HL Deb 17 February 1898 vol 53 cc844-58

My Lords, I have given notice to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying her to withhold her assent from the scheme for the management of the Berriew School, in the county of Montgomery. My Lords, the reasons why I propose to ask that the scheme for this school be disapproved by this House are capable of statement very briefly. In the first place, my Lords, the school was founded in 1652, and from that time to this it has always been a Church school. There is not any period in its history at which it could be stated that it was out of the hands of Churchmen, or that the teaching in it was not of a Church character. The scheme rests, therefore, upon the words in the Act of Parliament, which bind, of course, the Charity Commissioners, that, in order to prove that a school belonged to the Church, there must not only be an uninterrupted use, but there must also be express words in the original foundation proving that the founder intended the school to be so used. There are no such expressed words in the foundation of the school, but the school was founded in 1652, at a time when all the worship of the Church of England was proscribed, when any words of this kind would have been contrary to the law, when, in fact, if there had been inserted in the original will these words the will would have been liable to be altogether set aside Therefore it is clear that the founder could not possibly have inserted such words, however much he may have desired to do so. But he indicated his intention very clearly by the provision he made for the management and working of the school, for he handed over this foundation to Trustees, prominent amongst whom were two ejected clergymen of the Church—two men who had been ejected from their livings, one of whom, we find afterwards, was actually accused of using the Church of England Service contrary to law. It would have been difficult to show his intention more clearly than by choosing for Trustees such men as these. I shall return to this point presently. I was going to observe that, when we come to the regulations made for the working of the school, we find a very clearly expressed declaration of what the school was intended to be. These regulations are probably about the year 1690; at any rate, they were within 50 years of the foundation of the school. These regulations, amongst other things, order that— The master is to teach and instruct the children of the said parish in reading, writing, and learning, in and after the way, order, and method now, or some time since, used in the school of Ruthin, in the County of Denbigh. The school of Ruthin was at that time one of the leading schools, and was for that reason taken as a model. That school was unquestionably a Church school. There has been a scheme proposed to take that school away from the Church, but four years ago this House decided against that scheme, and held that the school was a Church school. In that case the ground was not quite the same as in the present instance, inasmuch as it was not stated that there was nothing in the original foundation which attached the school at Ruthin to the Church, but it was stated that there had been a breach of observance, that it had not always kept within the rules which had been originally in force there, and this House had to decide, obviously enough, whether or not such breach of observance was of such magnitude and had such an important effect upon the school that it had lost its Church character, because it is obvious that an interruption of observance for a year or two would be a different thing from a very long interruption. This House decided that Ruthin School was a Church school. It was the model as a Church school, which this school of Berriew had to follow. Still further, the school, from the original foundation, had always been held in a building which stood partly upon the ground of the churchyard, upon consecrated ground, and as such, was of necessity looked upon as a Church school, and there it remained until the school was so dilapidated that it was necessary to restore it. When it had to be rebuilt, it was necessary to come to the Bishop for a faculty for rebuilding, on the ground, not contested at the time, that it stood on the consecrated ground of the churchyard. Here is a school where the conditions of a Church school are fulfilled in every respect, except the one technicality—namely, that being founded at a time when it was not legal to require the school to belong to the Church the founder did not insert any words which would have that effect. That he should not have inserted these words was a very natural action on his part. My Lords, these facts, it seems to me, when you put them together—namely, the date of the foundation, the character of the Trustees, to whom the foundation was first entrusted, and the history of the school ever since down to the year when it was brought before the Court of Chancery, and was then treated undoubtedly as a Church school—these facts, it seems to me, are enough to justify me in asking this House not to rob the Church of a school which has belonged to it so long. I have one thing further to say. There is the precedent of what was done just five years ago, in the case of Bark Island School. This school came before the House on a scheme which rested on precisely the same ground as the scheme I am referring to, inasmuch as there were no words in the original foundation assigning the school to the Church of England, but this House decided that the fact that the school had been a Church school ever since was sufficient to entitle the Church to retain the school. It seems to me that it is a fair precedent to quote when I ask you to do the same thing for this school as was done for that school. We cannot afford, my Lords, in these days to part with Church schools if we can help it. The school at Berview is not a very important school—there is no doubt about that—but still it belongs to the Church in all principles of equity as far as I can see, and I think, to be consistent, this House ought to treat this scheme as it treated the Bark Island School scheme five years ago. These, my Lords, are plain reasons why I ask your Lordships to address Her Majesty in the terms of my Motion, and I do not want to take up your time by going into further argument, because I think that the case as I have presented it to you is quite sufficient to justify the proposal that I make to the House. I feel that it would be rather hard that on a mere technical point such as this the Church at Berriew should lose a school which it had been using and working for so long a time. I hope that your Lordships will not think I am unjust in claiming that what is so evidently Church property should not be taken away without very much higher reason than has yet been given for it.


