HC Deb 06 March 1934 vol 286 cc1769-96

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Commander Southby.]

9.32 p.m.


I had on the Paper to-day a Prayer—Ross and Cromarty Educational Trust Scheme, 1933—but I understand that under the Rules of the House I am not able to discuss that Prayer, because it is not Eleven o'clock at night. I propose, however, to discuss one or two other points, and one of them is the administration of the Educational Endowment Commissioners in Scotland. As the House will remember, in 1928—

9.33 p.m.


If the hon. Gentleman will pardon me, might we have a Ruling on that point? It is rather important to a number of us in this House. The Endowments Commission is considering endowments in all parts of Scotland, and it may fall to the lot of any of us to ask to bring before the House a Prayer for the rejection of a scheme. It would be very important for us to know whether, in fact, we are not allowed to bring a Prayer forward except after Eleven o'clock at night, even though it were on the Paper and Members may have come here for the purpose of hearing the discussion and of voting.

9.34 p.m.


There would be nothing to prevent the hon. Member from moving his Prayer before Eleven o'clock if it were reached on the Order Paper. It has, however, not been reached on the Order Paper, and consequently it could not be discussed now.


On that point, would it not have been possible, if the Adjournment of the House had not been moved and other items had been open to discussion, for the Prayer to be moved?

9.35 p.m.


Perhaps I might say a word. If the Adjournment had not been moved by the Government when it was, it would have been a fact that all the Private Bills, starting with the Public Meeting Act (1908) Amendment Bill and going down to the National Industrial Council Bill, would have been discussed between now and Eleven o'clock. As hon. Members interested in those Private Bills have had no chance of being here either to take part in the discussion of to vote on them, it would not have been fair on the House to discuss them. Consequently, the Government had to move the Adjournment after the Government business.


Ought not the Prayer to have been put in a position in which it could have been properly discussed? Surely it is not the same thing to be able to have a discussion on a Motion for the Adjournment as to be able to have it on a Prayer, which Members may be asked by their constituents to move in this House.


I think the hon. Baronet misunderstood my point. I was not suggesting for a moment that a discussion of a Motion for the Adjournment was the same as on a Prayer. I was answering the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who asked why the Prayer could not be taken to-night instead of the Government moving the Adjournment, and I had to point out why the Government had to move the Adjournment at that juncture.

9.36 p.m.


I appreciate the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). It is a fact that the administration of the Endowments Commission is causing a good deal of disquietude in all parts of Scotland. My Prayer dealt particularly with the constituency which I have the honour to represent, but I propose, with the indulgence of the House, to raise one or two points outside that Prayer. I was saying that in 1928 Parliament appointed a University Endowments Commission and gave that Commission almost unlimited powers to deal with educational endowments and trusts all over the country. Many of us had very grave misgivings at that time in connection with the powers which were given to this Commission, and we have found, as a matter of fact, that the Commissioners have ridden in many cases roughshod over local and national sentiment. I have no desire to lay the blame at the door of the individual members of the Commission, who have had these powers granted to them by Parliament. I know they are public-spirited men, well known all over Scotland, but my one regret is that they have not paid so far more attention to local sentiment and to the interests of the localities where these various endowments and trusts were established.

It is clear that in the Act of 1928, though they had these unlimited powers, they had also a certain amount of discretionary power. It was made plain to them that, when they were dealing with these trusts, whether they intended to abolish them or to alter them, they had to do three things: They had to pay attention to the spirit of the founders of those trusts and their intentions; they had, secondly, to pay attention to the interests of the locality; and, thirdly, they had to pay attention to the way in which the trusts had been administered. It is clear that it was not the intention of Parliament at that time that, if those trusts were faithfully administered in accordance with the wishes of the testators, if they were efficiently administered by the existing trustees, and if they were not overcome by the dead hand, that is to say, if they were being utilised for the purposes for which they were meant, the Commissioners should act as they have been doing and interfere with these trusts.

So far as my own constituency is concerned, I must not discuss that, but I regret to say that I have very serious cases to raise before Parliament. It is not my constituency alone. It is the whole of the country, and I have been astonished to find that in all cases, from the remotest part of Orkney and Shetlands, I believe, to the Butt of Lewis, and from the Butt of Lewis to the Mull of Galloway, there have been cases brought to the attention of Members of this House in which the localities, the communities, have been in one way or another aggrieved by the action of the commissioners. It is well known in this House that, whatever else may be said of Scotland, education has always been a noble rage in Scotland, and anything that interferes with education in any shape or form is apt to be resented unless it is for the benefit of that education. It is not Members of Parliament who attack the commissioners. Recently in the Court of Session we had two most distinguished Judges making observations about the administration of the commission, which I think ought to be brought to the attention of this House. First of all, there was the Lord President of the Court of Session, who said that in many cases the schemes of the commissioners had roused a great deal of public and local indignation. And Lord Sands, whose death we all deplore, who was one of the most distinguished Scotsmen of our time, and whom some of us remember as a Member of this House, said that wherever the commission locate themselves, they disturb the peace of mind and the happiness of the community, and that if Carnegie had foreseen their arrival, there never would have been a Carnegie Trust in the Scottish Universities.

