HL Deb 01 June 1908 vol 189 cc1475-88

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Crewe.)

On Question, Bill read 2a.

VISCOUNT HALIFAX, who had given notice to move, in the event of the Bill being read 2a, that it be an Instruction to the Committee to which the Bill may be referred to strike out the West Riding of Yorkshire County Council Order, said: My Lords, in moving the Motion which stands in my name I desire to detain your Lordships for as short a time as possible. The facts are not disputed, and they are, very shortly, these. The school at East Hardwick has been a Church school for over 250 years. Improvements were required in it by the local education authority, and the Board of Education. It is not denied that the managers submitted plans for these improvements which were considered adequate by the inspector of the Board of Education, and by the inspector of the local education authority. The question of a playground having been raised, the managers, although they had been told by the Board of Education that in the opinion of the Board they could not be required to provide such a playground—and, indeed, if your Lordships were acquainted with the hamlet of East Hardwick you would see how completely unnecessary the playground is—did provide a playground; and not only so, they provided the playground which had been recommended by the inspector of the local education authority.

The plans for these suggested improvements were detained for considerably over a year by the local education authority, and then, though throughout the whole course of the negotiations it had never been once suggested that the premises were such as could not be made sufficient, the local education authority gave notice of their intention to build a new council school. Upon this there was a public meeting of all the ratepayers and inhabitants of East Hardwick to protest against the decision of the local education authority. That meeting was unanimous in its condemnation of the proposal; but, nevertheless, the local education authority persisted in its determination to compel the erection of a new council school, to accommodate sixty children at a cost of £14 a head, making a total of, roughly, £1,000, though thirty is the outside number of children attending the present school, and the erection of such a council school contrary to the wish of every inhabitant of the parish would add 1s. to the existing 8d. education rate. The managers appealed to Mr. McKenna, who refused to upset the decision of the local authority; and I wish to draw your Lordships' attention particularly to the fact that he did not grant a local inquiry, in accordance with his powers, nor consider, as he was bound to do under Section 9 of the Education Act of 1902—first, the interests of secular education, which were amply provided for assuming the school to be altered as the managers were prepared to alter it; secondly, the wishes of the parents, about which there is no dispute; and, thirdly, the economy of the rates, which, as I have explained, are proposed to be raised 1s. in the £ in respect of a school which nobody wants.

Upon the decision of the Board of Education being made known, the managers were enabled, by the generosity of a lady residing in the neighbourhood, to offer to build a new school themselves free of cost to the ratepayers. This offer was refused, and the local education authority were supported in their refusal by the Board of Education, who informed the managers that Mr. McKenna had already decided that it was to be a council school. And, lastly, the feeling against the proposed school in the neighbourhood is so strong that no one in the parish will sell land for its site, and the Board of Education are now proposing to take compulsory power of acquisition. I submit that these facts speak for themselves. No one disputes their accuracy, and, emphasised as they are by the further fact that there is a council school already existing within a mile and a quarter of East Hardwick, I am compelled to say that the only reasonable interpretation that can be put upon them is the determination of the Board of Education and the local education authority between them to squeeze out a Church school at all costs.

As I have said, I am not going to comment on these facts, because I think they require no comment and are stronger left to themselves. But there are two or three questions with regard to them that are very pertinent to the matter and which ought to be asked. I should like to know, if the premises were such as made it impossible to render them satisfactory, which is the excuse now alleged in support of the new council school, why additions and improvements to the school were suggested by the local education authority themselves? Why was it never once suggested that the premises were irremediably unsuitable, and why was all this waste of time and money incurred if they were incapable of improvement? Why did no member of the local education authority go to East Hardwick to inspect the school and see whether it was quite impossible to avoid this great addition to the rates? And then, why did not the authority accept the offer of the managers to erect a school free of expense to the parish? Why was there no local inquiry? Who made the discovery that the present premises could not be rendered satisfactory, and why was it not made before the managers were asked to submit plans for the improvements necessary to make the school efficient?

