HC Deb 16 December 1936 vol 318 cc2582-90

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Sir G. Penny.]

11.1 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel C. KERR

I wish to raise a question which is of the utmost importance to almost every constituency in Scotland and in particular to the County of Angus, the question of the Angus Educational Trust Scheme under the Educational Endowments (Scotland) Acts, 1928 and 1935. I wish to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend that there are certain objections to this scheme, in the hope that after he has heard what I have to say he will try to see that this scheme is not given approval by His Majesty. The five burghs of which I wish to speak are Arbroath, Montrose, Forfar, Brechin and Kirriemuir. The first four I represent and the last is represented by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Forfar (Captain Shaw). Over 75 per cent. of the money which is expended under this scheme comes from these five burghs, and all of them are against this scheme, and there is very strong feeling throughout the burghs against it. One of the principal objections is that on page 3 of the scheme, under the heading of bursaries, the commissioners have definitely stated that they see no necessity for the continuance of school bursaries, because adequate provision is made for them by the education authority. They are not quite consistent in regard to this, because they have permitted school bursaries in the Morgan Trust, Dundee, and I think, also, in the Peter Brough Trust, Paisley; and again in the County of Kincardineshire and Aberdeenshire school bursaries are allowed to be supplementary to the education authorities' bursary schemes and are permitted irrespective of the parents' means or circumstances. Naturally, these burghs want to know why this concession is not given to them in regard to children of the poorest people, and there is no doubt that if the concession is not to be given it will be dead against the wishes of the founders of these trusts.

Now I come to the question of committees. The commissioners say they are going to widen the discretion in the use of funds exercised by these local committees and governing bodies, and yet they refuse discretion in the matter of school bursaries. Surely that is not widening but curtailing the power of the committees to deal with this question. The local committees have no power whatever to serve the interests of the locality. They have become the creatures of the governing body, with the result that the right type of member will not act on these committees, which are merely ancillary to the governing body. Unless the local committees are given full administration of area funds, their existence seems to be futile.

On the question of funds, I would read out a statement which is on page 4 of the scheme: If the governing body is satisfied that such expenditure can usefully be incurred. Those words are very ominous. The intentions of the donors are in grave peril here. Let us take the Arbroath Louson Trust, which has been administered for a good many years, like many-other trusts, by the provosts and municipal councillors of the various burghs. On page 20 of the scheme we find that money is to be expended on two items of travelling expenses and time lost for the governing body and the local committees.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)

I am sorry to say that I did not hear the opening words of the hon. and gallant Gentleman when he referred, as I understand, to a scheme or to an Order which, I take it, is laid on the Table of the House. If that is so, the proper course for the hon. and gallant Member, if he wishes to oppose that Order being made, is to put a notice on the Order Paper for what is commonly known as a. Prayer against the sanctioning of the scheme or the Order. Otherwise, he is at present adopting a course upon which there can be no Division and no decision about the matter, and he is perhaps anticipating the usual and proper course being taken by some other hon. Member for dealing with a Paper which is laid on the Table of the House.

Lieut.-Colonel KERR

I am afraid, then, that I have been mis-instructed. I did ask what the right procedure was, and I was told it was not necessary to put down anything. This matter is a question of time, and if I cannot raise this question here and put in some objection before, ipso facto, it becomes law two months after 4th November, I shall be in a very difficult position if I am now out of Order.


Further to that point of Order. I understand that my hon. and gallant Friend merely wishes to raise this matter. He does not want to go to the full formal length of putting down a, Prayer. I submit in the circumstances that it is quite open to him to raise the matter on the Motion for the Adjournment without desiring, in view of the great stress under which we have all been working recently, to force the House to a Division thereon. I understand that he does not wish to raise his right to challenge a Division, but merely to bring the matter up on the Adjournment of the House for the consideration of the Government.


I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. The answer to that rather depends upon another matter with which I am not fully acquainted at the moment. Do I understand rightly that the time for a Prayer against this Motion will expire before the House meets again?

Lieut.-Colonel KERR

Yes, Sir.


