HC Deb 01 March 1922 vol 151 cc431-3

I propose to deal, in the first place, with the subject of education. The recommendation is for a reduction of £18,000,000 in the expenditure of the Education Departments. Part of that, really, is not a reduction in expenditure, but a transfer of obligations from taxes to rates. It is not a very large amount, but it is appreciable; it amounts to transferring about £3,000,000 from taxes to the rates. While that would be a reduction so far as the taxpayer is concerned, yet in the capacity of ratepayer I do not think he would be particularly grateful for it. The two items which in the main make up the £18,000,000 recommended by the Geddes Committee are the reduction in teachers' salaries and the exclusion of children from school below the age of six years. I wish to say a word upon both these matters. The Government have very carefully considered the recommendations of the Committee, and are of the view that neither of these proposals Can be put into operation.


The red light.


On the question of teachers' salaries I have only one observation to make, and I think the House will find it conclusive. The salaries which are paid to the teachers of this country to-day are, for the most part, or practically entirely, the result of engagements which have been entered into between the local authorities and the teaching staffs. These engagements subsist in the case of London until 1923, and in the case of the country at large until 1925. Accordingly, whatever view we take as to whether these salaries are too high or too low—the Geddes Committee have undoubtedly put on record their opinion that they are too high under modern conditions—and whatever be the correct point of view in regard to that, it is perfectly certain that the local authorities are under engagements with the teachers which cannot be broken without a violation of what is indeed a contract, and so far as the Government is concerned we cannot on our part, and would not, take any action which would have the effect of creating breaches of faith. It is quite certain that any Government which took part in what could fairly be regarded as the breaking of a contract and a breach of faith would set an example in this country which would be attended by serious consequences.


What about agriculture?


What about the miners?


Now I turn to the other matter in connection with education, namely, the question of the exclusion of children from school under the age of six years. It is perfectly true that in this country we take children to school at an earlier age than in any other country in the world, and it might be contended that in these times of great monetary stringency it would be justifiable to alter that system and prevent children coming to school at so early an age. But we must all recognise what are the social effects of what we have done. There is no question at all that the health of the children of this country has been immensely improved by reason of the medical treatment and care which they get at school at these tender years, and at a time like this it would be nothing less than a great injury to very many homes in this country if, where you have women battling with the difficulties of life, and trying to support their children, they were forced to keep their children away from school, where they at present get the only mothering and the only attention which is by any chance available. For these reasons, the Government has felt it impossible to recommend to the House that the proposals of the Geddes Committee in this matter should be adopted.

The reductions in the realm of education which we adopt amount to £6,500,000 out of the £18,000,000 which the Geddes Committee recommend. That means that in the Education Department we are short of the recommended reductions by an amount of nearly £12,000,000 sterling. The main element in the £6,500,000—I shall only mention one, because the others are spread over the whole sphere of education in this country—is a contribution by the teachers to their superannuation fund. At the present time the teachers make no contribution at all to their superannuation fund. It is fair to say that the teachers' superannuation scheme was founded at a time when teachers' salaries were low. Since then the salaries have been very greatly increased, and the Government think that under present conditions, at least, it is only fair and right, looking to the stringency of the position, that the teachers should contribute a sum towards those funds which provide them with a pension when their work is done. The proposal is that this year, until the matter is further investigated, they should contribute 5 per cent, of their salary, and that works out in the aggregate to a sum of nearly £2,000,000.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say anything with respect to the recommendation in the Geddes Report to increase the number of children in the classes?


The Government is in favour of that being carried out in so far as it is practicable. In many cases one knows that by reason of the accommodation in the schools it is not practicable, but in these times, when we find great difficulty in meeting our obligations, everything that is feasible and reasonable ought to be adopted in order to reduce the amount of the country's expenses.

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