I am quite aware that it will be said that this Motion is one of an unusual character, and it may be thought a strong thing to refuse leave to a local education authority to purchase land which they say is required. But I submit that the facts of this case are very unusual in themselves, that the action of the Board of Education is no less unusual, and that it is a very strong measure to strain the law in order to take compulsory powers to acquire land for a purpose which is not necessary under the Act. Your Lordships will remember that the noble Lord the President of the Council, whose illness we all so sincerely deplore, admitted that no inquiry had been made as it ought to have been made, and that the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies admitted that this was a very nicely balanced case and that he could not say what his own decision would have been in regard to it. My noble friend added— I should have been in considerable doubt on the subject.

I think it is not too much to say that if the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies had been at the head of the Board of Education, as I devoutly wish he were, the decision would not have been what it was. My noble friend Lord Crewe knows the locality extremely well—in old days he and I have both frequently hunted over it—and I would ask him whether, when a mistake has been made, as I feel sure he thinks is the case here, it is not really better frankly to admit the mistake and remedy it? In this instance I very seriously ask him whether His Majesty's Government will not consent to my Motion that it be an Instruction to the Committee to which the Bill may be referred to strike out the West Riding County Council Order, and allow the East Hardwick managers to carry out their proposals for improving the school to the satisfaction of everyone in the parish and to the great saving of the rates.

I should like, if I may, to give two reasons which I think will incline the noble Earl to agree to my request. I find that in 1871 my noble friend's father, the late Lord Houghton, was active in raising funds to erect a church in place of the old chapel in connection with this trust; and in 1872 the noble Marquess the Lord Privy Seal laid the foundation of this new church with the aid of the Freemasons of the West Riding of Yorkshire Province. I submit that if the late Lord Houghton and my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal were able in 1871 and 1872 to be so friendly to the arrangements connected with this trust, it is not a great thing to ask that they should continue their good offices at the present time. I also find that on 16th May there was published in a local Yorkshire paper called the Stalwart—I had not heard of it before, but I rather infer from its name that it is a Liberal paper—a letter from Mr. Runciman, in which he seems to suggest that if a Provisional Order authorising compulsory powers for the acquisition of a site had not been granted and a confirming Bill had not been before Parliament, he might have reopened the question. I do not know if I am right in putting this interpretation on Mr. Runciman's letter, but he certainly mentions the Provisional Order as a reason why he regrets his inability to reopen the question. If His Majesty's Government will agree to my Motion that difficulty will be removed out of Mr. Runciman's path, and he will be able to remedy what has been done and allow the managers of the East Hardwick school to carry out the necessary improvements.

We hear at the present time some talk about a possible compromise on the education question. I do not know whether such a compromise is possible without the sacrifice of essential principles. Certainly it is no business of mine to discuss that question to-day. But I do very seriously say that if any compromise is ever to be arrived at, it certainly will not be promoted by showing such a spirit towards denominational schools as has been shown towards the East Hardwick school. I am told that my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, whose interest in educational affairs is so great, is likely to say that this East Hardwick school was founded by a Nonconformist in 1653 and was stolen by the Church at the Restoration. Well, I should have thought that possession of a school for all these years was a sufficiently good title. But if the noble Lord should use that argument—and I will say something on that point in a moment—all I can say is that if the wishes of a founder are to be pleaded as a justification for depriving the Church of a school held for over 200 years and putting it into the possession of those who would allow only undenominational teaching to be given in it, then I look forward to obtaining the whole-hearted and complete support of my noble friend against any educational proposal to break the trusts of schools founded within our own memory all over the country, and founded for the giving of denominational instruction. If the argument is good in one case, it is equally good in the other.

