HL Deb 07 February 1935 vol 95 cc847-58

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it is my duty to present to you for Second Reading the Educational Endowments (Scotland) Bill. It may be for the convenience of your Lordships if, in the first place, I give a brief history of the Endowments Commission. In April, 1927, a Departmental Committee on Educational Endowments was appointed to consider the position as regards the administration and application of educational endowments in Scotland. The Chairman of the Committee was Lord Mackenzie. The Committee recommended the setting up of an Executive Commission to deal with those endowments and in 1928 Parliament accepted that recommendation when the Educational Endowments (Scotland) Act of that year was passed. Under that Act the Commission were given powers to reorganise the Scottish educational endowments, the powers of the Commissioners expiring on December 31, 1931, unless Parliament decided to continue them. In 1931 an Act was passed continuing the powers of the Commissioners for a further three years, that is, until December 31 of last year. We have now before us a Bill in which it is proposed to continue the life of the Commission until December 31, 1936.

But I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the purpose of the Bill now before us is not simply to extend the life of the Commission. It goes much further than that. It proposes that the powers of the Commissioners shall be altered in certain ways, and that the powers of the Scottish Education Department, in relation to the approval of schemes prepared by the Commissioners, shall be extended and strengthened. I draw particular attention to those parts of the Bill—Clauses 2 to 6—which alter the powers of the Commissioners and of the Department. As your Lordships are aware, there has been considerable comment in Scotland as to the way in which the Commissioners have used their powers. The noble Earl, Lord Leven and Melville—who has been good enough to write and inform me that but for a public engagement he would have been here and would have addressed your Lordships this afternoon—and other noble Lords called attention to this matter during the course of a very interesting discussion in this House on 16th May last. The Government feel that much of the criticism of the work of the Commission has been based on a misunderstanding of the real philosophy of endowments and they are satisfied that the Commissioners have done very valuable work during the last six years. Nevertheless, they think that some alteration of the procedure may now be made. Guided by the views expressed in this House, and by various other representations made on the matter, the Government introduced this Bill in another place, where, during consideration by the Scottish Grand Committee, further Amendments were suggested and accepted. We now have therefore before us a Bill which we think meets legitimate criticism, which has commended itself to the Scottish members sitting in another place, and which will, I hope, commend itself also to your Lordships.

I need not say much about the proposal to extend the powers of the Commissioners for a further two years. The Commissioners have been faced with a very large task. They have to review some 1,500 separate endowments, and the six years during which they have been performing their duties has not given them sufficient time to complete their task. The Endowments Commission of 1882 took seven years to review less than 1,000 endowments. Obviously, when two-thirds of the endowments have been modernised, it is undesirable that the remaining one-third should be left under their existing governing instruments, many of which are out of harmony with modern educational developments. Accordingly, I think it will be agreed that an extension of the powers of the Commissioners for two years is necessary.

I turn now to the proposals for the amendment of the powers of the Commissioners and of the Department. I may perhaps mention that the Commissioners frame schemes, but that those schemes cannot become operative until they have been approved by the Department and confirmed by His Majesty by Order-in-Council. Three main criticisms have been made against the existing provisions governing the production of endowment schemes: First, that the Commissioners are not bound to respect the wishes of testators; secondly, that the Department have not sufficient power to disapprove or to amend a proposed scheme that is not acceptable; thirdly, that the Commissioners have not paid sufficient regard to the need for continuing the provision from endowments of competitive bursaries. If your Lordships will look at the Bill now before us, I think that you will find that provisions have been inserted to meet all these criticisms.

I will deal first with the difficult problem of respecting the wishes of a testator. It has been suggested that the Bill should provide that any scheme made by the Commissioners should carry out the intentions of the testator unless that is an impossibility. The Government do not think that it is desirable or possible to insert, in a Bill a provision to this effect. In a number of cases pious donors who made their bequests many years ago, left money for the encouragement of branches of education that were then outside the provision made at the public expense. Those objects may now be adequately covered by the State provision, but it would still be possible to devote endowment money to them, even though the expenditure of the money in that way would merely result in a relief of the rates and not in the provision of additional benefit for the children concerned. Obviously, then, any instruction given to the Commissioners must be sufficiently elastic to allow them to divert endowment money to other objects when that course is desirable.

The instruction on this matter contained in the Act of 1928 is that the Commissioners shall have special regard to the spirit of the intention of the founder. This general direction has, I understand, been scrutinised again and again by legal and by lay minds, and in the result it has been found impossible to strengthen it without taking away from the Commissioners that discretion that it is essential they should have. Some other way had, therefore, to be found for securing that every respect was given to the spirit of the testator's wishes—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that some other way had to be found of reassuring interested parties and public opinion that this had been done. If your Lordships will look at Clause 4 of the Bill you will see there a provision that will go a long way to meet this point. It is proposed that in future the Commissioners shall be required to prefix to each scheme issued by them a statement showing the reasons why they have reorganised the endowments concerned, the respects in which the new scheme differs from the old governing instruments and the reasons for any such differences of provision.