If that is so, the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not be anticipating a Prayer by another hon. Member. It would be too late now to put down a Prayer. I think that perhaps, after what has been said, the hon. and gallant Member will observe that, if it had still been possible to put a Prayer on the Order Paper to be heard after the House meets again, there would be an opportunity of raising the matter in that way, and therefore it would not be right for him to interfere with the opportunity of another Member who might wish to put down a Prayer in that way. In the circumstances, I think the hon. and gallant Member might proceed.

Lieut.-Colonel KERR

I am most grateful to you for your Ruling. As far as I can see, there can be only two justifications for this scheme. The first is that there has been maladministration on the part of the present trustees; and, from what I personally know of this subject, I am quite certain that this cannot be substantiated. The other would be the cessation of the objects of the donor. Can it be substantiated that that has become a fact? I am quite certain, from what I know, that neither of these contentions can be substantiated. My right hon. Friend knows how very keenly the Scottish people feel on education. Here are these funds, which have been carefully guarded and administered in the best spirit for the benefit of the children in these burghs, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will see his way to suspend the completion of this legislation and have the scheme further looked into and amended.

11.12 p.m.

Captain W. T. SHAW

I wish to support my hon. and gallant Friend's plea to the Secretary of State that he should withhold his approval of this Angus Educational Trust Scheme until he has had further opportunities of considering it and amending it in conformity with the needs and requirements of the local conditions. The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland, almost every other Member on the Front Government Bench, and, indeed, almost every Member of the House, have during the last few months expressed the view that it was essential to do everything we could to uphold the democratic principle of government in this country. If we are to do that, we must have regard, not merely to the opinions of Members of this House, but also to the opinions of local government bodies in their sphere. As my hon. and gallant Friend has pointed out, we have here a scheme which is objected to, as regards many of its principal provisions, by all the representative educational bodies in the area affected by the scheme, and I feel that we may appeal with some confidence to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to give this matter further consideration, and to pay particular regard to the local feeling and requirements in this matter. No doubt the commission is composed of very able men, but none of them can be familiar with the conditions of the county of Angus. It is laid down, I think in paragraph 33, that the Scottish Education Department, the governing body and its local committees are to operate the scheme.

Naturally, the Scottish Education Department have the final word. It is the same old thing. The bureaucracy want to keep all the power and patronage they can. We have had sufficient experience in local affairs to know that we have too much centralisation already. It is essential that more regard should be had to local needs. Where these funds have been administered locally, they have been administered efficiently and it has cost nothing. Under this scheme the governing body will get certain expenses paid to them. In many of the rural parishes which I represent, if the scheme goes through, the children, and the poorest children, are to be defrauded of their birthright because they will not be able to get these bursaries. It is one thing to get a bursary in a very large area but another thing to compete for a bursary where the competitors are confined to the local parish. The donors of these funds meant to restrict the competition to the people in the parishes.

With regard to the advisory committees, the people of Angus are very independent and self-reliant. Angus is capable of producing men and women able to fill any station in the land, from the queen upon the throne downward. The motto of the county is "Trust to Angus," and they have shown that the trust is not misplaced. I doubt whether there is a county in the whole of Scotland which has given my right hon. Friend so little trouble as Angus. They are well able to manage their own affairs, but they are not given to verbosity. You will not get them to serve on these advisory committees unless there is some executive function attached to them. Even if you gave them the executive function of delaying the proposals of the governing body, it would be something. In 1918 we passed the Scottish Education Act, under which advisory committees were to be set up, but there has never been an advisory committee set up in Angus. The people will not waste their time in that way. If my right hon. Friend looks over the scheme carefully, he will see that it is essential that it should be amended in many respects to meet local needs and requirements.

11.19 p.m.


I am indebted to the hon. Members who have raised this matter on the last Parliamentary occasion on which it would be possible to challenge this scheme. It is true, of course, that raising it on the Adjournment has not the effect of a Prayer, nor indeed would it be constitutional for me to offer on my own motion to withdraw or amend the scheme, but I will examine it carefully in the light of the representations that have been made. Though it is possible for any objector to bring forward an amended scheme and also possible for the Department to bring forward an amended scheme on our own initiative and motion, it would be necessary now for the present scheme to come into effect. I will, however, give my most personal consideration to it, and, if necessary, see that amendments are made. It is necessary to remember that when the House passed the Statute setting up this commission and enabling alterations to be made and brought forward by these schemes, the House intended that that should be done. It was merely regularising the process which has already gone on even in the case of these old endowments.

