HC Deb 23 October 1912 vol 42 cc2332-40

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of 14th October, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn:"—


I think I owe an apology to the House which sat so late last night for bringing up this subject. The question is that of the answers given by the Secretary for Scotland with regard to education, and I would remind the House that we Scottish Members have had only two hours in the year to discuss this question. Unfortunately yesterday I found myself at complete variance with the answers given by the Secretary for Scotland to questions which I put. I will say at once that those questions were in no way personal. Those questions were put in order to educate the Scottish people; and the only way Scottish Members have of imparting information is by question and answer, and were for the purpose of bringing before the Scottish people the insufficiency of the control which they have over the education system. If by any chance it is urged that there is anything personal in the matter, the responsibility rests, not on me, but on the answers given to the questions I put. I would remind the House that, as a matter of fact, the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger), I think, talking on the Scottish Estimates, criticised my speech as being somewhat mild. My first question yesterday was a very clear one. I asked for the date of the last meeting of the Committee of Council on Education in Scotland, and the number of attendances of the members. The Secretary for Scotland replied:— I would refer my hon. Friend to my answer to his question of 6th August last. My hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge) reminded the right hon. Gentleman that these particular points had not been answered, and the right hon. Gentleman replied— I am not aware of that. Mr. Pirie: May I ask a definite answer to the portion of the question to which my hon. Friend refers? Mr. McKinnon Wood: It was answered."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1912, col. 1918.] In reply to that I have to say that it was not answered, and I ask the House to judge. My question of 6th August asked for the date of the appointment of the members, the number of their attendances, the number of meetings since 1906, and the date of the last meeting of the Committee. The reply was:— The Committee was appointed on 2nd March, 1909; the present Secretary for Scotland being appointed Vice-President on 29th February, 1912 No meetings have taken place since the date named. That was all the answer I got to my four questions. As showing that the question was not answered, the Report proceeds:— Sir Arthur Markham: The right hon. Gentleman did not answer the last part of the question as to the date of the last meeting."—[OFFICIAL RETORT, 6th August, 1912, col. 2908.] In the face of that, I do not think that my direct contradiction of the Secretary for Scotland was in any way too straight or too direct. To use the mildest word I can, I would characterise the reply as evasive. That is the text of every criticism by educational authorities in Scotland of the answers given to hon. Members by the Scottish Office. Evasion, evasion, evasion! I might apply a stronger word. In the reply to the next question there is an absolute indifference to correctness. My question asked: Whether minutes of these meetings are kept; who is responsible for such minutes; who is the chairman of the committee; and what is the number of members that constitute a quorum? The Secretary for Scotland, instead of answering the question, went into the history of the formation of the body. Luckily, the hon. Member for Aberdeen University (Sir H. Craik), a former permanent secretary, was present, and said that minutes used to be kept, and could be discovered among the archives of the Scottish Office. Why should not the Secretary for Scotland have given one straight answer: "No minutes were kept; there are no records; we know nothing about it." Then I should have had nothing to say. It would have been more satisfactory and nearer the truth. The right hon. Gentleman in reply to a further question, said that this Committee was a growth in the progress of the Constitution. In all seriousness I would say that it is a very malignant growth indeed. It is a gangrene eating into a subject which goes to the heart of the Scottish people and most nearly affects their welfare. The sooner it is removed the better for education in Scotland. I come now to the last question I asked the right hon. Gentleman, whether he would do anything to meet the growing feeling of dissatisfaction which exists in educational circles in Scotland at the existing state of affairs? I asked him if he would either appoint an Advisory Committee or else a Commission of Inquiry into education generally in Scotland? He treated these two requests—backed up by the greatest educational authorities in Scotland—with the same contempt, derision, and indifference that he treated the request of forty-eight Scottish Members and five privy councillors as to the removal of the Scottish Office to Edinburgh. He treated it as so much waste paper.