This, I think, is a real improvement on the machinery provided by the Act of 1928. From the time when a draft scheme is issued by the Commissioners, all interested parties will be aware, without searching through the old and new schemes, what changes have been made and what are the reasons for those changes. Any change of testators' directions will be immediately apparent, and, what is perhaps more important, the Commissioners' reasons for those changes will be publicly stated. Much of the criticism of the past has been aroused because facts that have influenced the Commissioners have not been available to the public. But under the new provision if an interested party, after consideration of the Commissioners' reasons, is not satisfied with a proposed scheme, he can appeal to the Department for an amendment of it with a full knowledge of the reasons that have influenced the making of the scheme. If the Department do not amend the scheme to his satisfaction he can ask that the scheme shall be brought before Parliament for further consideration. This clause was added to the Bill as the result of consultation between the Government and representatives of objectors to the Bill. As I said, I think that it provides a real improvement, and I hope that your Lordships will agree that this addition goes as far as it is possible to go to meet criticism on this matter.

I should now like to touch briefly on the amendments proposed to meet the other two points of criticism. First, as to the powers of the Department. At present the Department can approve a scheme, or, if they think fit, they can remit the scheme to the Commissioners for amendment. If the scheme is remitted the Commissioners may, if they think fit, amend the scheme to conform to the remit, or they may amend the scheme in another way, or they may simply leave the scheme to die for want of action on their part. Your Lordships will note that the Department now have only two powers—those of approval and of remit. They have no power to disapprove a scheme or to amend it at their own hand. Either of these courses may be in the public interest, but under the present Statute neither of them can be put in force. During the past year or so it has become apparent that both these powers are wanted, and provision is now made accordingly. Certain safeguards as to the use of the powers are included in the Bill, but I need not spend time in elaborating these.

Lastly, we have the criticism that sufficient attention has not been paid to the needs of competitive bursaries. In this matter I think that your Lordships will be interested in certain summary figures which I will give. The amount of money previously devoted to bursaries, included in endowments already dealt with by the Commissioners, is about £109,000. In the new schemes made by the Commissioners for the same endowments, £94,800 must be devoted to bursaries, £12,500 may be devoted to bursaries and £1,980 has been diverted to other purposes. This is a total compulsory diversion of about 2 per cent., which, I think your Lordships will agree, is very small indeed, especially when account is taken of the difference in the present day state of the provision for higher education and rate bursaries as compared with, say, fifteen or twenty years ago. But in order to remove any possible criticism on this score the Government have inserted in Clause 2 of the Bill a provision that will secure that the Commissioners shall have special regard to the need for continuing the provision of competitive bursaries at Universities and other educational institutions of a similar character.

I have tried to show that in the Bill now before you the Government have endeavoured to meet the criticisms that have been voiced during the last six years, while at the same time adhering to the general principles which must govern any reasonable treatment of endowments. The Bill was very carefully considered by the Scottish members in another place and it was accepted as a measure that was desirable and acceptable. I trust that it will similarly commend itself to your Lordships, and that you will now give the Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.)


My Lords, I think it would be but courteous if I said one or two words on the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill, seeing that I was one of the members of your Lordships' House who intervened in the debate when this matter came before your Lordships some months ago. The noble Earl, Lord Leven and Melville, who initiated that debate, has asked me to apologise for his absence; he is unavoidably prevented from being here to-day owing to important county council business in the North.

As representing in a small way the interests of Angus, I feel bound to say that we are considerably disappointed that it has not even yet been found possible to include in this Bill amongst the other bursaries one which is so vital to us in our endowment scheme, the secondary school bursary. I should like, however, to take this opportunity of expressing our very deep gratitude to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland for all the trouble he has taken and the courtesy he has shown in endeavouring to understand our point of view in regard to this matter and to see if by any means he could meet us. Notwithstanding this courtesy, however, I am afraid that we are still to remain disappointed. Without unduly wearying your Lordships I should like to reiterate most strongly that we feel that the Department concerned is making a great mistake in this matter, and we still consider that it is definitely going against the wishes of those deceased persons who left moneys for specific purposes, and purposes which, in the opinion of those who from local experience are fully qualified to know, are still of vital interest to the locality in which we live. I go further, although this is a personal opinion and therefore worth very little. There are people who agree with me that if the matter went to a court of law it is entirely doubtful whether the law would sustain our opinion or that of His Majesty's Government. However, that is neither here nor there.

