HL Deb 10 December 1919 vol 37 cc882-8

LORD LAMINGTON asked His Majesty's Government whether representations from any parish councils in Scotland in protest of the heavy assessments under the Education (Scotland) Act, 1918, have been received; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sorry at this late hour to detain your Lordships, but I have put the Question to-night and do not postpone it again because the action referred to in my Motion is in connection with a parish council which has just ceased to exist, and as it may be rather convenient for the new parish council to know what is the reply of the Government with regard to the matter I bring before your Lordships' notice. I may say that the assessment under the Scottish Education Act has caused a great deal of resentment certainly in my part of Scotland, and, I gather from the newspapers, in other parts also; hence I want to know how widespread this resentment is entertained throughout Scotland. As chairman of my parish council it came as a most startling surprise to me when a demand note was presented for an increase of about 800 per cent. on our old assessment. Up to now our School Board has cost about £240 a year, but under the new demand note it will be £1,797. That is rather larger than in many other parishes, but a 600 per cent. increase is not uncommon, as I can show from a statement which has been furnished to me. It is not only the enormous increase but the inequality of the increase which has caused so much criticism in Scotland. In one parish the rate has gone up by only ½id., while in the adjoining parish it has gone up from 1s. 3d. to 2s. 4d. In many parishes the rate has gone up only 33⅓ per cent., but in most of the rural parishes it has gone up from 600 to 800 per cent. The money levied is not to be spent in the parishes but by the Education authority for the whole of the country. The only money that is going to be spent in the parish itself would be for an increase in the teacher's salary and for the production of free books and stationery; all the rest will go to the big centres where the secondary schools are established. In a statement made the other day by the chairman of the education authority for Lanarkshire he stated that the object of this Act was to allow of the rural population obtaining greater facilities for education; and he also referred to the fact that in the past they had often been crippled by the penuriousness of their School Boards. Apparently that is the sole justification for this Act. The people in Scotland are most ignorant of, or at any rate did not realise, what would be the consequences of this Act. I should like to hear the reply of the noble Lord before I make any further remarks.


My Lords, I may say, in reply to the noble Lord's Question, that the Scottish Education Department has received a considerable number of representations from individual parish councils and from conferences of parish councils in protest of the heavy assessments upon their parishes under this Act. These protests, however, are from a minority of the whole body of parish councils and fall roughly into two classes—namely, those from parishes in the Highland counties, which are numerous; and more or less isolated representations from the parish councils of agricultural parishes in the Lowlands, with high or moderately high valuations, who find themselves merged under the Act of 1918 in a populous education area of a predominantly industrial character. As to the Highland parishes it is found on examination that, generally speaking, the protesting parishes were already highly rated; that the assessment has been steeply increased in the present year, and that they had heavy debit balances at the close of the financial year ending 1919, for which under the Act they had to rate specially this year in addition to the common rate on the education area which they had to pay as well as other parishes in the area; and that this year they had been deprived for the time being of certain special grants which they had enjoyed under the former rêgime.

With education areas of this character—the remark applies to the education areas as a whole rather than to individual parishes—the Department have the greatest possible sympathy. In point of fact, the Secretary for Scotland has just announced his intention of laying a Minute to-morrow to provide for the payment of grants to certain Highland counties of a higher proportion of their approved expenditure than is normal, and I trust that this, if approved by Parliament, will do something to remedy the grievance of which complaint is made. With the Lowland parishes it is quite otherwise. Generally speaking, under the former system they were not highly rated. On the contrary, in many of them the rates were abnormally low, partly because of their relatively high valuation and partly because of the economies shown in providing educational facilities. Generally speaking also, they have no debts, or debts of relatively small amounts. What has happened is this. These parishes have been merged in a larger rating area and have to take their share, according to valuation, of the common burden. Of course there is here a prima facie grievance. There is apt to be a grievance whenever one has to pay rates for a purpose which benefits one's neighbours more than oneself, but that is a defect inherent in any system of general rating.

If rating is admitted at all (as it must be), the only question is what is the most suitable unit. In the matter of education, at all events, and in the interests of future educational developments, a county unit is preferable to a parish (or burgh) unit. One consequence of the substitution of the county for the parish as the unit of rating is the approximate equalisation of rates throughout the larger area. This equalisation may be disguised by the nominal difference of rates as between parishes owing to the different system of deductions obtaining in different parishes. A sum is demanded from each parish according to its gross valuation. That sum may be collected according to the particular system of rating obtaining in the parish. The broad result is that, assuming the total sum to be raised from rates for education in the county area had remained the same as under the School Board system, the rates of some parishes would have gone up and those of others would have been diminished so as to produce an approximately uniform levy of rates throughout the county on a basis of gross valuation. This equalisation of rates throughout the county is one cause, and an important cause, of the in crease of assessment complained of by certain parish councils, being, generally speaking, those whose valuation was relatively high and their expenditure under the former system low.

