HL Deb 17 March 1882 vol 267 cc1126-34

LORD BRABOURNE moved— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to refuse Her Assent to the Scheme of the Charity Commissioners for the management of Bedingfield's Charity for the benefit of the parishes of Lyminge, Dymchurch, and Smeeth, all in the county of Kent. The noble Lord said, that the Trustees of the Charity were unanimously of opinion that the conditions which the Charity Commissioners sought to impose upon them would most injuriously affect the parishes; and they had instructed him, as their Chairman, to make an appeal to the only tribunal from which they could hope to obtain redress. About 200 years ago the testator left a bequest in the hands of Trustees with a direction that it should be applied towards the education and maintenance of the children of poor parents, "not being actually in the receipt of parish relief," who were members of the Church of England and communicants therein in the parishes of Lyminge, Dymchurch, and Smeeth. There was also a direction that the children should be kept to learning and should he sent to either of the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge if they were capable, or might be put out to trades, according to the discretion of the majority of the Trustees. Up to the present time the trust had been administered in strict conformity with the Founder's will. The Trustees were the rectors of the three parishes concerned and six gentlemen, who were either the actual descendants of, or in the same position of life as, the persons originally named in the will. A sum of £4 a-year had been paid for each child benefited by the Charity, partly for its maintenance and partly for its education at a public elementary school; and every Whit Monday the Trustees had personally examined and tested the proficiency of the children. Owing to various circumstances, the Trustees, about six years ago, applied to the Charity Commissioners with regard to the administration of the Charity. A scheme had been drawn up by the Commissioners, to some portions of which the Trustees had assented. They readily agreed to the introduction of the elective element into their future appointment, and to the admission of girls to share with boys the benefits of the Charity. Moreover, considering the difference of the relations existing between Nonconformity and the State from those which had existed at the time of the Founder's will, they had themselves recommended that the benefit of the Charity should be extended to the children of Nonconformists, of whom there were a large number among the labouring population of the three parishes. But to the 21st and 23rd Articles of the scheme the Trustees found themselves utterly unable to assent. The former provision was that only one-third of the income should be devoted to elementary education, so that, instead of 30 or 40 children receiving the benefits of the Charity, it would be available only for 15; and the money being given in scholarships or prizes to children already at school, "payment for results" would be certainly attained, but at the expense of disregarding the Founder's wishes, for there would be no payment for "maintenance," and no inquiry, as now, into the condition and character of the parents, so that children of a higher class of parents, and of persons whom the Trustees would not have held to be proper objects for the Charity, might receive the benefits hitherto confined to the poor, for whom they were intended. The second provision, which was even more objectionable, was that, while permitting the Trustees only to spend £15 a-year in apprenticing one boy, about two-thirds of the income were to be devoted to founding exhibitions at a public school, tenable for not more than three years. The exhibition was to be awarded annually as the result of scholarship, and in the event of there being no candidate from one of the three parishes, then children from such other parishes as might be selected were to be permitted to compete. The effect of this would be that the benefit of the Charity would be entirely taken away from the poor parishes of Lyminge and Dymchurch, and given to the children of the richer farmers and tradesmen in the adjoining parishes. This was utterly at variance with the will of the Founder, which directed that the children should be taken from the very poor not actually receiving parish relief. The parish of Smeeth would not be so much affected, because that parish had a board school, and the custom had been to give nearly three-fourths of the money to the parents for "maintenance," the remainder being given to the schoolmaster, on condition of his giving extra attention to the Bedingfield boys; but the consequence of the scheme would probably be the closing of the voluntary schools in the other two parishes. The contention of the Charity Commissioners was twofold. First, they said that the will of the Founder pointed to higher education, because he mentioned the Universities, and said that boys should be sent there. But it should be recollected that 200 years ago the Universities were more like large public schools than they were now, and that boys went up there at an earlier age. Moreover, the Founder evidently had before him the probability of no boy of the class he wished to aid being capable of going to the Universities, for he expressly left it to the discretion of the Trustees to decide upon their capability, and he gave the alternative of putting them out to trades, which had been constantly done. The other contention of the Commissioners, which was at the root of the whole thing, was that rates were relieved by this Charity. No doubt its existence aided the parishes of Lyminge and Dymchurch in avoiding board schools supported by the new rate, which would be imposed for their support. But was that so great an evil? The parish of Lyminge was mainly composed of poor agricultural labourers, and that of Dymchurch of a poor fishing population. He maintained that it was the intention of the Founder to benefit the children of that class of the population, and not of the richer class, to whom the greater part of the funds were now to be given. And, considering the large number of small ratepayers—the very class to which the Founder alluded as "not actually in the receipt of parish relief"—in these two parishes, what could be a more accurate fulfilment of his evident wishes than that his money should aid schools in which religious instruction was given, and should relieve this class from an additional pressure of rates? The Trustees had all agreed to resign sooner than be parties to this scheme; but they had suspended their resignation until this appeal could be made. He (Lord Brabourne) did not know what course their Lordships would be pleased to take; but he did know that he would not have troubled them with one word upon the matter if he had not felt that he was pleading the cause of the poor. He was at a loss to know what public advantage could be gained which was commensurate with the evil inflicted upon these parishes if this scheme became law. He (Lord Brabourne) asked their Lordships to avert that evil. He asked them to interpose and prevent the carrying out of a scheme which was entirely contrary to the intentions of the Founder, as they had been interpreted ever since his bequest, which was utterly repugnant to the public feeling of the locality (as evidenced by Petitions which he had received, containing the signatures of nearly 100 heads of poor families, in each of the two parishes), which was unanimously opposed by those to whom the administration of the Charity had hitherto been intrusted, and which would be a cruel blow to those poor who could not plead there with their own voice, but in whose name and on whose behalf he (Lord Brabourne) ventured to appeal to their Lordships. Believing that the scheme was contrary to the Founder's intention, and would have the effect of diverting the funds of the Charity from the class intended to be benefited, he begged to move that a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying her to refuse her assent to the scheme. Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to refuse Her Assent to the Scheme of the Charity Commissioners for the management of Bedingfield's Charity for the benefit of the parishes of Lyminge, Dymchurch, and Smeeth, all in the county of Kent."—(The Lord Brabourne.)


