HC Deb 20 July 1932 vol 156 cc2409-12

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £3,313,314, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1923, for Public Education in Scotland, and for Science and Art in Scotland, including a Grant-in-Aid."—[NOTE: £3,400,000 has been voted on account.]

Captain W. BENN

I did not anticipate that this Vote would come on quite so soon. There is a question which I have asked the Secretary for Scotland and which I wish to bring to his notice on this occasion, but if it does not arise on this Vote perhaps he will tell me, and I will resume my seat. Industrial schools, which have, in addition to pupils remitted to them by Order of the Court, a number of voluntary cases, that is to say, pupils sent there voluntarily by their parents—I have a case in my mind now—cannot make their accounts balance because of the very heavy numbers, the reduction of subscriptions, and so on. They are unable to get any increase in the grants—the Secretary for Scotland may perhaps remember the case—from his Department, yet they argue that they are, in fact, providing day by day education for these voluntary pupils which otherwise would have to be provided by the public authorities, and therefore they are doing public work and should receive some form of money indemnity from the Government for that purpose. There is a very hard case, of which the Secretary for Scotland is aware, and which I have referred to him, and there are others, no doubt, in the same class. If the right hon. Gentleman could give a little explanation—perhaps he has a complete answer—as a good deal of interest has been excited in this question, no doubt many people will be glad to hear his reply.


With regard to my hon. and gallant Friend's question, I shall be glad if he will allow me to write to him on the subject. I did not know he was going to raise it and, frankly, without notice, I am not able to deal with it.

Perhaps, for five minutes, I may be allowed to say a word or two about the education authorities in Scotland, unless any hon. Member desires to speak. The postponement of the developments which were anticipated in 1918, which is due, to some considerable extent, to the financial stringency which exists, while undoubtedly a matter of regret from the idealistic point of view, is not without its compensation. It has given the authorities time to consider deliberately the task which lies before them, and at the same time it has left their hands free to cope with the more immediate and pressing problem of re-organising the forces already at their disposal. It has been no light matter to co-ordinate within the new areas the many different educational activities which were previously controlled by a large numebr of smaller units of managers. The authorities assumed office in circumstances of exceptional difficulty. The War left behind it a very heavy legacy. Repairs which, in normal circumstances, would have been carried out as a matter of routine had to be left undone. All sorts of makeshift arrangements had to be tried in regard to staffing, and no steps had been taken for the usual extension of school accommodation. In regard to the last of these, it is worth pointing out that Nature has itself provided an alleviation. The fall in the birth-rate, which was the inevitable consequence of the prolongation of hostilities, has brought about such a retardation in the growth of the school population that it would be a year or two before the demand for places is as clamant as it was in the last pre-War years or in the earlier years of the War itself. On the other hand, the instability of prices, wages and the like have added greatly to the responsibility of administration. Education authorities are not the only bodies which have had to face this difficulty. It has intruded itself into every sphere of public life and in many spheres of private life. It is right to remember that the education authorities were particularly hard hit because the special strain to which we have been subjected fell upon them at the very moment when they were struggling to find their feet. That fact is often lost sight of by those who criticise them.

Had things gone as we all hoped and wished, very substantial relief might have been anticipated when the peculiar difficulties attendant upon the transition stage had been surmounted. Unfortunately, however, these difficulties have been replaced by others, no less serious, but deriving from a quite different set of causes. The unprecedented depression in trade, with its almost mechanical reaction upon national and local finance, has given ground for the gravest anxiety. I have been watching the situation very carefully, and I am glad to be able to say that there is every indication that education authorities as a whole are coping with their difficult task in a very satisfactory fashion. The return of the ascertained expenditure of authorities for the year just ended and their estimated expenditure for the year that has now begun are coming in daily, and are being examined by the Department. I am not in a position to set out complete figures, but I can safely say that, so far as the examination has proceeded, the results are most encouraging. They show clearly that the authorities are making real headway in the direction of securing economies, without seriously curtailing the existing provision of education. In most cases the returns show that during last year savings on the Estimates were effected, and that further reduction of expenditure will be made in the current year. As a result, in the great majority of areas, there will be no increase of rates, and to many there will be a more or less substantial reduction. That there should be a further reduction this year, in spite of the heavy cut in the Imperial grant, will be a matter of congratulation to all of us who realise how big the problem has become. It is plain that the authorities who are faced with the problem have been doing their best to set their houses in order, and most of them have carried over—

It being Eleven of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.