HL Deb 05 April 1911 vol 7 cc1023-47

*THE EARL OF DARTMOUTH rose to move that an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying His Majesty to withhold his consent to the scheme settled by the Board of Education in the matter of the Wheelwright Grammar Schools at Dewsbury, in the West Riding of the county of York.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I must ask your indulgence in putting forward the Motion of which I have given notice, because it deals with a rather difficult and technical question, and I may have to detain your Lordships for some little time in endeavouring to bring the case fairly before the House. I look upon it as one of the most serious actions of the present Board of Education with which we have had to deal. The scheme which is the subject of my Motion was settled by the Board of Education and proposes to alter the trust of a portion of a certain Yorkshire charity. The scheme is made under the powers granted by the Endowed Schools Act of 1869, and has to be laid on the Table of both Houses for two months in order to give either House an opportunity of objecting if it desires to do so. This particular scheme was laid on the Table of your Lordships' House on February 13 last, and I do not think the Government can object to my action in calling attention to the matter, because, after all, we are only exercising our statutory right. There have been many precedents for successful resistance to these schemes, and I hope that I shall be able to induce the House to add one more to the list. There have been a good many different authorities entrusted with the control and management of these matters, but I do not think it is necessary to go through the whole history from the days of the special jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery and of the Charity Commissioners, who made their first appearance in 1853, up to the year 1899, when their powers were transferred to the Board of Education, in whose hands they now remain. Nor is it necessary to deal at any length with the various Acts affecting charitable educational trusts.

It is, perhaps, as well to remember that the original Endowed Schools Act was passed in 1869 as the result of the Report of a Commission which sat in 1867. The Report of that Commission recommended a good many changes extending the power of the old Court of Chancery on educational lines where the original form became unsuited to the changed circumstances of the day; and I think it is important—from my point of view it is very important—to bear in mind that the main principle, as I think I may call it in view of the various extensions, was that where changes were made they were still to carry into effect the wishes of the original founder. That will be found, I believe, in the Preamble of the Act of 1869. So that, no matter what body has been in authority, the principle that has guided these alterations is the principle that the powers of the Board are judicial and not political.

Now, my Lords, with regard to the present scheme, the only clause in it that we need deal with is Clause 2. It is a very important clause, and it proposes to repeal Clause 47 of the scheme of May 3, 1888, which clause ensures the carrying out of the wishes of the founder of the charity that the religious education given in these particular schools shall be Church of England education. I would ask your Lordships to bear that in mind. I will now leave the general question and come to the question of the particular charity which is proposed to be dealt with by this scheme. The name of it is the Wheelwright Grammar Schools at Dewsbury. On October 14, 1724, John Wheelwright by will left property to trustees to found and maintain two schools, one at Dewsbury and another at Rishworth, for the children of the poor. One of the principal clauses of that will contained these words— I also will and desire that the said children be religiously and virtuously brought up and educated according to the doctrines of the Church of England. That, my Lords, represents what were the wishes of the original founder. There is no uncertainty about it.

I come now to the first scheme of alteration, the scheme to which I have briefly referred, of May 3, 1888. There is some rather interesting correspondence in connection with that scheme. The scheme, roughly, was to appoint a separate body of trustees for a new part of the school in question, the school affected by this particular scheme, and it was proposed to be done by the Charity Commissioners under the Endowed Schools Act to which I have referred. The correspondence which took place between the trustees of the school and the then responsible authority, the Charity Commissioners, shows exactly what were the views of the trustees and the governors and those who were responsible for the conduct of the school. They did not approve of the scheme as suggested by the Charity Commissioners, and they stated that if the Commissioners desired the reasons why, they would give them. The Trustees went on to say— We think it sufficient to say that the charity was formed and endowed as a Church of England charity, and such it must remain. There is no confusion or ambiguity in the direction contained in Mr. Wheelwright's will. He directed that the children be religiously and virtuously brought up and educated according to the doctrines of the Church of England as by law established. The trustees are determined, therefore, that they have no alternative but to oppose every scheme which the Charity Commissioners may propose unless the scheme is one which, in their opinion, is within the lines of Mr. Wheelwright's will. That was the position of the trustees, and that was accepted by the Charity Commissioners, who replied— With a view to secure that the Church of England character of the Foundation shall not be impaired by an accidental majority among the governors the Commissioners have accepted the proposal made by the committee, and approved by the trustees, for a retirement by rotation of the co-optative governors first appointed. Having this provided that the first, governors shall, to the number of nine out of fourteen be members of the Church of England, and taken security against the possibility of an accidental majority the other way, and having directed in Clause 47 that religious instruction in accordance with the doctrines of the Church of England shall be given in the school the Commissioners have in this respect made such provision as to them appears proper and sufficient for the maintenance of the Church of England character of the Foundation. That was the answer of the Commissioners, and that is the explanation for the introduction of Clause 47 which it is now sought to repeal.

