HC Deb 12 August 1878 vol 242 cc1844-53

rose to call attention to the claims of the Irish National Teachers; and to move— That this House, having, with the assent of Her Majesty's Government on the 7th of May last passed a Resolution that the position of the Irish National Teachers called for the immediate attention of Her Majesty's Government with a view to a satisfactory adjustment of their claims, this House is of opinion that it was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to have given effect during the present Session to such Resolution, and to have made proposals to this House for securing with certainty to the Irish National School Teachers the full amount of the result fees to be earned by them in the current year. The hon. and learned Member said, it was unprecedented that the Appropriation Bill should be brought forward at such a late hour, and he should not have brought forward his Motion then, were it not that there never was a fitter subject for discussion than the case of great hardship and injustice which he had to present. So far back as the 1st May, he moved that the claims of these teachers called for the immediate attention of the House, with a view to the satisfactory settlement of their claims. The House passed the Resolution, and he thought there was ample ground for saying that it was the duty of the Government to have given effect to such a Resolution of the House. When he added that the gist of the Resolution —namely, its demand on the immediate attention of the Government—had been the subject of discussion between himself and the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland, and that the Government had assented to the Motion, after he had declined to withdraw the word "immediate," it would appear still more surprising that no steps had yet been taken by the Government. He was one of those who tried to negotiate with the Government before bringing grievances before the House, and he had put himself in communication with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this subject; but he did not even respond to him. He took no notice of his reasonable demand. He called the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant to the subject. He was courtesy itself; but he avoided discussing what means ought to be adopted to remove the grievances of the teachers. In two or three words he would now state their case. In 1874, the full justice of the demands of the teachers were admitted. In 1875, the Government proposed a scheme, which they themselves stated was a temporary scheme. They took a Vote of £120,000 towards the payment of two-thirds of the result fees. They said—"We will give you £60,000 unconditionally. We will give you the other £60,000 on condition that the Unions of Ireland provide another £60,000." It was stated in the House that this scheme must necessarily fail, and it was urged by the Government that it would only be temporary. It had wholly failed. Where the Unions did not contribute, and where voluntary subscriptions could not be had, the teachers would actually lose two-thirds of their result fees. There wore many cases of the grossest hardship. What had occurred in the North Union of Dublin? Since 1875, up to the present year, that Union had been contributing, and the teacher3 had received the benefit of the provision which the Government intended for them in 1875. They had been receiving the full amount of their result fees. This year the Union had ceased to be contributory, and these men were, at one sweep, deprived of two-thirds of their earnings. Upwards of £5,000 was lost to the teachers of that Union. There were 10,000 teachers in Ireland, and it was a monstrous thing that, the justice of their demands having been acknowledged in 1875, nothing had yet been done for them. They were now left in the same slough of despondency as before. If he rested his case on these facts alone, it ought to be recognized that they were suffering injustice. But there was the clearest breach of faith; there was no use in putting it in a milder way. The Government having assented to the Resolution, declaring that the subject should have their immediate attention, had done nothing, and not a word was said on the subject when the Irish Education Estimates were before the House. He had pointed out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that large sums voted for these result fees had, in consequence of the failure of the plan of 1875, found their way back into the Exchequer. This year, £20,000 out of the £120,000 had found its way back. Last year, something like £30,000 was returned; and similar sums were returned in the two preceding years. So that £100,000 intended for the teachers had not been paid to them, owing to the imperfection of the scheme. He had suggested to the Government that, as they had done nothing in accordance with the Resolution of the House, they should take £60,000 out of that £100,000, and apply that towards the payment of funds which ought to have been contributed by the Unions. The Government might do that this year, and bring in some scheme for finally settling the subject next year. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not deigned to reply to his communications. He granted that the question of pensions was a difficult one, and he did not intend now to touch upon that; but the question of salaries demanded immediate settlement. He would, therefore, move the Resolution which stood in his name.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, having, with the assent of Her Majesty's Government, on the 7th of May last passed a Resolution that the position of the Irish National Teachers tailed for the immediate attention of Her Majesty's Government with a view to a satisfactory adjustment of their claims, this House is of opinion that it was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to have given effect during the present Session to such Resolution, and to have made proposals to this House for securing with certainty to the Irish National School Teachers the full amount of the result fees to be earned by them in the current year,"—(Mr. Meldon,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


