HC Deb 04 December 1916 vol 88 cc739-43

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a supplementary sum, not exceeding £178,880, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1917, for the Expenses of the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland, including Grants in Aid of the Teachers' Pension Fund, Ireland."


There are a few words I should like to say in reference to this Estimate. It is well known that the large majority of the elementary teachers in Ireland are paid on a very modest scale at the present time. To some extent the position has been met by the grant of what is called a war bonus, but there was another difficulty which could only be met by this proposal. The pay of Irish teachers in past years has been handed over quarterly, and the result has been that men in receipt of these small salaries have been obliged to live upon credit unless they could succeed in saving one quarter's salary. The hardship of this state of things was strongly represented to the Government by those who speak on behalf of the elementary teachers in Ireland, and the decision was arrived at that payment of the salary should be made monthly instead of quarterly. This Supplementary Estimate is brought forward in order to give effect to that decision, as monthly payments could not be made unless the Committe and the House sanctioned the provision of the necessary funds. I can assure the Committee there is nothing in the nature of extravagance in this proposal, and it is absolutely necessary and proper that I should ask for this extra Vote for the reasons I have stated.


All of us who sit on these benches recognise the warm and sympathetic spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman has approached this question of the payment of teachers monthly instead of quarterly, and the warm interest which he took in securing for the elementary teachers in Ireland a war bonus. The teachers of Ireland owe him a great debt of gratitude for the influence he exercised on the Treasury in securing that women teachers should be placed on the same basis as men. He will be gratefully remembered in Ireland for what he has done in this respect during his short tenure of office. I should like to take advantage of this opportunity to raise the question of the position of ex-teachers in Ireland. I confess, however, with regard to the war bonus, we do not regard it as by any means adequate to meet the situation. It was a great pity while the right hon. Gentleman was manifesting such a sympathetic spirit towards the teacher he did not take up the question of ex-teachers and their pensions. I would remind him that the average pay of a teacher is about £40 per year, and that works out at a pension of £16 or £17 per annum. I believe it is agreed that these figures are substantially correct, and I put it to the right hon. Gentleman does he think that such a sum is sufficient to maintain an ex-teacher, who has rendered great services to the State, in decent comfort and in a position of respectability? No one could possibly live on that amount.

I have been working at the figures as I eat here, and I find that if the Treasury consented to give a bonus of 3s. to ex-teachers it would only cost about £15,000. Everyone admits that in these days of economic stress it is vitally important that the State should be a model employer. It ought to show an example to private employers throughout the country. But in regard to the treatment of teachers in Ireland, it certainly cannot claim to be a model employer. No one denies that it ought to treat servants—who have given meritorious service in one of the most vital questions that concern the welfare of the nation—the moral and mental development of those who are to constitute its manhood and womanhood—in a fairer and more reasonable way than it has done in the past. When the Treasury came to calculate the amount of pensions that ought to be paid to the teachers, it was based upon the salaries which they received, and the present Minister for War, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared in a public statement, declared that the salaries paid to the Irish national teachers, when the representations were made to him by members of his party and by a large deputation, were a public scandal, and nothing less than a public scandal. It was upon the basis of the scandalously inadequate salaries which were paid that these pensions were calculated.

A great Empire engaged in a vast war, on which it is spending some £6,000,000 a day, ought really to be ashamed of itself in expecting teachers who have spent their lives in the public service, and in whose hands were the moulding and fashioning of the rising generation, to respectably starve upon an income of £16 or 17 a year. I mentioned in a supplementary question the other day that many of these teachers in Ireland were in the workhouse. That statement was subsequently contradicted by one of the officials at Dublin Castle, who informed the right hon. Gentleman that I had made an inaccurate statement. The right hon. Gentleman sent me the communication of this official in Dublin Castle, and I am now here to say that I acted on information I received. Perhaps I exaggerated the number of these teachers in the workhouse; still, I would wish the right hon. Gentleman to explain by what economic and domestic measure an ex-teacher in Ireland can live out of the workhouse upon a pension such as I have indicated. For the answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave me to-day on the question, it is only a matter of something like £15,000 a year, and I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to exercise his influence as the head of the Government of Ireland to set the Treasury to pay this infinitisimal sum—because really it is not worth speaking about—to these poor men and women who have now reached an age at which they have to depend upon the amount I have stated for their livelihood. I would further appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to complete the work he has already done by conceding this demand which I have ventured to make.


I support the appeal made by my hon. Friend, for I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members must know perfectly well that the amount of the pension is on simply a starvation scale.


The hon. Member opposite has made references to the small part I have played in regard to the Supplementary Vote which is before the Committee, and I am most grateful to him, I am sure, for his observations. He has made a moving appeal to the Government in regard to pensions, and he says that £15,000 is only a small sum. So it would have been in the pre-war period, but with this huge expenditure of £6,000,000 a day upon the War, small sums which are saved at least come as some relief towards that enormous expenditure. I am sorry to say that the larger expenditure has its effect upon smaller proposals. In the case of the salaries, there were public grounds of a convincing character in regard to the Irish teachers, and especially as to the women teachers, and I felt justified, on grounds of propriety as well as of expediency, in acting as I did. In regard to the pensions, we could not increase them in one quarter without doing so in every quarter, and to embark upon a proposal of that kind, because in a particular instance the rate of pensions is on an exceedingly moderate scale, of course must lead to embarrassment and trouble, and therefore I regret to say, in answer to the appeal of the hon. Member, that it cannot be done.


Will the right hon. Gentleman make a final appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to grant this sum? The point which the right hon. Gentleman made that owing to tremendous expenditure on the War it was necessary to make these savings. Surely such savings ought not to be made at the cost of a notorious body of public servants? I believe that the Treasury really know how small is the amount that is needed, but it means much to these poor people, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman not to close the door absolutely on this subject, but to make representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, bringing before him what is the united representation of Ireland. There is not a Member from Ireland who does not feel strongly on this matter. We have been often told that Irish Members should come to this House unitedly to make any reasonable demand, and I would point out that in this instance the right hon. Member for Trinity College and the hon. and learned Member for Waterford both formed part of a deputation on this matter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and there you had a united demand from Ireland on not only a matter of justice, but a matter of deep concern. I do not see why it is not possible for the right hon. Gentleman to associate his name, as he did in regard to the other matter, with a simple act of justice to these poor people.

Resolutions to be reported upon Thursday; Committee to sit again upon Thursday.