The next step took place in 1899, when the authority for dealing with these things was transferred to the Board of Education; and in 1900 a new and a much wider scheme was introduced by the then authorities, which proposed an amalgamation with certain governing bodies of three other educational charities, the trust, remaining practically the same. There were grave objections to this course on the part of those representing the Wheelwright Charity on account of the alteration of the balance of the governing body, which removed the security for the maintenance of the Church of England character of the school as promised by the scheme of 1888; but an undertaking, a definite and most formal and binding undertaking, was given by all those concerned, with the approval of the authorities, especially emphasising the fact that Clause 47 was not to be interfered with. Therefore, under these various schemes the main point was driven home by those concerned—namely, that the character of the teaching in the school should be that of the Church of England and none other; and we then said— Religious instruction therefore continued to be given in the school, and, it may be added, the County Council of the West Riding of Yorkshire continued to make grants to the school under the Technical Instruction Act

That is a point to which I shall refer later.

By Section 4 of the Education Act, 1902, it is enacted that a county council, when making grants out of a county fund to a secondary school, shall not require as a condition of such grants that any particular form of religious instruction shall or shall not be given in the school. Therefore that entirely debars from a county council the right to decide as to what form of religious education should be given. During all this time the West Riding County Council were giving£335 a year to this particular school. Now I come to the trouble with the West Riding County Council, which is really the cause, I take it, of the introduction of this extraordinary scheme. In. 1907, in spite of this section to which I have referred, the West Riding County Council required the governors of the Wheelwright Grammar School to discontinue the Church of England religious teaching if the grants were to be continued, and for that purpose to apply for a scheme for deleting Clause 47. I will once more, if you will allow me, refer to the correspondence that took place between the Board of Education of that time and the various bodies concerned. There is a letter from the Board of Education to the Rishworth Trustees dated August 10, 1908, pressing on the trustees of this school the desirability of the governors allowing this scheme to go forward, because if they did not they would lose the grant and suffer accordingly. The words they use are these— The authority [the local education authority] have up to the present year continued to aid the schools to the same extent us before the passing of the Education Act, 1902, (i.e., by a grant of£335 per annum conditional upon the provision of a certain number of free places to county council scholars), but they have recently intimated that unless the governors take steps to have the provision referred to removed from the Scheme— that is, the desire of the founder to carry on Church of England education in the schools— they will withdraw all pecuniary support from the schools, and cease to recognise them for the instruction of pupil teachers and county minor scholars. Then the letter goes on to urge upon the governing body the desirability of agreeing to this proposal on those lines, and it concludes by saying— As the matter is, in its financial aspect, of vital importance to the Dewsbury Schools, which could hardly continue to exist if all county council support were withdrawn from them, the Board would be glad to have an opportunity of conferring with the Wheelwright Trustees in the matter at an early date. That appointment took place. I would point out that what is obvious is that the Board of Education were anxious to avoid enforcing the law which required that the county council should not impose these conditions regarding religious education, and further this desire on their part to get the Rishworth Governors to do what is an illegal action was merely to save themselves, as it seems to me, and to avoid any trouble they might have had in dealing with this local education authority.

Then, my Lords, we get a step further. There is a further letter written from the Board of Education on November 13, 1908, with regard to the interview which had taken place. It proceeds to state— In view of the position which has been taken up by the above-named trustees, it appears to the Board that it now rests with the governors to decide what is their duty in the circumstances, having regard on the one hand to the arrangement which was made at the time when the scheme of 1900 was established by the Charity Commissioners, and on the other to the discharge of their duties to the grammar schools. It is for the governors now to consider how far this arrangement is to be regarded as permanently binding upon them, or how far it may be necessarily liable to revision in view of the completely altered educational system which now exists. After due regard has been paid to these considerations the governors should decide whether or not a case has arisen which would justify them in declining to be bound further by that arrangement, notwithstanding the attitude which has been adopted by the Wheelwright Trustees in the matter. The Board, though willing to render such assistance as is possible to the governors, cannot, if they would, take over from them the responsibility of deciding as to the course which should be pursued in the circumstances, seeing that without the consent of the governing body the repeal of the denominational provision in Clause 47 of the scheme of May 3, 1888, cannot be effected. All that the Board can do is, in view of the risk to which the schools of the Foundation appear to lie exposed of being practically destroyed in consequence of the withdrawal by the local education authority of financial assistance, to submit the foregoing consideration for the careful attention of the governors. But, my Lords, the responsibility does not rest with the governors; it rests with the Board of Education; it is they who are responsible and it is they who ought to decide what is to be done. It is, therefore, most unfair to put this pressure on a body like the governors of a school of this kind in order to endeavour to force them to get the authority out of a considerable difficulty.