But I hasten to relieve my noble friend's mind by telling him that there is really no sort of doubt as to the intentions of the founder of this school. The school was founded in 1653, a critical time in the history of religion in England. It was in that year that the tide of Puritanism reached its flood and the prohibition of every kind of Church teaching took a form so excessive that it created a reaction; and no Churchman at heart dared at that time endow a school in connection with the Church of England. In the absence of absolute knowledge it is impossible to say what the private opinion of the founder was, but there is the strongest reason to believe that he was a Churchman. What makes it nearly certain that this was the case is that in his will he provides for a convenient chapel and free school in East Hardwick, and calls the minister of the chapel a "preaching schoolmaster." I have looked carefully into the matter, and there is not a single case of a free school being founded by a Nonconformist in the seventeenth century. If so, it is quite clear what the opinions of the founder were; and I can only say that the present action of the Board of Education in trying to take away this school from those who have enjoyed it for 250 years is extremely like the action of the earlier Nonconformists, who very much preferred using schools provided by other people to providing them for themselves. I ask His Majesty's Government whether they cannot agree to my Motion and disallow so much of the Bill as takes compulsory powers for the erection of this new school, and so avoid inflicting a very great hardship on a small parish, composed of working people who are strongly opposed to the action of the local education authority.

Moved, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee to which the Bill may be referred to strike out the West Riding of Yorkshire County Council Order."—(Viscount Halifax.)


My Lords, we must all heartily recognise the exceedingly moderate and genial manner in which my noble friend opposite has introduced this question to your Lordships' notice for a second time. These cases are undoubtedly among the most difficult which fall within the purview of the Board of Education. You have, on the one hand, a powerful, energetic, and modern-minded local authority, very largely concerned with urban schools of the most approved type; and, on the other hand, a little old parish school which, as I think appeared from all the facts which came out when we had this question before us the other day, was not in its general arrangements in full accord with modern notions of what an elementary school should be.

After a great deal of correspondence and investigation, the matter came before the Board of Education, and what the Board had to decide was not whether the managers ought to be given a chance of repairing the school or of making various changes in it, but whether, if that was done, the school would be permanently, or for a considerable time ahead, of a thoroughly satisfactory character; because it clearly would not be fair to the managers themselves to allow them to spend money on making improvements it there was a risk that in a few years time the school might again be brought up before the Board of Education and possibly condemned. The local education authority had come to the conclusion that the premises could not be made satisfactory, and the Board of Education supported them in that view. They, therefore, under Section 9 of the Act of 1902, declared that a new school was necessary, and in doing so the Board was undoubtedly impressed by the first of the three considerations which have to be taken into account—namely, the interests of secular education; that is to say, broadly speaking, the provision of a thoroughly satisfactory elementary school. In the opinion of my right hon. friend that was the paramount and governing consideration.

The noble Viscount almost seemed to imply—and this, I think, was the only inaccuracy with which I am bound to tax him—that, all through, the managers, or somebody on their behalf, was willing to erect a new voluntary school in place of the old building. That is not so. As a matter of fact, the Board's decision was given on the 18th May, 1907, and certainly up to that time not a whisper had ever reached the Board of Education as to the possibility of a new school being provided. What did happen was that in the following August the vicar of the parish came to the Board of Education and suggested that the managers would build a new school; but nothing more followed. The decision of the Board had been given, and the matter proceeded no further. I do not know that the denominational question as regards the wishes of the parents is very strong in this case, either one way or the other. In any case, the Board of Education have no reason to suppose that it is; but undoubtedly the third consideration, that of the economy of the rates, is a very strong argument, and it is one which the parish have an undoubted title to press. A penny rate in this parish produces only a very small sum, and there is no doubt that the provision of a new council school would represent a very heavy burden on that small community. I do not think it is fair to tax the Board of Education with having had anything whatever in view but the interests of education, and it certainly is not the case that they failed to take great trouble in investigating the matter. Their inspectors made personal inquiry, with the result which we know.

Now I quite admit that it does seem somewhat absurd, if you like, and rather in the nature of cracking a nut with a steam hammer, to apply compulsory powers in a matter of this kind; but the House must remember that when once the Board of Education had decided that a new school was necessary, they either had to ask for these compulsory powers or to do nothing and practically leave the whole matter at the complete option of the managers. I am quite sure that the noble Marquess opposite, Lord Londonderry, will agree that, speaking generally, it is a very unusual and a very undesirable thing for the Board of Education to reverse a decision which has been arrived at under Section 9 There, I am sure, I shall have the genera concurrence of the noble Marquess. As the matter stands, the Board of Education, supposing the noble Viscount's Motion were carried, would find themselves in the position of having to choose between the continuance of a school which they regard as unsatisfactory, or closing it, and, land being unobtainable, leaving the children of the parish without any school at all. That is the position.