To take Lanarkshire, for instance, I see that Lamington was rated at slightly over 4½d., while Dalziel's education rate was 3s. 2d. In Dumbartonshire, the rate for Old Kilpatrick was 3s.d. while for Dumbarton (Landward) it was only 1¾ d. This substitution of the county for the parish as the administrative and rating unit for education is a foundation principle of the Act and cannot be departed from; but there is no doubt that its general application, particularly in the case of sparsely populated agricultural or pastoral parishes merged in a unit mainly industrial in character, constitutes a grievance amounting in certain cases to hardship. Such cases are engaging the attention of the Department with a view, if possible, to devising some suitable form of relief. But the material for any complete examination of the position is not yet available. Returns have been asked for from each Education Authority which would supply the necessary information, but, though reminders have been sent, these returns from many authorities are still outstanding.

I am glad to add that the Secretary for Scotland had just announced his intention of making payment this year of what are known as "accrued" grants. A Minute to that end will be laid to-morrow, and, if approved by Parliament, the effect will be that all parish councils, including those just referred to, will be credited with considerable sums which will go some way to meet the grievances complained of, for this year at least. But the equalisation of rates is only one cause of the increase of assessment in certain parishes, for there has been added, not only in these parishes but to all education authorities, an increase of assessment due to certain improvements in education which the Act contemplated as necessary or desirable.

Foremost amongst these, and the necessary foundation for all further educational development, is the adequate remuneration of teachers. The grounds for this increase are twofold—the inadequacy of the present remuneration of large classes of existing teachers to provide a living wage, still less to provide them with the books and opportunities for further study which are essential to success in their profession; and—the second ground is even more important—the absolute necessity of attracting to the profession a larger supply of well-educated men and women in the future. The number of entrants to the profession has been dwindling in recent years, and unless a successful attempt is made to attract suitable recruits to the profession with the certain prospect of adequate remuneration in comparison with other competing professions and occupations, there is great danger of many schools, even as they stand, becoming derelict or of being left to the tender mercies of a lower class of teacher of imperfect educational attainments. But there is an item of an immediate increase of expense which must not be overlooked. One-seventh of the whole school population of Scotland have hitherto been taught in denominational schools.




One-seventh. Apart from Government grants they have hitherto been maintained solely at the expense of the denomination to which they belong, and, from poverty of resources, both the school premises, generally speaking, and the salaries which the managers could offer teachers were much below the level of those of the public authorities. These schools are now, for the most part, transferred to the new authorities, and a great deal of money will have to be spent to bring up these schools to the general level of the others as regards all-round efficiency.

There are other increases of expenditure, more or less of a voluntary nature, which in the circumstances of certain districts seem almost inevitable. There is the question of free books and stationery, referred to by the noble Lord, which has hitherto been given by certain school boards in the district under the Act of 1908. It is difficult for the authority of any such district to continue the practice in the schools in which it was formerly in use by the school boards, and refuse it to others. Lastly, there is the requirement of Section 6 of the Act for an adequate provision of all forms of education, including secondary, without payment of fees, and in certain districts this may also lead to an increase in the cost of education.

For these various reasons the budgets of education authorities are very much swollen, compared with the total expenditure on education of the previous year. No doubt most, if not all, of this expenditure is really necessary under the terms of the Act. But the budgets were prepared in circumstances which made an accurate estimate of the expenditure in most cases very difficult. There are also marked differences in the proportion of increase which is considered necessary by different authorities. In view of these circumstances, it is hoped that, by a careful scrutiny of the various items, the amounts under some heads may be found to be in excess of what is actually required.


My Lords, I beg to thank the noble Lord for his considerate answer. He practically infers that the accrued grant is going to be paid over to the school committees. I am afraid, as regards my own parish, it will only be £80, which will not go very far to meet £1,797. However, it is something. I hope it may be larger in the case of other parishes. The noble Lord referred to the fact that all these improvements in the education system have been for the benefit of agricultural parishes; which must take a share in the general ratings. It is a distinct hardship that, whereas in Lanarkshire generally the average works out at £9 per head as the cost of this education, in Lamington—an extreme case—it comes out to £40. We know that the question of rating is a very big one, and we cannot deal with it on an occasion like this, but the hardship remains that, whereas the general average is £9, in certain parishes it is £40 or £45 per child, and this money has to be found in the locality.

While the Act is supposed to be for the benefit of the rural population an extreme animosity against the Act comes from the rural population. I have not met a single person who is not indignant, who does not say he fears the Act, and did not know it was going to be passed. These people did not want the Act. The noble Lord has said that the increase this year is for the pay of salaries and teachers, which I believe to be a most necessary object indeed. And he said that it was very largely the case of the denominational teachers who had been underpaid up to now. That means a tremendous benefit to the Roman Catholic community, who are the only people who have voluntary schools, except, I think, the Episcopal Church, which has one or two. Practically, the Roman Catholics will benefit by the enormous increase of the education assessment.

I rather gather from the noble Lord that the authorities will look into the matter to see if they cannot give some redress. If they do not, I think this is only a forecast of what is coming in succeeding years, when there are going to be secondary schools and continuation schools, and I am told on a reliable authority that we can expect the rates to go up to 8s. in the £ for education alone. That will simply cripple us altogether—certainly, the unfortunate landlords in Scotland who pay half the rates, unlike those in England. I am grateful for the answer, but the Government will realise that the Act has caused hostility among all sections of the population. I can truthfully say that it has done so among all those I have met in any part of Scotland.