It is not merely local sentiment that has been aroused, but national sentiment, I feel, has been flouted on more than one occasion. Take, for example, Glasgow University, the principal of which has been writing a protest against the work of the commission. You find no fewer than 11,200 students of all the Universities in Scotland protesting against the disregard of the commissioners for local sentiment, and you have a distinguished educationist like Professor Hector Macdonald, of Aberdeen University, a brilliant scholar, saying: Benefactors expected their wishes to be respected as long as it was possible to do so. If this natural desire is not to be granted, they will devote their wealth to other purposes which are not educational, with the disastrous result that the provision of bursaries for the higher education of the youth of the country will come to be classed with Poor Law relief, or what is euphemistically called 'public assistance.' The strictures of the distinguished Principal of Glasgow University have been more powerful than that, for this is what he said: An acceptance of the contention that bursaries have been rendered unnecessary by the provision of eleemosynary assistance would often render the manse and the schoolhouse ineligible for help. The columns of the 'Dictionary of National Biography' show how much Scotland and the Empire owe to the education of sons of the schoolhouse and the manse. … If a private trust is not to be employed to supply a public need, there are few objects for which benefactions can be made. The effect of the policy of the commissioners must be to decrease, or even to reduce to vanishing point, the number of future endowments for educational purposes. Their action has created the impression that educational endowments are useless and that there is no probability that they will be employed for the purposes designated by the donor or testator. It is matter of common knowledge that testamentary dispositions have already been modified by cancelling provisions for educational endowments. Indeed, I heard the other day that one endowment of £25,000 has been alienated from educational purposes because of the presence in Scotland of this commission. This is much more significant. The principal goes on to say: The psychological effect of gaining a bursary is quite different from that of receiving an allowance. If the commissioners are permitted to have their way, they may succeed in increasing the rates, but they will do so by the sacrifice of a great Scottish tradition, and they will render it impossible for necessitous and deserving students of the type to which I have referred to enjoy what has for centuries been the birthright of every Scotsman. It is not only that they have disturbed trusts all over the country to the detriment of the education of the particular locality to which these trusts were directed. They have done something else. They have now made it impossible for a boy or girl in any part of Scotland to compete for a scholarship in the place where that scholarship has in the past been competed for, namely, in the locality where the trust was endowed. Every boy or girl, whether from the Butt of Lewis, or the Orkney and Shetland Islands, or from the Mull of Galloway, or the remotest isle, whatever the expense to that poor person, must go to one of the university towns in order to compete for that scholarship. I regard that as a crying shame. As Principal Rait points out, there is a great psychological distinction between the boy who has won his scholarship and the boy who gets what is called a dole from public funds—for it is nothing else—from the county authorities, with or without an examination as the case may be. There is no objection at all to the boy being examined for a local scholarship and these scholarships ought to go by competition to the most meritorious boy or girl.

We say that the system which has existed in the past is the right system. We have no desire to interfere with the standard which the Education Department in Scotland cares to set up. If they care to set up a high standard in many places, well and good, provided they get boys to reach the standard, but that is not their system at all. There may even be under these endowments which have been left to the Endowment Commissioners, a scholarship, let us say, open to boys in Stornoway in the Island of Lewis. In the past those boys would go to a nearby institute and sit for the examinations without any expense to their parents. You are not dealing with boys who are going to Eton, Harrow or Winchester. You are dealing with poor men's sons under these trusts. You are not dealing with men who are going to have travelling scholarships or big things of that kind, but with the youth of the country who for the first time are attempting to get on the first rung of the ladder in an honourable education. Very often people of this kind in the remote islands are sons and daughters of the very poor, where every penny is carefully hoarded so that in the long run, when the day comes for the boy or girl to go to the university, he or she can go with the feeling in the father's mind that the son or daughter is getting a chance in life which he himself never had. A sum of £10, £15, or £20 to send a boy or girl to Aberdeen is a fortune to these people. Why should they be asked by any Endowment Commissioners or by the Education Department in Scotland to depart from the old system which makes Scottish education from the public school and the secondary school to the university the finest in the world?

Why should that tradition be broken? It is all because the commissioners come in and say, "We must alter all this." Alter it for what? They cannot point a finger to any secondary school in any part of the Highlands or in any part of Scotland where the education which is given is not first class. Take their leaving certificate. In comparison with any other schools it is as good, if not better. Why compel a boy to go to Aberdeen? If he gets his local scholarship, what happens? He is psychologically feeling a better boy because in open competition with his fellows he has acquired that scholarship. Having acquired it, he has an impetus, along with the help that his parents can give, to go to the university. But what are you asking him to do? Before he gets that first scholarship to which he is entitled in his local school, as has been the case for three centuries in some cases and for a century and a half in others, why should you compel him to go to Aberdeen? The answer is, I suppose, that it gives him a chance to get another scholarship. The boy who has got the psychological feeling that he has conquered in one sphere gets a greater chance of success in conquering another, and, if you are going to say it is necessary for him in order to get a university education that he should not attempt to get a scholarship in a local school, I have nothing more to say to a Department that puts forward such an idea.