They could have the new school.


I am coming to that.


The improvements which have been already said to be adequate could easily be carried out in the course of the holidays.


The improvements have not been said to be adequate. The Board of Education have said that no improvements which the managers could effect would make the school a permanently satisfactory school. Consequently, therefore, the Board are placed in that dilemma. The question is, is there any way out of that difficulty? A possible way out of the difficulty appears to me to be this. If it is true that the managers, or somebody on their behalf, is willing to provide a new school, that would be a new fact, which I think, would justify the Board of Education in reconsidering the decision they came to under Section 9. I have very little doubt that my right hon. friend would be prepared to consider the matter in that light; but it would only be on an understanding of that kind that I think my right hon. friend would be disposed to review the decision arrived at by the Board. That offer was not made—I wish that to be quite clear—before the decision of the Board was reached, and, therefore, it would be an entirely new fact which my right hon. friend would, I think, be disposed to take into consideration. Whether the noble Viscount is able, I will not say, to enter into any engagement, but to hold out any hopes of that being done, of course I am not in a position to say; but, if it were so, I should not be inclined to oppose the Motion which my noble friend has proposed.


The noble Earl will quite understand that it is impossible for me now to state if the offer to build a new school still holds good. But I am obliged to say that all the reasons the noble Earl has alleged for the action of the Board of Education are entirely disposed of by the fact that when the offer was made to them to build a new school they refused it.


My Lords, what has just been said by the noble Viscount is, I suppose, all that we could have reasonably expected, him to say. He is not, of course, in a position to make a legally binding offer, but I was under the impression, after what passed at the last discussion, that the offer was still open.


I have no information on that subject. All I know is that a definite offer was made to the local education authority and refused.


Seeing that the offer has not been withdrawn, the proper course would be to postpone the decision until the point could be cleared up. If the offer made has been withdrawn, then the matter stands in a very different position from that occupied a few weeks ago. I hope the matter will be postponed until the wish of the generous donor can be known.


My Lords, may I be allowed to make a suggestion to the noble Viscount which will, I trust, bring agreement? I would point out that, if the noble Viscount insists upon his Amendment striking out a part of this omnibus Bill, he will defeat his own object, which is to obtain a solution satisfactory to the parish and also one that would have general approval. If he takes advantage of his position and the serried battalions which, I think, on this occasion he commands and strikes out this particular proposal, I think he will he taking a very strong and drastic course when a milder one would equally serve his purpose. If, on the other hand, the Bill is allowed to go upstairs—and I presume the procedure in regard to a Provisional Order Bill in your Lordships' House is very similar to what it is in the House of Commons, with whose procedure, I confess, I have hitherto been more familiar—it can be altered after consideration in a judicious and judicial spirit free from misunderstandings which have embittered the controversy in the House. I was not present when the matter was discussed the other evening, but I have read the debate, and I find that the noble Viscount said there had been a definite rejection of the offer to build a new school. As far as I can make out from the papers at the Board of Education, which I have had the advantage of reading, the vicar of the parish made an observation, apparently not of a representative kind, with regard to a new school. He said something of this kind— Well, if you finally reject the offer of these improvements we shall have to build a new school. That is not what anybody would call a "firm" offer; and I cannot make out that until the debate the other evening there had been anything that amounted to what may be called an offer on the part of this parish to build a new school, and still less a rejection of the offer on the part of the Board of Education.


