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1 erthygl ar y dudalen hon

Wales in Parliament.

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Wales in Parliament. COERCION OF MERIONETH. At the evening sitting of the House of Commons on Monday, Mr. Osmond Williams moved the adjourn- ment of the House in order to discuss "the declaring by the Board of Education of the county of Merioneth in default under the pro- visions of the Education. (Local- Authority Default) Act, 1904." He feared, he said, that the putting into operation of this Act in Merioneth would lead to considerable trouble in the near future. He had hoped that a middle way of peace might have been found. Given men free from prejudice such a way was not impossible, but the Board of Education pre- ferred the heavy bludgeon of the new Act. The original communication received by the Educa- tion Committee from the Board of Education -did not give the opinion of the law officers of the Crown with regard to the legal point raised :by the deputation which waited on Lord Londonderry, and which had previously been raised by Lord Stanley of Alderley-namely, that the obligation of the local authority to maintain non-provided schools did not begin until the antecedent duty of managers to put their buildings in sufficient repair had been discharged. The contention of the Merioneth- shire Committee was that no liability rested upon them to discharge the claims made by managers of non-provided schools owing to the failure of the managers to make repairs to the school houses required by the Committee. Board of Education's Reasons. The Board of Education had advanced certain specific reasons for disregarding that contention. They were (1) that the committees applied for and received Parliamentary grants with respect to the non-provided schools, such grants being only payable in respect of schools which had complied with section 7 of the Education Act of 1902 (2) that the county fund throughout the period, September 30th (the appointed day), 1903, to November 1st, 1904, had been applied to the maintenance of these schools and (3) that the secretary of the Committee signed certain certificates to the effect that these schools had satisfied the conditions of section 7 of the Education Act, 1902. The Committee submitted that in no instance had a certificate been signed, save a counter-signature, and that even if a counter-signature was, as the Board contended but as the Committee denied, equivalent to a certificate, that certificate did not state that the school satisfied the conditions of section 7 of the Act of 1902, but section 7 of the Act of 1870. The Committee did not apply the county fund towards the maintenance of these schools, and it never had been so applied. The Board had been asked to state the ground on which they did not agree to the Committee's contentions, but they had treated the Committee with contempt and discourtesy. When the money was withheld from the three schools the Board did not supply any informa- tion as to the items allowed or disallowed, but simply notified the sums they intended to pay. Surely before payment was made the Committee should have had the opportunity of lodging objections. The Board asserted that the only action taken by the Committee under section 7 was before the Act came into operation, and was a report on the premises made simply for the information of the County Council by their surveyors. But it was perfectly evident that the report was treated by the managers as sufficient notice. Indeed, the Board of Educa- tion received appeals against these requirements fully twelve months ago, and such appeals had been reported upon by the Board's officers. In face of these facts he did not see how the Board could feel justified in supporting the technical objection made by the managers. "Death Warrant of Scores of Church Schools." In the case of a school near Dolgelley, in which the Board had decided that the action of the Committee was not justified, the position of the school-house was most unsuitable, the play- ground was inadequate and it was impossible to extend it. There was imminent danger to health, caused by a polluted stream; the sanitary arrangements were disgraceful, and the possibility of improving them nil; and it was impossible to light the premises satisfactorily. It was in these conditions that the Education Committee required the erection of a new school on a suitable site, and it was within their knowledge that the managers themselves up to a very recent date held identical views as to the im- posibility of repairing the building, and instruc- ted an architect to prepare plans for a new school. The committee contended that they were legally entitled to refuse to maintain such a school, and they ought to be told under which statutory powers the Board had decided that that refusal was not justified. There was a specific case in point-the Holywell School, in Flintshire. There the local authority de- manded that a school should be built upon an entirely new site, and the Board of Educa- tion, with great reluctance, upheld the demand. The consequence would be that the Church managers would have to find about ^5,000, and he saw it stated that they were not pre- pared to do anything of the kind. There were scores of schools in Wales in the same position, and if the local authority demanded new schools the Board would have to uphold them. He wished to know why the Board of Educa- tion had withheld £2,400 when only £400 was due to the Church Schools. As a matter of mere courtesy some explanation was due from them. They had paid out the money without checking the vouchers, and they had refused the Education Committee to do so. The Board ignored the contention with regard to the certificates, and he could only presume that it was because they were alive to the fact that they had made a mistake and had acted in a high-handed manner. He referred to the communication received from the Board at the opening of these proceedings, which stated that the arrears were in respect of the period prior to