As it happened, the governors, after considerable protest, accepted by a small majority the conditions which had been forced upon them. I do not think we can blame the governors, because their position was made almost impossible by the Board of Education. The governors show in their protest that they were bound by the undertaking they had given in 1900, and they were bound by every code of honour to do what they could to carry out the wishes of the founder of this charity. The subject was raised in the House of Commons recently, and the answer that was given then was that it was a pity to raise the question at all as the matter was being settled locally. I cannot imagine how anybody in authority could have made such a defence as that. Settled locally!Why, my Lords, every one was perfectly satisfied till the West Riding County Council interfered, and the agreement of the governors was only obtained after the pressure to which I have briefly referred was put upon them. The pressure was of the most drastic kind. It was financial, and it was put in a way that made it very difficult for the governors to resist; and I do think that it is hardly right for, the representative of a great Department like the Board of Education to claim a local settlement which is only secured by the pressure of the Board on the governors to break their trust in order to give effect to an illegal action.

There are a good many other points in connection with this matter to which I could refer, but I hope I have said enough. In the last session of Parliament Lord Crewe, in the speech that he delivered on the consideration of the Parliament Bill, gave a very interesting definition of what he considered to be the functions of Parliament. The first function that he gave to Parliament was "to keep in check the Executive." Now, when we find that the Executive, or part of it is endeavouring to obtain by administration what the Legislature has refused expressly, I say that we, as still a portion of the Parliament of the country, ought to exercise our function of keeping a check on the Executive. My Lords, that is on general lines. On the particular lines connected with this scheme, I would ask your Lordships to support my Motion on the ground that it is the duty of the Board of Education to enforce the law and not to facilitate violations of it; that the scheme is contrary to the principle of the Endowed Schools Act; that the object of the scheme is political and not educational; that it is a breach of the promise given by the Charity Commissioners, of whom the Board of Education is the successor; and, above all, and perhaps most important of all, on the ground that it is a violation of John Wheelwright's will, and would alienate a Church of England charity to undenominational purposes. I beg to move the Motion that stands in my name.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying His Majesty to withhold His consent to the Scheme settled by the Board of Education in the matter of the Wheelwright Grammar Schools at Dewsbury, in the West Riding of the county of York.—(The Earl of Dartmoulh.)


My Lords, I am quite sure His Majesty's Government have nothing to complain of, either in the fact that the noble Earl opposite has brought this question before your Lordships' House or with regard to the manner in which he has done so. I think we are all at one as to the main facts of the case, although naturally the Board of Education would draw a very different conclusion from the facts from that which the noble Earl has put before the House. I gathered from the remarks which the noble Earl addressed to your Lordships that he did not wish to proceed upon what I might term the strict legal interpretation of the matter. The noble Earl knows that there is a remedy on the strict legal side. There is tile possibility of at appeal to the Judicial Committee. That procedure has not been adopted. The alternative to it is to take the step, which the noble Earl has taken this afternoon, of asking your Lordships to approve of an Address to the Crown. Therefore I hope we may say that in this matter we are not dealing so much with the strictly legal aspect of it, but rather with the expediency of this scheme and the question whether or not the scheme as suggested and adopted by the Education Board is a good scheme.

In the first place, I do not think that any noble Lord will deny, however much he might regret the fact, that the whole tendency of the administration of the Education Acts, not by one Party but by all Parties, ever since the Endowed Schools Act was passed in 1869, has been to throw down the barriers generally, social and local as well as religious barriers, and to open the benefits of school foundations—certainly of those which came into existence before 1819—to all comers. Those Acts provide proper machinery by which a Church of England school may be maintained intact unless the trustees consent otherwise; but where the trustees have no objection, and indeed wish to abolish the distinction, it is made easy for them under the Act to remove the tests which otherwise would exist. Therefore I think that in this case we must assume, if the noble Earl wishes to prove his point, that there are special circumstances why the distinctive character of the school should be maintained. In this matter, of course, the Board of Education must depend very largely upon the opinion of the man on the spot. We are often advised to do that in other matters, and the Board of Education is anxious to do it in a case of this kind. I do not wish to press too far the majority by which the assent to the scheme was agreed to by the local managers, but there is also the fact that the county council, representing a far larger area, is moving in the same direction.


Might I ask the noble Earl whether the county council are acting legally in the action they are taking?


As I have already tried to point out to the noble Earl, if he thinks there is any illegality in their action he has his remedy at law.


No; that will not do.


I do not know what I have said that the noble Marquess objects to.


I did not wish to interrupt the noble Earl, but he says there is a legal remedy. He knows as well as I do that there are technical difficulties in the way of that remedy, and that those difficulties rendered it necessary for Parliament to supply a different remedy—the High Court of Parliament itself.


I am sorry to differ from the noble Marquess. I thought the legal remedy was by an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and that an appeal to that body had already been entered upon but not proceeded with by the noble Earl, as he preferred the present alternative. I confess that it was with some surprise I heard the noble Earl say that the responsibility for dealing with this matter rests with the Board of Education. Although he made the suggestion, he did not oblige us by going further into the matter and telling us in what way we were to insist upon our responsibility, or in what way the Board of Education were to act. Surely in this matter the whole policy of the Act of 1902 was to give the local authority power, and they are rather the people who are expected to act. It is they who have the money to administer, and it is they, rather than the Board of Education,' I think, to whom the noble Earl should appeal.