If boys were allowed to have these competitions, as in the past, in the local schools all over Scotland, we should have acquired some success in the machine, but I understand that there may be in the minds of the Scottish Office some objection to it. I fail to see what the objection is. It is said that county councils can give scholarships to boys all over their counties. Far be it from me to say that anything should be placed as an obstacle in the path of the poorest boy on the road to the university, but I was remarkably impressed by a statement by one of the principals of the Scottish University, who said that the boys who were coming up now without any competition practically from the counties were not the same class of boys who came up after competition in the past. If that be true, I say the whole system—or rather the proposed system, for I cannot believe that Scotland will tolerate this new system—is not in accordance with the history of Scottish education.


My right hon. and learned Friend said that his view is that the boys coming up from county council scholarships are educationally not of the same class—


Not necessarily scholarships; the county councils have the power to give without competition grants for secondary education. My point is this, that the university principal made it perfectly plain that boys who proceed to the university so equipped are not in the same street as the others who have themselves acquired their own scholarships by open competition with their fellows in their local schools. I think I have said sufficient to make it plain that this condition of affairs cannot very much longer exist in Scotland. There is a feeling of indignation in the hearts and minds of everybody with whom I have come into contact, rich and poor alike, a feeling that this is a blow at the great system of Scottish education, a blow at the pride of the boys and girls. They have been content in the past to have their open competition with their fellows and win their way honourably to the university and to distinguish themselves there, and I am certain that if a free vote of the House were taken to-night or if a free referendum were taken in Scotland there would be an overwhelming majority against the proposed system under which education is to be worked by the commissioners, and a glad return to the old days where the man with brains had no obstacle in front of him and could fight his way to the top of the tree.

9.57 p.m.


After listening to the eloquent speech of my right hon. and learned Friend I feel that I have come here to-night all unprepared for what I feel is the task which rests upon some of us who appreciate the invaluable services which have been rendered to Scottish education by the Educational Endowment Commissioners. I am afraid I am all unprepared to fulfil that task and adequately to answer my right hon. and learned Friend. I come unprepared because we had understood that what we were going to discuss to-night was not the whole sphere of work of the commission, but the particular prayer which the right hon. and learned Gentleman was going to move dealing with particular problems affecting mainly his own constituency and, partly, those of other constituencies adjoining. But I feel it my duty at once to join issue with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman on the view which he takes of the work done by the commission in Scotland, and, if he will forgive me for saying so, it struck me that he delivered his speech after a rather more careful study of the criticisms which have been levelled against the work of the commission than of the defence which is to be found for their work.


I saw only one defence, and it was the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's.


That confirms my suspicion; and the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was cheered by several Members behind him confirms my suspicion that a great deal of the criticism of the work of the Commission is based upon imperfect information about the principles upon which they are working and the results which they have achieved, a lack of information which is really not excusable, because it can be obtained from the very able reports which have been published by the commission themselves and which, I suggest to the House with respect, are deserving of the study of every hon. Member. I would suggest that hon. and right hon. Members should study those reports and read them before they take part in this controversy. My first point is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was really directed not so much against the work of the commission or of the Act of Parliament under which they are operating as against the Act of 1918, because it was under the Act of 1918 that the obligation was placed upon the local authorities to provide these bursaries. My right hon. and learned Friend may hold very strongly, and express to the House very eloquently, the view that there is something derogatory in a child accepting a bursary provided for him by a local authority—


I never said anything of the kind. I said there was a psychological distinction—to the boy.


I do not know what is meant by that psychological distinction, but it certainly implies that there is something not so noble or inspiring in accepting a bursary from a local authority as in accepting a bursary from a charitable endowment.


After competition.


After competition. I do not take that view. But whether that be so or not, the point is that this obligation was laid upon the local authorities by the Act of 1918 and not by the Act which set up the Endowment Commission, and not by anything which the Endowment Commissioners have done. There was another misapprehension in my right hon. and learned Friend's speech. He said that under the Act which set up this commission they were given unlimited powers. So far from that being the case, they have not the power to alter one single endowment in Scotland, not one. Not one single endowment can be altered unless my right hon. Friend, who is the Vice-President of the Committee of the Privy Council for Education in Scotland, approves the report and issues an Order, and if objection is taken to the proposal of the Vice-President to make an Order giving effect to the report, of course he can only make that Order after it has previously been discussed in this House.


I have in my hand the scheme about which I entered my Prayer, and the endowment and the trust are altered beyond all recognition in that scheme. The point my right hon. and gallant Friend is making is that that can be done only with the approval of the Secretary of State, and my right hon. and gallant Friend can see from to-night's proceedings how difficult it is to get any disapproval of the Secretary of State's action or any opportunity of altering a scheme once it has been drafted and laid on the Table of the House.