I observe that the noble Duke is here, and I thought that perhaps the President of the Council would have said something about this Morton, but as he does not appear to have any intention of making any remarks upon the Motion of the most rev. Prelate, I will trouble the House with one or two observations. We are quite accustomed to Motions of this kind, and we know very well what their fate usually is in this House—they are generally carried. On a previous occasion the most rev. Prelate will remember last year some statement which he made—(perhaps the most rev. Prelate will kindly give me his attention for a moment, as I am referring particularly to some statement he made last year)—with reference to a school scheme. The most rev. Pre- late made some remarks as to the school connected with the scheme being a Unitarian school, and it has since been entirely avoided by those who are interesteqd in that school, and a letter which was published in the newspapers, of which I have a copy here, appears to make it absolutely ever for the statement made by the most rev. Prelate, and I conclude that the most rev. Prelate admits that that was the case, as I believe I am right in saying that he returned no answer to that letter. I do not, of course, for a moment impute any intention to the most rev. Prelate of misleading this House. No doubt he was misinformed, and it may happen to any of us to be misinformed upon a point which arises concerning a Bill or Measure before the House. But, my Lords, I draw this conclusion from what then happened; that it is extremely inconvenient that these matters should be decided by the House in what I may call an offhand manner, upon what are really ex parte statements, which we have no real opportunity of going into, and the value of which we are unable to estimate. Now, I do not profess to be well acquainted with the circumstances of this scheme; all that I know about it is gathered from the document which has been placed in my hands, but I find in that that the statement of the most rev. Prelate, as far as I can judge, does not seem to be borne out by the document which is, I suppose, of considerable importance in the matter. The House is very well aware that the Charity Commissioners are bound to preserve the denominational character of the school, only in the case when there are express directions by the founder or regulations clearly made by his authority within a certain time after his death, and, of course, the most rev. Prelate did not contend that there were any express words by the founder, and he does contend that there are certain regulations. Well the most rev. Prelate will forgive me for saying that he did not read the whole of the regulations, he read that portion of them which says that the mode of teaching these children is to be arranged. To instruct the children of the inhabitants of the said parish in reading, writing, or other learning or education, and in and after the way, order, and method now or some time since used in the school at Bark Island in the county of Denbigh. But the most rev. Prelate did not read the remainder—"or in and after the same way, order, and method." Those are words from which I should not have been ingenious enough to extract the conclusion that the regulations prescribed that education should be a Church question. "In and after the way, order, or method of teaching" appears to be contemplated; nothing whatever about religious instruction. I do not wish to lay very much stress upon that, but I merely allude to it as showing the difficulty there is of deciding matters of this kind in an off-hand ex parte manner. Now, all these schemes have gone before a body expressly appointed by Parliament to decide them, with due regard to the limitations of the statute under which they act. That body may almost be said to be a quasi-judicial body, and it seems to me to be neither decorous nor desirable that the decision of such a body, which must be supposed to have been arrived at impartially, should be set aside in the manner in which they are set aside in this House upon statements which the House is not able to thoroughly examine, and I wish merely on this occasion to offer a suggestion which may or may not be acceptable to the House. It would be highly desirable that all these schemes, when in any way opposed in this House, should be referred to a Select Committee, which Select Committee should examine carefully what are the grounds upon which the Charity Commissioners come to the conclusion at which they arrived, and that Committee, having carefully examined all the facts, would be able to make recommendations to the House, which, of course, the House would act upon or not, according to its view of the Report of the Select Committee. I venture to make that suggestion, for I think that the proceedings which have previously taken place under these circumstances of setting aside in this manner the schemes carefully considered by such a body as the Charity Commissioners is not one which is desirable. These are not matters of course, in the slightest degree, of Party warfare—they are matters of administration which we all desire should be carried into effect with due regard to all interests concerned and with strict regard to the statute under the Charity Commissioners Act. If that be so, then at any time that any school or institution has been reserved for any particular denomination, everyone will be desirous that the Act of Parliament should be strictly carried into effect, and that the wishes and intentions of the founder as clearly ascertained and expressed shall be respected. That is all that I desire. I think there is very great ground for careful inquiry into the matter, and I desire to make the suggestion I have already put forward, so as to avoid the difficulties and divisions which take place upon the subject, which I think may be easily obviated, if the House would look into the matter in the manner which I have indicated.