But there is another aspect of the case to which I do not think very much attention has vet been paid, and that is how far the scheme as suggested by the Board of Education will be of benefit to the school itself. The school has been doing well in the past, though its financial position is not altogether reassuring as to the future. Your Lordships upon the information so far before you are not well able to decide how far this money, which is at the disposal of the West Riding County Council, is necessary for the future development and improvement of the school, and I venture to think that that is an aspect of the question to which the Board of Education is especially bound to pay attention. The governors wrote, towards the end of the year 1905, saying that there had been a considerable deficiency each year on the accounts of the schools, and that it would be necessary to reduce the staff to meet the deficiency. A reduction in the staff was made, but that was rather due to a reduction in the number of scholars. Then the governors are contemplating additions to the existing schools which will cost nearly£1,000. That, they say, will be met without difficulty from the school funds. The accounts for the year 1908–9 show a total receipt of£3,545, of which the Board's grant was£1,067, but there was an expenditure of£3,795, making a deficit, apart from the aid given by the West Riding County Council, of no less than£250. There are further receipts which should be added from Hinchcliffe and Durham.

It is probable, with the additions to the school and a new girls' school, which I understand the governors are very anxious to provide, that not only will the present county aid be necessary, but also the additional county aid, in order to maintain a financial equilibrium. So that at the present moment, so far as the schools themselves are concerned, the position is this, that with the present help they get from the West Riding County Council they are able to get along. If it were withdrawn, their position, though not desperate, would be naturally a great deal worse, and they would be largely crippled in their work.

They need a larger grant in order that they may develop themselves thoroughly in the future, and in those circumstances the question is whether, after all is said and done, it would not be a wise thing for the governors to accept the grant on the terms which have been offered to them by the West Riding County Council. On that matter the Board of Education have accepted the resolution which the governors came to when they put forward this scheme. The Board of Education realise, however, that there is a great deal of objection to this scheme in your Lordships' House; and as the number of noble Lords who are present this afternoon shows how little likely we should be to successfully attempt determined resistance to the Motion of the noble Earl, we therefore shall not proceed to a Division if the general sense of the House shows itself to be determinedly hostile to the scheme.


My Lords, I have no desire to detain the House more than a moment. But as this school is situated in the diocese of Wakefield and I happen to know a good deal about the local history of the case, I may, perhaps, be allowed to say one word in answer to what has fallen from the noble Earl. The noble Earl wishes us to brush aside altogether the legal argument—and indeed I am not qualified to express an opinion about the legal argument except as an ordinary plain man—but I cannot think that the noble Earl would for a moment maintain that the resolution of the county council which sets aside Section 4 of the Act of 1902 can be anything but most flagrantly illegal. This is the feature of the case which, apart from all educational considerations, is really of public interest. It does seem to many of us who have studied this case very closely that it is nothing short of a scandalous thing that a powerful county council should be allowed to set aside an Act of Parliament and to say that the conditions on which it will give grants to secondary schools are conditions diametrically opposite to those expressly laid down in the Act.

I am also very much surprised to hear from the noble Earl that he does not think that the Board of Education are responsible in a matter of this kind. It is a very difficult point, but I hope I may be able to make it clear in a few sentences. The Board of Education, in making a scheme, make it under the Endowed Schools Acts. But the scheme which they have now put out under the Endowed Schools Acts seeks to set aside the express undertaking honourably entered into by all parties concerned up to the time when the Charity Commissioners ceased to have jurisdiction over these schemes. The record of the Charity Commission is perfectly clean from first to last. They recognised expressly at each stage of all their schemes the Church of England character of this school. I do not wish to press this as a denominational matter. I want to press it as a matter of the maintenance of trusts, a matter of far larger importance and consequences than the mere maintenance of a denominational school. Under the Acts the Board of Education are responsible as the guardians of those trusts, and although it is perfectly true that the principles on which they have to administer the trusts in applying them to altered modern conditions are not quite so severe as those which apply to trusts under strictly cy pres conditions, yet it is expressly enacted, as Lord Dartmouth has pointed out, in the Preamble of the Act of 1869 that it is the will of the founder which has, as far as possible, to be carried out. Therefore, my Lords, when the noble Earl says that the Board of Education are not responsible it seems to me similar to a case where a headmaster of some great public school, on being appealed to by a helpless small boy in a lower form on account of an outrageous course of bullying on the part of the sixth form, should call him up and advise him to submit, and, on the boy still further protesting, say, "If you do not submit, I shall take the part of the sixth form." That seems to me to be the attitude of the Board of Education, and I think the analogy is pretty close. Fortunately the two Houses of Parliament are in the position of being, so to speak, the governors of that great public school, and there is a further appeal to us, and I trust your Lordships will insist that this scheme shall be referred back.

Many other points have been mentioned by the noble Earl, but there is only one to which I will allude. He reminded your Lordships that the general trend of education has been towards the throwing down of barriers between class and class and between denomination and denomination, and he said, "Is it not a good thing that in a school like this these barriers should be thrown down?" My Lords, there are no barriers in this school to be thrown down. There is a conscience clause in operation.

