HL Deb 29 March 1922 vol 49 cc975-80

LORD GISBOROUGH rose to move, That the Draft Order Amending Final Order, No. 8, made under Section 11 (8) of the Education Act, 1902, which was presented to this House on the 7th February last, be not proceeded with.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in asking your Lordships to agree to this Motion I am asking only for an ordinary act of justice. The Order refers to a previous Order issued on August 22, 1903, by the Board of Education, which is entirely in accord with the trust deed under which the present incumbent and his predecessors have held that office. The extract from the trust deed to which I refer is as follows: It is hereby declared that such School and the premises and the funds and endowments thereof shall be controlled and managed in manner following, that is to say, the Vicar and Churchwardens for the time being of the said Parish of Old Newton shall have the superintendence of the religious and moral instruction of all the Scholars attending such School, and may use or direct the said premises to be used for the purpose of a Sunday School, under their exclusive control and management, and in all other respects the control and management of such School and premises, and of the funds and endowments thereof, and the selection, appointment and dismissal of the Schoolmaster and Schoolmistress and their assistants shall be vested in and exercised by the Vicar and Churchwardens for the time being of the said Parish of Old Newton. In the Order of August 22, 1903, the provisions of that trust were fully complied with.

Since then, however, an amending Order has been brought forward and is now laid upon the Table of your Lordships' House, and your Lordships are asked to accept it. Under this amending Order the whole of the conditions of the original trust are swept away, and the conditions laid down in that trust are withheld. The President of the Board of Education gives as the only reason for this very unjust action that he "cannot get the vicar to observe the trust." That submission is absolutely without foundation; there is not a word of truth in it. The vicar has fulfilled the conditions of the trust in every respect. Nor has Mr. Fisher in the other place given any facts to substantiate the statement which he makes.

He goes on to say of the vicar:— He will not summons the vestry in accordance with the law. That is absolutely contrary to the facts. The vicar has summoned the vestry in accordance with the law, and every provision of the law has been complied with. The only justification for that statement on Mr. Fisher's part is that during the war the parish in question being in one of the proscribed areas where meetings were not allowed to be held at night owing to the frequent attacks from German aeroplanes and other ships of war, it was illegal to hold vestry meetings in the evening, and, as the whole of the working classes would have been disfranchised had they been held in the middle of the day, naturally they were not held. But the moment the war was over a meeting was held and an election made according to law. Mr. Fisher further says:— The Board of Education have for two years been pressing the vicar to adopt this course but he has refused to do so. He has been openly contumacious. That statement is entirely without foundation. They have not been pressing him for two years—the outside period that could be claimed would be fourteen months—and, as I have pointed out, the greater part of that time was during the war, when the meetings were proscribed, or immediately afterwards, when the vicar was himself suffering from a serious breakdown in his health. I therefore venture to say that every one of the reasons given by Mr. Fisher for the substitution of this amending Order for the original one falls to the ground.

More than that, here is a statement by Mr. Fisher, dated June 6, in which he admits that a vestry meeting was convened and a manager selected. Where then is there any trace of contumacy? Mr. Fisher first of all says that there was contumacy because the vicar would not call these meetings. Then, when the meeting is called and the whole thing carried out according to law, those meetings are going to be challenged. He cannot have it both ways. There was no contumacy, because the meeting was called, as he admits himself, but, having been called, it is to be challenged, although it is the very thing he has been demanding from the vicar.

I venture to say that this is only one of a series of pin pricks experienced by this particular vicar, which look extremely like the policy which has been carried on all over the country—that where clergy are of an evangelical line of thought and are teaching doctrines from the evangelical side, they must be made so uncom- fortable that they can be got rid of and extreme ritualists put in their place. No other excuse can possibly be given to justify the action taken in this case. But apart from that, and as an act of justice, I ask your Lordships to say that the terms of this trust deed shall not be set aside without any just cause or reason. That would be the effect of this amending Order if it is allowed to pass, and we ask, that it shall not be allowed to pass, and that the original Order, which complies with the trust deed, and which the vicar himself has accepted and has acted upon, shall remain, in order to maintain the peace and goodwill which have existed, together with the present efficiency of the schools, against which no charges have been brought, so far as we are able to gather, and to avoid breaking up the harmony of that parish. That harmony will undoubtedly be destroyed if this Order is allowed to pass, and the school is taken away from the hands of the vicar—who has been there over thirty years and knows every inhabitant of the parish—and placed in the hands and practically under the entire control of the Archdeacon, who lives between twenty and thirty miles away and knows nothing of the special requirements of the parish or its inhabitants.

