HC Deb 15 July 1919 vol 118 cc309-20

Sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section twelve of the Income Tax Act, 1918 (which gives relief from income Tax in respect to children under the age of sixteen years), shall be extended to include a child over the age of sixteen years who is a lull-time scholar in any school or university within the United Kingdom recognised as such by the Board of Education.— [Mr. W. Graham.]

Brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, That the Clause be read a second time. I am quite sure that this Clause will commend itself to the sympathetic consideration of a very large number of the members of this Committee. At the present moment we are on the eve in this country of paying largely increased Grants to the universities and the large secondary and other schools in order to secure the best and highest education, more particularly for the children of the working classes, as well as for the children of all sections of the community. It would be singularly unfortunate, and certainly quite impossible, to reconcile the policy that we should be embarking upon increased expenditure for the provision of education for these children and at the same time continuing a system of taxation under the Income Tax which would make it impossible for quite a considerable proportion of them to take advantage of the education so provided. It is very often argued that there is little reality in. new Clauses or in Amendments or arguments of this kind, and that if there is any real desire on the part of the children of the workers to obtain the highest education in this country at the moment, there is no real obstacle to their doing so.

I think when one starts to examine as some of us have had occasion to do in the past the circumstances of many families, we find that whilst taxation does not exclude one or two members of that family from participating in the highest branch of education, it often has the effect of excluding other members of the family who are quite as well qualified to take ad-vantage of the training provided. That must represent, and 1 think does represent, a very real loss to the State from year to year. The only possible line of reply which I think can be offered by the right hon. Gentleman opposite is that this involves a question which is really to be settled by the Royal Commission on the Income Tax. I have no desire to anticipate the findings of that Royal Commission, or to indicate in any way the evidence which has been accumulated up to this point as the result of its investigations, but there can be no doubt in the mind of any hon. Members that there must be a recommendation to make the course of education as free and easy as possible from the point of view of taxation on the homes in this country. This is one of the cases in which we can with perfect safety anticipate the findings or the recommendations -of that Commission.

In the second place, the new Clause we propose will have a real and immediate advantage. As I have indicated, we are embarking upon greatly increased expenditure upon universites, and we are doing so largely because of the consideration that higher education for the workers and professional classes is essential to a sound and healthy reconstruction. We argue this new Clause very strongly on these grounds, and we suggest in all fairness to the right hon. Gentleman that he will get an immediate gain, whether from the point of view of scientific training or other experience in industry and commerce in this country, such as will fully justify the concession we are asking for now. In point of fact, I believe the right hon. Gentleman's experience of the new policy we seek to advocate will be that it achieves a Teal gain, even on a purely material basis, as a result of the adoption of this Clause. I think it quite unnecessary to weary the Committee with arguments which must be familiar to all Members, which, I think, will not admit of an answer, whether we have taxation or education in mind, and I, therefore, press this new Clause upon the sympathetic consideration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


I desire to support the Clause now before the Committee, and to bespeak for it the careful consideration of the hon. Gentleman who represents the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the moment. My hon. Friend who has just moved the Clause has pointed out the great difficulty that stands in the way of people with moderate incomes from the educational point of view unless the relief which we seek in the terms of this Clause is granted. I should like to remind the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that the lowering of the Income Tax limit from £160 to £130, with the increase that has taken place simultaneously in the cost of living, makes this a very serious question for persons with moderate incomes. Many reasons can be adduced for urging the favourable consideration of this proposal, but as I understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself looks upon it with a rather kindly eye, I do not think it would be wise on my part to take up more of the time of the Committee.


I wish to support the case put forward by the two last speakers. I have on the Paper further down an Amendment which is in no way antagonistic to this new Clause, and, in fact, it was put down rather as a saving Clause. I certainly shall not press it in opposition to the one now before the Committee. We are all agreed that the great task of reconstruction must be based on a thoroughly sound system of education. That is a doctrine to which lip-service is more often given than real service. It has been emphasised by practically every Member of this House, from the Prime Minister downwards, in one way or another. There are several considerations to be borne in mind in regard to this matter. One of the most important is a lesson which we draw from the War. There were: many sacrifices made during the War, but none greater than those made by young men who had qualified themselves by superior education to become officers in the Army, and then, by losing their lives, not only robbed their homes of their presence, but took away also a promise of the repayment of the great expenditure incurred on their education. This is a matter for the State itself. If we are to have that new earth of which we are so often told, we must do something to make the path of higher education as easy as possible. Within the last year the Government have done much to afford increased facilities for higher education, and I hope, therefore, that this Clause will be accepted in some form or other, so as to carry out efficiently what I am sure is the intention of Parliament. Some drafting Amendments will be necessary, because, for instance, the Clause speaks of a school or university approved by the Board of Education, whereas the House knows that the "Board of Education has no jurisdiction in Scotland or in Ireland.


