HC Deb 07 August 1924 vol 176 cc3191-222

Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."


May I ask the Attorney-General, very briefly, if he can take steps to see that more Courts are sitting during the time that the Courts usually rise for the vacation. The reason I ask that is, that the Prevention of Eviction Act, passed recently, differs considerably from the previous Act. Orders have been granted under the previous Act which would come into effect in the month of August, but which would be quashed, if it were possible, on the application of the persons against whom the Orders are made, if the Courts were sitting, but they are unable to have this done at present owing to the fact that the Courts have risen for vacation, and, therefore, I would be glad if the Attorney-General would arrange that more Courts should sit to deal with this rather grave situation?

The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir Patrick Hastings)

I am afraid that it is not possible to make any Regulation providing that more Courts shall sit, but that course will not be necessary because the Lord Chancellor has just planed his signature to a new Rule. I do not think it necessary to read that Rule, but I may explain its effect in this way, that under this Rule, when the Judge is not sitting, by reason of the vacation or otherwise, there is power to adjourn and stay proceedings until the Judge returns. I think that that meets the views put forward by my hon. Friend and will go a long way to remedy the grievance to which he has referred.


I rise for the purpose of calling attention to a case in reference to a Motion which I had on the Paper for some time. It is the case of a passive resister who is about to be removed from the Bench of Magistrates on account of views that he holds conscientiously and I am very glad that there is such a large number of Labour Members here. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are not all here."]—no, I wish they were and we should not have had the adjournment the other night—because I am sure of the sympathy of a very large number of those who sit on the Labour Benches as they, too, have suffered to some extent by reason of their conscientious opinions. It does seem strange that one is obliged, after all these years, to raise a question of this kind against a Labour Government when successive Lord Chancellors, Conservative and Liberal, have always held, whether they agreed with the action of the individuals concerned or not, that they acted from conscientious motives and they have consistently refrained from penalising them in any way. I am glad that a question of this kind will not arouse to-day the heat which it at one time did. Passive resistance has been thought by Members opposite to be a breach of the law and passive resisters themselves claim that it is not. They state this. The law holds that if you do not tender the amount of the rate in question there is a remedy. Your goods can be seized and sold and payment can be enforced in that way.

Briefly the position of the passive resister is: "We cannot conscientiously tender the amount. You have your own remedy. Take your remedy. Seize and sell our goods," and that was done. There is no penalty of any kind attached to it, and it happened very frequently that a man stepped down from the Magistrates' bench and took his place in the dock, the case was heard, and the goods were distrained and no other action was ever taken against him. Successive Lord Chancellors have always recognised that it was a matter of conscience, and have never in any way penalised the gentlemen who so acted. This movement has almost died out now, and it is very much to the credit of the Church of England that it, has died out. I wish to give my testimony quite frankly on that point. What happened was that when the managers of Church of England schools were appointed, almost invariably a Nonconformist was put on. The Church of England clergymen in the main endeavoured to arrange their religious teaching so as not to offend the susceptibilities of Nonconformists. The result was that passive resistance declined, until now quite a small number of people are passive resisters. At one time there were thousands of cases of passive resistance, and on the bench were many hundreds of Magistrates who were passive resisters.

