HC Deb 26 June 1911 vol 27 cc305-16

I beg to move "That this House do now adjourn."


For once the fates have been kind to the badly treated Scottish Members. It was my intention to have moved to-day the adjournment of the House after question time, having given private notice of a question to the Lord Advocate on the subject of the complete change of educational policy as regards Scotland, which was only announced to the House on the last day that we met before the short adjournment. The Lord Advocate was not able, owing to inadvertence, to be present when my question was put, but you, Sir, ruled that it was not permissible to move the adjournment of the House as the matter had been debated on Tuesday last. The Debate, I may point out, of last Tuesday was of a most cursory nature from the very way in which the information was given to the House. It is interesting to know how this most important change as regards educational policy in Scotland was communicated to the House. With no question on the Paper those Scottish Members who happened to be in the House last Tuesday heard a question put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. Eugene Wason), the Chairman of the Scottish Members, to the Lord Advocate, and of which only private notice had been given.


I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend does not wish to misrepresent me. As a matter of fact, I gave notice of the question, and it had been on the Paper, and' I intended to have asked it on Monday last. When I got into my place the Lord Advocate sent me a note requesting me to postpone it to Tuesday. I thought that the Clerk at the Table had put it down for the Tuesday, and it had already been on the Paper for three or four days. I went to the Speaker, and I asked to be allowed to put it as a private notice question, so that the hon. and gallant Member will see that, so far as I personally was concerned, every possible notice was given, and it was by a mere accident that it did not appear on the Paper.


I thoroughly see, and I am glad there has Been this opportunity of explanation. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman understands the mistake on my part. What he has said explains the fact, and also explains something further. The very fact, I suppose, of the right hon. Gentleman having that question on the Paper aroused the interests of the educationists of Scotland and gave them an inkling of what was in store for them. Otherwise, how is it possible to account for the mass of correspondence with which we Scottish Members have been inundated for the last ten days. I say, in spite of all that, it is very wrong that we, the representatives of Scotland in this House, should be the last to have even a suspicion of the real facts of the case and of the change of policy when everyone in Scotland, or at least those deeply interested in the matter, had such an inkling about it that actually they had taken almost official notice of what was intended. I have here a circular actually sent round to members of educational institutions in Scotland, dated 16th June, four days before the Debate in this House, foreshadowing what -was to take place. We in this House are the last to know what is happening in regard to important and vital changes of this character. I am glad that this opportunity has arisen for bringing the matter forward. I put a question to the Lord Advocate asking on what date the decision on this matter was arrived at. The reply was one of those typical answers which the Scottish Office clerks put into the mouths of the right hon. Gentlemen, namely, that the resolution was come to last week. I asked for the date. Why could they not have given me a straight answer? The Debate took place on Tuesday. I suppose the decision was not come to on that day. Therefore the decision was come to on 19th June, three or four days after all the people in Scotland knew what was going to happen. Then I asked last week whether it was not the case that there would not be given to us an opportunity of debating the matter in this House. The Lord Advocate replied that he thought not. As two negatives make an affirmative, he thought there would be an opportunity. To-day I asked what opportunity would be given to debate so important a change of policy, and the answer put into his mouth from the Scottish Office was:— I am not at present in a position to say whether any further opportunity for debate can be given. That is what I object to. We have the same thing repeatedly taking place. The Lord Advocate when directly asked a question gives one answer, but when a question is put on the Paper he is given another answer, contradicting what he said before. We must have a cessation of this sort of thing. It must be exposed, and, as far as I am able to do it, exposed it shall be.

