instruction Act exclusively. With regard to the second point which the honourable Member made, that these people, if they were put on, would be-put on for five years, I venture, with great respect, to say that he is mistaken. Certainly that is not the intention, and, I think, not the operation of the scheme. They would only be Governors so long as they were representatives of the local technical authority. As soon as they cease to hold that character, they would cease to be Governors. I hope, therefore, that the House will confirm the scheme, because this particular scheme has been found to be an extremely useful one. The scheme operates in the way I have described, and I am quite sure that no injustice would be done to the people of Walsall and the present Governors of this school if the clause-were adopted.

MR. BILL (Staffordshire, Leek)

At this time of night I do not wish to go at any length into this matter, but I should like to say, on behalf of the county council of Stafford—and I am the only member of the county council of Stafford who has the honour of sitting in this House—that the council thoroughly approves of the scheme which has been proposed by the Charity Commissioners for this particular school. First, I should like to say, in answer to my honourable Friend the Member for Walsall, that he is quite in error in supposing that the county council of Stafford has been, as he says, very anxious to have some representatives on the governing body of this school. The clauses which have been proposed by the Charity Commissioners were put in by the Charity Commissioners without any consultation with us. I can assure the House that the county council of Stafford do not in the least wish to thrust representatives on the governing body of this school if the honourable Member for Walsall is unwilling to receive them. But if the Board accepts county money, the county council do claim that their representation on the endowed school should be an effective one. That is all that they ask for, and I hope that the House will not interfere with the scheme of the Charity Commissioners.


I think it will be found that we were very careful in determining the conditions upon which, when this money is granted to a particular endowed school, representation should be given upon the governing body. Honourable Members will permit me to remind them that it touches a very important principle which runs through the question which we have to consider in respect to all endowments, and which we shall have to consider very closely when we come to consider the question of secondary education—how far public money is to carry with it the obligation of certain representation upon the governing body. Parliament was very careful at the time this Technical Instruction Act was passed. It said that money which was granted for technical instruction pur- poses should entitle the local authority to representation upon the governing body of the school for those purposes, and those purposes alone. My right honourable Friend has said that was an inconvenient provision. Well, Sir, that may be, but it is the Act of Parliament. I hold the Act in my hand. I am not going, at this time of night, to trouble the House by reading out long clauses, but it is as clear as possible. What the House of Commons and Parliament agreed to was that when money should be granted, representation should be given for technical instruction purposes, and for those only. It really is not, I think, a sufficient reason—I say it with great respect—for my right honourable Friend and for my honourable Friend the Member for Staffordshire to come and say that it is a very inconvenient arrangement. That was a plea which ought to have been put forward when the Act was passed; but the Act was passed, and it definitely laid this down. My right honourable Friend says the Charity Commissioners and the Government, who do not care about Acts of Parliament, have treated this particular provision with contempt, and in a model clause—a very bad model, I should have said—have allowed that scheme to pass, certainly in contempt of the obvious intention of Parliament. I am very sorry that our attention was not called to this before; but on the present occasion our attention has been called to it in the most constitutional manner by the honourable Member, representing his constituents, coming to Parliament and representing to the House of Commons that this particular action, however convenient in the view of the Charity Commissioners and of the Government, is wholly unconstitutional, and contrary to the spirit of the Act of Parliament. I think the honourable Member for Walsall has made out his case, and we are not entitled to allow, merely for the convenience of the arrangement to the Charity Commissioners or the Education Department, or people with whom I have more sympathy, my honourable Friend and his county council, that the plain intention of the Act of Parliament should be overruled. I think that my right honourable Friend was conscious that his case was very weak, because he eked it out by trying to imply that the whole of the education given in this school was technical education. It is clear that it is not only a technical instruction school. We have to deal with a plain issue, and it seems to me, as my right honourable Friend said, the simplest case in the world. Here is a case of injustice to which the attention of Parliament has been called. My honourable Friend, representing his constituents, comes to us for justice, and I think the House of Commons ought to give it to him.