The hon. and learned Gentleman speaks of a breach of faith on the part of the Government. I am sorry that language so strong should come from him; but I feel sure, when he hears what is the actual state of affairs, he will not wish to repeat the language. What took place was this. On the 7th May, the hon. and learned Gentleman, in a speech of great ability and moderation, as I myself took the liberty of observing at the time, brought forward the question of the position of the teachers of National Schools in Ireland. In reply, I called attention to the fact that the Government, in past Sessions, had not been unmindful of the interests of that class. They had introduced the Bill of 1875, to which he has referred, and had founded on it some regulations which I admitted did not lead to the results hoped for. I said, further, that the Government were not disposed to take exception to the Motion proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman, provided some verbal Amendments, which I indicated, were acceded to. They were acceded to, and we accepted the Motion. That was a voluntary act on our part, and I do not find fault with the hon. and learned Gentleman for wishing us to carry out that engagement. But what was the nature of the engagement? Without referring to the details of the past debate, I must remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that what I said was much to this effect—that this matter had been referred to the Treasury, with whom these questions rested, and that it had been found necessary to submit the figures bearing on the subject for an actuarial Report. We hope no long time will elapse before we get that Report. [Mr. MELDON: That refers to the pensions.] The Resolution of the hon. and learned Member referred to the whole subject, and my reply referred to the subject as a whole. I never for a moment dreamt of dealing with the subject this Session, and that was shown by my indication of the probable appropriation of a portion of the surplus of the Irish Church funds. [Mr. MELDON: My Resolution now deals solely with the question of salaries.] That may be, but the whole question of the National School Teachers is under the consideration of the House, and a considerable portion of the last discussion bore on the subject of pensions, and the appropriation of part of the surplus of the Irish Church funds was one of the suggestions entertained by the Government. It was found necessary that the persons who made the Report to which I have referred should have what is called an experience statement drawn up—a table based on averages. [Mr. MELDON: That is with reference to pensions.] Exactly, and my idea is that the subject must be dealt with as a whole. As to the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman, it is made in forgetfulness of the fact that the large sums of money to which he refers do not remain with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but are paid back into the Treasury according to law, and can only be given out on a fresh Vote of the House. It is impossible to deal at once with the subject in a comprehensive manner; but I hope, under these circumstances, that the hon. and learned Gentleman will see that we are studiously endeavouring to carry out our engagement to the House.


was sorry to hear the right hon. Gentleman turning aside from the question submitted to the House, and endeavouring to divert the attention of the House altogether from the subject of discussion. Pensions had not been referred to by the hon. and learned Member who introduced the subject to the House. He advocated an arrangement for increasing the salaries of teachers; but the subject of pensions for the Irish schoolmasters was a new one to him, and it struck him as extraordinary, if such a subject was to be coupled with an appropriation of Irish Church funds. What the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Meldon) contended was that it was acknowledged by the House that the Irish teachers did not receive as much salary as they ought to receive, and the attention of Her Majesty's Government had been directed to the adjustment of their claims. In the meantime, pending such adjustment, the poor teachers were receiving a mere nothing; it was all very well to wait for another year, but everyone knew that the present income of the teacher in Ireland was utterly insufficient. The mode in which the subject ought to have been dealt with was to have made the scheme compulsory on the Unions, and not merely voluntary. He was extremely sorry that another year must again pass over before the teachers could receive a single farthing in addition to their present miserable salaries.


observed, that the right hon. Gentleman, in his reply to this matter, had dealt only with one branch of the subject brought forward —namely, that of pensions — ignoring the other part of the case put forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kildare. It was an attempt to draw attention away from the real ground of complaint, notwithstanding that the hon. and learned Member had written two letters—one to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the other to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in respect of the matter. As the matter at present stood, the Resolution of the House remained nugatory, the Unions of Ireland refusing to contribute anything while the matter was left to their discretion. After an experience of two or three years of this refusal, the teachers were to be allowed to starve, while for four Sessions continual attempts were being made on the part of the Irish Members of every Party to obtain justice for them. The average salary of Irish teachers was only £51 a-year; and it was a great injustice to the men and women employed, and a greater injustice to the scholars, who were being huddled together in the schools under the control of those insufficiently-paid teachers, that they should be reduced to that condition. It was a mistaken system that would leave these men and women, on whom the intellectual life of the Irish nation depended, to be reduced to the half-starved condition in which they now were.


remarked, that, no doubt, it would be said by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and by some other Members of the Government, that unless Ireland contributed in some measure towards the support of the teachers, Irish Members had no right to come to the House and demand that further sums should be voted on their behalf. He thought it had been clearly shown to the House that the system of national education, as it at present existed, had been forced upon Ireland contrary to the wish of the Irish people, and of the Irish clergy and hierarchy. The people were compelled to receive this system of education, and it was hard to expect them to contribute to a system forced upon them against their will. According to law, the school boards were to be elected by the people; but when they found that only about 20 per cent of the population voted in respect of them, it was clear that the people did not agree with the system of education. If the Government would force upon the Irish nation a system of education, it was perfectly clear that if the teachers were underpaid, the Government could not refuse to make up their salaries. Therefore, there was no right to expect that these teachers, forced by the system of education upon the Irish people, were to be maintained by them. At the same time, it was absurd to expect that the National School Teachers of Ireland would continue year after year to discharge their duties faithfully, unless justice was done to them by the Government. Ten thousand teachers were now placed in the unworthy position of the Government receiving their services and insufficiently paying them. The Irish people had reason to hope that when the Intermediate Education Bill was passed, something would have been done to place the teachers in a position to exist, and to enable them properly to discharge their duties.


