HC Deb 21 March 1907 vol 171 cc880-3
THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (Mr. Sinclair,), Forfarshire

in asking leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Laws relating to Education in Scotland, and for other purposes connected therewith, said: The purpose of the Bill is to effect certain improvements in educational machinery which it is thought can be secured without any change in the existing general organisation and without touching questions such as the area of educational administration. It proposes, in the first place, to confer certain additional powers upon school boards. Among those are power to do all that is necessary to provide machinery for the provision of meals to school children. The power of spending money for food is also conferred in certain well-defined cases, by a later clause of the Bill dealing with what may be termed neglected children. In the case of neglected children it is provided that where, as the result of medical inspection or otherwise, it is brought to the knowledge of the school board that a child is filthy or verminous or insufficiently clothed or fed, it shall be the duty of the school board to make inquiry as to the reason. If the parent appears to be at fault, he should be prosecuted for cruelty to children, and provision is made for the child accordingly. If he is unable by reason of poverty or ill-health to do his duty by his child, the case is to be referred to the parish council, but help given by the parish council in such circumstances shall not impose any disability upon the parent. The school board has power, pending inquiry and as long as may be necessary, to make requisite provision for the child from the school fund. The Bill further proposes to confer upon school boards power to make by-laws to enforce attendance to a reasonable extent at continuation classes of pupils under seventeen years of age who have ceased attendance at the day school. Such by-laws will be made only when the board are able to satisfy the Department that there is adequate provision of suitable continuation classes for their district. It is believed that the time is ripe for such a step forward in certain districts, and that much may be done in this way to reduce the loss of any enduring result from our present large expenditure upon education. Another section of the Bill proposes to restore to school boards in Scotland the power which they lost by the Act of 1898 of giving pensions or retiring allowances to future teachers and to existing teachers who have accepted the Superannuation Act. The giving of a pension or a supplementary pension will be, as it always has been since 1872, voluntary on the part of the school boards, and it is provided that grants in aid of pensions to teachers shall be made under certain defined conditions from the Scottish Local Taxation Account Fund. I may remind the House in this connection that the position in Scotland differs widely from that in England. The circumstances of Scotland are different; the organisation is different. There is a school board in every parish, and historically the claim of teachers to a pension or retiring allowance has always been recognised. By another clause in the Bill, all the Local Taxation Funds available for education in Scotland are consolidated. After providing for certain prior charges, such as the grant in aid of pensions to teachers already mentioned, and the expenses of the Leaving Certificate Examination which have hitherto been borne by these funds, the balance will be distributed to county and burgh secondary education committees for the purpose of enabling them to make provision for a well-organised system of secondary and technical education within their districts, in accordance with schemes approved by the Department, as is the case at present in respect to secondary education. There are a few minor provisions which provide for an effective audit of the accounts of both public and voluntary schools in receipt of grants, with power of surcharge; a section to facilitate the working of the Day Industrial Schools Act in the case of truant schools by allowing a shorter period of detention; a section to enable school boards, in certain cases, to recover from other school boards expenditure upon the education of children without their districts; and a section to facilitate the transfer of insufficiently endowed secondary schools under a trust to school boards. Lastly, the Bill abolishes the cumulative vote and makes the parish council franchise appli- cable to elections for school boards. These are the main provisions of the Bill, which I hope will commend itself to the consideration of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the laws relating to education in Scotland, and for other purposes connected therewith."—(Mr. Sinclair.)

*SIR HENRY CRAIK (Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities)

said that he did not intend to divide the House on the First Reading of the Bill, although he had some criticisms to offer. According to the proverb they ought to consider half a loaf better than no bread. But the gift of half a loaf was apt not to hasten but to delay the more valuable gift of the whole loaf which they desired. This Education Bill for Scotland was more than due. It had been due since 1901.

MR. AINSWORTH (Argyllshire)

asked, on a point of order, if the hon. Member was opposing the Bill or not; because it might be gathered from his observations that the measure carried out his views.


said that the hon. Gentleman had begun his speech by saying that he did not propose to divide the House against the Bill; but he gathered that the hon. Gentleman had some criticisms to offer upon some parts of the measure, and if that were so he thought that the hon. Gentleman should be allowed to proceed.


said that what he wanted to insist upon was that a Bill dealing with education in Scotland had been due since 1901, and strong objections had been made to the delay in passing such a measure. That delay had been attributed to the late Unionist Government. The late Government presented a Bill of large scope and wide policy, which was received with acclamation from all sides of the House, although there had been some signs of variation of opinions amongst hon. and right hon. Members now sitting on the Treasury Bench. Was it possible that such variation of opinion was the reason why instead of introducing a Bill of a wide and comprehensive character, the present Government had introduced a Bill which proposed to deal with Scottish education problems in homœopathic doses? The administration of education in Scotland was at the present time in the hands of 984 elected school boards, and this multiplicity of petty authorities prevented Scotland from moving forward on the line adopted in England of co-ordinating preliminary and secondary education. That was a question on which the vast preponderance of Scottish opinion was entirely at one. The great problem of administrative areas which had occupied them for so long, and which had been discussed so fully, had been dismissed and passed over by the right hon. Gentleman. He was glad to see that the Bill made some provision for medical care in the schools, but they would never have a satisfactory state of things until that system was directed by the Central Department and was worked upon scientific methods. Such working was provided for by the former Bill, but not by the present. As to the provision of pensions for teachers, he had the greatest sympathy with that object, and he would join in the promotion of a single clause Bill to bring it about. He objected, however, to the method in which the Bill dealt with the vexed question of the provision of meals. It provided for an entirely different machinery from that proposed in the Bill lately brought before the House by a private Member, which passed its Second Reading only because of the strong support of the Government. It was now proposed to make the money provided for that purpose payable by the Poor Law authorities, or the parish councils, and not by the school boards. That was a fundamental distinction, and he thought they were entitled to ask the Government whether they were prepared to continue their support of the Bill of hon. Members below the gangway, to which they had given their adhesion, or to pledge themselves to the alternative machinery which was embodied in the present Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Sinclair and the Lord Advocate.