I am glad to see the hon. Member for Aberdeen and Glasgow Universities (Sir H. Craik) present, because I agree with every syllable of the strong speech he delivered the other day, when, in reference to this matter, he used the words "disgraceful," "discreditable," and "scandalous." The present position is the result of the inefficient Education Act of 1908, which was characterised by change after change in Committee, by vacillation after vacillation, by members of schools boards in Scotland coming up not month after month, but week after week, because the Scottish Office had changed its mind half a dozen times. We have the same vacillation and same changes of policy taking place now. It is the natural result of that inefficient Education Act, and of the incapacity of the Scottish Office to cope with the Treasury. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was present just now, but he has apparently thought discretion the better part of valour. What happened in the Education Act of 1908? The teachers of Scotland were bought off real educational reform by the promise of pensions, and the department, carrying their Bill in spite of many home truths being told them as to what would happen, preserved an extravagant educational machinery. They are in consequence obliged to pile on the expenditure and the ratepayers of Scotland have naturally kicked and turned upon them, objecting to the imposition of the heavy rates. You cannot blame them. The result is that the pledge given by the Secretary of Scotland to the teachers of Scotland has been broken.

By whom was this decision come to? I suppose I shall be told it was by "My Lords." Who are my lords? The Lord Advocate the other day said "we," meaning the Scottish Educational Department. If I answered my own question, I should say the decision was arrived at by the people whom I might call the uncrowned kings of Scotland, namely, the Dover House Government clerks, or, as an hon. Friend suggests, the office boy. Are we to go on having the same changes that we had to submit to in connection with the Education Act of 1908? The Scottish Office seemed to think that we are playing at politics here. They seem to think that all these changes do not affect seriously the interest and welfare of the people of Scotland. They seem to think it of no account that men should give their lives to one profession and that when they have worked for a fit reward that reward should be denied to them. They seem to think nothing of the deputations which have to come up month after month or of the unrest this is caused in Scotland. The Lord Advocate the other day—and I belived he was absolutely sincere—expressed his regret and more than regret. Does the Secretary of Scotland share that regret, or that feeling of more than regret? I suppose he does. What is a feeling of more than regret? It must be a feeling of disapproval. The natural thing for a Member of the Government who feels disapproval of actions of that Government is as a protest to send in his resignation. That would bring them to their senses. A Minister who is worthy his position who disapproves of or entertains feelings of strong regret at actions to which he has to submit, ought in defence of the interests of which he is the protector to resign his office. That is why I asked if the Secretary for Scotland shares the Lord Advocate's feelings of regret or disapproval.

What is the remedy for this state of things? To transfer the Scottish Education Department to its own country. The remedy is to give way to the wishes of the deputation that waited on the Secretary for Scotland four or five years ago, with a request, signed by some fifty Scottish Members, that the Scottish Education Department should be removed from Dover House to the place where it should be-namely, the capital of Scotland, where it would be in touch with Scottish educational opinion. We were then given this extraordinary excuse—that it was impossible to separate the Scottish Educational Department from Dover House as long as Scottish Members remained here, because it was important to have the Scottish Education Department in close touch with the Scottish Members. But what do we see now? The Scottish Members are the last to know what the policy of the Scottish Education Department is, and what changes are proposed, whereas they in Scotland know all about them. It is time there was a change in this matter. If it had not been that by good fortune this opportunity had arisen to expose the action of the Department we might have had to wait for the adjournment in August before we could have put forward the real facts of the case. I strongly protest against what has taken place, and I thank the House for having afforded me this opportunity of bringing the matter forward.


I desire to associate myself with the protest which the hon. and gallant Member has made with respect to the postponement of the superannuation scheme. It may be that I shall not be able to follow the same line of argument, or to associate myself entirely with all the arguments used by my hon. Friend; but I am entirely at one with him in protesting against any delay in carrying out the Superannuation Act. I desire to state some considerations which seem to me to be of the greatest importance. In framing this scheme the Government is carrying out a direct pledge given when the Scottish Education Act was carried through Parliament. They were carrying out the policy of that Act, which has received the express sanction of Parliament. It is too late, therefore, to state now, when the teachers of Scotland have waited so long, that there are difficulties in the way of carrying out a policy so solemnly promised as the policy in question was at the time of the passing of the Scottish Education Act. I do not dispute the fact that probably the Treasury has great difficulty in meeting all the demands upon it. But this is not a new demand. It is a matter to which the Government is pledged, and I submit that it would be an act of great injustice to the teachers of Scotland to postpone any longer giving them this superannuation scheme.