The subject of this Amendment is one which has been raised, if my recollection serves me right, both last year and the year before. The Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time was unable to accept the Clause, his view being—and it was a view endorsed by a majority of the House—that so long as the War proceeded the time was not yet ripe for a step in this direction. But the War is now ended. I find myself in sympathy with everything which has been said on this Amendment, but I do not propose to accept the Clause as it stands, nor do I propose to accept another Clause on the same subject further down on the Paper. The Clause now under discussion is a little narrow in its interpretation, and we cannot allow it to stand. We have given careful consideration to this matter, and I shall be quite willing to have a Clause drafted before the Report stage which will give what is desired in respect of children up to the age of eighteen years, provided that the education is full time. I think that covers the point. Full-time education is what we desire, and by drafting a Clause on these lines I think we shall meet objections which have been raised, and enlist sympathy in all quarters of the House. I hope, therefore, the Clause which we propose will meet with the support of those who are bringing forward the present Clause.


I am glad to hear that the Government at last is going to make some concession, however small, to this side of the House. I have a new Clause on the Paper on the same subject, and I appreciate the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is willing to put down a Clause of his own, giving this concession up to the age of eighteen years. I really think there is a very strong case to be made out for going further, more particularly as in the last few weeks evidence has been given before the Royal Commission on Income Tax, according to the Press, from the Board of Education itself, which recommended that relief in respect of school attendance should be from the age of fourteen onwards so as to increase with the age of the students. The scale they recommended was from fourteen to sixteen, £50; from sixteen to eighteen, £75; from eighteen to twenty-one, £100; and from twenty-one to twenty-five, £125 per annum. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer merely puts down a new Clause up to the age of eighteen, then as compared with the views of his colleagues at the Board of Education, he is getting off very cheaply indeed. In these circumstances, I would ask that he should reconsider the matter and see if he cannot go a little further. I ask that particularly because if this new Clause is put in now up to the age of eighteen, it will be very difficult to extract any further concessions probably until some years more have elapsed. It is interesting to know that the hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are on this occasion going in advance of the findings of the Royal Commission. But I am afraid they are-doing that because they think they will get off rather more cheaply. As a general rule when any reform is urged in regard to Income Tax they say, "We cannot do anything. We have set up a Committee and must wait to see what they have to say." The Income Tax Commission is a perfect godsend to them. When it does not suit them to do anything they say. "Wait till the Commission has reported. When they want to get off cheaply they go in advance of its findings. There is a very strong case to be made out for doing this in a more whole-hearted manner. If I had thought there was a chance of getting more I would have put my own Clause in a more complete form. However, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer will go thus far, I very much hope between now and Report the hon. Gentleman will persuade him to go rather further, because I am quite satisfied that any concession given in this way would pay the country well. Whatever loss of revenue there might be would be made good very soon by increased efficiency on the part of the students.


I greatly appreciate the concession which has been offered by the hon. Gentleman, but I wish to press this point very strongly on his attention. In the case of the Scottish universities the entrance age is sixteen, and, as a rule, the students continue for three, four, or five years to the age of twenty or twenty-one—that is, assuming they start at the earliest possible moment. The effect of the restriction to the age of eighteen years would be to exclude from participation in this con-cession a very large number of the sons and daughters of the working classes at a period in the curriculum when the expenses were higher and the general pressure on the resources of the home was more severe than at the period the hon. Gentleman has in mind. I know h e desires to meet us. The concession is very valuable, and we appreciate it, but it ought to go beyond the age of eighteen.


I am afraid the hon. Gentleman will look upon us as a lot of Oliver Twists, and that our asking for more will not encourage him to make concessions. But really in order to make this concession of any value whatever, especially in Scotland, it would be necessary to extend it. The young men and women in the Highlands go to the universities at, perhaps, a later age than they do in the Lowlands. The further you -are from a university the later the young men and women are in going to it, owing to various local circumstances. I would extend the concession to the whole university curriculum. The people who send their boys and girls to universities are those who have been most hardly hit in this War, especially in Scotland. The higher-paid working men, the smaller tradesmen, the poorly-paid professional men, people whose incomes really have not much increased during the War, will be most hardly hit, and unless some wider concession of this sort is made higher education in Scotland will suffer very largely in the years to come. Even if you lose a little revenue, in the interests of higher education and of many of these men who have made very serious sacrifices in order to get higher education for their children, 1 hope the hon. Gentleman and his advisers will take a broader view and will, if possible, extend this relief until the university curriculum is concluded.