I did not interrupt my right hon. and learned Friend at all, but he has already interrupted me twice in the course of the first five minutes of my speech, though I am very glad he did if there was any misunderstanding, because this little discussion must have made it abundantly clear to every Member that whereas my right hon. and learned Friend stated that the Educational Endowment Commission have unlimited power, this shows that they have not the power to alter one single endowment. The document which my right hon. and learned Friend is holding in his hand is a draft scheme. That draft scheme has to be submitted to the Scottish Education Department and considered by them. They have to give further opportunities to objectors who may be affected by it to make their objection known. Two months are allowed for that purpose. Then, no Order in Council can be obtained unless that scheme is approved by the Scottish Education Department and by the Secretary of State for Scotland; and even after that, if they are prepared to approve it, they again have to allow a further period of two months, and again the objectors have the right to come before this House and have this scheme discussed here. Therefore, no scheme drafted by the commissioners can obtain sanction and come into force without the approval of the Scottish Department of Education, of the Secretary of State for Scotland and of this House.

Then my right hon. and learned Friend spoke—this is one point which, I think, ought to be referred to—of an obiter dictum of Lord Sands in relation to a particular endowment which has been discussed in the Court of Session, and in which it was stated that if Mr. Andrew Carnegie had known that there was to be a Commission which would use endowments this way, he would never have left his money to educational endowments. My right hon. Friend did not say that that assertion had been very effectively answered by a close and intimate friend of Mr. Andrew Carnegie, to whom Mr. Carnegie entrusted the administration, as chairman, of the endowments which he left to Scotland and of his great charitable bequests. That was Lord Elgin. Lord Elgin quoted a letter which Mr. Andrew Carnegie had written to him bequeathing to him those great resources for public purposes in Scotland. In the letter, Mr. Carnegie referred to the necessity of constantly keeping up-to-date the methods employed for the useful expenditure of the resources and for meeting, by means of those resources, fresh needs as they arose.

My right hon. and learned Friend referred to some anonymous benefactor who, on account of the intromissions of this Endowments Commission, had decided not to leave a particular sum of money for educational purposes. Obviously it is everybody's right to criticise any policy when they think it wrong, and I should be the last person, and it would ill become me, to object to criticism, but I think that it is undoubtedly fair to say that if any benefactors have been frightened off, it is by a great deal of criticism of the rather ill-informed and reckless kind which has been levelled at the Educational Endowments Commission. The same kind of criticism was levelled against the Commission which was appointed by the House in 1882 to do the same work, which they carried out in the same way. That Commission acted in exactly the same way as the present Commission by interfering with a lot of old trusts, and resources which were under the control of those trusts they released for new purposes. They met exactly the same kinds of criticism in carrying out that work, but the time passed and much of the criticism was disproved and much was forgotten, and the flow of endowments started afresh.

I have no doubt that benefactors, when they look back upon this Commission and its work in co-operation with the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Educational Department and this House, will see that there is, in the work of such a Commission, a guarantee that money will not be allowed to be wasted in trusts which are positively forgotten. Money has been lying in trusts about which nobody has known, lying unused because it was devoted to purposes which are met from State funds. For example, there was a great deal of money which had been left to provide free schools, which of course the State has done, and now there is money which is no longer required for bursaries which it is an obligation, under the 1918 Act, of local authorities to provide with the help of the State. There was in 1882, and there is now, a need for a Commission to go round to release resources which, under the terms of a will, have to be devoted to purposes which are no longer required, and to apply those resources to the fresh educational needs which we all know exist in Scotland.

Such was the recommendation of Lord Mackenzie's Committee, and such was the case which was made here in this House for the appointment of the Commission. In the work which the Commissioners are doing they are only carrying out the recommendations of Lord Mackenzie's Committee and the directions which they received from this House. My right hon. and learned Friend referred to what is the main thing which we have to keep in mind when we are discussing this matter, the interest of the children. He said that it was the birthright of children to obtain a university bursary, and he contrasted that—here I have a phrase which I had forgotten when the right hon. and learned Gentleman interrupted me before—with what he described as "the dole from public funds."


It is not a phrase of mine.


The right hon. and learned Gentleman used it. I do not see anything derogatory in a child obtaining what I should prefer to call a bursary from public funds. That, at any rate, is the law of the land, under the 1918 Act. Every local authority has to submit a scheme to the Scottish Education Department to provide those university and other bursaries, and that scheme has to be approved by the Scottish Educational Department as an adequate scheme. Under the Act, and under such schemes, the amount devoted to bursaries has risen from—I cannot charge my memory with the exact figures—£90,000 odd in 1920, to £230,000 odd in 1932, a sum no less than three times the total amount of money available for this purpose from endowment funds, as reported by the Mackenzie Committee in 1927. That is the main source from which these children can obtain their university bursaries, but there are special kinds of bursary for which there is great need.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the poverty of some of these children. Many of the bursaries that are given by local authorities are not enough for the child. I know of one case in which there were several children who could have had a bursary, but who had to be passed over because they could not afford to pay and to live in the University away from their homes. That is where the Endowments Commission comes in. They say "We will apply this bursary money in order to give a larger bursary where necessary, and in order to enable a deserving boy to go to a University." There are cases in which a boy's parents may have a certain amount of money which is too much to entitle that boy to a bursary from the local authority, and yet the boy may be very hard put to it when he tries to maintain himself at a University. The Commission allow bursaries to be applied in that case. In nearly all their schemes, provision is made for the payment of University bursaries at the discretion of the governing body, and also in nearly all their schemes there is representation on the governing body for at least one of the Universities concerned.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that he knows of such a case as a trust created in favour of boys of a particular name in a particular village, but I believe that the children of Scotland as a whole, and the parents of Scotland as a whole, do not think that that is altogether a good system in these days. It is not right and fair that special advantages should go to boys of a particular name in a particular village, when alongside that village there are other boys, just as good and perhaps better, who cannot get similar educational facilities. On the one hand, as I have said, these University bursaries can be obtained now from public funds, but, on the other hand, there are numerous cases, which are now recognised, of real educational need for which no adequate provision is made by local authorities—for example, playing fields, travelling scholarships, and many other things which are referred to in the Report of Lord Mackenzie's Committee, which was before the House when we set up this Commission, and to which we instructed the Commission to give effect. It is not for us now to complain if the Commission come back to us and say that they have given effect to the instructions which we gave to them in the terms of Lord Mackenzie's Report when the Commission was set up.