8.0 P.M.

I am one of those who, so far from thinking that we spend too much on our educational services, think that we do not spend nearly enough. I believe that no expenditure is of greater benefit to the nation at large than the expenditure upon education, while I sincerely believe that the school boards of Scotland are correct in stating that the scheme means a much heavier burden upon the ratepayers, I say that the solution of the difficulty is not the withdrawal of the superannuation scheme, but to grant to Scotland for educational purposes a larger amount, from the Imperial Exchequer. The Lords of the Treasury have already received the sanction of Parliament. In the short Parliament which ended last December this House unanimously carried a Resolution expressing the view that it was the duty of the Government to contribute a far larger amount from the Imperial Exchequer for the great State service of education. Not only so, but in another place a similar Motion was carried not long after this House had carried that Motion, so that I consider the claims of the people of Scotland are irresistible. I think postponement of the scheme would be, a grave injustice to them, and would be bitterly and justly resented by every teacher throughout Scotland. In conclusion, I say that, to my mind, there is no body of public servants who deserve consideration at the hands of the State in a greater measure than do the men and women to whom we entrust the most important of all Imperial duties, the duty of educating our children. I therefore join with my hon. and gallant Friend, and with, I believe, every Member who represents a Scottish Constituency, in begging the Lord Advocate to see to it that no Department prevents the carrying out of the superannuation scheme.


I am quite certain that this in Scotland is not regarded in any sense as a Party question. Questions like this in Scotland are above party, as the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said. For my part I should be sorry to think that the Scottish teachers regarded their interests as those to be dealt with on party lines. I confess I cannot understand how the Education Department, or those responsible for the matter, can defend what has been done. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken said that a pledge had been given which had been broken. It is more than that. The Gentleman who has just spoken said that an imperative Act of Parliament. Let me remind the House what Section 14 of the Education of Scotland Act, 1908, says upon this very matter. This Act was passed fully two and a-half years ago. The Section says:— The Department shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act, after such inquiry as they think fit, prepare on actuarial advice a superannuation scheme applicable to such teachers as shall be prescribed therein. Observe, "the Government 'shall' as soon as may be, after the passing of this Act." The Government has not been in a hurry. They got into the third year before they prepared a draft scheme. Observe, further:— The scheme shall include provision (A) for payment by the Treasury, (B) for payment by the Treasury, (C) for payment by the Treasury, (D) for payment by the Treasury. They take two and a-half years to produce their draft scheme. Then, in some mysterious way, we got word in the country—we did not get it in the House of Commons—that the scheme was to be dropped. I am quite certain the Lord Advocate is not to blame in the matter, but I confess I do not appreciate the distinction he took the other night between "suspension" and "postponement." It is a very fine distinction. I really do not appreciate it. The only result is, of course, that the unhappy teachers will not get their superannuation. To my mind it is another instance of the permanent officials of the Department deliberately setting aside what Parliament has deliberately enacted.

This, to my mind, is the more serious, aspect of the question. What is the use of Scottish Members attending here and passing Acts of Parliament; of deputations-coming up here and putting forward various matters, when those who sit behind the Throne do not see that Acts are carried into effect? It suggests that something is grievously wrong with the administration of Scottish affairs. I join with hon. Gentlemen who have spoken in exonerating both the Lord Advocate, and, I believe, the Secretary for Scotland. Something, however, should be done, even if they require to take the course which seems to me to be necessary, and to say, "If we cannot get Scottish legislation once we have carried it through brought into effect because of those who hold the strings of the purse, then we decline to represent Scotland on the Government." That would bring the matter to a point at once. I join emphatically in the protest which has been made. That the passing of an Act of Parliament by Parliament should be allowed to be set aside in this fashion is neither good business nor wise administration.


I regret I was not in my place when the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Pirie) put a question of which he had given me private notice. To answer that question it was necessary that I should have further communication with the Department, and I intended to give the answer in this House, but questions were over when I arrived here. I hope the hon. Member will take that explanation.


Thank you.