Looking at the matter broadly, since this question was raised in your Lordships' House a few months ago there have been many meetings and many discussions all over the country and in another place here in London. Out of those discussions there have arisen certain helpful Amendments and alterations of this Bill, and also two aspects of the case which, though far from exactly satisfying us, yet have led us to believe that we can still hope for some little comfort. The first is that during the course of a conversation which was of a private nature and entirely unofficial, which took place when I was discussing this point with the noble Earl the Chairman of that Commission, I gathered from him that he thought that the discussions which had taken place, and more especially that which took place in your Lordships' House, had been of immense advantage, and that they would go far towards making the duty of that Commission considerably easier in the future; and he felt that possibly in our fresh deliberations in the future the meetings would be less of examinations but rather would take the form more of round-table conferences. In fact I am given to understand that since that original debate in your Lordships' House there has already been a case where the Commissioners who were meeting the parties interested in this question, actually got together with them round the table, threshed out the matter and were able to come to a decision which was satisfactory, or more or less satisfactory, to both parties. Undoubtedly that is all to the good.

The second aspect which gives us some little comfort is that from the discussions which I have had with the Scottish Office I believe I have not been wrong in emphasising, as the noble Earl has already done, the point that the findings of the Commission are not final, that they are not the last word, but that their decisions have to be ratified and confirmed by the Scottish Office. Each case will be fully considered on its merits before a final decision is given. As I have said before, these two aspects have given us some comfort and, although far from feeling that we are getting what we think we really ought to get, or that we are by any means retiring from what might be called a feast with full bellies, yet some of the pangs of hunger may be appeased. In that case I wish to associate myself with the Second Reading of the Bill, reserving to myself the right to put down or vote for any Amendments that it may seem necessary to put down.


My Lords, there are two reasons why I venture to address a few observations to your Lordships' House on the Second Reading of this Bill. The first is that the Bill is regarded in Scotland as a measure of considerable consequence, and the second is that, having had the privilege for six years of being the head of the Scottish Education Department, one could not fail to acquire a certain amount of knowledge of, and also to take a definite interest in the problems with which this Bill deals. Now, when a Second Reading is invited of this measure, I apprehend that two questions arise. The first is whether the lifetime of the Commissioners should be extended; and the second, if the life, time of the Commissioners is to be extended, is whether this Bill contains within its four corners the safeguards and improvements which the experience of the work of the Commissioners has urgently dictated. I apprehend that, if either of those questions should be answered in the negative, your Lordships might be disposed to deny a Second Reading to the Bill. But, with regard to the first of those questions—whether the lifetime of the Commissioners should be extended—I venture to think that it admits of only one answer.

The principle of reviewing endowments set apart for specific purposes is, despite what the noble Lord has said, I am afraid, too deeply embedded both in England and in Scotland to be lightly interfered with to-day. That principle was solemnly affirmed in 1928, when this Commission was set up, and it was reaffirmed in 1931, when the Commission had its life extended for three years more. Accordingly the principle, whether one may like it or not, that these endowments should be reviewed from time to time, is one which is sanctioned by educational history on both sides of the Border. And when one is further told, as we are told, that the Commission has only accomplished two-thirds of its work, leaving one-third still to be done, then I think that to compel it to prætermit its activities at a time when its work is incomplete, and when it has acquired a knowledge and experience in these matters which are unrivalled, would be folly, and worse than folly. The manœuvre of swopping horses when crossing a stream is regarded, at least on the other side of the Border, as dubious and undesirable.

A further question arises, however,—namely, whether the lessons of experience, which suggest that the powers and duties of the Commissioners should be revised, have been given effect to in this Bill. I humbly venture to think that they have. What does the Bill do? The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading indicated some of the alterations which it makes. I will just mention, passing them rapidly by, the five alterations which it seems to me are all to be found within the four corners of the Bill. The first is one to which the noble Lord referred. The Commission is directed to have special regard to the need of continuing the provision from endowments of competitive bursaries in the Universities and other Scottish educational institutions. There has been an impression on the other side of the Border that the Commission has not in the past sufficiently adverted to this particular part of its duty, and, if that be so, then this definite statutory injunction will ensure that it shall receive sufficient attention in future, and I do not doubt that the members of the Commission will loyally carry out their duty in this matter.