I concede most warmly to my right hon. Friend what I have stated publicly before, namely, that it is most important that the Commission should make every effort to meet reasonable criticism. Many weighty criticisms have been brought against these draft schemes in different parts of the country, but that is hardly a matter for surprise. There are 1,410 of these endowments which are being examined by the Commission. The task is one of enormous complexity. In some cases the trust is moribund; it is not being administered for the purposes for which it was set up; it is extremely difficult even to get information about it; and in the case of many of these trusts, which are very important, very complex factors have to be taken into consideration. Parliament foresaw that, and made arrangements for an elaborate procedure allowing for the review of these commissioners' draft schemes at successive stages. There are public inquiries into the schemes. The objectors first of all get the draft scheme; then they have an opportunity of appearing at a public inquiry; then they are told the result of the inquiry after the scheme has been submitted to the Scottish Education Department; then they are given facilities for making their representations to the Scottish Education Department; then they have another two months; and, if they are still not satisfied with the decision of the Scottish Education Department and the Vice-President, they can ask their Members of Parliament to bring the scheme to this House.

It is certainly important that the commissioners, at the different stages at which they are in charge of these proceedings, should give every consideration to reasonable criticism and to the many weighty objections which inevitably have to be brought against these schemes. Lord Mackenzie's Committee—which I have quoted several times already, because it is the very basis of the work which the commissioners are doing—warned the commissioners, in anticipation, that the judgment of Scotland on their work would depend upon the discrimination which they showed in the exercise of their powers and in meeting reasonable criticism; and certainly I hope that they will make, and I have every reason to believe that they are making, in the case of the majority of schemes, every effort to do that. An immense amount of work has been done by the Commission, quietly, without objection, Without attracting hostility and therefore publicity, and I am sorry that my right hon. Friend did not pay tribute to that uncontroversial work. I feel sure that any Debate in this House, if it calls the attention of the commissioners to the importance of carrying public opinion with them—and I am sure that that criticism which is best informed will carry the most weight with the Commission—will be helpful to them in carrying out their tasks, and will enable them, in co-operation with the Scottish Education Department and the Vice-President, to complete a work which is fraught with promise for the future of education in Scotland.

10.20 p.m.


I was rather surprised at the trend and the tone of the right hon. Baronet's speech. We are always proud in Scotland to have bursaries which have been given for certain localities and to certain names by people who have been very fond of the district in which they were born, and who made up their minds that their names should be perpetuated in that noble way. Yet the right hon. Baronet tells us "Why should you leave money? Posterity will come along and confiscate it. It can do what it likes." I am sorry he has moved so far along the path of Socialism. I do not agree with that doctrine. If a man snakes a trust deed, leaving his money in a particular direction, he has the hope that future generations should respect his wishes. In my constituency there is a high school called the Nicholson Institute, which was provided by two or three members of the family of Nicholson. It is one of the finest secondary schools in the United Kingdom, and there are two bursaries attached to it of which the people in the Western Isles are extremely proud. Yet, according to this scheme, these boys have to go to Glasgow, Edin- burgh, Aberdeen or St. Andrews, whereas provision is made for them locally under the Department of Education examinations. If these examinations have been deemed sufficient in the past, why should they not be deemed sufficient in the future?

The right hon. Baronet made a point of the democratic nature of the new scheme. I fail to see it. On 25th November the Lewis District Council sent a letter to the Scottish Office protesting on these very grounds which I am bringing forward of the high cost involved for these students. In many cases it takes away half the first year's bursaries, so great is the expense. For boys to go from Lewis to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee or St. Andrews the cost is very heavy. Yet this is called a democratic system. I fail to see where the democracy comes in. These objections that I am making were made to the Scottish Office three months ago, and I do not know what is in the mind of the Scottish Office to this day. I protest most strongly against the scheme.

10.25 p.m.


The right hon. Baronet would almost have persuaded me that he had an excuse in being taken unawares had I not observed the sheaf of notes from which he was speaking.


The hon. Baronet is at liberty to examine them. He will find that they refer to nothing but the remarks made by my right hon. Friend. I ask him to accept my assurance that I have made no notes.