wished, in the first place, to express his regret that the hon. and learned Member should have written a letter to him, which he did not acknowledge. He had some recollection of a letter coming to him, and of sending it to another Department, he himself not knowing what had been done in the matter. He was really very sorry that the letter had neither been acknowledged nor answered; but he could assure the hon. and learned. Gentleman that it was from no want of courtesy on his part. He was under the impression that he spoke to his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary on the matter; and it was also his impression that the Chief Secretary informed him that he had attended to it.


said, that the answer he got was simply a mere acknowledgment of the receipt of his letter.


was extremely sorry that there had been anything like a want of courtesy; but he must ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to remember that, in the multiplicity of matters to which he had to attend, he might occasionally forget something. But the much more material point was as to the justice of the complaint which the hon. and learned Gentleman made with regard to the conduct of the Government. He wished to remind him and the House of the position in which the Irish National School Teachers were, and of the different questions which, at different times, had been brought forward in respect of them. One point was with reference to their residences; another was as to the salaries of the teachers; and a third with regard to their pensions. As respected residences, he believed that that question had been practically settled; with regard to the salaries, the experiment was made two years ago by his right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for the Colonies (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), of dealing with the matter in such a way as would involve a certain amount of local contribution in aid of the Imperial grant. The Government were then of opinion, and still thought, that that was the proper proposal to make, and one in accordance with what was done in this country. Undoubtedly, to a certain extent, that proposal might be said to have failed. Why? Because there was a failure in the local contributions that were expected and hoped for. Contributions were made in some Unions; but in others, and the larger class of cases, no contributions were made, and the teachers were the sufferers. He did not know to what extent they went; but the proposals of the hon. and learned Gentleman now were in entire subversion of the scheme of the Government. It was proposed by the Government that if localities would contribute certain sums, the Imperial Exchequer would grant a like sum. Some Unions did contribute, and the State, accordingly, granted a like amount; and the hon. and learned Gentleman said, with regard to these cases, that he would leave them alone. But, undoubtedly, it would be hard upon the Unions that had contributed, if the other Unions were placed in a like situation, without any contribution. It would be placing those that did not contribute on a level with those that did. With regard to the third question—that of pensions—it was a point upon which it had always been admitted that something ought to be done, and a scheme in respect to the matter was before the Government, and would be carefully considered. It was in regard to pensions that the Government admitted something ought immediately to be done, and that immediate attention should be given. It was unnecessary that he should refer in detail to the debate that took place on the 7th of May. His right hon. Friend then stated very little. What he said as regarded salaries was that the first class of teachers were in receipt of sums amounting to £2 a-week; the second class to £1 10s. a-week, and the third to £1. He was not aware that in the speech of his right hon. Friend, or in any other speech on behalf of the Government, consideration was promised to the question of raising salaries; but undoubtedly, as regarded pensions, a promise was given, and the Government were prepared to fulfil that promise.


said, he understood that, in the debate of the 7th of May, a promise was made by the Government with regard to pensions. He did not think that they were receiving fair treatment by the mode in which the Government were now acting. As respected salaries, it was a most important matter, and the Government could raise them by bringing up the amount of public money given to Ireland to the same amount as that allowed Scotland. Between £60,000 and £70,000 was allowed to Scotland, and if the sum contributed to Ireland was raised to that amount, there would be an opportunity of paying the Irish National School Teachers proper salaries. He only asked that the same amount per head should be paid in Ireland as was paid in Scotland. In Scotland the Government spent about 3s. 2d. per head; whereas in Ireland the public money spent did not exceed 2s. 4d. per head. He considered that during the next six or eight months the Government ought to do something with regard to this matter. At all events, if the Government did not wish to contribute, they might allow the teachers to receive the result fees earned by them without the contribution of the Union. At the present time, about £25,000 to £35,000 was returned into the Exchequer as surplus money, voted for national education in Ireland; that should be expended in increasing the salaries of the Irish National School Teachers—for it could not be expected that those people would remain contented to receive £50 a-year in Ireland, while the same class in England and Scotland obtained £105 a-year. If the suggestion he had made were attended to, it would do a great deal to put an end to the feeling of discontent which the action of the Government in regard to education in Ireland had excited.

Question put.

The House divided: — Ayes 47; Noes 30: Majority 17. — (Div. List, No. 276.)