There is the fact that no difficulty has ever arisen on the part of any parent and that very few scholars have ever been withdrawn. As a matter of fact, the Church of England teaching has never even been offered in the last few years, since the last scheme, to any except to the children of those parents who have desired in writing that their children should receive it. Therefore I am extremely sorry that the noble Earl should have put that forward. Then, again, he said, that where the trustees wish to remove tests facilities are now given to remove those tests. There are no tests whatever in this school. There are no tests for teachers, there are no tests for the religious education of the children, and there are no tests for the governors of the school. Therefore when the noble Earl tells us that this is a good scheme because it offers opportunities for throwing down barriers and for removing tests, I can only say that years ago the governors and the trustees of the charity were enlightened enough to do both things. I am sure your Lordships will believe me when I say that I have never taken an extreme or obstructive line on the matter of education, but I do believe that this scheme is inherently unjust. I believe it is a scandalous case of a great Government Department not carrying out its duty, and therefore I am very glad to support my noble friend in the Motion that he has put on the Paper.


My Lords, I do not desire to intervene more than a very short time between your Lordships and the conclusion of this matter; but certain propositions have fallen from the right rev. Prelate which appear to me to go not only beyond the policy which Parliament has long laid down as governing these matters, but beyond the real circumstances of this case. As to the policy, is it seriously contended that the provisions in the will of the testator, a will which became operative in 1724, are to remain for all time? That is certainly not so in the case of private property where the will of the testator can only prevail for a short time. The dead hand has been given a more enduring trust in the case of charitable property, with the result that Parliament has interfered. I agree entirely with the doctrine that not only the letter but the spirit of the Act of Parliament ought to be observed, but Parliament has laid down, not merely the Preamble which the right rev. Prelate made reference to, but an express provision for relaxing from time to time, as the public-interest requires, the rules which had been adopted as to the way in which a charity is to be carried on. Under Section 19 of the Endowed Schools Act, 1869, it is expressly provided that, in the case of certain educational charities, you are not to make an alteration which you are otherwise entitled to make according to the general scheme of the Act unless you have the consent of the governing body. In this case you have the consent of the governing body.


But under what conditions?


You extorted the consent.


The first point I am making at this stage is that you have got the consent of the governing body, and so far as any question of law is concerned with regard to that, the proper tribunal to decide it is a Court of Law and not Parliament. But I do not think it can be seriously contended that you require any other consent in this case. The Board of Education has been severely dealt with in this matter. What is the position of the Board of Education? The County Council of the West Riding, rightly or wrongly, as its policy, desires that the higher education which it assists should be free from denominational quality. They may be wrong or they may be right about that, but to say that they are acting illegally in taking that question of policy into account is more than the Act of Parliament entitles you so say. It is perfectly true that, under Section 4 of the Education Act of 1902, if the West Riding County Council were to withhold its assistance in a case where it was actually making a grant on the ground that it wished to differentiate between various forms of religious teaching, that would be illegal, and if it were acting illegally you could restrain it possibly by injunction. But under the Act the county council has a wide discretion as to how, and under what circumstances, and in the case of what bodies, it will assist higher education. Discretion has been given by Parliament in the Act of 1902 to the county councils to survey the field and say what higher education they will assist, and the condition is this, that if they do assist they are not to differentially treat different bodies on account of their religious tenets.


That is what they have done.


There is no power to compel them to make a grant in any particular case if they chose to withhold it. That is the policy laid down in the Act, and, if that is so, then it is idle to talk of their having committed an illegal action in this case. You could not man-damns them. If they choose to withhold the money they may do so. Parliament has left it to them to say Yes or No, whether they will or will not make a grant, and you are helpless. That being so, what is the position? In the year 1900 a governing body was constituted for this school. That governing body desired to develop the school and so became dependent on the county council, and they cannot become dependent on the county council, unless they act in accordance with the wishes of the county council by getting rid of the denominational character of the teaching in the school.


Does the noble Viscount seriously say that the governing body of this school desired this?


If they did not desire to do it, I have no reason to think that they would have done it. The governing body, rather than let the school be starved, chose to take the course of promoting a scheme which got rid of the disability under which they lay, and accordingly the governing body, with its full and free consent, assented to the new scheme, and that; new scheme, which is before your Lordships' House and which was assented to by the governing body, has this clause in it which gets rid of the difficulty. Your Lordships are, of course, at liberty to take what view you like of the matter; but the governing body of this school is also at liberty to say what scheme it will consent to. It is given that power by the Act of Parliament, and that power it has exercised. The position, therefore, in which we are to-day is not to find a remedy for a wrong done; it is a question of preventing this school from developing itself, and from taking the only course which, in the opinion of those responsible for it, will make it efficient, and the only course which the Board of Education think a possible one if the school desires to progress. Your Lordships may dissent from the broad views of the County Council of the West Riding of Yorkshire, but, after all, then views are views which the electors have elected them to entertain. That there is any remedy for the situation, or that the rejection of the scheme will make things any better, seems to me to be out of the question. On the contrary, all that will happen will be that this school will he stunted in its development, and nobody will be any better for what has taken place.