I am perfectly prepared to accept that but, from the length at which he spoke, I should have thought he had primed himself upon the subject, as indeed it was his duty to do. What was it that he was arguing? The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir I. Macpherson) very properly objected to any system that was going to supersede a scheme which some pious benefactor had laid down in which intelligence, enterprise and energy played a part. I believe that we got a much better type of scholar under the regime to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred than under that which the right hon. Baronet appears to prefer. I understand his passionate defence of the chairman of the Commission of the same political com- plexion as himself, but I have always been told that retrospective legislation is bad, and that secondary legislation is dangerous. I do not care what Government did it, but for a Commission to be entitled to go back upon the well-considered wishes of private benefactors and to turn them down and mould them to their heart's desire is retrospective legislation. It is not done by an Act of Parliament. It is secondary education carried out by the powers foolishly entrusted to that Commission. You have retrospective and secondary legislation in this case.

What is it they are doing? Suggestions are made by whoever approves these schemes which are entirely different from the desires and wishes of the people who want to encourage those of their own name, parish and district to get certain facilities for their better education. Absolutely in opposition to all that sort of thing, the Commission come along and say that it is obsolete and out of date, and that they will turn those things on to research and to things which they like. I do not think the right hon. Baronet could deny that in the west and the east of Scotland it is drying up the fountain of benefaction for higher education in Scotland, a higher education not for people of aristocratic origin or of wealth, but of people who, irrespective of their wealth or social position, show that they have the faculty for making good the opportunities they have received. This is all to be driven out as a dead letter by a dole from the funds of the local authority. If that does not work, then the funds left by the pious founder for the purpose of education is to be given over to research or something of that kind. It is ridiculous—I do not know why the House ever did it—and I certainly hope that as a result of this discussion to-night Scottish Members will rise up and say that when this Commission comes to an end it shall not be renewed. It is a preposterous thing that a certain number of gentlemen, however good their intentions, and whatever their political complexion may be, should be able to do that against which we protest. When a person has left his money for certain purposes, reasonable in themselves, if they are hopelessly out of date, by all means do something about it. But we have the Marr College, which has been absolutely held up. The right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) says: That rests with the Education Department. It is an affair of the Scottish Office. What can the Education Department or the Scottish Office do? They can remit back to the Commission the draft of a scheme. They cannot say, "We want you to adopt this or that." If the Commissioners are recalcitrant, they can send back perhaps an amended scheme but one that is quite impossible. So the thing goes on indefinitely, and the whole benefaction is held up indefinitely. To may mind, it is a travesty of democracy, a travesty of the real interests of Scottish education. We used to be proud of our Scottish education, but in recent years we have been compelled under a succession of Governments, to admit that perhaps we are rather below the English standard, whereas we used to boast, perhaps vain-gloriously, that we were above the English standard. I appeal to my Scottish friends to reject the spurious argument of the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and to support the argument of the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty.

10.32 p.m.


There is no doubt that Scotland as a whole is strongly against the kind of thing that has been going on recently. The right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) is in a smaller minority in his views on this question than he is on his views on other political questions. Do let us put the blame in the right place. The blame does not rest primarily upon the Commissioners but upon us in this House. We were stupid and misguided enough at the beginning of this Parliament, at the instigation of the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, to pass a thoroughly bad Act. Let us admit it and get it off the Statute Book.


I should be delighted to stand up to that responsibility as far as it is mine, and I fully accept every bit of it. I do not wish to get out of one scrap of it, but when my hon. Friend says, "Let us be quite certain about the responsibility," I think it is only right to point out that the Commission was appointed originally by the Conservative Government in, I think, 1928 or 1929. It was appointed in accordance with the Report of Lord Mackenzie's Committee.


The point is that the enormity of the Act only becomes apparent in operation. When the Act was passed it looked a fairly inoffensive Act. It is true to say in mitigation of the right hon. Gentleman's advocacy of the second Act that even at that time things had not developed to the extent that they have now, and it was still possible to argue that the Act was going to be inocuous. For that reason a number of us, who ought to have been more wide awake, let it go through, and the result of that is becoming more alarming every day. Therefore, the real blame rests upon us for passing an ambiguous Act which we thought would be all right, but is not. The blame does not rest with the commission, who have been doing their best in extremely difficult circumstances to carry out what they think is the true intention of the Act. If the Act is ambiguous it is our fault. Nobody can suggest that the commission have not been trying to give their view of what the Act means. Do not let us blame the Scottish Office too much, for so long as an Act of Parliament is on the Statute Book it is the duty of the Scottish Office to carry it out according to their view of its meaning. I sincerely hope that their view of its meaning does not coincide with the commission's view. I am not sure that it does. Do not let us discuss the schemes which are not yet confirmed, because it may be that the Scottish Office take a different view of the meaning of the Act than the commission have taken.

I want to add my word to that of the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Sir P. Ford). Let us, at the first opportunity, get this out of the way; in any event do not prolong the Act at all when it comes to an end, let it come to an end, and, when the term of office of the commission comes to an end, let them go out of existence, they should never have been there at all. In that case the Scottish Office would be left in charge and there would be an appeal to the Court of Sessions, who take a reasonable view as to how testators' intentions are to be carried out. It is all very well for the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness to put forward the Socialist idea that a testator's money can be taken away from the purpose for which he left it. In the same way that Socialism in the wider sphere would dry up the sources of wealth so in this sphere Socialism would dry up the sources of wealth of testators. I hope that the Government will take the first opportunity of getting rid of this Act and, while thanking the commission for their services—I am not speaking ironically, as they have done their best in difficult circumstances and we must give them credit for it—in this way get rid of the whole thing.

