HC Deb 27 February 1919 vol 112 cc2035-42

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £225,000, 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, 1919, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Board of Education, and of the various Establishments connected therewith, including sundry Grants-in-Aid.


There is one item of this Vote which has a very special interest, and that is the item which appears for the first time, as I understand it, in any Vote presented to this House. I refer to the Grants towards expenditure in connection with the education of demobilised officers and men, amounting to £75,000. I just wish to say, and I think everybody will agree, that that, sum will be most gladly granted by this House, and no money which is used in this way can be otherwise than most fruitful and productive expenditure. I will only make one point. Time is of the essence of the real usefulness of such a Grant. These men are coming back to civilian life, or the largest proportion of them, after a period of enforced idle- ness in the Service waiting for demobolisation, and go where you like throughout the length and breadth of the country you will see demobilised officers and men without any definite occupation. The trades to which these men have gone are of a nature which affects the very root of their vital energy, and the longer they are allowed to go without a proper clear cut opportunity of adapting themselves to civilian life the greater the injury to them. I express the most fervent hope that this money will be used as swiftly as possible, because every day this devitalising process goes on and these men become more and more unfit to take advantage of the scheme which is mentioned here.


I do not object to the additional sum of £150,000 in respect of certain Grants to certain educational authorities, but I would like to have some information as to the causes that have made it necessary for the original Estimates to be increased by almost 100 per cent.

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. Fisher)

I am fully sensible of the very weighty considerations which have been brought before the notice of the Committee by my right hon. Friend (SirD. Maclean). It is, as he says, of the utmost importance that this assistance which the Government are proposing to give to ex-officers and men of like education and standing to enable them to avail themselves of the higher educational institutions of this country should be forthcoming as rapidly and as promptly as possible, and I can assure my right hon. Friend that object is in a very fair way of accomplishment. Already a number of ex-officers are receiving grants under the scheme and have gone to the universities. They will receive interim grants not exceeding £35 per term until their circumstances have been fully inquired into, when grants will be given to cover their education during the whole of their university course. We have already received between 900 and 1,000 applications for grants from ex-officers and men, and these are being attended to as rapidly as possible. With regard to the Grants to necessitous areas, I may perhaps explain that the necessitous areas Grant was started in the year 1906–7, and that the sum granted was stereotyped in the financial year 1915–16. There are a number of areas where the circumstances have been very exceptional. The increase in their expenditure has been mainly due to the demands which have been put forward for increases of salary on the part of the teaching staff. These areas, which are very poor and whose rateable value is very low, are mainly in the neighbourhood of London—West Ham is a classical instance—and they suffer in the teachers' market by the competition of the very wealthy adjoining districts of London. These areas consequently have been put to a very considerable strain, and my hon. Friend will realise what that strain is when I tell him that the education rate in West Ham now stands at 3s. 7d. against 2s. 6d. for 1917–18. Consequently, a very strong appeal was made to the Board of Education to meet the special circumstances of these poor areas.

Hon. Members may perhaps ask why these needs were not sufficiently met by the Supplementary Grant which was introduced in 1917 and which was framed upon a formula especially devised to assist necessitous areas. The reason is that the Grant has had to be calculated upon the expenditure not of the current year, but of two years ago, the other figures not being available. Next year the Supplementary Grant will be calculated upon the figure of that year. Consequently, we have this situation: A certain number of areas, twenty in number, will be faced with an exceptional demand and will be burdened with an exceptional rate, whereas the Grant will not be adequately adjusted to meet their needs. That is the reason for this Supplementary Grant.


Apparently, this item of £75,000 for the education of demobilised officers and men is a new Vote and represents a new departure, and, that being so, I think the Committee would be glad to have some further information. I should like to know the institutions to which this Grant extends. The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the universities to which ex-officers who have the benefit of these Grants may go. I am quite sure that the Committee would be interested to know under what conditions the Grants are given, how the officers are selected, and who selects them. This seems a very wide and important matter, and if the right hon. Gentleman could give us some fuller information I feel sure that the whole Committee would be grateful. I think on this Vote we are entitled to open up the question of policy, and, if the right hon. Gentleman could tell us what is the policy of the Government on this matter, I for one should be exceedingly glad, because it is a matter in which I am keenly interested, as I am sure are other Members.


May I ask if it is intended to confine this Vote to officers and men of like standing, because I would remind my right hon. Friend that there are thousands and thousands of young men who will be demobilised, and who have just as great a claim for further education as officers and men of like standing. There are thousands of young fellows of promise who have had their lives broken into, and whose mental capacity has remained more or less stagnant. If the War had not broken into their lives they would be occupying very prominent positions, but now they will have to take inferior positions. What does my right hon. Friend intend to do for them? They have just as great a right to a better education as ex-officers and men of like standing.


I rise to endorse the appeal for some further information with regard to these Grants. We all rejoice to see this item, but we should like to know a little more as to what will happen to these men if they are successful, say, in obtaining their degree after spending their time at a university. What facilities will be provided for them obtaining some position? Will it be possible for them to link up with the Ministry of Labour, which, I understand, has a number of professions and occupations that will be available? I hope they will not be sent to the university, kept there for a certain period, and then be allowed to leave without means. I should like to be assured that when they obtain their degree there will be some profession open to them.


I should like to ask how many officers and how many men who are not officers are receiving the advantages of this higher education, and what is the meaning of the phrase "men of like standing." Why is that qualification put in? I should be very pleased to support a Vote of double this amount, but I want to know just the position and just how the selection is made?