Captain SHAW

We are bound by the Parliament of 1928.


Yes, Parliament gave an Instruction which, until it is withdrawn, I, as executive Minister, must attend to. I have no power to disregard the Act of Parliament, and until this House gives me further orders, I am the executive officer who must administer the Statute. No fewer than 37 of these endowments have been altered and interfered with, either through the action of the commissioners or through the Court of Session. In 37 cases the intentions of the donors have been modified by the subsequent action of persons authorised by this House under Statute.

There is this further point. Have the intentions of the donors in fact been frustrated by the scheme under consideration? I believe not. The Commissioners are bound by the Act to have special regard to the spirit of the intention of the founders of the endowments. They have had such special regard in this case. They have altered the purposes to which the endowment money is to be applied only where they are satisfied that the purpose for which the money was formerly used did not confer on the recipients an educational benefit which they would not otherwise obtain. Let me take the single point of whether the bursary money should be entrenched upon for capital and administrative expenses. In the case of the Louson bursary, which was specially mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Montrose Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Kerr), I am able to tell the hon. Member that the bursary will remain unaltered and that no deduction whatever will be made for the cost of administration. These endowments have not been administered absolutely without any administrative expenses in the past. I understand that in the case of some of the bursaries administrative expense have ranged from 10 per cent. of the gross income to as high as 13 per cent. I do not say there has been extravagance or anything in the way of dereliction of duty, but I merely indicate that in making provision for certain administrative expenses to be charged against the endowment money that no inroad has occurred upon the fund. It was previously carried on in perfectly good faith and with satisfactory administrative results.

I have only a short time, and I do not know whether it would be possible for me to sketch very briefly the position with regard to bursaries. I would remind the House that when the Educational Endowments Act, 1935, was being considered, the House of Commons declined to regard the position of school bursaries as a proper object for the application of the Endowment Fund. Mr. Skelton said on this question: The provision of adequate secondary education and an opportunity for making use of it is one of the primary duties of an education authority. He also argued that Parliament should do something for post-school bursaries rather than drag in secondary schools, because, he said, in secondary schools the responsibility of the education authority is greatest. The Angus authority very properly realised its responsibilities there and it makes payments of £4,000 a year in bursaries of exactly the kind which we are modifying under the present scheme. Reference has been made to one or two other cases where bursaries have been left. The hon. and gallant Member mentioned Renfrew-shire as one of the cases in point. It is true that the Renfrewshire Educational Trust scheme provides for bursaries, but these are competitive bursaries. Therefore, the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Forfar (Captain Shaw), does not apply because bursaries which are open to competition are as likely to be won by the sons of well-to-do parents as by the sons of poor parents.

Reference has been made to local committees. I think it is desirable that these local committees should be set up and should function. Of course, the central body which is to be set up is the responsible body, and we must trust it. I hope that the burning independence of the people of Angus will not go so far as to induce them to refuse to set up these committees or to serve upon them when they are set up. The governing body may devolve its functions to local committees, and it is reasonable to suppose that they will be properly administered. There is a way here by which the bur- saries will be preserved for the areas for which they were originally given and I think that local committees are very proper bodies to see that these things are properly administered.

It is true that the responsibility on them is not perhaps great, but an advisory function in these days is one which people can well exercise without feeling that they are being asked merely to beat the air. I am taking up my duty as Secretary of State for Scotland for the first time. I have heard echoes in my other capacities as Minister of Agriculture and as a Scottish Member of tumultuous affairs which have arisen from the activities of the commission. I believe that there is no body of equal size which has had so many stormy passages as this commission and its schemes. Therefore while we all trust the commission, I will keep this matter, which is the first one brought to my notice as Secretary of State, under my personal consideration and full statutory opportunity will arise for the submission of an amended scheme, either at the instance of objectors or by myself if we see that it is going wrong. With that assurance I hope that my hon. Friends will not feel that their time has been wasted by raising this matter to-night.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine minutes after Eleven o'Clock.