There is no doubt this is really a valuable concession. It is a great help, and it will be appreciated in tens of thousands of families. One of the things that has almost been a consolation in the War is to know that from one end of the country to the other the secondary schools supported by local education authorities have never been so full. The classes who use them, to some extent, apart from profiteering or anything of that kind, have been better off owing to working overtime and that sort of thing, and they have had the good sense to send their children to secondary schools more than they did before and to get the best education avaliable for them. But there has always been this tendency in our secondary education hitherto, owing to the family not being able to dispense with the earning power of the children, to withdraw them half way through the full course instead of keeping them on till the end with a chance of getting a scholarship or even going to a university. So far as it is within the power of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he has removed that difficulty. There will, at any rate, not be any cutting short of this concession at the age of sixteen, and it will undoubtedly be easier in many cases to keep the girl or boy to the end of the secondary school course, and even in some cases— in Scotland, where they go to the uni- versity early—to start on a university career. Therefore 1 recognise that a really valuable concession has been given, particularly in a year in which any sort of concession with regard to the incidence of taxation has been rather difficult to make. If it is possible, as I hope it may be, to go further, I want to suggest what I think is the best way in which further progress can be made. A big scheme of scholarships both in secondary schools and in universities is overdue. It was recommended years ago by the Consultative Committee of the Board of Education. Their report was then referred to two other Committees set up by the Board of Education, the Committee on the place of modern languages in our education and the Committee on the place of science in our education. Those two Committees confirmed the finding of the Consultative Committee with regard to the urgent and pressing need for big scholarship schemes. Further Committees have been appointed since then, and, although, no doubt, there has been correspondence between the Education Department and the Treasury, no really big scholarship scheme for our higher secondary schools and universities has yet been established, and it is more pressing than it has been for years, more pressing than practically any other development in education. Until something of that kind can be done, it seems to me that it might be possible for the Treasury to follow the line that I and my Friends have indicated in our Clause, and make the concession above eighteen apply only to cases where fees are being paid for education. [HON. MEMBERS: "No !"] Then, when the big scheme of scholarships comes along and automatically establishes a very large increase in the number of people who do not pay fees—that is what we all want, and what is absolutely necessary—the charge on the Exchequer in the actual relaxation in Income Tax would automatically decrease, because, instead of the smaller relaxation from Income Tax, there would be a much larger relaxation in cancelling the fee and replacing it by a scholarship. I welcome the concession made, and I should like it to act automatically up to twenty-one with regard to everybody. I have only tried to indicate a way in which, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted to be certain when the long overdue scholarship scheme came in, this concession would cease to cost him so much and further allowances could be made to encourage education. I do not wish anything I say to detract from my full recognition of the value of the concession now made.


There is an Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Cowan) and my own name providing for this concession being extended to eighteen years in the case of children attending a full secondary school, and to twenty-one years in the case of children or young persons attending a university. I come from a country which has the cheapest education system in the world, and only my natural modesty forbids my saying that it is the best system. If the idea of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland) with regard to the concession being limited to those who pay fees, was insisted upon, it would rule out a great many brilliant boys and girls who go to our Scottish universities. It has been my good fortune to have spent the most of my life in touch with villages, and I have come into close contact with many intelligent working men and many humble homes. The great idea of these working people is that their children should have a greater opportunity in life than their fathers and mothers had. Under the old system of Scottish education, when the old country schoolmaster got a bright, intelligent lad he pushed him forward, and' induced his parents to make great sacrifices in order that he might go to the university. I am not so sure that that spirit is so pronounced to-day in Scotland as in times past, but undoubtedly among our intelligent working people there is a desire that their children should have the full benefits of education, and that the opportunities of going to the universities should be afforded to them. This is done in numerous ways by bursaries and other scholarships, and arrangements for the payment of fees, that enabled many of the children of the working classes to go on to a full university course.