11.0 P.M.

When I see a man professing Liberal principles treating questions of this sort with what I may call discourtesy, I think I am entitled to state the case fully to the House of Commons. I will quote the opinions in support of my case of eminent Scottish educationists who have given forty or fifty years of their life to the work, and whose names, if unknown to the Members of the House of Commons, are household words in Scotland, are known to every Scottish child. There is Principal Sir James Donaldson, Dr. Smith of Govan, of the Scottish School Boards' Association, Professor Ramsay, and Dr. Giles, Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Men who by pamphlet, letters to the Press, and in public have denounced the present system of Scottish Education, and have supported the views I am putting forward. The right hon. Gentleman says there is no dissatisfaction; he sits there with a smile on his face; but I can tell him that the dissatisfaction which exists is leading to the formation of an association for the defence of our rural schools in Scotland. It is an absolute necessity for those who have an interest in Scottish education to be better organised. What is that association? It is non-political; it is in the interest of no church in particular—that is to say, it is in the interest of every church—which is the very highest and broadest spirit of religion. It is also in the interest of no special form of culture, but merely to preserve the old parochial system of education which has made Scotsmen great in the past. We wish that system maintained in all its integrity. These are the views held by all these Gentlemen whose names I have read out, and which were held by Dr. Burns and Professor McClure, representing the Education Committee, and by a score of others whose names I have here. And on the top of all this the Scottish Secretary tells mo that there is no dissatisfaction with the education system in Scotland, and he will not even give consideration to the matters I have brought before him.

The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. McKinnon Wood)

The first thing that has caused dissatisfaction to my hon. and gallant Friend is the question of the date of the meeting of the Council of Education in Scotland. My hon. Friend has asked me a number of questions on that subject at various times, and he read out a number of my answers. I think I would have escaped a good deal of his criticism if he had done me the honour to road out another answer I gave him. "I said that if I had not given the date my hon. and gallant Friend desired, I would give it to him, and if I had given it, I would give it again." Surely that was not a discourteous answer. [An HON. MEMBER: "Did you give it?"] I will give it now. I was asked the question some time ago as to whether this Committee had met since 1906, and I replied it had not met since 1906. I think that was an answer on that question. I have no reason to conceal the date. There is no point in that at all; it is mere imagination on the part of my hon. Friend. In fact, I want to give the date, for the reason that I wish to deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow University (Sir Henry Craik). He asked me "whether it was not the case that the Committee of Council met frequently in his time." I replied, "I did not think it met frequently"; but I was aware it met, because I have the minutes of the meetings, and I think I was justified in that reply, because I find on looking into the matter that although the hon. Member for Glasgow University for a long time filled with great ability the office of Permanent Secretary for Education, there was a considerable lapse between the meetings of the Committee of the Privy Council. Seeing that between 1893 and the year the hon. Member left that office, 1904—a period of eleven years—there was only one meeting of the Committee of the Privy Council, on the 3rd of March, 1899, I do not think the frequency of meetings was very great. I do not think the word "frequent" applies very appropriately to that state of affairs at all.

Of course, I quite admit that in the earlier years after the Constitution of the Education Authority in 1885 there were more frequent meetings. There were actually two meetings in 1886, and for some years there were two or three meetings, but never did the Committee of the Council or Education deal, as my hon. Friend seems to suppose it ought to have, deal with the ordinary administrative work of the Board of Education. It met sometimes to consider large and new questions of finance, and as to the granting of free education, and the position of the schools in the poorer areas—chiefly financial questions, but to say it met frequently when the hon. Member did not bring about a meeting for eleven years, is, I think, rather a curious statement. What is the position of this Committee of Council? To begin with, it is obviously a state of affairs for which I have no responsibility. It would not be a very grave offence when the hon. Gentleman opposite did not have a meeting of this Committee for so long a period if I did not have a meeting when no special circumstances arose to call it together. What is this Committee after all? It is in the same position as the Board of Trade, which has a Committee of Council with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, and five Secretaries of State upon it, which nobody supposes will be called together to consider the work of the Board of Trade. It is in the same position as the Local Government Board or the English Board of Education or the new Board of Agriculture set up a few years ago—I think in 1889. What is the point about it? I did not invent that constitutional method. You may say it is a fiction. If you do not like it, bring in legislation to abolish it. Abolish the whole lot. Why is this considered an offence on my part? My hon. Friend raised some general question of education. He said this Committee of Council was a malignant gangrenous growth. I do not know what he means. He blamed me for saying there was no system of education in any country in the world in regard to which there were not people who were not dissatisfied with it, and that is perfectly true. We know perfectly well that there are people in Scotland who object to all the improvements that were made under the control of my hon. Friend opposite the Member for Glasgow University and under succeeding Secretaries for Scotland for years past. The hon. Member said they wanted to return to the system of the past and see that maintained, but I defy anybody who knows anything about Scottish education to deny that there has not been an enormous improvement in secondary education in Scotland. We go back to the time when there were no secondary schools in many large districts, and the only chance of the clever lad was to get the spare time of the master to teach him a little Latin or Greek. The whole status of university education in Scotland has been raised. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not university."] Does the Noble Lord suppose that you can raise the status of university education without raising secondary education? I am sure there are hon. Members here who will agree with me when I say that children went to the university at thirteen or fourteen years of age, and the junior Greek class in the Scottish university was then a perfectly elementary class. That has been altered now. The age has been raised and the boys have to be more highly prepared, and the whole status of secondary education has been raised by the efforts of the Education Department.