I did not rise, my Lords, immediately after the most rev. Prelate, because the scheme which the House has now under consideration is not one for which the present Education Department has any responsibility whatever. The scheme was one which was brought before the Education Department in the year 1894. A petition was presented, praying that the scheme might be laid before Parliament, and in the ordinary course that would have been done, and the matter would have been decided in that way the next Session, but, owing to some mistake or a wrong impression, the scheme was not so laid before the House, and the opinion of the Law Officers of both Governments was taken upon the matter, and, in consequence, a Bill had to be introduced and passed through both Houses last Session, annulling the scheme which had been improperly approved by the Queen in Council, and enacting that it should be laid as usual before Parliament. I therefore thought that it would be more proper that the noble Lords opposite, who were responsible for this scheme, should have the opportunity of saying anything which they might have to say before I rose to state the view which I take upon the subject. Not having, as I said before, any responsibility for that scheme, I am bound to say that I am very unwilling on this occasion to assume any. It is impossible for the present Education Department to say, if it had come under their consideration and not before the consideration of their predecessors, what representation might have been made to them, or what Amendments they might have suggested should be made in the scheme. I can very well understand the reason why no remonstrances were addressed to the late Education Department, because probably it was felt that in its existing condition, those remonstrances would not have been attended to; but circumstances being altered now, I do not think it is possible for us to assume any responsibility whatever for the scheme. As to the statement which has been made by the most rev. Prelate, I must say that I think it is to be regretted that the facts which he has brought before your Lordships' House do not appear to have been laid either before the Charity Commissioners when they were framing the scheme, or before the Education Department, when it was approving the scheme. It would have been, I think, more satisfactory at all events that that should have been done. As it was, as far as I understand it, there was no local opposition—no statement was made to show either the Charity Commissioners or the Education Department that this was a Church school, and it was dealt with in both Departments practically as an unopposed scheme. I entirely agree, and I have said it before in this House, that I think the procedure in a great many cases under these Acts is extremely unsatisfactory. I think the state of the law is extremely unsatisfactory, and I think that the suggestion which has been made by the noble Lord opposite, that such schemes should be submitted to the examination of a Select Committee is one which, in most cases, or in many cases, might be followed with very great advantage. I entirely agree with him that, in the case to which he referred, which was passed by the House last Session, that decision was arrived at upon statements which had been made which it was quite impossible fully to examine or to reply to at the time, and some of which have certainly appeared to have been founded upon a very erroneous foundation. But, I think, as to the actual scheme which is before us now, the facts are extremely simple, and no examination by a Committee would bring forth anything which would be likely to change the opinion and view which would be taken of the case on either side of the House. I have very little doubt myself, and, in fact I do not think the most rev. Prelate has contended that, under the words of the Statute, this is a foundation which the Charity Commissioners were bound to regard, or could legally have regarded, as a Church foundation, but also I do not think it would be denied on the other side of the House that, practically up to the present time—up to the date of this scheme, it has been a Church school. And for this reason, that the religious education which has been given in it, has been an education in accordance with the doctrines of the Church of England. It has been under the management of members of the Church of England, and under the present scheme no doubt it would become an undenominational school, and be placed under the management of an elective body who, in all probability, in the county of Merioneth, would not be members of the Church of England. I cannot conceive that any inquiry by a Committee could materially alter that statement of the facts, and the case would only come up again before your Lordships' House to be decided, whether under the circumstances it should be maintained as it is at present, as a Church school, or whether it should be converted into a denominational school. I do not think there was any alternative for what the Charity Commissioners did. They were put in motion by the general Education Committee of the country, and if they had attempted to preserve this foundation—its religious character—the general committee would have had nothing to do with the scheme. Yet if it had been brought before the Education Department as at present constituted—it is probable—I do not say it is certain—that we should have insisted upon certain conditions, which would have made it less distasteful to the Church Party, and those provisions may, or may not, have been accepted; but as the scheme is before us now, there is no possibility of amending it. It must either be passed as it stands, or rejected as a whole, and having no doubt whatever what is the opinion of your Lordships' House, that a school of this character, which, although not technically under the 19th Section of the Endowed Schools Act, has been practically, up to the present time, a Church school, should have that character completely altered. I do not think there would be airy use for the examination by a Select Committee, and, under the circumstances, I am unable to offer any opposition to the Motion of the most rev. Prelate, which is no doubt in entire accordance with the course which has been taken by this House in former and less well-ascertained cases than the present one.