My Lords, I have listened, I need hardly say, with the greatest interest to all the speeches that have been made in the course of this debate. I do not think any one will deny that my noble friend who raised this question dealt very fully and clearly with all the details of this case, and as I listened to his speech I could not help thinking of the various occasions in your Lordships' House when we have had brought before us cases of harshness and injustice on the part of the County Council of the West Riding of Yorkshire in regard to denominational schools, but I think that a more harsh and a more unjust case has seldom been brought forward in your Lordships' House than the one we have been discussing this evening. The question, in my Mind, particularly after the speech of the noble Viscount who has just sat down, embraces possibly an even larger field than that, because, as far as I can gather, he seems to consider that the only course at the present moment for this school to pursue, if it is to enjoy prosperity, is to accede to the proposals of the county council through the Board of Education. That may be the point of view of the noble Viscount, but it certainly is not mine. This debate has shown beyond all doubt what I think is even a more serious question than that of the maintenance of the school—namely, the political bias of a great Department in favour of its political supporters. I shall say a few words on that before I conclude, because I think that if the precedent started by the Board of Education is pursued in other Departments, the confidence which the country has at the present moment in these Departments cannot fail to be entirely lost.

My noble friend dealt so fully with the whole question that I do not propose to go into it. But there was one expression which fell from the noble Viscount on which I should like to say a few words.

He said, and very rightly, perhaps, that great changes had taken place during the past fifty or sixty years in the laws connected with the maintenance of trust property, and that it is many years now since Mr. Wheelwright demised this charity for the maintenance of what are called the Wheelwright Schools. Undoubtedly that is so. But changes have taken place in connection with the school at various intervals, and on each of those changes the stipulation was made that the school was to be a denominational school and that Church of England instruction was to be given in the school. Therefore it has been brought up to a much later date than might have been anticipated from what fell from the noble Viscount. Again, I think no one will deny that up to the year 1902, previous to the Education Act for which I specially, and the Government of which I had the honour of being a Member, was responsible, everything worked absolutely smoothly in this Dewsbury School. There were no objections made by parents to the teaching, as the right rev. Prelate stated. The children attended the school in perfect harmony and in accordance with their parents' wishes. The governors were carrying out the Government policy so far as religious instruction in secondary schools was concerned in accordance with what was called the McKenna régime. It was only after the passing of the Act of 1902 that this hostility, which was displayed to so many denominational schools by the West Riding County Council, for the first time developed itself. The county council took upon themselves a most arbitrary action. They told the governors of this school that if they continued to carry out the term of the trust, which was to give Church of England instruction, they would give them no grant, but if they dropped their Church of England instruction they might then have a grant. Surely that was the most extraordinary proposal that could possibly have been made. Then, in addition, the county council, as we are told, invited the governors to apply to the Board of Education for a new scheme, expunging from the old scheme of 1888 what the school had been formed for—the provision of denominational education.

Now, my Lords, arises the question, What ought the Board of Education to have done? I am not, going to cross swords on legal matters with the noble Viscount opposite, but reading the section of the Act as I do, I can only think that the Board of Education were encouraging the West Riding County Council to commit a breach of the law in agreeing to their version of the reading of that section. May I state what in my opinion was the duty of the Board of Education when they were approached by these governors, who, through the county council, were asking them to frame a scheme? To my mind the Board of Education ought to have protected the governors. They ought undoubtedly to have pointed out to them that the County Council of the West Riding was performing an illegality, and they ought to have drawn the attention of the county council to the law of the land as it existed, and if the county council had not carried out the law as it existed, then it was the duty of the Board of Education to take care that they did. They had the power to do so under mandamus. The noble Viscount opposite shakes his head, but I think he will find that on previous occasions when a mandamus has been taken out the county councils have had to do what the Board of Education told them.


That has been in quite a different case from the present case.


I have not the particulars before me, but I think I am right in what I say.


Not in a case like this.


My Lords, I repeat that I think the Board of Education were encouraging the West Riding County Council in an illegality according to the Act of 1902. Then comes the point that the governors agreed to accept the scheme of the Board of Education. When certain changes took place the majority of the governors of the school were not denominational educationists, if I may use the expression, but they stipulated that Church of England teaching should be taught in that school. Then, as the right rev. Prelate said, considerable pressure, financial and otherwise, was brought to bear on the governors in order to induce them to accede to the present scheme, and the governors have acceded to it after great protest and under pressure. But now we come to the fact that the trustees, who, after all, are those responsible for the administration of this charity, object, and wisely object, to that scheme. That more or less is the case which is before your Lordships at the present moment.

