HC Deb 08 March 1905 vol 142 cc735-40

Sir, in rising to introduce the Scotch Education Bill I make no apology for doing so under what is generally known as the Ten Minutes Rule, because the result is no doubt that the Bill is enabled to be introduced at an earlier date in the session than otherwise, and we thereby hope the House and public will be put in possession of the special details of the measure earlier, and also that by this earlier introduction we may be more certain that the Bill will ultimately find its place upon the Statute-book. As the House will also be aware from the King's Speech, the main features of the Bill are practically the same as those considered in this House last session, and accordingly my duty in introducing it will be amply discharged by explaining the principal points in which there is any difference from the Bill before the House last session. I am sure the House will pardon me for a moment if I say that while I quite recognise that upon these grounds no apology is necessary to the House, I cannot but recall to myself that, in this session, the Bill will no longer be under the guidance of my right hon. friend the late Secretary for Scotland, and I am sure it will not be regarded as affectation or modesty on my part if I say no one recognises more to the full than I do that the absence of his great Parliamentary skill and experience and his other abilities will make it necessary for me, not only at this stage, but in all the stages of the Bill, to make larger demands upon the indulgence of the House on both sides than he would have found it necessary to do. At the same time I am encouraged to think that that demand will meet with a ready response, because, Sir, I feel sure that on both sides of the House it is recognised that the time has come when we should do our best to give to Scottish education a large and wide measure of reform. While we quite understand that questions of considerable importance will require to be discussed in this Bill, they are not, I venture to think, questions which will give rise to keen Party feeling or increase political bias. I am sure that all Members of the House on both sides are anxious to do their best for Scottish education, and they will give me credit for being actuated by a similar desire. It is in that view, I think, I shall get a generous indulgence so far as it is necessary in every stage of this Bill through the House.

The House will remember that in the course of last session about half of the clauses of the Bill then before it passed through Committee, and so far as the present Bill is concerned it practically takes up the Bill as it then stood, and so far as it had then been considered. The districts will remain the same as before; but it will be in the recollection of those Members of the House who interested themselves in the matter that in the clauses dealing with the districts there were introduced in Committee various provisions giving elasticity and power to the Secretary for Scotland to divide counties and districts, and in the present Bill these powers will be further extended and enlarged. Then in the first part of the Bill—this Bill practically corresponds with that part of the Bill of last session—the only other change really is a subsidiary one as to the mode of election in burghs. We have at the request of the burghs provided in the present Bill that burghs and counties shall, instead of being treated as electoral divisions of the counties, conduct their school board elections as other burghs do, that is to say on the same day as the ordinary municipal elections, and of course on the municipal franchise. That will apply to all burghs with the exception of a few police burghs which have been called into existence since the 1899 Act, and where there would have been a good deal of complication, if we had adopted that course, in respect of their area not coinciding with the electoral division of the county. Practically the result is that at the request of the burghs we have given that concession to them. The clauses as to managers remain the same as in the Committee stage of the Bill of last year: managers will be optional in enumerated districts and compulsory in others, but with a perfectly free hand for school boards to elect managers as they think proper.

With regard to the second part of the Bill which deals with the powers of the school board, the House will remember that nearly the whole, I think the whole, of that was dealt with by the Committee last session. As to the clause as to rating, the House will recollect that a proposal was introduced in an Amendment by Mr. Murray proposing to have rating partly by population and partly by valuation. The final opinion of the Committee as to that was that the clause was passed on a pledge that the Bill should be recommitted as to that clause with a view to its reconsideration. Subsequent consideration of the point satisfied my right hon. friend that the proposal which he had submitted in this Amendment was not one which he should adhere to, and accordingly we propose in this Bill—and this really is substantially the most important modification as compared with last year—so far as the rating clause is concerned important modification as compared with last year—so far as the rating clause is controversy, the House will remember, between the outlying country parishes and the burghs as to pooling the debts, and, as the country parishes said, making them pay for the higher elementary schools in the burghs, the answer from the burgh side being, "Yes, but you are getting the benefit of the secondary education schools." After full consideration they thought that answer was not perfectly accurate, and I do not know indeed that any proposal will preserve altogether the minute equilibrium between the claims of the counties and burghs, but giving the best consideration to the matter we could, and after hearing the views of all parties, what we propose to do is this. As to existing debt, so far as it represents capital expenditure, which I suppose will practically be expenditure on buildings and sites, we propose to divide that into two, or rather that the school board shall divide it into two portions—so far as it represents expenditure on higher-class public schools, using the words in the sense of the, 1872 Act, it shall be a charge upon the whole district, and so far as it represents expenditure on buildings and sites other than higher-class public schools—if I may be allowed to use the term expenditure on primary and ebmentary schools—it shall be treated as local and remain on the parishes which those elementary or local schools represent. The result is that debt representing charges in respect of higher-class or secondary schools will be placed upon the whole district, and the debt representing charges for elementary or primary schools or schools other than higher-class schools will remain parochial, as it is at present. The maintenance, of course, of both will be a charge upon the whole district. That is what we propose to do in regard to existing debt, and we propose also that with regard to future expenditure the same allocation shall be followed out. The result, the House will observe, is that so far as elementary or primary school capital charges are concerned they will remain parochial, but so far as higher-class school capital expenditure is concerned it will remain general over the district, and the maintenance charges with regard to both will be general. I quite appreciate, of course, that there are instances where that may work one way or the other differently from what it does at the present time, but upon the whole, and after consultation with the various parties interested, the proposal which we submit to the House seems to us the fairest which we can put before it, having regard to the competing interests of both sections of the community.