apologized to their Lordships for interposing between the House and his noble Friend the Lord President on this subject; but having been at one time officially acquainted with the details of the scheme, he was anxious to say a few words upon it, and upon the speech of his noble Friend (Lord Brabourne). His noble Friend had said that the effect of the scheme of the Charity Commissioners would be to interfere with the present application of the income of the Charity by the Trustees, and to deprive the children of the poor of the parishes interested in the Charity of the benefits to which they were entitled. The Charity Commissioners, however, in dealing with matters of this kind, must be guided not by what might happen to be the existing practice of administration at the time, but by the provisions of the Endowed Schools Acts, and by the express directions of the Founder of the Charity. The intentions of the Founder were very clearly indicated; he left a sum of money for the education and maintenance in learning of poor children, adding that— Such children should he kept to learning and sent to one of the Universities, or put out to trades. It was evident, therefore, that no mere elementary or desultory education was intended, but education of the highest kind. The Trustees of this Charity, at the beginning of the century, took this view of their obligations; because it was stated in the Charity Commissioners' Report of the year 1819 that the then Trustees— Endeavoured to assist those who, from their condition in life, are properly desirous of giving their sons such instruction as to prepare them for the University, or for some superior trade, but have not the means of accomplishing it. The present Trustees had, however, entirely neglected this part of the Founder's directions, and had applied the income of the Charity in the education and maintenance of children in elementary schools, occasionally apprenticing them to some ordinary trade. It appeared, also, that they had contributed out of the funds to the maintenance of the schools, which was clearly illegal. The scheme of the Charity Commissioners strictly adhered to the Founder's directions, providing for the education and maintenance at school of poor children, appropriating an annual sum to apprenticing, and applying the remainder, or about five-eighths of the whole income, in the establishment of exhibitions to enable the children to continue their education in superior grammar or technical schools. Such schools, owing to the action of the Endowed Schools Commissioners, and, after them, of the Charity Commissioners, abounded throughout the country. He could mention several in his noble Friend's (Lord Brabourne's) own county—Canterbury, Rochester, Maidstone, Tonbridge, Sevenoaks, Ashford—all of which would be accessible to the children of the parishes entitled to the benefits of this Charity if the scheme were allowed to pass. It had been the policy of the two Commissions to which he had referred, with the approval of successive Governments, to make use of the ancient educational endowments for the purpose of connecting elementary schools with the highest education which the country could supply; and it was with this policy that their Lordships were now asked to interfere. He hoped, therefore, that they would not assent to the Motion of his noble Friend.