10.40 p.m.


Much has been said in criticism of the commission, and my first word must be to say that the proper target for criticism is the Scottish Education Department and the Secretary of State and myself who are responsible for the policy of the Scottish Education Department. As there is a division of work between the Secretary of State and myself and as the Secretary of State has given me the work of dealing with the administration of the Education Department, the only proper target therefore for criticism is the Minister responsible for the Department which has the duty of considering and approving the draft schemes of the commission or of remitting them back to the commission on points where we think they have gone astray. Therefore, the attack should be made upon the Minister concerned, and I should not therefore, as a result of this Debate, have to defend in detail a commission whose work it is my own duty to criticise, to consider and inspect, from time to time.

There is, however, a more important reason why the responsible Ministers should be the target of criticism. The commission is the child of Parliament. It was set up by Parliament, and its duties were clearly set out in the Act. Therefore, to criticise it is clearly a case of the bullet going to the wrong billet. A number of draft schemes framed by the commission have been the subject of some criticism. With the possible exception of the Marr College scheme none of these schemes have yet been approved by the Education Department. Many of them are schemes that raise difficult questions. At this particular moment we are engaged in discussion with the com- mission as to alterations, amendments and all the rest of it. I beg the House not to regard a draft scheme in its first form, as this is, as a finished article.

One other general observation I will make. As the House knows, any petitioner can petition this House to have a scheme considered by the House. Up to date there have been passed no fewer than 89 schemes, and in the case of only three have there been petitions for the House to consider. [An HON. MEMBER: "That shows how difficult it is."] It does not show how difficult it is. It is perfectly easy to bring the matter before Parliament. There may be technical difficulty as to the time when the Prayer discussion can be taken, but there is no difficulty in bringing the scheme before Parliament, because two months are allowed under the procedure for that to be done. As to the functions of the commission, I would point out that this is the second commission to be appointed. The function of the first, appointed in 1882, was in the same way to revise the existing educational endowments. It was to see that the then educational endowments were applied to what then seemed to be up-to-date purposes. The main purpose at that date was the furthering of secondary education.

A great many of the bursaries which are now being dealt with by the commission, or some of them, were in fact brought into being by the previous commission. One of its other functions was to provide what in Scotland are called hospitals, that is to say institutions in which poor children were maintained and educated. Many of these bursaries, whose age-long characteristic has been eloquently described to-night, were the child of the first commission. The work of the commission as set out in the Act is mainly to bring educational endowments up to date. What are the new objects for which endowments are being given? They are such things as hostels into which children go from the rural areas, and where they can be properly looked after. I can hardly imagine anything more likely to add to the value of secondary education, and to add to the safety of rural children going for the first time into a town, than that at the age of 14 or 16 they should be properly looked after in these hostels. Then there are such things as the provision of playgrounds, and of travelling scholarships for those going into agricul- tural work. I cannot imagine anything more likely to enlarge the outlook of a young man going into modern agriculture than that, after leaving the secondary school, he should get from the local education authority a travelling scholarship in order that he may see the work being done in Denmark, or Holland or further afield.

The objects to which the money previously spent on bursaries is now in many cases being devoted by the Commissioners, are objects which really bring these educational endowments into line with modern educational purposes. The general form of the Commission's scheme is not to lay down hard and fast rules under which the endowment money can be used. The general form of the scheme is that the local education authority should frame a scheme for the use of the money, and the Commission only lays down a wide variety of subjects for which the endowments can be used. That scheme again has to be approved by the Education Department. So far as I can judge the main advantage of that system is that it gives the necessary elasticity. I am convinced that educational requirements change from generation to generation and from decade to decade and it is of importance that the money should not be bound in irons, under hard and fast rules but that there should be elasticity in the use of these most valuable endowments. That elasticity is almost invariably secured. The general course of the speeches this evening would suggest that bursaries have been entirely swept away by the Commissioners but that is not so. In the very scheme which my right hon. Friend would have dealt with in more detail had opportunity offered, no less than 18 bursaries are maintained for children going to the universities.

The general principle is that where endowments are given specially for the poor they must be used under the commission's scheme for the poor, but they need not be kept in the form of bursaries. Since the Act of 1918 it has been the duty of education authorities to see that no poor child is deprived of further education on account of want of means and as my right hon. Friend has said £230,000 a year is spent in Scotland in that way. Where the bursary is of a kind which is not confined to the poor but is a general competitive bursary, that bursary is not swept away by the commissioners, and as I say there are 18 of these under the Ross and Cromarty scheme. My right hon. Friend made a reference to competitors having to go to the universities "to sit the examinations" as we say in Scotland. That does not apply of course to bursaries for the poor. It applies to these competitive bursaries. The scheme provides that if no competitor is of a sufficiently high standard in a given year the bursary is not awarded. That provision, I think, is right because it tends to raise the level of education. But competitors have now to sit the examinations in the university because thus and thus alone can any real standard of competition be arrived at. Every young person sitting for a bursary examination in a university has an opportunity of also gathering in, if he is lucky, another bursary or if he is still luckier, picking up one of the bursary plums of a Scottish university.