I would like to say a word as one who has had the honour of occupying the position of President of the Board of Education. I do regret to see the Board of Education at the present moment condoning illegal actions for what I can only call Party purposes, and I regret also to see the Board, who, as the successors to the Charity Commissioners, ought to act absolutely impartially, showing a partisan spirit instead of a judicial one. This to my mind is a very extraordinary case. It undoubtedly shows that political bias which the West Riding County Council have shown to many denominational schools in the West Riding of Yorkshire. They have shown their desire to squeeze out denominational education in the West Riding, and if the present state of things is allowed to exist, then I say that the West Riding County Council will be more or less confiscating for undenominational education a charity which was meant for denominational education. I will only say, in conclusion, that I hope the day is far distant when we shall see other Departments of the State taking the partisan and political views which the Board of Education has adopted, for, as I said before, if that state of things is allowed to exist the country will lose the confidence which it at present has in all our great Departments.


My Lords, I think the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for War is imperfectly informed with regard to the facts of this case, and I can hardly think that he will maintain the position he appears to have taken up in view of the further facts which I may be able to put before him. Is the noble Viscount aware that the governors of the Wheelwright School only three or four years ago, during the time of these difficulties, very much objected to what was proposed to them by the local education authority—that is, the West Riding County Education Authority?


In 1908.


Yes, in 1908 they entirely objected to what was proposed to them, and they objected so strongly that they prepared a fell and complete statement of their case and forwarded it with an appeal to the Board of Education requesting the Board to bring pressure on the county council and compel the county council to obey the law. That was their action. Not only did they do that, but the governors sent a thoroughly representative deputation to London, and their case was put before the Board, the deputation stating that the governors felt that they were bound to keep a religious clause in their scheme, and not to comply with the requirements of the local education authority.


It was the Wheelwright trustees, not the governing body of the school, who took action.


It was the governors.


I beg the noble Viscount's pardon. That was the action of the governors of the school in reference to what had been represented to them by the trustees of Rishworth School, the original Wheelwright trustees. I am speaking of the action of the governors of the school, and not of the Wheelwright trustees. If the noble Viscount will refer, he will see that it is the action of the governors of the school begging the Board of Education to compel the local education authority to obey the law. The only result of that deputation as far as is known is that the education authority wrote to the Wheelwright trustees stating, whit must be admitted was a very extraordinary presentment of the case, that the governors of the Dewsbury School were prepares: to comply with the requirements of the county council, and endeavouring to induce the Wheelwright trustees to relieve the governors of the Dewsbury School from the obligations they had entered into in their arrangements in 1890 and 1891. The governors of the Dewsbury School very unwillingly assented to what the Education Department proposed because they were in a very difficult position, pressure being put upon them by the Education Department, and they did not think they were going to get ordinary justice. When the governors of the Dewsbury School were told that they had been prepared to comply with the requirements of the county council, which they only learnt some months after, they at once vehemently repudiated the statement, and as I say, it was only after finding that they could get no ordinary justice from the Board of Education, and threatened with the withdrawal of the grants by the county council, that the governors, after a strong protest and by a very narrow majority, submitted. It is perfectly untrue to say that the governors of the Dewsbury School did not do as much as they possibly could to withstand the action of the Education Department in regard to this matter.

May I also point out this to the noble Viscount. He says that trusts from time to time have to be altered. The trusts of the Wheelwright Schools have been altered. Under the Wheelwright will the schools were elementary schools, and the trusts have been so far enlarged that instead of an elementary school the Dewsbury School has been converted into a secondary school. It had met every possible requirement; no kind of fault was found with the school; no complaint was made about its religious teaching. The only reason why the local education authority threatened to withdraw the grant was on account of the denominational teaching given in the school. There was no other reason whatever. If I might summarise the proceedings in regard to these things, I should say—and I do not think it is open to denial—that the local education authority, the West Riding County Council, were definitely and distinctly committing an illegal act contrary to the Education Act of 1902, which they were bound to administer. The Dewsbury governors, if they had complied with the requirements of the local education authority, would have been also performing an illegal act by disregarding Clause 47, which had been accepted all round and in consequence of which the school enjoyed its present position. Further—and I do not think this can be denied—the Board of Education used their power under the Endowed Schools Act by abrogating Clause 47 to enable the governors to do what would have been otherwise illegal, leaving the illegality of the local education authority exactly where it was; in fact, the Board of Education have really been using the power given to them under one Act of Parliament—the Endowed Schools Act—in order to violate the provisions of the Act of 1902 in regard to secondary schools.

When we are told that it is difficult to interfere with authorities like the West Riding County Council, I should like to remind His Majesty's Government of the action of the Government in regard to local authorities in reference to the Small Holdings Act. What did Mr. Winston Churchill say in regard to that? He used the elegant expression that if the local authorities did not do what the Government thought right, they would have to "ginger" the local authorities. I believe that at this very moment the Board of Education is threatening to fine the London County Council to the extent of£50,000 if it does not do something which the Board of Education thinks necessary in regard to some of its schools.

