I beg to move,
That the Draft Order amending Final Order No. 8, made, under Section 11 (8) of the Education Act, 1902, laid upon the Table of this House on the 7th day of February, be not proceeded with.
I apologise to the House, but it is necessary for me to bring forward this matter, even at such a late, hour. This is a matter which requires to be dealt with within 30 days, and that period has now well nigh elapsed. This proposals deals with an Order to be drafted by the Board of Education for the purpose of amending the Final Order relating to the church schools in a Suffolk village. The trust deed provided that the superintendent of the
moral and religious instruction of the scholars should be allowed to use the schools for the purposes of a Sunday school and other purposes. Under the Act of 1902 there were certain statutory provisions which created foundation managers and it was necessary to make orders in different places adapting the provisions of the trust deed to these four foundation managers. The Final Order provided that one manager should be the vicar, one nominated by the vicar, one a member of the Church of England living near the parish to be co-opted, and one appointed by the vestry for three years. The Final Order provided that any dispute should be determined by the Board of Education, so that there were ample powers for the Board of Education to deal with any question raised by the Final Order. It was also provided that the Board of Education might vary or amend any Order made under this Section by an Order made in a similar manner. Obviously this machinery enabled the Board of Education to do that which they had power to do in the first instance, namely, to make a Final Order where the provisions of the trust deed were unsuitable for the purpose. What the Board of Education are proposing is not to use the powers which they originally had to adopt the trust deed, but they are using this power to make an entirely new Final Order which is absolutely at variance with the trust deed. Having had my attention called to the matter and having no interest in the question at all, I must say that I think this proceeding is an absolutely novel one in the history of the Board of Education.
The proposed Order, instead of leaving the vicar and the persons fixed by the Final Order at four managers, which is consistent with the provisions of the trust deed, provides that there shall be four foundation managers, one of which shall be the people's warden and the other three are to be persons nominated by the Archdeacon of Suffolk, and he may even nominate himself. The reason why the amending Order is now made is that it is said that during a number of years there have been disputes in the parish. The history of the school would take too long to describe in detail, but I will state one or two facts. The population is 600, and the vicar and other persons, includ- ing the vicar's wife, have conducted the school with great success. The average attendance is 107, which is not bad considering that the population of the village is only 600. It appears that the trouble has arisen over non-compliance with the Final Order which provided that one representative should be elected by the Vestry. Hon. Members are aware that in these country villages very often the Vestry proceedings are not so harmonious as they ought to be, and perhaps that is one reason why the Vestries have been practically abolished and their duties passed on to another body. But it appears that what has led to this Amending Order is that in 1911, the Vestry having been held and a representative having been duly elected, since the War broke out and throughout the War the vicar—probably wrongly, though I say so with respect—continued the then Vestry representative in office, simply going through the formality of re-electing him by the existing foundation managers instead of calling a meeting of the Vestry. In 1920, it appears, he was requested by the Board of Education to call a Vestry meeting. The vicar thought in the circumstances of that period it would be difficult to call a meeting and he did not call a meeting; but the Board of Education could not have been aware of the circumstances in the village.
It may have been an error of judgment that the meeting was not held. There may have been a great many circumstances which the Board of Education had not the time or probably the patience to inquire into, and the vicar thought it was not worth while, having regard to the opposition from one very limited quarter, to call a Vestry meeting. But the fact that he has had no desire to interfere with the duties of the Board of Education is proved by the fact that on many occasions he has visited the Board of Education in the course of the past year, and conferred with them as to the proper procedure to be taken, and that on 26th January of this present year the Vestries were summoned and they elected a new manager, who is perfectly prepared to take up his duties and who, in fact, has been taking up his duties and acting under the Final Order made in 1903.
I have undoubted evidence as to the efficiency of the school. I have undoubted evidence, which my right hon. Friend will not dispute, that the vicar and his managers collected comparatively large sums of money, that they have erected a new infant room at a cost of £300, and new offices and playgrounds at a cost of £250 in recent years, and that the parish have shown sympathy with the vicar and the managers by protesting against the interference with the rights of the vicar and the persons who are interested in the parish. My right hon. Friend may say he attaches very little importance to petitions. In general. So do I. But in a village of 600 inhabitants, when a considerable number of those who take an interest in the spiritual and moral welfare of the parish have said that they do not wish this Order made, this is a circumstance to which I hope my right hon. Friend will give weight. Those of us who are familiar with county parishes do not expect to find that every parish in the land is as harmonious as it ought to be. It does appear to be an undoubted fact that there was one gentleman in the parish, some two or three years ago, who desired to turn this school into a Council school, and we know what bitter controversies questions of this sort have aroused, and he made an offer of a playground to the Local Education Authority on condition that the vicar and the Church people had nothing to do with the school. His offer not having boon accepted, this gentleman unfortunately has not helped to make things as happy as they might have been. Possibly there are faults on both sides. It is a novel principle to me that because persons are found who do not work a trust deed as well as they ought to do that any authority ought to come in and alter the trust deed. The proper remedy is to direct and compel people to work trust deeds properly and not to alter them. That is a sound principle which, I think, this House ought really to observe. There was another incident in connection with certain sanitary arrangements which the vicar was concerned in with the local sanitary authority. It turned out that the scheme pressed on the vicar by the local sanitary authority was not adopted and an entirely different one—providing filters instead of cesspools—was put into operation. That seems to indicate that he had some show of right on his side.