Having had something to do, my Lords, with the administration of these Acts, I wish to say a word or two, because I think the great difficulty in such cases is to make the scheme other than it is, and I certainly most heartily agree with the view taken by the most rev. Prelate. I believe the whole of these difficulties have arisen owing to the duties imposed upon the Charity Commissioners by the Welsh Education Act. Under Section 19 of that Act, the Charity Commissioners had the duty imposed upon them of maintaining the character of denominational schools without reference to the governing body, but there was a discretion in the Charity Commissioners to introduce Church of England teaching, if requested to do so. That was repeatedly done in cases not strictly possible under the 19th Section, where the governing body happened to be quite undenominational, but where there were very strong circumstances which showed that a strict interpretation of the 19th Section might have worked some injustice. Now, by the Welsh Education Act, that power is taken away, and I think it was a most unfortunate change, and had it gone to a Division in the House, I should certainly have opposed it. I think it is always open to the objection that it is very indefinite in any case, and is an evasion of the spirit of the law. But that unfortunate limitation of the powers of the Charity Commissioners to judge whether or not Church teaching might be inserted, has placed this House in the very great difficulty of not knowing whether it ought to accept a scheme because it would impose an injustice, or adopt a scheme which would not meet the justice of the case, and it is much to be regretted that this limitation was put upon the powers of the Charity Commissioners.


I do not rise, my Lords, with the slightest hope of obtaining a decision contrary to that which the most rev. Prelate asks. Still, I feel it right to make a few observations, because undoubtedly these are questions which are regarded in the locality where they arise from a very different point of view to the point of view from which it is regarded in your Lordships' House. Out of 380 electors in the parish in which this school is—who, therefore, are a great deal interested in the school—340 petitioned against the Bill which had to be introduced, and which passed into an Act, to enable the scheme to be set aside—340 out of 380; that is a tolerably strong expression of opinion. The most rev. Prelate has said that this is a Church of England school, but I think that one of the objects of the Endowed Schools Act was, that, where the intention and object of the founder of a school was educational rather than religious, it was intended that the schools should be more widely thrown open than they had been, at a time when, perhaps, almost all the inhabitants were members of the Church of England. That, of course, is an altered state of things. I do not know that there is any reason to suppose that the founder of this school, if he were alive to-day, would have desired that the school should be continued on the lines upon which it continued for so many years. The most rev. Prelate has alluded to the fact that the clergyman was appointed among the trustees. But the testator appointed seven trustees—two only were clergymen. He did not direct that the clergyman, for the time being, of the parish, or anything of that sort, should be one of the trustees. He simply names two clergymen and five laymen, and he gives no instructions with respect to the character of the education. The whole matter is left entirely to the discretion of the trustees. Now, I believe that the present trustees are in favour of this scheme; as far as I am informed, the only dissentient is the vicar of the parish. Everybody interested wants the scheme, except the smallest possible minority, and one can perfectly well understand the reason. Whereas the income of the endowment is £80 a year only, it is proposed by the scheme to double that income by a contribution from public funds. That is what renders the scheme necessary; and when it is known that that proposition had been made, and, as I believe, approved by all the trustees, as I have already said excepting the vicar, and by the vast majority of the inhabitants of the parish, I do not for a moment doubt the competence of your Lordships' House to reject the scheme. When the noble Duke says that the facts are admitted, I must draw his attention to this, that the most rev. Prelate stated one fact which I do not think is admitted. The most rev. Prelate said that the school was built upon the churchyard. I am informed that there is no evidence that the original school is built upon the churchyard. The existing schoool is no doubt so built, and upon it is inscribed, "Built by so-and-so," or words to that effect, and no doubt a faculty was obtained for that, but there is no evidence on that point, and therefore, so far as that is concerned, the case of the most rev. Prelate would fail. Therefore, my Lords, it does not seem now that the facts are so completely admitted as has been suggested; but, my Lords, my objection to the most rev. Prelate's proposal is this: that in reality it enables a vote of this House entirely to set aside the scheme of the Endowed Schools Act. The scheme of the Endowed Schools Act was that the schools should all be thrown open. The Charity Commissioners can only formulate a scheme which makes an open school, excepting in cases which the Legislature has earmarked as denominational—namely, those where the founder has founded them as denominational by the original instrument of foundation, or by some regulation made within 30 years. The Legislature said that in all other cases the schools should be thrown open. The Act provided that the schemes should be laid upon the Tables of both Houses, but I imagine that that was to see whether the terms of Parliament had been properly carried out, and not to enable one House of Parliament to destroy the scheme of the Act and turn, into denominational schools schools which the Legislature has said are not to come within that category. That is my objection to the proposal of the most rev. Prelate, and I confess that I wonder whether it is to the advantage of the Church, in a question of an endowment of this description, that local feelings should be aroused, as it undoubtedly has been aroused, by a proposal such as the one now before your Lordships' House. It is not one which only offends Nonconformists—there are Church people who are strongly in favour of this scheme, and who will regret very much its rejection by your Lordships' House. Under these circumstances, although I do not propose to say anything further, I thought it right to put these observations before your Lordships, because it seems to me that although there are precedents for it, we are entering upon a practice which practically ruins the Endowed Schools Act, and is a departure from what I regard as the intention of the Legislature.


