HL Deb 15 May 1903 vol 122 cc798-801

My Lords, I beg to ask the President of the Board of Education whether he is aware that doubts exist as to the position of owners and trustees of non-provided schools under the Act of 1902; and whether they will continue to be the legal owners of the sites and buildings by virtue of doing the repairs, other than wear and tear, or whether such sites and buildings will in course of time lapse to the local authority by right of occupation, as no rent can be paid under the Act; and further, whether to avoid the latter possibility, it is necessary for owners and trustees to enter into an agreement for a nominal rent with the foundation managers. I placed this question on the Paper in order to get an authoritative statement from the noble Marquess on this subject. Your Lordships will remember that under Clause 7 of the Education Act of last year it was enacted that— The managers of the school shall provide the school-house free of charge, except for the teachers house (if any), to the local education authority for use as a public elementary school, and shall out of funds provided by them keep the school-house in good repair and make such alterations and improvements in the buildings as may be reasonably required by the local authority. I do not profess to allude to the "wear and tear" proviso, as I confess I do not clearly understand it. But I ask, what is the position of an owner or of trustees under this clause? In whom is the freehold of the site and the buildings vested? I should have thought that if the owner carried out the landlord's and tenant's repairs under the Act, he would naturally continue to be the legal proprietor of the school. But that does not seem so certain. Lawyers disagree on this point as they do on many others. It is held by some lawyers that as no rent is to be paid for the use of the schoolrooms the latter will lapse to the local authorities after a term of years, and it has been suggested that it is necessary for owners and trustees to enter into agreements with themselves or their representatives, as foundation managers, to let the school-rooms for a nominal rent, or together with the school-houses; and then the foundation managers would provide the schools for the local authority free of rent under the Act. I cannot see what difference this will make with regard to ownership, and it seems rather a colour able procedure, because either the managers or the local authority are the persons in legal occupation. If the former—the managers—they are only in the same position as the owner or trustees would be, and the fact of taking a shilling out of one pocket and putting it into the other does not seem to me to make the slightest difference with regard to the legal position. If the local authority is held to be in occupation of the school, then the managers are in exactly the same position in regard to the freehold after a certain term of years as the owner would be. If there is, as I think there is, some technical legal difficulty with regard to this question, I cannot help suggest- ing that it would be wise to repeal the "wear and tear" proviso and to allow a moderate rent instead, which would, in my opinion, simplify the whole matter and save a deal of correspondence and much trouble and expense in the future.


My Lords, I am not at all sorry that my noble friend has put this question. It is quite possible that the views he holds as to the manner in which certain parts of the Education Act can or cannot be construed may be held very widely, and, therefore, I am glad of the opportunity of stating what are the opinions of the Board of Education on the points of a practical character which are raised in the Question of my noble friend. As regards trustees of school premises, the Board of Education do not consider that any person or body using the premises for the purpose of the trust can acquire a title as against the trustees. As regards private owners of school premises, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, on December 13, 1902,† referring to Questions previously asked by the Duke of Northumberland and the Earl of Portsmouth, on December 10, stated that— Any difficulty that might arise would be entirely met by the managers themselves being called upon by the owner of the school to pay the rent to him. The Board of Education have advised private owners to execute agreements letting the school premises for use as a public elementary school at a nominal or substantial rent, and giving directions for the appointment and continuance of a body of foundation managers, who would, together with the two additional managers appointed by the local education authority and minor local authority, have the use of the premises for the purposes of a public elementary school. In such circumstances, the Board do not see how either the managers, who hold under the agreement, or the local authority, who merely have the obligation to maintain the school and make good wear and tear, could acquire a title as against the owner. In relation to the local education authority the managers are responsible for doing substantial † See (4) Debates, cxvi., 1063. repairs, but the question whether the managers or the owner shall ultimately bear the cost of such repairs is a question which concerns only themselves. In order to avoid any possible difficulty it is, in the opinion of the Board, very desirable that the owner should execute a written agreement, clearly defining the conditions of the tenancy by the managers and giving such directions relating to the management as would render an order under Section 11 of the Act unnecessary. I may add that there is nothing in the Act to prevent rent being paid to the owners of a voluntary school by managers or otherwise, so long as such rent is not paid by the local education authority.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before Five o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.