Moved, That the Draft Order Amending Final Order, No. 8, made under Section 11 (8) of the Education Act, 1902, which was presented to this House on the 7th February last, be not proceeded with.—(Lord Gisborough.)


My Lords, my noble friend has not, I fancy, read the correspondence, extending over thirty years, about this school. It is a very old story. It is not, as he indicates to your Lordships, a mere dispute that has arisen about some small case connected with the election of vestrymen. It is a case of very old standing, constant, incessant bitterness and dispute between this clergyman and a large section of his parishioners. This is only the culmination of a prolonged trouble which has at length forced the Board of Education to intervene. In the first place it is quite unfair—I have satisfied myself of this—to say that this is a policy of pin-pricks towards this individual clergyman. It is equally unjust to say that there is anything to do with High Church or Low Church in the matter. That is importing prejudice which does not help the vicar, which does not heal the schisms in the parish con- netted with this school, and which, I assure my noble friend, is entirely unfounded.

I will tell your Lordships in a very few words what has happened. In the first place, referring to the noble Lord's words: "It is one of a series of pin-pricks," I am informed that this is an unique case, that it has never happened before, and that the Order which the Board of Education is now issuing is one which Parliament has hitherto never been asked to confirm. In other words, the circumstances that have produced this Order are unparalleled. The Order which is to be changed was made in 1903, after a full public inquiry. Lord Gisborough tells us that its provisions have been fully complied with. That is not so; it is because the conditions have not been complied with, because the school has not been well-managed, because the dispute has been incessant and a corroding influence on the whole of this district, that the Board of Education has been driven to intervene.

The vicar has refused, or, let me say, has failed, to implement the terms of the original order, which compel him to summon a vestry meeting in order to elect one of the managers for this elementary school. Lord Gisborough says that owing to aeroplane attacks it was impossible for a vestry meeting to be held in this County of Suffolk; that for years it was impossible to hold a vestry meeting because of aeroplane attacks, which prevented the school from being lighted. That excuse, if he will allow me to say so, is really a little too thin.


I did not say "being lighted," but I said that the Act of Parliament had prohibited meetings being held at night in that area.


Am I to assume that no statutory meetings could be held along the prohibited areas of the Suffolk coast, or anywhere else, because artificial light was impossible? That argument cannot be pressed. It cannot be pressed for this reason, that the controversy which moved the Board of Education to action occurred after the war had ended. Let me give your Lordships particulars. In 1920 bitter complaints arrived from the local education authority about this school. On November 25, 1920, the Board of Education invited this vicar to hold a vestry meeting to elect a representative, whose vacancy had existed for six years. For six months the Board of Education got no answer. They wrote three times, and their letters were disregarded. By April, 1921, they succeeded in getting an answer from this gentleman, and it was a flat refusal to summon a meeting of the vestry to elect the representative that the vestry was entitled to nominate. Then my noble friend says that immediately after the war the meeting was held. Again my noble friend is misinformed.


Again my noble friend misrepresents me. I said that after the war the vicar suffered a very serious illness, and that period elapsed before anything could be done.


I understood him to say that immediately after the war the meeting was called. In point of fact the vicar called the vestry meeting only after the Board of Education had intervened owing to his contumacy. That was quite an ex post facto repentance which could not influence the authority. Meanwhile, the local education authority had applied to the Board for an amending Order. The Board of Education agreed, the draft was approved by the local education authority, and the amended Order was issued in, I think, July, 1921. That amending Order ensured that every member of the board of management should be a member of the Church of England, and so, to that extent, the denominational character of the school was rather increased than reduced. When the scheme was public property, the vicar did represent his case to the Board of Education, and then, as Lord Gisborough said, he held an election in January of this year, and claims that upon that account it is unnecessary to proceed with this scheme.

I must beg your Lordships to accept my word, which is based upon very careful consideration of the correspondence, that this amended scheme gives some hope to this parish of peace in its educational matters. For thirty years dispute has followed dispute, row has accumulated on shindy, and the local education authority, which is ultimately responsible, has pressed the Department to take strong lines and bring this weary business to an end. I really do not think I need give your Lordships the melancholy record of these perpetual squabbles, but there is the fact that the managers have been fined for not obeying orders, and that having defied the orders contumaciously they have been ordered to pay daily fines until the orders of the Bench have been complied with. So far from breaking up the peace of the parish, I think the parish now has at last a prospect of repose. As the local education authority supports the scheme, as also does the local Member of Parliament, and as the House of Commons has unanimously done so, I hope your Lordships will not agree, in the special circumstances I have indicated, to reverse the decision already reached in the other House, but will, I trust, accept it.

On Question, Motion negatived.