The last matter I would ask leave to mention is this: There was a disagree- ment with the East Suffolk Education Committee as to structural arrangements and alterations which they thought necessary. Now anyone familiar with country schools who has had experience of the tyranny of local education authorities as to the outlay of money will not be surprised there should be a disagreement as to the requirements which they put forward. The authority seem to have objected to the insufficiency of the cloak room accommodation because probably it consisted of nothing more than a passage four or five feet wide. There was a disagreement, but a plan was eventually carried out and the necessary funds were collected by those responsible for the management of the school. I do not pretend to have related all the incidents that have caused heat possibly between, the; local education authority and the foundation managers, but I hope I have said enough to show that the vicar and the foundation managers under the Final Order have taken a very real interest in the school and it is really intolerable from their point of view that they should be entirely ousted from any management of their own school of the control of which they were placed in charge by the trust deed which was only displaced to some extent by the Act of 1902 and that the Archdeacon of Suffolk—whom I do not know—he may be an admirable gentleman and who has only once visited the village, should be placed in control of this school as he will be under the amending Order. It is said to be an injustice to the vicar that this should be so, and I have no doubt he feels it keenly. I venture to think, however, that the observance of trust deeds is of much more importance than even doing an injustice to individual persons. It is on that ground that I have taken the responsibility of bringing the matter before the House, and I respectfully challenge the right hon. Gentleman to say whether there has been any previous case within his knowledge, or within the knowledge of the men on whom he depends for information, where a trust deed has been set aside and replaced by an Order which is absolutely at variance not only with the letter, but with the spirit of the deed which created the foundation school. If it is said that the gentlemen in question have not been so easy to deal with as they might have been, if it is said there has been long-standing trouble, I would merely observe that there have probably been faults on both sides. Is not this too drastic a proceeding as against one of these gentlemen who in course of time—as we all shall—must pass away. It seems to me it is entirely wrong to take out of the hands of the village the management of their own school, and I beg my right hon. Friend—who, I am sure, will not think I am actuated by any hostile spirit to his admirable management of this question—to find a way of dealing with this matter in a manner which will give more satisfaction to the village, which will be less harsh to the gentleman chiefly concerned, and above all which will give effect to the provisions of the foundation deed in connection with this village school. I beg to move that the Order be not proceeded with.
I beg to second the Motion.
For 60 years this trust deed has been administered in its entirety, faithfully and well, not only by the present incumbent but by his predecessor. The work has been continued harmoniously as regards the children, and the school is in excellent condition. For over 30 years the vicar has devoted himself to the work, and has carried it on successfully. Now, because at the time of the War, when many greater matters were put out of joint, a vestry was not called, he is to be taken from the work and a stranger is to be put in his place who could not possibly have the same interest in it. The fact that the recent outlay of several hundred pounds has been possible in a small place like this, of only 600 inhabitants, is a sure test of what the work is and how it has been carried on. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether it is fair that the man who has done all this work should be taken from it and a stranger put in.
I greatly regret that the Board have found it necessary to lay this Order upon the Table of the House. It is, as my hon. and learned Friend has pointed out, an unusual Order. The Board have no desire to interfere with the rights of vicars under the Act of 1902, and it is only because they have had experience of 30 years of contumacy on the part of this particular vicar that they have at last, with very great reluctance, and at the instance of the local education authority, taken the step of which complaint is now made. I wish it to be clearly understood that in taking this step I make no imputation upon the character or the spiritual qualities of the vicar. He may, for aught that I know, be an ideal parish priest. He may have all the eloquence of a St. Chrysostom and all the charity of a St. Francis. Of that I know nothing. I only know about his relations with the management of the village school, and these have been consistently unfortunate. The hon. and learned Member has invoked, as he was entitled to do, the sanctity of the trust deed. I quite agree that it is a very serious thing to interfere with a trust, but the facts of the case are that we cannot get the vicar to observe the trust. Our difficulty is that he will not summon the vestry in accordance with the law. As the hon. and learned Member has pointed out, it is the duty of the vicar to summon the vestry and appoint a representative of the vestry upon the board of management. 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, and it is in the light of that, and in response to the appeal of the local education authority, that the Board have made an Order, as they are fully entitled to do, under Section 11 of the Act of 1902.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman caught what I stated, namely, that the reasons—which may have been good or bad—included a breakdown in health lasting some time. Undoubtedly the vicar did summon a vestry meeting on 26th January of this year, and elected a fourth representative. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman allow that to be treated as a proper election, in spite of the fact that the draft Order has been laid?
