HL Deb 23 March 1908 vol 186 cc1039-46

"Sir,—I am directed to reply to your letter of 10th February, 1908, in the following terms:

"(1) The Local Education Authority contends that no question within the meaning of the Education Act, 1902, Section 7, Subsection (3) has arisen between it and the managers of this school as to the salaries of the teachers therein or otherwise, and that there is therefore no question for the determination of the Board in the exercise of its appellate powers. In this letter the authority confines its observations to this preliminary point. The authority finds it difficult to state its views fully within the limits of a letter, and if the Board has any doubt upon the matter, it claims an opportunity of stating the facts and arguments in support of its contention in a case or memorandum which will raise the issues in a form which will enable the authority to obtain the decision of the High Court of Justice if the Board should be against it.

"(2) The authority begs leave to refer the Board to the long correspondence as to this school which has taken place since the appointed day, and especially to the letter of the authority to the Board, dated 20th October, 1900, which explains the views of the authority as to its relations to the managers in regard to the teachers in their school.

"(3) The authority is not aware that there is any dispute as to the facts directly relevant to its present contention. These facts seem to the authority to be the following:—

"(4) On 18th April, 1907, in answer to a request by the managers for guidance, the authority by letter informed the managers that it was prepared to consent to pay in respect of salaries for teachers in this school the salaries hitherto paid by the authority on behalf of the managers.

"(5) The authority has been informed that the managers allege that they subsequently signed written agreements with their teachers undertaking inter alia to pay them salaries higher than those sanctioned by the authority. The managers have not submitted these agreements to the authority, nor have they laid before the authority any facts or particulars showing or tending to show that suitable teachers could not be obtained at the salaries sanctioned by the authority. On the contrary they have, on their own showing, ignored the direction of the authority, and (as appears from the correspondence) suppressed the fact that such direction had been given in their communications to the Board.

"The facts as to the dispute concerning the reconstruction of the school which is now terminated are within the knowledge of the Board, and have no bearing on the point now raised. In accordance with the decision of the Board the authority has paid the salaries of the teachers in this school at the rate sanctioned by it. The managers claim that the authority should pay at a higher rate.

"The authority is now and has always been ready to hear any representations made or consider any facts laid before it by the managers proving the necessity of raising the salaries of teachers in their school.

"Since the authority on 18th April, 1907, in the exercise of its power of controlling expenditure gave guidance to the managers, no such representations have been made, and no such facts laid before it.

"Under these circumstances the authority submits that the facts simply show that the managers have ignored and defied the decision of the authority. If the mere neglect or refusal of the managers to obey the authority in respect of a matter clearly entrusted to it by the Education Act, 1902, is to be deemed to raise a question within Section 7, Subsection (3), the effect would be to reduce the power of the county council to a vanishing point and transfer to the Board of Education the functions of the authority contrary to the plain intention of the Act.—I am, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,

(Signed) A. W. HALDEN."

You will see that that is a denial by the local authority of Swansea of the power of the Board of Education to interfere in this matter at all. That is a legal point on which my right hon. friend is now taking advice, and it is a matter which may ultimately come before a Court of Law. But there is, of course, this to be said, that before any steps can be taken the school has to be shown to have suffered in efficiency by the action of somebody, and it is not quite clear how, under existing circumstances, that can be done, because the salaries having been paid on the higher scale by the managers, apparently the school will not have suffered in efficiency, and therefore, no case on that point arises. I think it is no use dwelling any longer on this matter, because, as I have said, my right hon. friend is taking advice on this point, and he will then consider what course he should take.

The noble Earl opposite said something about the refusal to maintain. I regret that there is a refusal to maintain the school, but this policy is part of the whole contest that has been taking place, and it undoubtedly appeared lately that if the arrangement, which has fortunately been arrived at about the building, had not been achieved there was a possibility of the school being closed altogether. The school undoubtedly was at that time in great peril, whether owing to its own action or to that of the local authority is not to the point. That undoubtedly was the reason, though I do not say it was altogether a perfectly sound reason, for the refusal to maintain during that period.


It was recognised by the Board of Education as being efficient during the whole of the period.


That undoubtedly was so. As regards the application of the Default Act, that, of course, is a question of policy. It is a parallel case to the one of which we have already heard something this session—namely, the application of the Crimes Act to Ireland. I am not prepared to assent to the noble Earl's proposition that, because an Act is on the Statute-book, you are bound to employ it if occasions arise on which it could be employed, even though you think the Act mischievous in itself and believe that the result of its application would be to do more harm than good. I have no doubt that my right hon. friend will note what has been said by the noble Earl. I hope no occasion will arise for the application of the Default Act, but, if the occasion should arise, although I cannot say that I absolutely see my right hon. friend applying it, I have no doubt that, before deciding not to apply it, he will give full consideration to everything that has been said by the noble Earl.


My Lords, at this late hour your Lordships will understand that I propose to deal very shortly with the important points raised by my noble friend behind me, whose experience of educational matters fully entitles him to be heard on these questions. While not objecting to the manner in which the noble Earl the Lord President alluded to the detail brought forward in the various speeches, I do not think I shall be contradicted when I say that he has not dealt with the principles underlying the questions submitted to him by my noble friend behind me. I quite agree with the noble Earl that it would not be advisable on the present occasion to enter into the question as to how the President of the Board of Education obtained the £100,000 which is at present under consideration, but I remember when the question was discussed in your Lordships' House last year saying that I considered the methods of obtaining that money were unconstitutional. They were certainly unusual.