November 1, 1904, and that it was not con- tended by them that the schools did not comply with section 7 in the first instance, and that it was not open to them to raise a ground for not maintaining the school. The Board therefore saw no reason why steps should not be taken to refund the managers the expenses incurred in maintaining the schools. That was a very significant declaration. He regarded it as the death warrant of scores of Church schools in every Welsh county. If the Glamorganshire Committee, for instance, exercised its powers under section 7 of the Act it could at its next meeting decline to recognise any of the Church schools in the county which had not complied with its demands. Active Aggression in the Future. The local authorities in Wales had shown great consideration for the managers of Church schools in the difficulties in which they had been placed. Although notices had been given in a great many instances, they had been looked upon as a matter of form, and in many cases had been treated as a dead letter. Was it conceivable that this attitude of benevolent neutrality would continue towards the Church schools in other counties now that this attack had been made in Merioneth ? It was only natural that peaceful forbearance should give way to. active aggression. The rights of con- science were attacked when a man was made to pay for the teaching of dogmas in which he did not believe, the liberty of the citizen was attacked when the refusal of a local authority to vote public money for sectarian purposes involved imprisonment, and the Constitution was attacked when a Minister of the Crown deliberately forced upon an unwilling country an Act which the electors of that country had deliberately condemned. Wales did not seek disorder. She was a law-abiding nationality, but when the will of a bishop and the whim of a Premier presumed upon that characteristic, who would blame her if she defended those liberties to the utmost of her power ? The setting of the Defaulting Authorities Act into operation against Merioneth would produce an exhibition of national unity such as Wales had never shown before. Sir Alfred Thomas, who seconded the motion, said the Government could not plead that they were not warned. What would be the result if they forced through the House such legislation as that of the Act of 1902 ? That measure might have been specially framed for the purpose of driving the people into insurrec- tion. As if to emphasise the blunder the Government had to bring in a Coercion Act two years after. It was difficult to realise that the administrators of a great empire should be so ignorant of the habits, customs, and creeds of a little country so near to them as Wales. No public inquiry, with the exception of the abor- tive inquiry held at Carmarthen, had been made into this vexed question. Of the thirteen counties Merioneth had been one of the most generous in its support of education, and this was the county the department had first put in default. This was the way the Government showed their appreciation of the sacrifice which the quarrymen of Festiniog and the peasantry of Merioneth had made for education. He wished to warn the Government that if they were determined to extract this" pound of flesh" from the Welsh people, they would have to be more dexterous than they had hitherto proved themselves if they were to succeed without drawing one drop of blood. If the Government were determined to put into operation all the vindictive powers of the Act, the evil conse- quences of their action would lie at their own door. Mr. Brynmor Jones said the Board of Educa- tion had deducted £364 from the Parliamentary grant due in the ordinary'course on the 1st of May for the purpose of elementary education in the county of Merioneth, and they had an- nounced that they had applied that sum to five non-provided schools. The Education Com- mittee said these five non-provided schools were not schools in respect of which the conditions of section 7 of the Act of 1902 had been ever fulfilled. There was not a word about notice of repairs in it. The section provided that in the case of the non-provided schools the managers should keep the schoolhouse in good repair and make such alterations and improvements in the buildings as might be reasonably required by the local education authority. They did not require any great legal knowledge in order to interpret the condition. If on the morning of the appointed day the schoolhouse was not in repair the local education authority had abso- lutely no duty with regard to the non-provided school, and if it fell out of repair after the appointed day any obligation which might have attached to it ceased automatically in accordance with the plain interpretation of that provision of Parliament. So far from being in default in the matter the Education Committee were a little over-zealous. Surveyors and architects appointed at their expense, went over the schools and gave notice of what they thought might be reasonable alterations and improvements. Correspondence with the Board of Education. His construction of the section was submitted in a letter by the Clerk to the Education Com- mittee of Merioneth, written after the first threatening letter from the Board of Education. The reply of the Board of Education, dated March last, was The Board regret that no satisfactory explanation of the matters in ques- tion has been offered on behalf of the authority as required in the Board's previous letter. 17 Observe (said the hon member) there is no con- tradiction of the proposition I have submitted. Sir W. Anson What proposition ? Mr. Brynmor Jones That you misconstrued your Act of Parliament, that you did not under- stand the meaning of your words as long as. The letter went on I am to remind you that the expenses in question are in respect of the period anterior to November 1, 1904, and that the reason, and the only reason, given by yoX^ authority, during that period, for not adequately maintaining these schools was, the resolution 0 your County Council not to provide any funds