HC Deb 04 August 1898 vol 64 cc222-8

Order of the day for the Third Reading read.

Motion made.

Question put— That the Bill be now read a third time.


I quite recognise that it would be inconvenient at this period of the Session to have any long Debate on this stage of the Bill, but I do express regret that the Government have dealt with this important subject, by piecemeal legislation. I gave the other day my reason for making that statement to the House. I regard this as an ill-conceived, hastily-drawn-up Bill, which has been hurried through the House at a pace which has made any Debate upon it absolutely impossible. It is obscure in its language, badly drafted, and it has never been explained. Even its technical phraseology is wrong. The term "elementary school," I am given to understand, does not exist in Scotland. As to the clause we debated the other day, clause 25, no three Members are agreed as to its meaning. The honourable and learned Member for Walsall took one view, and the honourable and learned Member for Rochester took another view, and the right honourable Gentleman who had charge of the Bill took a different view from either. Instead of relying on the Bill brought before the House, the teachers will have to depend upon the charitable interpretation of officials of the Education Department and the Treasury, and I doubt whether they will be better off by that than if they had had the keen intelligence of Parliament brought to bear upon the Bill. However, when I have to go a journey I must take the first conveyance that comes to hand; if I cannot get a well-appointed carriage to drive in I must take advantage of any shabby hack that comes to hand. If that breaks down I shall probably find fault with the driver. In this case, I take it, that when the teachers find out, as I verily believe they will, that they would have done better even by waiting for another year and having a Measure introduced and fairly discussed in Parliament, they will very much regret that they have pressed upon Members of the House the absolute necessity of passing this Bill at the present time. As I have already said, I have pledged myself to support a Teachers' Superannuation Bill, and therefore I should not think of putting any obstacle in the way of the Bill passing; but I believe the Government have made a mistake, and I think the teachers will find that out.


I am entirely at one with the honourable Member who has just sat down, but I rise more particularly with the object of drawing the attention of the Scottish people to what has become quite a characteristic of Scottish legislation during the last few years—the universal system by which Scottish legislation is carried by a majority of English votes and with a minority of Scottish votes. The whole crux of the Bill depends on the Amendment moved by the honourable Member for Cardiganshire to clause 12, with the object of allowing school boards to retain the power which they have at present of giving pensions to teachers. We in Scotland attach a great deal of importance to this question. We attach, if I may say so more importance to it than is attached in Eng- land, because we have always held that education is the very first thing which a Government ought to give to the people whom it governs. I think there is a great deal due to the teachers who have educated the Scottish people for many years, and if you treat them well you may be sure that the result will be good. It is because I think that by this Bill they are being most unfairly treated that I enter my protest against the Third Reading. I do not intend to press this to a Division, because the Bill really affects England more than it does Scotland in a certain way, and I think it would be undesirable at this late hour, at what, is the end of the Session, to press the matter to a Division, but I wish to emphasise this point, that the Bill is affecting Scotland in a manner antagonistic to the wishes of the majority of Scottish representatives. The Division yesterday was a very small one, only one-third of the Scottish Members voted, and the majority of them voted in favour of the Amendment. Had all the Scottish Members voted there is no doubt the majority for the Amendment would have been much larger. As has been pointed out, this is a matter which concerns the ratepayers alone. Our demand would rot affect the Treasury by one penny. We merely ask in Scotland to be allowed to give pensions if the school boards so desire, and surely we have a right to do as we like with our own rates? There has been no reason shown why the confidence which the Scottish people place in their school boards should be withdrawn, as it is withdrawn by this Bill. The Scottish teachers have learned to look upon their position in a certain way as if they had vested rights and interests, and those vested rights and interests have been taken away from them by this Bill. The Scottish school boards have never ill-used the rights which they have hitherto enjoyed. They have treated the teachers liberally, and the teachers have always done their duty by the pupils. In many cases, especially in the case of large school boards, instead of the Bill conferring a benefit on them it must lead to suffering on their part. In Glasgow I have known of pensions being given of as much as £120 a year, and that without, any payment or contribution by the teachers themselves. The two systems of England and Scotland are entirely distinct and different, and it is impossible to say that because a Bill affecting education is necessary for England it must be necessary for Scotland cm the same lines. There is more required from the teachers in Scotland, and better men are required, therefore we have a right to treat our men better and more liberally than you treat yours in England. But what is the ostensible reason that the Government, give for inflicting this on Scotland against its wishes? We are told that there must be uniformity. I venture to say that the real reason is that English representatives desire for Scotland a retrogressive policy as far as education is concerned; they wish to lower Scottish education to the same level that education has reached in England, and it is right that we representatives of Scottish feeling should protest most strongly against this. I further say that the real reason is to be found also, in the desire that English Voluntary schools and their teachers should not be placed at a disadvantage in comparison with the pensions which Scottish teachers may have. It is most creditable, I think, to the Scottish Voluntary schools that not a word of objection has been heard from them, as far as I know, to the Amendment that my honourable Friend wished to see adopted, namely, that the school boards should be able to continue to grant pensions if they so desired. The Bill gives something to English teachers and surrenders nothing; whereas in the case of Scotland it gives nothing more than Scottish teachers have at present. It is said that if the school boards retain this power of giving pensions duplicate pensions would be given. That is absolutely fallacious, because they would take into consideration any pensions that might be received from other sources. If there was any use at all in moving an Amendment, I should like to propose to delay the operation of the Bill so far as Scotland is concerned, but that, of course, would be absolutely futile. We all know that at this hour of night, and especially at this period of the Session, Scottish Members are invariably outvoted by English Members, who neither know nor care about the matter on which they are voting. All we can do is to enter our emphatic protest against legislating in an important matter like this against the wishes of the majority of the Scottish representatives.