said, after the able remarks of his noble Friend opposite (Lord Clinton), who had such a strong right to be heard on behalf of the Charity Commissioners, he should not trouble their Lordships at any length; but, being responsible for having sanctioned the scheme on the part of the Education Department, he thought it right to make one or two observations. He was of opinion that the Charity Commissioners, in proposing this scheme, were truly carrying out the duties imposed upon them by the Act of Parliament. The Act of Parliament regulating this matter was the Act of 1869, and the Preamble very clearly pointed out the general objects which the Act was to carry out. It referred to a Report of the Commissioners appointed by Her Majesty in 1864. That Report recommended a re-organization of schools. He maintained that the Charity Commissioners had followed out that recommendation. They had not only proposed a scheme which provided for that higher education to which the Commissioners, in their Report, had distinctly referred, but which would also carry out the intentions of the Founder, who directed that these children, "if capable," were to be sent to one of the Universities. The present Trustees had not interpreted the Founder's will correctly, because they had not provided for a higher education; they had confined the Charity to elementary education, and given £4 to the parents of the children in the category set forth of the three parishes mentioned. That was not a useful way of encouraging education. The scheme provided a system of prizes to be obtained in open competition, and that would be better than the mode of distributing £4 to certain persons at the will and pleasure of the Trustees. He felt sure their Lordships would agree that a system of competition for prizes in a school was a very much better way of promoting and encouraging education than some systems which had been in vogue. In his opinion, the scheme proposed by the Charity Commissioners would be likely to forward elementary education in a marked degree, for the children would be stimulated in their educational efforts by the hope of gaining admission to a higher grade of schools. An Exhibition would be tenable for three years, and every year one such Exhibition of the value of £20 would be granted to one boy and to one girl. The Charity Commissioners had done all that they could to meet the wishes of the Trustees. For the reasons which he had given, he trusted that the Motion of his noble Friend would not be agreed to. Instead of depriving the poor of a valuable Charity, the scheme would confer a very great benefit upon them; for it would enable their children, if deserving, to carry on their education beyond the limits by which they were at present circumscribed. The action which the noble Lord (Lord Brabourne) desired the House to take was opposed to the policy which had been followed, not only by the Charity Commission, but by every successive Government for the last 10 years, and which had been endorsed by Parliament.


reminded their Lordships that at various times they had looked with considerable jealousy upon operations that had been carried through under the Charity Commission Act, and especially had they done so when the Act was being administered by a body holding more advanced opinions than were held by the existing Commission. He did not, however, think that the precedent established at that period applied to the present case. It was important to carry out the intentions of Founders, and that point had always been strongly insisted upon, consistently with the requirements of the day. In the present case, having carefully listened to the complaint of the noble Lord, and to the statement of the noble Lord behind him (Lord Clinton), it appeared to him that the Commissioners had properly interpreted the intentions of the Founder. There were two ways of dealing with money bequeathed for the benefit of the poor in the manner in which it had been bequeathed in the present case. One of these ways was to relieve the poor in their distress without improving their position; the other was to raise them by steps educationally, so as to bring them within the reach of the highest education in the country, and to enable them to pursue liberal professions. To this second class of cases the present benefaction belonged. It was clear that the intention of the Founder was to assist children to go to the Universities. It had been said that in the 17th century the Universities were, in reality, only public schools; but he dissented from that opinion. He quite admitted that there was in this scheme, to a slight extent, and in many other schemes, a principle which seemed to him a harsh one—that of diverting funds from the very poor to the class above them more likely to come within the reach of culture. He feared that that tendency had infected many educational measures of the present day; but whether that was right or wrong, it was quite evident that, in the present instance, a sound principle had in the main been observed; the Founder's desires had been followed; and, therefore, he thought their Lordships would not do wisely in supporting the Motion of his noble Friend.


, in reply, said, after the discussion which had taken place, he would not ask their Lordships to divide upon his Motion; but he must point out that the noble Lords who had spoken had omitted to notice that the primary intention of the Founder was to benefit the poor just above those who received parish relief.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

House adjourned at Six o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.