My Lords, I am very glad indeed to note the more conciliatory attitude taken by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies than that in which the matter was treated on the part of the Government when attention was last called to it. I believe, with the noble Viscount, that had Lord Crewe been President of the Board of Education he would have recognised the justice of this case. The noble Earl is now divided between his sympathy with the views put forward by the noble Viscount and his loyal desire to support his colleague; and I cannot blame him for that. But the point is that when the offer was made it was peremptorily rejected.


Not by the Board of Education.


Why was that offer made? It was made because the Board of Education declined to accept the report of their own architect in approval of the plans and proposals submitted by the managers of this school. Why has that report been ignored as well as the report of the architect of the local education authority? I do not wish to say anything of a controversial character when we have been met in such a conciliatory spirit, but with the regard and affection which noble Lords in this House have for denominational education, this is a matter that cannot pass unnoticed or without remonstrance. There has, undoubtedly, been a considerable amount of correspondence between the Board of Education, the local education authority, and the managers of the East Hardwick School; and I think that before we arrive at any decision your Lordships should have the right to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the whole of the correspondence. I think we are entitled to ask that the correspondence should be laid on the Table. The local education authority is known to be hostile to denominational schools, and, without wishing to say anything disrespectful, it cannot be denied that the President of the Board of Education has shown no love for them. It does not seem unreasonable, in the circumstances, that the House should postpone a decision until your Lordships have had an opportunity of reading such correspondence on this subject as can be published. Reference has been made to the points on which I put a Question the other day to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I asked whether the Board of Education were acting legally in ignoring the provisions of Section 9 of the Act of 1902. Certainly they are ignoring the spirit of that Act when they propose to saddle a parish with an additional 1s. rate to build a school which is not required and which is strongly objected to. As it does not appear possible for the noble Viscount to give a definite answer to-day as to this offer, I think the question might be postponed, and that in the meantime we might have the Papers laid on the Table. This is an unusual course to take on a Bill of this kind, but the circumstances are unusual.


My Lords, I would give a word of advice to the noble Viscount opposite never to make a speech for anyone else in anticipation, because I have no intention whatever of saying anything in regard to the history of the seventeenth century into which he entered. After the speeches we have heard, surely the House is very near to a settlement of this question, and I rise to support strongly the suggestion of the most rev. Primate that this matter should stand over. We are on the eve of the Whitsuntide holidays, and I do not suppose anything very serious will happen if the sending of this Bill to a Select Committee is postponed until the House reassembles. That will give a fortnight in which the necessary investigations can be made. With regard to the point raised by the noble Marquess who has just sat down, if the matter is going to be settled by a compromise the presentation of Papers is not urgent, though they might be moved for later as an independent historical document. As I rise to plead for a postponement in order that the matter may be settled in a harmonious way, I think that is a good reason why I should not touch upon any of the matters of fact, or alleged fact, which have been brought forward in this debate. Therefore, I do not wish to go into any of the disputed facts. But I would urge that as we are so near a settlement the matter should stand over.


My Lords, I only rise to say that the course which my noble friend opposite has just proposed seems to us to be an eminently reasonable one. I do not think that after the conversation which has taken place it would be fair to expect that we should send the Bill as it now stands to a Committee upstairs. Noble Lords opposite will remember that we took exception to the manner in which this case had been treated by the Board of Education, not only for the reason that the munificent offer made by this lady had not been accepted, but for a good many other reasons. In our view the conduct of the Board of Education throughout this transaction has been what I can only describe as of a very aggressive character. I have no desire, however, to press that at present, because we now have it from the noble Earl opposite that if the offer made by this lady was a firm offer and if my noble friend is in a position by-and-bye to say that the offer still stands, the Board of Education will be prepared to entertain it. My noble friend very naturally is not able this evening to say whether the offer still holds good. In these circumstances we think it would be a reasonable course to adjourn the discussion until after the holidays, when, no doubt, my noble friend will be able to tell the House whether the solution proposed is still open to us.


My Lords, I beg to move the adjournment of the debate. Nothing will be lost by it, and when we resume in a fortnight's time we shall be in a better position to discuss the matter.

Moved, "That the debate be adjourned."—(Lord Heneage).

On Question,

Debate adjourned accordingly.