My honourable Friend who has just sat down has my sympapathies in his general complaint of the way in which on purely Scottish questions the Scotch representatives are often outvoted by English and Irish Members, but in this particular instance I think the Government are to be congratulated on bringing forward a very useful Measure. The principle it involves I regard as undoubtedly a sound one1—namely, that teachers ought to be as much entitled to pensions as any other class of civil servants. That is a principle to which no one in this House has objected. But, while I congratulate the Government on introducing such a Measure, I am sorry that, for no reason that has been given to the House, they have thought it necessary to deal in what I must describe as a very shabby fashion with the Scottish teachers. The Scottish teachers, who I think are in the main supporters of the Government, have been thrown over in this matter, and the small claim which they put forward has not received full consideration. All they asked was that the school boards should have a free hand to supplement pensions in cases where they had been fully earned. This would involve no charge on the National Exchequer. The question was a purely local question, and there was no justification whatever for the Government stepping in. It does seem to me that the Government have taken up a most extraordinary position in this matter, and one that it is impossible to justify. At the same time, however, I believe the teachers of Scotland are grateful to the Government for this Bill, and although they believe it is incomplete and unsatisfactory as far as Scotland is concerned, I myself am glad to support the Bill as it stands, and I can only hope that in another Session we shall have the question I have referred to put right, because there is a strong feeling in Scotland that the teachers ought to have this small concession.


I do not desire to detain the House at any length, but there is one question arising out of the whole subject which is of some importance, and on which I should like to get an answer from the right honourable Gentleman in charge of the Bill. Clause 7 says that any question as regards the Treasury allowance shall be referred to the Treasury, and the decision of the Treasury shall be final. I venture to think that that principle ought not to be applied to the annuity, which stands on an entirely different footing. The annuity arises from contributions by the teachers themselves. I should like to ask if it is really intended that on any question arising as to the amount of annuities the Treasury should have the final decision. I would suggest that that portion of the clause should be omitted. I know that it cannot be done on this occasion, but the right honourable Gentleman might give some expression of opinion which would lead to the Bill being altered in this respect in another place.


There is one point which has, I think, been overlooked in regard to this Bill which demands a protest on the part of Scotch Members—I refer to the fact that the Bill has evidently been drafted without consulting the Scotch Office at all. I could understand this in the case of a private Member's Bill, but this is a Government Bill, and although it applies to Scotland there is not the name of the Lord Advocate on the back of the Bill. Then, again, you are sending to the other House an incomplete Bill, and asking them to finish it. If it were an ordinary Bill it would not be so very important, but this is a Bill affecting taxation, which is a matter for this House alone, and you are really asking the other House to do the work which you ought to do yourself. I cannot understand such a revolutionary course being adopted by a Conservative Government. Even the name of the Bill, "The Elementary School Teachers Bill," shows its English origin, because by the fifth and sixth clauses you are taking in a class of men who are not elementary school teachers. The whole business of this Bill is so entirely novel that I feel bound to make my protest against it.


May I just say, in reply to the honourable and learned Member for York, that it is not our intention that the rights of teachers in respect of annuities, so far as the annuities are provided from contributions of the teachers themselves, should be made subject to the decision of the Treasury.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.