In general, where you have a definitely competitive bursary, where the main object is not to give a poor person a bursary but to pick out the best person and, if you do not get a sufficiently good person, not to award a bursary, then there is, in the interests of education, an immense amount of force in the view that these examinations should be conducted at universities where the bursary is to be held, and that successful competitors for a bursary should compete not merely against the people of their own districts, but against the competitors for all the competitive bursaries. It was by no oversight on the part of the Department of Education that that feature of the scheme was confirmed. We did it, because we believed that it was in the interests of university education and of boys and girls who were going to the universities.

Let me conclude by saying that if this provision or any other provision in a scheme turns out in practice to be unsatisfactory when the stage of the Commission is closed—at best it will clearly be over in the course of a year or two—as soon as the Commission's work is over it becomes the function of the Scottish Education Department thereupon to make any necessary alteration in the scheme. If in the course of a year or two this criticism or that criticism turns out to be well founded and our judg- ment in approving a scheme turns out to have been fallacious, the scheme can be altered. There is nothing there hard and fast or ironbound. It was neither from oversight nor from any desire to do anything but what was best in the interests of education that we considered that the provision with regard to examination at universities was a sound provision.


Is there a single body of administrators of any importance in any part of Scotland who agree with that view?


I could not answer that question immediately. My right hon. and learned Friend will recollect that the subject he was going to discuss to-night was one scheme only; the general discussion of the commission's policy, and the whole situation has been brought forward owing to the circumstances of the Debate. I will certainly make inquiries on that point. My own view is—and many hon. Members must support the proposition—that if you have competitive bursaries there must be true competition. If you have maintenance bursaries, where poverty is a chief qualification, all you want is a standard.


My hon. Friend raised the case of two bursaries which were specifically allocated to the Nicholson Institute, Stornoway. Stornoway is in the Island of Lewis, across the Minch. The proposal is that 20 boys and girls in competition for those two bursaries should not sit for them in Stornoway but should go to Aberdeen to sit for them.


As I understand it, the bursaries for which competitors will sit an examination in a university are confined to bursaries which will be held at that university. If my hon. or right hon. Friends think that a bursary can be held at the Nicholson Institute and is to be competed for in Aberdeen or elsewhere, they are wrong.


Are these bursaries, as in the past, to be awarded on the results of examinations set by the Department of Education?


That is exactly the question with which I am dealing. All that was necessary for apparently competitive bursaries was that a certain standard should be obtained. By send- ing competitors to compete in the bursary examination at the university they will be going in for a really competitive examination.


I do not think my hon. Friend appreciates the point. These two scholarships are limited to pupils of Nicholson Institute, Stornoway. They are not scholarships open to the whole university. If that be true, the only people who can compete for those scholarships are pupils of Nicholson Institute, Stornoway, and the only competition which can take place should be in the Nicholson Institute.


I am sorry if I have not completely covered this technical point. If it were necessary that the bursaries should be awarded each year, then the argument of my hon. Friends would prevail, but in fact the bursary is a competitive bursary and need not be awarded, and therefore it does not follow that every year, under a proper competitive system, two boys or girls at Nicholson Institute will get the bursary. They must come up to a bursary standard, and the bursary need not be awarded. That is the importance of a competitive examination. If indeed you had bursaries which must be awarded to people at particular schools, it would not be worth while to place them.


Is not the examination of the Department of Education competitive?


No, it is not a competitive examination, in the same sense, because all that is required for the ordinary bursary is that a certain standard of leaving certificate should be attained, which is quite a different thing from the success which an applicant may obtain in a proper bursary examination conducted by a university. The university has to report to the county council whether they regard the applicant for a competitive bursary as having a sufficient educational standard to deserve it. That is an entirely different case from obtaining two, three, or four passes in a leaving certificate. The new system will be competitive, and I believe that it is of great importance that early in their lives—as the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) said, let us regard this from the point of view of the children, and I do not think the House would think otherwise—young people of striking abilities, from whatever part of the country they may come, should early have the opportunity of being successful in an examination which is competitive for a large range of people of their own age.

My hon. Friends are interested in the future of these bursaries. Believe me that the successful attaining of one of these bursaries now, after a proper competitive examination in a university, will set a hall mark upon a successful competitor which the mere attainment of a certain number of passes in a leaving certificate could not do. It is, therefore, in the interests of education, which is a matter of quality and not of quantity, that we approve of the provisions with regard to these particular bursaries. I am sure the principle is sound and right, but on the whole matter I should like to conclude, as I began, by saying that we are the proper targets of criticism, and not the Commission, who cannot reply for themselves in this House, and for whom I am loath to reply because I often, in the course of ordinary Government business, find myself seeing not absolutely eye to eye with them. Let us be attacked, and I think we shall be able to defend ourselves.

Adjourned accordingly at One Minute before Eleven o'Clock.