This is not the first time that this matter has been brought before Parliament. It was brought before the House of Commons a year or two ago, and Mr. Runciman in reply to a question, gave what I think was a very misleading account of what had occurred. He spoke about a "settlement that was pending between the Dewsbury governors and the local education authority," and said that "it was better to leave the thing quiet, and it was not for him to interfere until a settlement had been arrived at." Inasmuch as the Board of Education are responsible for the law in regard to these matters, I think their action is extremely like the case of a policeman standing by seeing a rough's hand in a lady's pocket taking her purse, and the lady appealing to the policeman for help and the policeman answering that he was waiting for a settlement to be arrived at—the settlement taking the form of the purse being carried off and the thief getting away. A more unjust and illegal act than that proposed by the West Riding County Council, and anything more cowardly and less consistent with their duty than the action of the Education Department, I am incapable of conceiving.


My Lords, I am not very fond of these discussions, and I do not think that most of your Lordships are very fond of them, but I feel that I ought to say a few words in order to correct a misapprehension which I think, after the speeches which have been made on behalf of the Government, might easily arise among those who only look superficially at the accounts in the newspapers of what takes place in your Lordships' House. I can well imagine its being said that what has been contended for on behalf of the Church—it probably will be so put—is a narrowing of liberty; and, in the next place, that what has been contended for is that something should be done which is contrary to the wishes of the governing body of the school itself. I want, therefore, to controvert absolutely those two propositions.

In the first place, it will very likely be said that this is one of the ordinary cases—as some people outside would express it—in which there is an endeavour on the part of the Church to restrict liberty in educational matters. The exact contrary is the case. If this scheme became law the liberty which now exists in the school as regards religious teaching would be restricted in a way that it has never been restricted before. It is true that the liberties restricted would be liberties now allowed to members of the Church of England; but that is no reason why its members should not have rights of conscience in such a matter, and secure for their children the teaching which the parents must definitely ask for if they wish their children to receive it. I have in my hands the rules which govern the giving of religious instruction in the school. They exclude nobody, and the regulation about denominational teaching is to the effect that religious instruction in Church of England doctrines shall only be given to pupils whose parents or guardians have in the manner specified requested the governors to provide such instruction, and no religious catechism or formulary distinctive of any particular denomination shall be taught in the school to any pupil whose parent or guardian has not made such request. What is proposed to be done, therefore, will restrict and not enlarge the liberty which now exists. I want to make that quite clear.

In the next place, my Lords, it has been implied by the noble Viscount, whose forensic skill is an asset of very great value now added to his side of the House, that if we pass this Motion we shall be overriding the wishes of the governors of the school. The exact contrary would be the case. To make that quite clear let me quote from the report of the governors of the school upon the interview they had with the local education authority and the coercion that was applied to them. The governors state, in a letter to the Education Department in Whitehall, that on October 22, 1907, at a conference held at Wakefield, they were distinctly informed that although the Board of Education were satisfied with their acceptance of Article 5 (a), they, the county council, would accept nothing short of the absolute deletion of the denominational clause, Clause 47, of the scheme. The report goes on to say that it was also intimated that unless that was done absolutely and unconditionally, the West Riding County Council would not only refuse, as hitherto, to give any additional grants to the schools but would withdraw the grants they were then making—namely, the£335 per annum. The tone of the local education authority was so uncompromising throughout that the governors felt that no arguments they could adduce would shake their resolution and the conference came to an abrupt conclusion. These unhappy men then went back, and finding that those central administrators on whom they had relied to support them in their resistance to an illegal condition were going to desert them, they had no resource hut practically to yield and lay down their arms. Can this, therefore, by any stretch of imagination be called an over-riding of the wishes of the governors? Exactly the contrary. What is being done is to enlarge the liberty of the school and to stand by the wishes of the local governors. Those are my reasons for supporting the Motion, much against the grain, for I dislike upsetting these schemes if it can possibly be helped. I am exceedingly thankful to know that the Government see their way not to let this scheme take effect. I do not think it would be right that it should go forth that this scheme is upset simply owing to the force majeure that exists in this House, because the truth is that it perishes owing to its inherent wrongness, and in this I am convinced that the country would quite agree if they had before them the particulars upon which to judge.


My Lords, it has been said that the West Riding County Council are acting in an illegal manner in threatening to withdraw their grants from this school if religious education is given in it. I notice that the noble Viscount based his argument on the fact that the county council have not acted in an illegal manner under the Act of 1902. That may be so. I do not question so expert an authority on the law as the noble Viscount. But, even if it is so, does he carry his argument so Far as to say that the Board of Education should enter into the arena of religious controversy? I understand that the ground on which the withdrawal of the grant is suggested is based entirely on the question of religious denominational teaching, and not on educational grounds. Secondly, it is said that the Board of Education were right in upholding the action of the county council. I should have thought that a great Department of the State such as the Board of Education would have been better advised in endeavouring to hold the balance equally between the parties in a matter of this sort, and not have taken the step of joining in what almost might be called a religious controversy. I think the action of the Board of Education under those circumstances ought rightly to be questioned in your Lordships' House.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly: And the said Address to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.