The point raised by my hon. Friend is that these changes take place without an opportunity being given to Scottish Members here to discuss them, and when we put questions on this point the Scottish Secretary shelters himself behind that Committee.


That statement is absolutely without the slightest justification. I have never sheltered myself behind the Committee; never once mentioned the Committee, and never evaded my responsibility. I want to make perfectly clear what is the position. I ask my hon. Friend to refer to the well-known work of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford University (Sir W. Anson) on the "Law and Custom of the Constitution," and I do not think I could state the position more briefly or more clearly. He is talking about the creation of a Secretary for Scotland, and he says:— The administration of the Scottish Education Act was assigned to this new secretary, whose position as regards education is that of Vice-President of the Committee of Education and Council in Scotland. That is the position. Then why all this question about the committee of the council, if hon. Members recognise that is the position. We have had even in the short time I have been in office, several Debates on this question, and there is not the slightest justification for the charge that information has been withheld. The fact of the matter is that if I do not happen to agree with my hon. and gallant Friend it is immediately made a source of personal offence, and I am accused of dishonesty and untruthfulness, and all that sort of thing. I am not going to enter into that. A man can honestly believe that it would not be to the advantage of education to set up an Advisory Committee on the scheme proposed and supported by the hon. and gallant Member without giving the hon. and gallant Member any cause for personal offence. Surely differences of opinion may be allowed without any bitterness in this particular matter. For my part, I say—I think I know quite as much about it as the hon. and gallant Member—it is the general opinion in Scotland that since the institution of the Scotch Education Department that Department has done work that has made for steady progress in education, and particularly in higher education, and that there has not been retrogression, but advance in that line.


We want to make it clear to the Secretary for Scotland what is our real grievance. We have nothing to do with the personal question at all. The Secretary for Scotland is entitled to answer questions in the way he thinks fit. It may be good or it may be bad, but that lies with the House, and no one blames him for it. The Secretary for Scotland is responsible for Scotch education and for twelve or thirteen other Scottish Departments, and it does not necessarily follow that he is intimately acquainted with all the needs of Scotch education. The present Secretary may be but it does not follow every Gentleman who may hold that office will be intimately acquainted with them. There is a Committee set up to assist him in devising schemes. He tells us that when they did meet they met for financial reasons. If that is so, why is every man put on that Committee an educationist? Why are Lord Elgin, Lord Shaw, and Lord Haldane all put on the Committee for their educational qualifications? Yet they discuss nothing but finance. In the last twelve or fifteen years the whole educational system in Scotland has been changed without any opportunity being given to us to discuss those changes. What we want is that somehow or other those of us who are here and know the education of our own country, should have some opportunity of discussing those changes before they are made hard and fast by any permanent officials of the Scottish Education Department. That is the point we are after, and, if the Secretary for Scotland would appreciate it, he would get the full support of all of us. We are as wiliing to see education advanced in Scotland as he is. We object to being left out in the cold. We are left out in the cold. We come down here and know nothing about it. We have no opportunity of discussing it, and we get from all over Scotland any amount of evidence of the fact that Scottish bodies and the whole of the Scottish teaching profession are filled with trepidation as to the kind of changes that will come next. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman said himself that universal dissatisfaction does not exist. Does he believe that?


I did not say dissatisfaction does not exist. I am well aware of the hon. Gentleman's own dissatisfaction. What I said was that universal dissatisfaction did not exist.


If the right hon. Gentleman were in touch with public bodies in Scotland he would soon be disabused of that view. If he has leisure let him refer to the "Scotsman" or to the "Glasgow Herald," which is nearer his own constituency; he would then find to what extent dissatisfaction exists. There is no personal animus at all. We desire, as Scottish Members, to be associated with the educational policy of our own country, and if the policy of the Scottish Secretary is to keep us out in the cold, he must expect the kind of treatment that may come and the series of questions that we shall put in order to draw public attention to the matter in Scotland.

And, it being half an hour after the conclusion of Government Business, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put.

Adjourned accordingly at Seventeen minutes after Eleven o'clock.