One cannot help regretting that, after 20 years, a Labour Government should begin to penalise men for their conscientious opinion, especially considering that, even in the last Parliament, a gentleman, who had been to prison many times because he was a passive resister, was allowed to sit on the Labour Benches in this House and is still a Magistrate. All parties in the State have had experiences which should make them hesitate before penalising men because of their opinions. The benches on the opposite side of the House have had their Ulster covenanters, and they have men sitting on those benches who, if they had been dealt with in the way that the Labour Government proposed to deal with Mr. Dent, would have been removed from the positions they occupy. Instead of that these men, who, some people think, were acting in a treasonable way, have been made Privy Councillors and Judges of the Appeal Court. The Labour party has had its conscientious objectors. So have the Liberals. But it remains for the Labour party to penalise men for their conscientious opinion, and the shame of it is that it is a Labour Government, many of whose members are themselves passive resisters. A banquet was held in the precincts of this House not long since in honour of men who had been to prison for conscience sake. Two, if not three members of the Government attended that banquet. They received the following message from the Prime Minister: Heartiest good wishes. It is the old story, from prison to honour. The late Dr. Clifford, a man who was greatly honoured by all parties in the State, was a passive resister to the day of his death. I think it was the Government of hon. Members opposite which made him a Companion of Honour. If so, they honoured themselves by doing it. The hon. Member for Gainsborough was a passive resister and was a magistrate. His Majesty's Government made him a Privy Councillor. A very large number of the Labour party have gloried in the fact that, at a time when we were desperately contesting against an enemy who was seeking to invade these shores, they were conscientious objectors. I tell the Labour party with great respect that if they take the action which is proposed, they will find it hang like a millstone round their necks in future. I tell the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor that if they take the action proposed—I have here a telegram stating that the Lord Chancellor's intention is to remove Mr. Dent from the Bench this week—such action, in face of their own record and in face of the fact that two or three Members of the Government are conscientious objectors, and that many members of the Labour party are passive resisters, some of them still sitting on the magisterial bench, will be resented not merely by Members sitting on the Liberal Benches, but just as strongly by all parties in the State. One had hoped that these days of persecution were long since past it is to me a matter of great regret that it should rest with the Labour party to initiate persecution of this kind against a man who at heart is conscientious and who is respected by neighbours and friends on every hand.


I wish to draw the attention of the House to the position of the Universities, the financial position more particularly. I was unable on the Education Estimates to raise the question. It is a question of paramount importance at the present time. On the Education Estimates, I was told that it was a matter for the Treasury, because the grant for the Universities is dispensed by the Treasury. This is a matter so closely allied with education that it is an anachronism that the two Votes should not be included in the same Estimate. My attention has been more particularly directed to the financial position of the Universities by the recent action of the University Court of Edinburgh. That action amply illustrates the crisis through which the Universities are passing. A few months ago Edinburgh University Court, faced with a possible deficit of a few thousand pounds, appointed a small committee to consider the financial position. After long deliberation the Committee found that the only possible retrenchment they could suggest was retrenchment on the salaries of their junior staffs.

I mention this matter particularly because the salaries of the professors in the University of Edinburgh and the other universities of Scotland are uniformly higher than the salaries of professors in the English universities. On the other hand, the salaries of the junior teaching staffs and lecturing staffs at the various Scottish universities are comparatively lower than those for their colleagues in the English universities. I saw the principal of the university on the matter, and he stated that the university finances were in a bad way because they were spending a great deal more on new buildings, while the student fees were being reduced because of the decrease in the number of entries. I pointed out to him that although it is possible that in the next year or perhaps two years there will be a decrease in the number of student entries to all universities, owing to the more liberal attitude taken by the Board of Education with regard to the grants for secondary education, there is every possibility that the entries will be greater after the next two years. That will have an immediate effect upon the finances of the universities from the point of student fees alone.

I am one of those, however, who do not consider that the universities should have raised the fees three years ago because of the financial position then. On that occasion, when the universities were faced with the possibility of a dearth of students, in spite of the fact that fees were comparatively low, they went to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain), who then said the universities would be helped by the State but must, at the same time, help themselves, and that in proportion as the universities helped themselves the State would be prepared to help the universities. The immediate effect was that the Vice-Chancellors of the various universities decided to put up the fees, and it was done in every case except that of the University of Wales, which could not do so because of the terms on which they had accepted the penny rate throughout the Principality. At the time the increase of fees in England and Scotland had no appreciable effect on the number of entries because of the number of students who had come back from the War and were maintained by the Board of Education. The number of students went up for the time being because of the war entries. Now we are passing through a transition period in which the number has decreased, but, as I say, there is every indication that the number will go up by leaps and bounds in the next few years. The accommodation of the universities will not be sufficient, and therefore it would be a suicidal policy on the part of any of the universities to cut down the number of those upon whom they are going to rely for the next few years to carry forward 1lie banner of knowledge.