I now turn to the question how that money has been allocated. On this side of the House we cannot believe that the money has been allocated absolutely fairly and impartially without being given by the Government some idea as to how it has been spent. I think the House has a right to know how the £70,000, the portion of the grant which has been expended, has been spent.


I must apologise for forgetting to state that my right hon. friend the President of the Board will issue, as soon as he can, a Return as to the places to which the money has been allocated and the amounts spent.


That is satisfactory. But I do not think the difficulty of the President of the Board ends there. I think his difficulties are increased by the way he obtained that money. Undoubtedly the object of the right hon. Gentleman was to obtain the grant in order to create schools where a certain number of parents considered those schools wanted, and not to put any extra charge on the rates of those parishes. But, in pursuing this course, he either forgot or ignored Section 18, Subsection (1) of the Act of 1902. That section requires the county council to charge such portion as they think fit, not being less than one half or more than three-fourths, of any expenses incurred by them in respect of capital expenditure or rent on account of the provision or improvement of any public elementary school on the parish or parishes which, in the opinion of the council, are served by the school. It was undoubtedly to meet this difficulty that the President introduced the following words into his regulations— The grant which will be payable to local education authorities only may be for a proportion, or, where the Board think fit, for the whole, of the expenditure incurred for the provision of the site and buildings. Any question as to the allocation of the grant arising under Section 18, Subsection (1) shall be determined by the Board. How can that regulation be reconciled with the section in the Bill to which I have alluded? I maintain that the regulation constitutes an over-riding of the section, and is therefore ultra vires. Therefore, I would ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether the President of the Board is acting legally in inserting this regulation with regard to this grant.

Then I come to another point. Half of the grant is to be paid into the funds of the county council. I would ask the Lord Chancellor whether the county council have power to allocate that sum of money to any particular parish. I doubt very much whether they have that power; and I should like to put those two points to the noble and learned Lord.


I think it would be wrong to give answers off-hand to legal questions of that kind. If the noble Marquess will either put his questions on the Paper or communicate with me I will do my best to tell him what I think is the law on the subject.


I admit that it would, perhaps, be unreasonable to expect answers at once, and I will communicate my questions to the noble and learned Lord. In the matter of new schools, again, we have reason to believe that the right hon. Gentleman has not carried out the duties imposed upon the Department by the Act of 1902 in the matter of giving public notice and other particulars. The Act provides that a certain number of ratepayers may appeal to the Board of Education on the ground that the proposal is not required. We have reason to believe that these appeals have been more or less disregarded by the Board of Education.


I think I stated that there had been cases in which applications had been made and been refused, and in regard to the instances I gave I stated that there had been in certain cases appeals by ratepayers which were listened to but were not considered to override the necessity of the school.


Yes, but they were not dealt with by the Board of Education in the spirit of the Act. My noble friend behind me raised questions with regard to the treatment of schools in certain parts of Wales. I listened to the answer of the noble Earl, and I cannot say that he in any way justified the action complained of. The case of the Garforth school was one of great importance. The noble Earl went into that case very fully, but what I should like to ask is this: Why, when the officials of the Board of Education had on two occasions given their decision against the county council, did the right hon. Gentleman overrule their decision? Surely we are justified in thinking that there was a certain amount of partiality in his action. It is too late in the evening to deal with the case of Swansea, but I wish to say a word before sitting down with regard to the action of the Board of Education in the matter of charitable trusts. I could not have imagined a Minister making statements so inaccurate as those of Mr. McKenna in regard to charitable trusts. It was apparent to the veriest tyro that when the Education Department took over charitable trusts they took them over as a judicial body. But Mr. McKenna in the House of Commons stated that the Board of Education, as successors of the Charity Commissioners in respect of educational charities, exercised no judicial, but only administrative, powers. I was very glad to hear from the noble Earl that he threw over his colleague, because he acknowledged that the powers of the Board of Education in this matter are judicial.


I think I used the expression "quasi-judicial," or something of the kind.


At any rate the noble Earl does not agree with his colleague that the powers of the Board are only administrative. In a case referred to by Lord Barnard, the President of the Board of Education certainly did not act in a judicial spirit, but as a political administrator. The Board of Education, entrusted as they are with judicial powers, should act like a Court of justice. The action of the President of the Board with regard to Merionethshire has been of a most remarkable character. The Default Act ought to have been put in force in Merionethshire some time ago. But for the first time in history a responsible Minister has only proceeded to act according to the law when told by the people who have acted guiltily that they have no objection to it. I maintain that it is the duty of the Board of Education to keep a watchful eye on all local education authorities, and not wait to be appealed to before doing ordinary justice. The policy I am advocating is the policy I pursued when I was at the head of the Board of Education. I endeavoured to act fairly and impartially to all people and all creeds, and that is what any Minister in that responsible position ought to aim at. I feel very grateful to my noble friend behind me for having raised this question, and I hope the debate will be the means of drawing attention to some of the unjust actions of the Board of Education.


My Lords, in view of the assurance which has been given by the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council that the public will be put in possession of all the facts with regard to the allocation of the £100,000, I ask leave to withdraw my Motion. One statement of the noble Earl has filled me with amazement—namely, the suggestion that the question of changes in the trusts of charitable endowments will on future occasions be decided by public assemblies. I may call attention to that matter on a future occasion.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty minutes past Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.