I only wish to say a word in consequence of the view which the noble Lord has taken of the Endowed Schools Act. I remember that Act passing through this House, and I certainly never understood then, or have had it suggested to me since, that it was an Act for giving in a case of endowments, lending preponderance to the educational element, and that the element of religious teaching should be treated as being of no consideration. No such idea was ever suggested, and I do not think that the explanation of that Act which the noble Lord has just given to us is one to which, on consideration, we shall be disposed to adhere. He makes the power which is given to this House of refusing schemes absolutely futile and useless, and entirely superfluous. He says that that power is for the purpose of seeing that the Charity Commissioners have obeyed the Act of Parliament.


I said that it was within the Provisions of the Act of Parliament, that there might be local objection to schemes quite apart from these religious schools to some of the Provisions in those schemes.


The duty of securing that the Commissioners have obeyed the Act of Parliament is cast upon the Committee of the Privy Council, and there is a special process—a judicial hearing—in order to determine whether that has been the case or not; but if the Committee of the Council has determined that the scheme is in accordance with the Act, then comes the decision of the two Houses of Parliament. Now, it appears to me that a more reasonable way of looking upon the enactments of that Statute is this, that every scheme must fulfil certain conditions, or, rather, that it will be rejected unless it does fulfil certain conditions. Some of the conditions are named in the Statute, and one of them is that it shall be satisfactory to the Houses of Parliament, to the House of Lords and the House of Commons; and these conditions are quite as important, and ought to be enforced with as much determination as the other conditions which are mentioned specifically in the 19th Clause. My Lords, I feel that it is important that we should adhere to that mode of interpreting the power and the duty which Parliament has placed upon us, as, otherwise, I think our agency will be entirety useless and superfluous. Whether we ought to act in that way in any particular case, is, of course, a matter which rests upon the circumstances of the case. In my belief, the object of the Act, and the object of this provision, was to prevent educational reform being turned into machinery for ecclesiastical confiscation. There has always been a tendency in that direction—a tendency to make the necessity for educational reform a plea for transferring the endowments from the Church of England to another Church, which is of a more theoretical and ill-defined character, but which I will call the unsectarian Church, and I do not see why the unsectarian Church should have that particular privilege of plundering its more wealthy neighbour. I wish to say there is a good deal of reason in what was said by the noble Earl, the other side. I think it would be much more satisfactory if the facts on which we act could be examined by a Committee, and tested by them before they came to this House. This is not unreasonable, but if you do that, you must alter the Statute—as 40 days will not be enough under those circumstances. And that is a serious difficulty. I should be much more satisfied if these schemes could be laid before a Select Committee before the House delivers judgment upon them, by which means we should avoid the not very edifying amount of contradiction which we have on these occasions. In the meantime, it seems to me that this is clearly a case where there has been an attempt to alienate an endowment which has, ever since its foundation, belonged to the Church, and I think that this is one of the occasions in which the power of this House should be exercised.

The House then divided:—Contents 53; Not-contents 16.