HC Deb 26 November 1925 vol 188 cc1785-91

Order for Second Heading read.

The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Sir John Gilmour)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill has had, perhaps, a rather chequered career. As the House is aware, it. failed the other night to have a Second Reading while. other Scottish Bills received a Second Reading. I would point out also that this is substantially the same Bill that received a Second Reading in this House in 1923, after having passed through all its stages in another place. I am aware, of course, that there are criticisms of certain Clauses of this Measure, but I submit they are all points which might be advisedly discussed in detail in the Scottish Committee. I have been in consultation with Members of all sections of the House, and I would point out that it is not a Bill which has any party bias one way or the other. In other words, it is a Measure designed mainly for purposes of economy, for the clearing up of difficulties of administration, for the transfer of certain schools by agreement, and of certain powers where they might more economically be transferred from one place to another. With these few explanations, I trust the House might give the Bill a Second Reading and send it to the Scottish Committee.


I would be willing to give all the consideration I can to any proposal that is made by the Government. They know that they have no more constant supporter than I am, but I am bound to say that the speech delivered by the Secretary for Scotland—high as is my respect for him—does not ingratiate the Bill in my mind. I do not think the Secretary for Scotland has quite represented either the scope of this Bill properly or the history of it in Parliament. He said this Bill was read a Second time in 1923. He is quite as aware as I am of the circumstances under which it was read, and I will tell the House what those circumstances were. A Bill was introduced by the Government of the day in a very different shape in another place. An Amendment was introduced in the House of Lords which very largely changed the shape of the Bill. When it came down to this House a Second Reading was only agreed to on the distinct pledge given by the then Member for Aberdeen, who was then Solicitor-General, that the Clause in question would be withdrawn by the Government in Committee. That altered the whole appearance of the Bill. It is all very well to say that this is merely a Bill to introduce a few economies and to make greater smoothness in working.

I have known Scottish education all my life, and I know this Bill introduces some most serious and fundamental changes in the Act of 1918. Those who remember that Act will remember the long contention there was over the establishment of school management committees, which were set up in order to preserve the influence of the locality and of the parents upon the school, the two essential things for the preservation of what was the mark of our old Scottish education, the parish school. It was known to the people and it was loved. That is now to be destroyed, and we are told it is a mere small economy. We are told too that it involves no political consideration. If it involves no political consideration, why is it that enthusiastic support for it comes from the benches opposite? Are we to carry on education exactly to suit the minds, the wishes, the aims and objects of those who desire a Socialistic system? This goes a long way towards it. Several Members of the much-derided party that sits below the Gangway opposite have expressed to me their absolute opposition to it, and now we are asked to discuss at a quarter past one in the morning a Bill involving a real reconstruction of the education of Scotland, with about 10 Scottish Members present. I only see one or two Members from Scotland on the other side. Many of those who spoke in favour of the Bill have not taken the trouble to come here when the Bill is down for Second Reading. Many of those who expressed adverse opinions on the Bill are not present. Is it fair that a Bill of this sort, involving very serious considerations should be taken now? Only to-night I received a new batch of strongly-worded resolutions in opposition to this Measure. T know that other Members have received them also. I do not think the revival of this Bill is thoroughly well-known in Scotland or I would see here more Members who are opposed to it, as they were in 1918. If the Government are determined to press the Bill, it is, of course, hopeless for me to divide the House. I have made my protest.


I should like to join with the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken in his protest against this Bill. The Secretary for Scotland referred to the Bill as if it were a very small matter, and there was nothing serious about it. If the Bill had been in its original form it would not be so difficult a matter, but Clause 3 alters entirely the spirit of the original Bill. It entirely alters the democratic nature of education in Scotland and makes it practically bureaucratic. There was a feeling in Scotland that people would lose their power over education. We are met with the assertion at the present time that this Bill is practically an approved Measure, and one reason given is that it is approved of by all the associations of education authorities. There is a difference of opinion as to what the powers of the school education authorities and the school management committees are. It is to settle that difference that we are having Clause 3. But the other side to that dispute have not really had an opportunity of voicing their opinions, and it is really for that reason, and for that reason alone, that I rise to-night. T feel that in objecting to this Clause I am voicing the opinion of a very large sec- tion of the rural population of Scotland. The urban population does not mind, but the rural population are interested to see that the powers of the school management committees should not be reduced, and for that reason I object to the Measure.


I support what the last two speakers have said. The Bill is going to take away the local interest in education. It is contrary to the whole spirit of Scottish education. It would be more to the point if the Government gave more power in the scattered areas to school management committees, which could meet at frequent intervals and at small expense, and diminish the power of the school authorities. Education could be looked after better in this way than from Edinburgh or London.


It is only a very strong sense of duty that would make me undertake the task of addressing the House at this hour. It is with regret that I feel compelled to oppose a Measure which the Government have brought forward, I believe sincerely, in the interests of Scottish education. I think it is a great misfortune that we should only be allowed to discu3S this Bill at this hour of the night. Have we really to be grateful for these crumbs that fall from the table of the Tory Government? Still I think we have to give this matter our serious consideration, even though it comes before us at such a very late hour. It is apparently only when Scotsmen are unanimous that we are allowed to get Scottish business discussed in the House. This is the only time at which it is possible to discuss the Bill, and I will do it as quickly as possible. I have to oppose this Bill because I find that not only the great mass of the people, but the Caithness Education Authority are unanimously opposed to this Bill. We are not reactionary in Caithness. Sir John Struthers, who was one of the great champions of education in Scotland, said that Caithness led Scotland in education. We do not oppose this Bill from any reactionary motives. We are proud of the record of our county in education, and we desire to see it keep its place in the van of education in Scotland. But after the experience of the past few years we in the Highlands of Scotland find that the Munro Act, although I believe it works admirably in the towns and cities of Scotland, is not: suitable in many respects for the country areas. Above all, the people in all these rural parishes in the Highlands of Scotland feel that to a very large extent there is a loss of local contact between the parents of the children and the control of education in the area. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get suitable men to stand for the school management committees. They find their powers are so small, so circumscribed, that they feel that it is not worth their while, although they were keen enough in the days of the old school boards. I believe this is the principal motive that animated the Caithness Education Authority to pass their strong hostile resolution to this Bill.

If the House will forgive me. I will read the nature of the resolution: That, while adhering to their previous Resolution to oppose the provisions of the Bill in toto, the meeting resolves that measures be taken to have the Act of 1918 amended in the following respects. I will not read them all. The first is a Committee point and deals with the method of the election of chairman. The second point is in respect of the present system of voting in the election of the education authority by proportional representation, which is unsatisfactory. We feel very strongly that, if there is an amendment of the Education Act at all, this system should not be continued, as it is very costly and complicated and has resulted in making it more difficult for the local people to take an interest in education. The next point is one on which the Caithness Education Authority feels most seriously—the repeal of Section 18 of the 1918 Act. That Act has worked out extremely unfairly, as we believe, to the cause of Protestant education in Scotland. The final point is one to which the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik) has referred—the provision for every school management committee having the same powers and rights as are now conferred by the committees having within their district a secondary school. I would therefore say although the Munro Act has been an interesting and valuable experiment and I believe a successful experiment in so far as the cities are concerned, that when you come to the revision of that Act you must con- sider the case of rural areas in Scotland. You must try to devise a scheme which will apply to the rural areas in the High lands and you will have to bring in a more far-reaching measure than the Bill which is now before the House of Commons.


I am surprised to hear the opposition which has been expressed on this Bill.


We said we would not go on.

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