Then as to the deficiency, we adhere to our original proposal in the Bill that the deficiency shall be rated upon the parishes according to their valuation, that is to say, the parishes of each district shall have allocated to them a proportion of the deficiency corresponding to their valuation. We propose, however, to collect that deficiency as was done in the Bill of last year according to the several regulations observed in each parish, the several classifications and deductions; and, in fact, to continue to collect the school board rate as it is collected at present on the same terms as the Poor Law rate. I quite appreciate again that that is a point on which different views are held, and much is to be said on both sides, but, having given the best consideration to it we could, it seemed on the whole that that was the proper proposal which would meet with the most general acceptance.


Order, order! The Standing Order requires that the right hon. Gentleman's statement should only be a brief one.


I shall only be a few minutes more. That is the main point. We propose also to give special powers, as promised last year, to school boards to provide books, and we also propose to give the provincial councils somewhat larger powers than they have to-day. The education fund will remain practically the same as before, except that the local authorities will get £100,000 which the Act of 1902 originally gave them and we shall take the surplus; otherwise that proposal remains exactly as it was. The only other matter is that we propose to put the sanitary inspection of the schools under the ordinary local sanitary authorities, the medical officers of health, and the sanitary inspector; and we propose to introduce a clause dealing with school boards raising up a large debit in view of the Bill. I think I have explained in the main the immediate changes between this and the Bill of last session, and I beg leave to move it.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to Education in Scotland, and for other purposes connected therewith."—(The Lord-Advocate.)

MR. THOMAS SHAW (Hawick Burghs)

endorsed the Lord-Advocate's remarks with respect to the late Secretary for Scotland. He remarked that the Bill imported new topics and new methods of handling those topics which he thought provided elements of considerable danger as to its future. Still the general features remained the same. They were on the whole to retain their Scotch system; they were still to have universal school boards; they were still to have sole control of the taxpayer's money by representatives of the taxpayer, and they were still to have no embargo put upon the right of representatives to appoint teachers irrespective of creed or denomination. He thought it would have been a much wiser course for the Government to have accepted the lessons inflicted upon them last year and to have adhered to the text of their original Bill. All that had happened with reference to the new proposal was a complete justification of the criticisms offered. With regard to the new change as to the incidence of rating, he rejoiced that reward had been given to their efforts by the original proposals of the Bill having been gone back upon, but he confessed that when the Lord-Advocate went further he had very considerable doubt as to the setting up of new districts and as to their having constant trouble with regard to the incidence within those districts of certain classes of expenditure. It would have been far simpler and better to have taken the districts as they were now situated, giving them over to authorities united by freedom, united by interest, and united by responsibility. They would watch the text of the Bill with very great interest and they would not commit themselves as to its further progress. He asked that the Bill should be printed at an early date and circulated in Scotland in time for feeling in Scotland to ripen and mould itself, and that there should be no attempt suddenly to ask for a Second Reading until Scotland itself had been consulted. He remarked that the Government would have to have regard to the opinion of Scotch representatives with reference to the important matter of feeding children and also with reference to gipsy or tinker children, and concluded by stating that on the whole those representatives would not be adverse to a good and true measure adhering to the main lines of popular representative control such as they found embodied in the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by the LORD-ADVOCATE and Mr. COCHRANE.