I accept that for what it is worth, but I submit to my hon. and learned Friend that here is a vicar who, in spite of frequent requests addressed to him by the Board of Education that he should obey the law and summon a vestry meeting and appoint a representative of the vestry on the board of management, takes no steps for two years, and then, when he is threatened with the order, summons a vestry meeting—which will certainly be challenged—in order to satisfy the Board. I think that the vicar, in these circumstances, has no case. I do not wish to enter into the history of the matter, but the vicar's doings during the last 30 years would supply material for a good deal of comment. I quite realise that some objection may be taken to the making of the Order permanent, but we did not limit it in point of time, because it seemed to the Board that to take that course would be to inflict some stigma upon the vicar. If, however, it would meet my hon. and learned Friend, I am quite willing to make a public declaration that upon a change of incumbency we will reconsider the Order.
My hon. and learned Friend has stated the facts quite correctly. The Order does alter the board of management. It provides that the foundation managers shall consist of the people's churchwarden and three persons appointed by the Archdeacon of Suffolk, and the managers are required to be members of the Church of England. It cannot be suggested that such an Order docs not safeguard the peculiar denominational interests for which the trust deed made provision, and it does secure that the appointment of the foundation managers shall be in the hands of a responsible ecclesiastical Authority, who will be able to see that the scandals which have occurred in the past shall not occur in the future. There is nothing in the Order which prevents the archdeacon from appointing the present vicar as a foundation manager, should he so desire, as no doubt he will, if he can receive an assurance that he will so conduct himself as to avoid a recurrence of the troubles of the past. No protest against that provision has been made by the bishop or by any of the ecclesiastical authorities of the diocese or by the National Society or by any persons specially interested in the matter of denominational schools. The hon. and learned Gentleman fairly pointed out that it, statement, in opposition to the Order, had been sent in by about 80 parishioners, to the effect that the moral and religious training of the children would be impaired. For the last 30 years there has been a continuous struggle in this village with respect to the management of the school, and I cannot believe that any view which the archdeacon will have as to the composition of the board of management will produce any such effect on the morals of the children. I hope, therefore, that my hon. and learned Friend, in view of the undertaking which I have given with respect to the currency of the Order, will not persevere with his Motion.
May I add one word in view of the fact that this village is in my constituency? I am sure that if the villagers knew that they had been detaining the House of Commons after midnight to consider this parochial dispute, they would be highly nattered to learn that this purely domestic squabble had reached such a position of national significance. I do not recognise the locus standi of my hon. and learned Friend in the matter.
And I must express surprise that, without consulting the Member for the Division, the hon. and learned Member for the Central Division of Bristol detains the House to give his view of this local situation in a way which, to say the least of it, suggests an ecclesiastical partisanship which the people living in the district and knowing the facts would not at all accept.
It would be an extraordinary thing if the House thought that I gave an exhibition of ecclesiastical partisanship. The hon. Member makes a charge for which there is no foundation. The hon. Member has no right to make such a suggestion.
If the hon. and learned Member thinks that I said anything which would justify the use of the word "charge," I would like to withdraw it. But the hon. and learned Gentleman, without having, so far as I can sec, any local connection with this district, and with the dispute which has confronted the Board of Education for 30 years, detains the House of Commons by intervening in a matter in which he has no direct personal concern. The whole trend of public opinion is opposed to the right of the vicar qua vicar to dominate the educational life of the village. The last thing I thought of was to make any personal imputation against my hon. and learned Friend, for whom I have a great personal regard. I was glad to hear the statement of my right hon. Friend, not only for the decision, but for what he said, and if it terminates this long existing controversy and tends to heal old sores, smooth away this agitation and bring calm to the district, it will be received with great gratification in the locality, and as Member for the constituency in which the village is situated, I offer the right hon. Gentleman my personal support for the course which he has taken.