I have been charged with giving an inconsistent reply when I answered a supplementary question last Tuesday put to me, and when I said I did not think that to proceed by way of scheme for the superannuation of the Scottish teachers would be difficult. The hon. Gentleman who put the question asked me whether I did not think there should be a statute rather than a scheme for the purpose of giving effect to the proposals of the Act. I answered that I thought it was appropriate that there should be a scheme.


We will take it whichever way we get it quickest.


My right hon. Friend opposite has spoken of the imperative character of these provisions for the superannuation of teachers. He will find, I think, in Sub-section (12) of Section 14 of the Act what is lawful.




It is imperative, I agree, to prepare a scheme, but in Sub-section (12) there is a change in the phraseology. But I do not found anything upon that. I regard it as a duty to proceed with this scheme at the very earliest possible moment. More than one hon. Member has complained that certain intelligence was obviously in the public possession of the people of Scotland weeks before it was given out here. I assure hon. Members that the communication alluded to was laid before the House at the very earliest possible moment after the Resolution was taken. The House will clearly understand that there is no intention of change of policy. There is no intention whatever to abandon this scheme. Pray note that there is no breach of faith; no breach of statutory obligation by the Treasury. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the statute he will find that Parliament expressly sanctions this undertaking on the part of the Treasury to pay into the new superannuation scheme the same sum as they paid into the superannuation scheme under the statute of 1898. That is the limit of the statutory obligation of the Treasury. There is no question of the fulfilment of that statutory obligation. Of course, it was anticipated at the time that the superannuation scheme came into force that the necessary money would come, not out of the rales, but under Sub-section (5) from a sufficient Treasury Grant. Do hon. Gentlemen from Scotland really say that it being now apparent that the Treasury could not at present come to our aid, the Government would have been well advised to go on with a scheme? I am sure that hon. Members will agree that it would have been unwise to press the scheme in face of the fact that there would need to be levied a rate. The correct course is to put pressure upon the Treasury in order that a Supplementary Grant may be obtained. That pressure we have put. Last Tuesday, in answer to a question. I gave the reply of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have nothing to add to that. I have no modification or change to make in regard to it. I can assure my hon. Friends that nothing shall be wanting on our part to secure the money necessary to finance this scheme. It is apparent to us that it will require an additional sum of money beyond what was originally anticipated, and that there is no other source whence it will come except a Treasury Grant. I hope my hon. Friends will rest satisfied with that assurance.


I would like to read the question and answer which I received from the Lord Advocate. I asked the Lord Advocate whether he did not recognise it to be the duty of the Government and the Treasury to supply what money is needed to carry out a statutory obligation before provision is made for what may be necessary for future legislation? The answer that I got was "in the affirmative." Well, I understand that there is a certain amount of reservation in that reply. We are told that there is no statutory obligation beyond what the Act itself provides. My point is this: that it has been found that a specific promise having been given by the Government to do a certain thing—that is to provide these pensions —that there is not enough money to do it without overburdening the ratepayers of Scotland. Therefore a deadlock has arisen. You cannot carry your scheme into effect until you get a grant from the Treasury. I say that immediately this obligation arises on the part of the Government to go and get that money from the Treasury, and that that obligation takes precedent of all other schemes which the Government have. Although I am quite in favour of the Government schemes, considering the National Insurance Bill most important, and a scheme which will have to be provided for, still in point of time this Scottish scheme is a prior obligation, and should be met before any other future schemes are dealt with. Otherwise it comes perilously near a breach of faith on the part of the Government to those persons who were given to expect that they would have their superannuation, not in the future, but immediately. I therefore associate myself entirely with all that has been said. I go further myself, and I say that the Secretary for Scotland should put pressure upon the Treasury, and again tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we in Scotland are patient supporters of the Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not all of us."] That we have been going on since 1870 without having a groat Act for Scotland of any sort or kind, and it is as much use Bending Scottish Members to Parliament under those circumstances as it is to whistle jigs to milestones. There is a limit to our patience. We, in justice to our constituencies, must insist, when legislation is put upon the Statute Book, that the Government will see that it is carried out at once, and not postponed, in view of other possible legislation.

And, it being a quarter past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chair- man of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further proceeding was postponed without Question put.