A second alteration is that the Commissioners are now denied the power of interfering, by way of review, with any endowments which have not been in existence for more than twenty years, except in so far as they have already been dealt with. That seems to be so reasonable a proposal as to require no stressing on my part. Then comes the third alteration, to which the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading also referred. It is a most vital alteration in my judgment—namely, that the Commissioners are to prefix to any new scheme which they promulgate a memorandum or statement, showing the alterations which they propose upon the endowment, and their reasons for the alterations. My Lords, it has been thought in Scotland that the Commission has not always directed its mind to its statutory duty in this matter. This new provision will, first, ensure that they shall do so, and, secondly, will avoid any public impression that they have not done so; and, most valuable of all, the Commissioners will take the country into their confidence and indicate to the public at large the grounds upon which the Commission's policy is based.

Then follow the last two alterations. The Department has for the first time conferred upon it power to disapprove of any of the Commission's schemes, and to initiate amending schemes of its own. These are new powers, and in my opinion valuable powers. Accordingly the old statutory game of battledore and shuttlecock will disappear into limbo. Instead, the Department, if that course should seem proper, will have an opportunity of disapproving of a scheme; or again, if that course should seem proper, they will have an opportunity of proposing an amending scheme of their own. There is no doubt that these powers and duties which are found in the Bill constitute an implied abridgement of the powers of the Commission, and an express enlargement of the powers of the Department. And if any critic whispers in my ear the word "bureaucracy," my answer would be that he should remember that the Secretary of State for Scotland, as Vice-President of the Board of Education, is responsible for the work of the Scottish Education Department upon the floor of the other House. Accordingly the Bill, both by reason of the terms in which it was introduced, and by reason of the Amendments accepted in Committee, is a very great improvement upon its predecessor.

It must not be for a moment supposed that the changes introduced in this measure constitute in any way censure of the Commission or of the Commission's work. It is intended, I believe, not to impede that work but to aid in its performance. I am well aware that there has been in certain parts of Scotland an amount of irritation, and in some quarters indignation, with the work of the Commission. That is not surprising. A moment's reflection will show to any one that the work with which the Commission is concerned is not only thankless but even provocative in its character, and if it had accomplished its work in an atmosphere of serenity and peace and good will, I for one should have taken leave to doubt whether it had been performing its job properly. At any rate, there can be no doubt that much of the criticism which has been passed on the Commission is uninformed, and much of it is unfounded. Parliament set up this Commission, conferring upon it enormous powers, and it seems to me that it would have been much more fair and much more just that some at least of the criticisms which have been levelled against the Commission should have been levelled against Parliament which conferred these powers, rather than against the Parliamentary instrument which was created for carrying out these powers.

I think the worst that can be said with regard to the Commission is that on occasion it has used its powers to the utmost limit. I venture very respectfully to doubt the wisdom of that policy, and I venture very respectfully to suggest to the Commission in the future that that policy might well be reconsidered. But it would be ungracious to part from any consideration of the work of the Commission without expressing, as I venture to do, the highest admiration for the care and the time and the skill which its members have, without fee or reward, bestowed upon an important and a difficult task, and also without, as I also do, wishing them well in the work that still lies to their hand.


My Lords, as one who, a very new corner to your Lordships' House, spoke when the previous Bill was before the House and spoke in rather strong opposition to it, I feel that I should be wrong if did not say a few words to express my thanks to the Government and to those responsible for the very great improvement that has been effected in this Bill. It has already been suggested that it may not be perfect in the eyes of a Scotsman, but it is an enormous improvement, and for that we should be truly grateful. There is no question that the debate in this House last May was really useful, and, although all the improvements that we could have wished are not embodied in the Bill, yet we are willing to accept it now, and to wish the Commission every success in what we hope will be a smoother path during the duration of its existence for another two years.


My Lords, I do not rise to impose another speech on your Lordships, but it is not every day that your Lordships have the advantage of enjoying a maiden speech from, one who, although a new arrival in your Lordships' House, has been in the past Lord Advocate for Scotland, Secretary for Scotland before the right of Scotland to have a Secretary of State was recognised, and subsequently, Lord Justice Clerk; and I am sure that I shall be doing my duty and what all your Lordships would wish me to do, and what the Leader of the House, if he had not been detained on a very important Committee, would also have done, if I offer the congratulations of your Lordships to the noble Lord, Lord Alness, on his first speech in this House. I am sure it is the hope of all your Lordships that we should hear his voice often in this House, no matter whether it is on occasions which are entirely Scottish or on other occasions which concern the rest of the country. I am also grateful for the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Airlie and Lord Aberdeen. The noble Earl, Lord Airlie, showed a certain amount of perturbation about the provisions of the Bill, but I am sure that he, like the rest of us, recognises the urgency of getting this measure through as soon as possible and allowing the Commissioners to resume their work. I am hopeful therefore that your Lordships will be willing to get the Bill passed at the earliest possible moment.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.