It is the worst possible policy to start cheese-paring with the salaries of a few junior men in the universities. We are told by the university authorities it is inevitable. They say the stipends of the professors are fixed and that their security is an accomplished fact; that they have to effect economies where they can and that the only place where they can economise is on the salaries of the lesser paid men. By economising not only on the numbers, but on the salaries of the staffs we are adopting a policy which in these days will drive away from the universities some of the very best brains which should be available for the universities. If they find they can go into the higher branches of the Civil Service or to more attractive positions abroad they are not going to stay in this country where they are not treated altogether well and where there are few possibilities for conducting research of their own because most of them are overworked with routine teaching duties. That may be a good thing for industry for our colonial services, for our medical services and our Civil Service, but after all upon the universities devolves the task of training these people in the future, and although there may be no immediate effect from this policy it is inevitably bound to react on the quality of the people who come forward to do this work.

At the same time buildings are being erected. That is mainly because when people make an endowment of a University they desire to see something tangible. They are not prepared to give money merely for the endowment of learning, leaving it to the universities to apply the money. Normally, the private benefactor wants to see something in the way of bricks and mortar. He wants to see his name perpetuated in the same way as people who endow beds in a hospital. There are very few people in this country—all too few—prepared to give money to the universities without giving themselves an advertisement at the same time.


How do you know?


I am simply stating the fact; and if the hon. Member goes into the matter he will find that such is the case. The majority of endowments are given for the establishment of a Chair with a name attached to it, or fox a building with a name attached to it or a university library with a name attached to it. People who give money in this way very often wish in some form or other, to secure that their memories shall be carried on after they are dead so that they may be recognised as benefactors of learning. I am not decrying that method; it is the time-honoured method, but the time has come when people who endow universities should realise what they are doing. If a man gives £20,000 for the establishment of a Chair he ought to realise that the university which gratefully accepts such a gift has to supply funds for the new staff attached to that chair and has either to turn people out of existing buildings or put up new buildings; if it is a science chair the university has to supply a new laboratory, and nearly every endowment in recent years, particularly to the newer universities, has failed to benefit the existing staff of the university concerned. It has helped in the formation of the nucleus of a new seat of learning, but has not helped the universities in the present financial situation.

We ask the Treasury to realise that they made a gross mistake in the year 1922–23, when the university grant was brought down from £1,500,000 to £1,200,000. That reduction of £300,000 was not part of the recommendation of the Committee on National Economy. They made no recommendation to that effect, but just before that the Treasury had suggested to the University Grants Committee that they might take the non-recurrent grant of £300,000, which had been granted in 1921–2, and that they could easily retrench to that extent, and the actual effect was that the universities suffered to the extent of 20 per cent. of its finances from the State, while the Education Estimates, which that same Committee recommended should be reduced by 20 per cent., were reduced by only 10 per cent. In other words, a great injustice was done to the universities at that time.

Every university in the country at present is looking around and trying to cheesepare, and inevitably finding that the only way in which it can reduce expenditure is by reducing the expenditure on the salaries of junior staffs, who have no security of tenure. They are doing it in that way and by crippling their research services to a large extent, because they are putting more work on the remaining staff, and, furthermore, they are spoiling the universities as homes of research in general. I make this plea, that the Treasury—and if they cannot do it this year, they can at least do it next year—should raise the University Grant at least to the figure at which it was established in 1921–22, namely, £1,500,000. Let them forget the fact that the £300,000 was a non-recurrent grant. It was essential then, and it is more essential now, when, as I have said, we are faced with an increasing demand for university education in the very near future. It is the duty of the nation to see that the United Kingdom at least does not lag behind other countries, which are even more financially embarrassed than this country. One does not find, for example, that in Germany there is any waning of their enthusiasm for learning and research. In Germany they are devoting more and more money to university education, and I have seen, not only in Germany but in Austria, that their universities are thoroughly well-equipped and well-staffed. In this country we are seemingly prepared to lag behind at a time when we rely upon the universities to turn out those very people who are going to help us to compete with our two most serious rivals in the conduct of the world. I refer particularly to the United States of America and Germany.

We want this money, and we want the Treasury to be generous in this matter. There are a number of ways in which the State added to the burdens of the Universities, such, for example, as by passing the Safeguarding of Industries Act. I am not quarrelling with the principle of that Act now, although I am prepared to do that on another occasion, but that Act put an immediate burden on the Universities. It increased their expenses for materials for research, for scientific inquiry particularly, and practically every scientific instrument that comes into this country, which is pooled by the Universities, adds to the cost of the Universities and further depletes their financial resources. In every way, then, the State has a bounden duty to perform towards the Universities. I may be told—and it is true—that the State have been more and more generous since the War, but the fact remains that we need more assistance at the Universities because of the growing number of students. We must regard University education as a national investment, an investment which returns not only cent. per cent., but, one may say, thousands per cent.