I should like the Government in the new Clause not to put any limitation upon young people going forward to the university, but to raise the limit to twenty-one years for that purpose. Apart altogether from the money consideration the fact that the Government have lent their sympathetic ear to this real policy of reconstruction and this really good purpose will be greatly appreciated by the great mass of people both in Scotland and in England. In my country, where education is so cheap and opportunities are so many, and where the facilities are more perfect than in any other part of the United Kingdom for children proceeding from the elementary school to the secondary school and the university, it may be said that it should not be so very difficult for people there to have their children fully educated. But the taking of these young people from the age of fourteen to twenty-one for their educational course necessitates the sacrifice of their wages. Many of our people in Scotland have great difficulty sometimes to make ends meet and bring up their families respectably, and when on the top of the comparatively small fees they send their children to the universities up to the age of twenty-one, it is only done under the sense of sacrifice. If the concession now promised by the Government encourages these people to continue their children at the secondary schools or the university for the whole course it will be an enormous advantage to the people and to the nation, and it will be building up an asset that cannot be counted in pounds, shillings and pence.


As one of those who for several years has been trying to get the Government to give concessions on this and similar points, I want to express my thanks to the hon. Gentleman for his valuable concession. I am delighted to have the support of so many other hon. Members. At the same time I recognise the difficulty in which the Financial Secretary is placed in extending the concession beyond the period he has named, in the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I would suggest that he should discuss with the Chancellor of the Exchequer between now and the Report stage, the views that have been expressed in this Debate, and I hope that he will rule out any consideration of the idea as to the payment of fees that was expressed by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland). Whatever concession is to be given should apply all round. There should be no question of payment or non-payment of fees. I think that if the Financial Secretary would approach the Chancellor for consideration of this matter between now and the Report stage in terms of this discussion, we could very well accept the suggestion which he has put forward.


I deeply appreciate the concession which has been made, but it seems to me quite illogical. In Scotland, as far as my informal ion goes, the average at which pupils go to the university is eighteen. The result is that the selection of eighteen as the dividing line means that no concession is to be given to parents who send their children to a university. We in Scotland have always given the greatest attention to the university and have always done all we can to encourage parents to send children to a university. At present, in consequence of what has happened as a result of the War, it is more difficult than ever for parents to send children to universities. Prices have gone up, lodgings in the towns have gone up, and anything in the way of a concession to these people would be of the greatest importance. Is there any reason why a parent should get a concession in respect of a child who is at a secondary school and be denied that concession when the child goes a little further to a university and when expenses on the parents are even heavier than they have been before? There is no logic in the line that the Government suggest should be drawn in this matter. It has been suggested that there might be some arrangement giving concessions where fees are paid. I must look at this question mainly from the point of view of Scotland, and there are whole counties in Scotland where there is practically no child who pays fees at all, and where parents do not pay fees for any child at any school, and a concession of that kind would not touch them at all. By the suggestion of the Government you are going to give a concession which will be valuable, but you are going to prevent that concession going far enough, to a point where it would be more valuable and more necessary. I hope that the Government, having gone thus far, will see that there is no possibility of staying there, but that they must increase the concession so that it will cover the whole university curriculum.


I urge the Government to accept the suggestion of my hon. Friend and increase the age from eighteen to twenty. Under the Act of Parliament which was recently placed on the Statute Book we are about to develop our system of education, and we are anxious that the best pupils we can get at our secondary schools shall come into the teaching profession. Those who are engaged in the administrative work of education want to do far more than has ever been done before in our elementary schools. Unfortunately, up to the present we have had to be content with people who could not afford a university education for the teaching of young children. That ought to become a thing of the past. It should be just as easy to teach a child eleven years of age in an elementary school the rudiments of certain subjects as it is to teach a child of 11 years of age in a secondary school. The only thing we are short of is the people to begin that work. Therefore, we ask to be given an opportunity of having the very best brains in our schools recruited for the teaching profession, and to assist the parents, so that they may get the chance of having this done. Many times it has been my painful experience to see children of the brightest intellects compelled to give up their training as teachers for the lack of means, and I do hope that the Government will accede to the request. It will not cost very much, and, indeed, the cost compared with the amount which the nation will receive in, benefit will be very small indeed.


I should have risen some time ago had it not been that I recognise that a large number of Members, especially from Scotland, wish to say something on this Clause. Of course, I gladly give my right hon. Friend the Member for West Fife the assurance for which he asks. I had intended to give it to him. In discussing this matter with the Chancellor, I will let him know the very strong expression of opinion which has been put forward. I think that the offer which I have made is a very fair one, and I will only safeguard myself by saying that the right hon. Gentleman must not understand that a promise to consider the question means that the Chancellor is committed in any way to go beyond what I have said.


I recognise fully that the promise which has been made by the Financial Secretary in no way involves the Chancellor in any definite pledge. What I have suggested is that the question should be further considered between this and the Report stage, and on that understanding I beg to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.