6.0 P.M.


I make no complaint of the questions which have been asked me, and I am very glad to have this opportunity of giving a further explanation to the Committee upon a matter which neces- sarily is of very great interest and importance. This scheme is the outcome of a Report made by a Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Alfred Keogh, a Committee winch was appointed by the Presidents of the Board of Agriculture and the Board of Education and the Ministers of Labour and of Pensions, under the name Officers (University and Technical Training) Committee, to advise the Departments concerned upon such courses of education and training as it might be desirable to arrange for ex-officers and persons of like standing, particularly with a view to fitting them for suitable appointments after the War. On 14th November the Committee submitted to the Ministers concerned a scheme of assistance towards the educational training of ex-officers and men of like standing. This was considered by the Demobilisation Committee, and a scheme was submitted to the War Cabinet on 6th December, 1918. The Treasury approved the finance of the proposal, and the War Cabinet directed that effect should be given to it. On 14th December, 1918, an official announcement was issued by the Controller-General of Demobilisation and Resettlement, and the general arrangement was that the Board of Agriculture and the Education Departments in England, Scotland, and Ireland should provide courses of higher education in educational institutions—not only in the universities but in the technical institutes and higher educational institutions—that the Minister of Labour should arrange for additional courses of practical training in offices, works, and professional employments, and that the Board of Agriculture and the corresponding Departments in Scotland and Ireland should arrange for practical training on farms. The Minister of Pensions was to co-operate in the working of the scheme on behalf of disabled officers and men who would be eligible for maintenance under it. The provisions of the Royal Warrant as to the training of the disabled was to remain in force so far as they were more beneficial to the candidates than the provisions under the scheme. On 20th January, 1919, the Board of Education issued to university institutions an announcement of the terms upon which they were prepared to make interim grants to ex-Service officers and men desirous of pursuing courses of higher education during the term which was then commencing, and, if necessary, during the summer term. The object of these interim grants was to enable suitable men to commence or resume their courses of education at once without any waiting. That answers a point made by my right hon. Friend when he pleaded for immediate action. We are making interim grants to meet that particular difficulty. The interim grant is limited to the amount of £35 for the spring term and a similar amount for the summer term, if necessary. It is believed that a cash payment of that kind for each of the terms will be sufficient to enable a man to carry on. The responsibility for recommending the award is placed on the university or institution concerned. Under this arrangement some 900 or 1,000 applications have been received in respect of men who desire to enter or resume their education in a university during the coming year. In a certain number of cases a smaller sum than £35 has been awarded. Generally speaking, the heads of institutions have performed their duties in this respect most carefully and conscientiously, and an examination of their recommendations shows that all the men recommended are well qualified by educational attainments to benefit by university education, but they really need assistance. Many of them come from very poor homes, and whatever sacrifices their parents have made to enable them to qualify for university education, there is no doubt that many of them would not have reached their present stage of education without the assistance of scholarships and exhibitions granted by local education authorities and by governors of endowed foundations. Not a penny of the money is expended on ex-officers or other persons of like standing who do not require financial aid, and most careful inquiry is made into the circumstances of all applicants. No doubt a good deal still remains to be done to improve and widen the avenue to the universities. I think the Committee may rest satisfied that this money is being wisely and properly spent on people who have served their country in the War, and only on them, and on men who are fitted to profit by higher education at our universities and technical schools. It is spent only on men who really want the money and could not undergo the course of training without it.


My object in raising the question was to see that as far as possible the money went only to those men who cannot help themselves.

Sir J. D. REES

My right hon. Friend said that every possible inquiry was made before any grant was given under this head. But I did not understand from him what kind of inquiry is made, or exactly to what kind of person the grants were made. Are the grants made to persons who ordinarily would not have received them or who, but for serving in the War, would not have gone to a university? Why is the money given to one man more than to another? Is it a sort of rung in the ladder of education of which we have heard so much in late years, and what kind of discrimination is exercised in regard to it? I confess that, although I listened to the right hon. Gentleman with very great attention, it is not quite clear to me what exactly is being done. I understand some 400 young sailors have been sent to Cambridge—


They are not included in this Vote.

Sir J. D. REES

I am still in some doubt as to the class of persons to whom the grant is given. Officers and men who have been demobilised have been mentioned, but it is extremely difficult for me to understand how this public money is being distributed. I do not complain that my right hon. Friend has not explained it to my satisfaction, but I do want to know is the money going to officers and men who, while serving, exhibited very exceptional educational abilities or potentialities, so as to make it desirable that the taxpayers should pay for their education when they are demobilised? I should like to have it made more clear what discrimination is exercised.


The Minister did not deal with the point which I tried to raise, and that is, as to what happened to the student after he had gone through one or two terms at the university. Is he debarred from going to the Ministry of Labour and availing himself of the possibilities offered there? I am under the impression there is a time limit at the Ministry of Labour, and that applications are not received from men who have been demobilised more than six months. I want to know if the university man will be debarred availing himself of these opportunities by that time limit?

Colonel YATE

I wish to say how glad I was to hear the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman, and how pleased, too, I am that the education of these officers and men is going on so satisfactorily and offers such good promise. I for one welcome expenditure of this kind. But I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman as to physical education in the schools, and what help he is going to give in that direction. I understand that some of the inspectors have been away serving with the Colours. I want to know if more are to be appointed, and what Grants are to be made in this respect in the future.


I think that does not arise on this Vote.


I am afraid it is a matter for the main Vote of the year.