In passing, I should like to say that Scotland at least is very much ahead of this country in the provision of university education and the number of students in its university colleges. There are more universities, in proportion, in Scotland than in this country—[An HON. MEMBER "They need it!"]—and Scotland takes a very large share of the University Grants, hut, in spite of that, I would say that in its Cass IV Estimates there is still a sum of, roughly, £30,000 not allocated to any particular university college, and I would suggest that, because the universities in England at least are paying their staffs considerably better than they are in Scotland, it would be a good thing to hand over that sum unallocated to the Scottish universities, in order to enable them to meet their financial deficiencies. I will go as far as to say that, in regard to Edinburgh University, which is pleading poverty at the present time, and which can only show that it is going to save £700 on the proposed economy, and that coming out of the pockets of all the junior men and not a penny out of the pockets of any of the other men, we should hand over to that university its estimated deficit of £7,000. Let us give it to them, and if they only spend it on maintaining the present salaries, it will be doing a real good service.

I am not one of those who suggest that, because Scotland is getting proportionately more money than this country, they should not get more. I do not mind if they do, provided that the people of this country awake to a sense of their responsibility in the matter. I hope we shall get more and more money granted by the State, and that the State will also make the most powerful representations to local education authorities, county boroughs, and bodies of that kind, that, they should be more generous with their contributions for University education. Some of them have been generous, and made a special rate for University education in this country, but there are very few of them who are doing it, and, as everybody knows, some of the countries in this country, which are always cheese-paring at the expense of education, are those counties which will not look at University education and will give no facilities to the children of their counties to go to the Universities. We want, at any rate, to engender in the minds of the people of this country some of that Scottish spirit towards education, some of the same enthusiasm for education, and we want to remove from the United Kingdom as a whole the reproach that we are prepared to allow the Universities to go on from year to year in a state of miserable penury, and not to come to their assistance generously in the time of their greatest need.

Captain BENN

May I ask a question as to the course of the Debate? My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Linfield) raised a question, and was the only speaker on that question, as to the treatment of a certain magistrate. Is it not the custom in these adjournment Debates for Ministers, if present—and I see the Attorney-General here—to make some reply to matters as they arise, so that that matter may fall out of the Debate and other subjects be pursued?

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Robert Young)

It is not within my power to ensure that. If the Attorney-General does not rise, I cannot compel him to do so.


I am very sorry I am not in a position to give any answer to the hon. Member who raised this question, and I am bound to say that the fault, if fault there be, is not mine, for this reason. The hon. Member knows that the Minister of whom he is speaking is not a Minister of this House. My hon. Friend who spoke on the last matter affecting myself mentioned that he was going to raise it. That equally applied to the Lord Chancellor. I had an opportunity of communicating with the Lord Chancellor, and was able to give the information, which, otherwise, I was quite unable to give. If I had known this matter was going to be raised, I should have adopted the same course, but I had no such information, and, therefore, I could not adopt that course.


I regret not having sent notice to the Attorney-General, but I had already placed a Notice of Motion on the Order Paper, and it has been there for a very considerable time, and I assumed it would be sufficient notice to the Attorney-General that it would be brought up at the first opportunity. I am not blaming the Attorney-General, but I hope, even now, he will be able to give some reply, because the mind of the Attorney-General must be full of this subject, having so many of his colleagues who have suffered in the same way.


Is the Attorney-General aware that this is a matter of great urgency? This man has been informed that he is to be struck off the bench. The Lord Chancellor has written a series of letters offering him the alternative of sacrificing his principles or leaving the bench. It is a matter, not only affecting liberty of conscience, but the position of this man. Could the Attorney-General, therefore, before 5 o'clock, obtain some information?


I regret I am unable to say more than this, If my hon. Friend wishes me to endeavour to obtain an answer before five o'clock, I will endeavour to obtain that answer, and if I can get it before then, I will give it to the House.


I much appreciate the courtesy of the learned Attorney-General.

  1. PRISON SYSTEM. 2,520 words
  2. cc3209-22