HL Deb 17 November 1920 vol 42 cc317-30

LORD LAMINGTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government what relief is to be given in respect of the inequitable assessments of parochial rates levied for the working of the Education (Scotland) Act; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I apologise for again asking a question on the subject of the Scottish Education Act, but I do so because since I last put a question on the subject public opinion in Scotland has manifested itself very much against the working of that Act. So extreme has the feeling become that last week the Secretary for Scotland met a deputation of Scottish Members of the other House who had made a protest to him relating to the working of this Act.

course, the housing too, but the Government suggest that if we were to abolish these buildings in the parks it would only mean leasing other premises at the cost of the taxpayer. That is the last thing that I want to force the Government to do. I want the Government to reduce their staffs, and with a view to securing an expression of that opinion I desire to press my Motion.

On Question?—

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 41; Not-Contents, 15.

Sutherland, D. Stanhope, E. Glentanar, L.
Wicklow, E. Lambourne, L.
Crewe, M. Lamington, L.
Lincolnshire, M. (L. Great Chamberlain.) Chaplin V Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Goschen V. Muir Mackenzie, L.
Linlithgow, M. Haldane, V. Newton, L.
Salisbury, M. Harcourt, V. Nunburnholme, L.
Askwith, L. O'Hagan, L.
Craven, E. Avebury, L. Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)
Dartmouth, K. Buckmaster, L. Rotherham, L.
Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.) Chalmers, L. Southwark, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Strachie, L.
Malmesbury, E. Decies, L. Sumner, L.
Midleton, E. Ebury, L. Sydenham, L.
Roden, E. Erskine, L.[Teller.] Vernon, L.
Gainford, L.[Teller.]
Birkenhead, L.(L. Chancellor.) Plymouth, E. Hylton, L.
Bradford, E. Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain) St. Levan, L.
Chesterfield, E. Annesley, L (V. Valentia.) Somerleyton, L. [Teller.]
Lucan, E. Colebrooke, L. Stanmore, L. [Teller.]
Lytton, E. Fai[...]lic, L.(E. Glasgow.) Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)

In a lengthy reply the right hon. gentleman reviewed the Act and explained why it had originated. He began by saving that the Act was introduced because on the passing in 1918 of an English Education Act, a large mini of money became available for Scotland, and it would have been a great pity if a similar Act were not passed for Scotland so that it might obtain the benefit of that considerable sum.

I think, however, that Scottish people as a whole have failed to find any benefit from the grant given by the Government. On the contrary, there is a general outcry because of the huge increase of rates to which they have been subject in consequence of the working of this Act. The expenditure has gone up from £6,200,000 a year under the old Act to a total of £10,800,000 for the current year, an increase of about £4,500,000. Of that amount a little more than £3,000,000 is due to the increase of salaries to teachers. No one criticises that. Every one in fact admits that it was right and proper, and indeed advisable, to pay the teachers better than they had been paid, but there is an increase of nearly £800,000 for maintenance and repairs to buildings which is felt to be open to criticism. A considerable sum is spent upon free books and free stationery to children, whether attending primary or secondary schools. Most people feel that those attending secondary schools are well able to pay for their own school-books and stationery.

Another item open to criticism is this. In arranging for the cleaning of a school, the managers will perhaps fix a certain sum, and they will find someone quite content to do the work for that sum. But the Scottish Department comes down and says "No, you must pay so much." When people are quite willing to undertake the work for the amount fixed by the local managers it is very autocratic on the part of this Department to insist upon a higher amount being paid. Further, under the old school board system the total amount for administration was £222,000, whereas now the cost is £411,000. I am told that each meeting of the education authority for Lanarkshire—the county that I know best—will cost the country about £100, which goes in travelling and other expenses. Under this head I think there might be a reduction.

In the rural districts of Lanarkshire there is a strong feeling of resentment because they are grouped with the industrial portion of the county, thereby being put to an enormous increase of rates. The Secretary for Scotland the other day laid stress on tile fact that the county area was the only suitable area to be found for working the Act. I do not agree with that. There is nothing sacrosanct in the boundaries of a county. If a county is the best area why, under the Act, was not the control of education put under the county council? Had that been done even the Secretary for Scotland thinks now that it would have been better from the rating point of view, for it might have given some alleviation to the rural districts. I see no reason, where there is a vast distinction in the areas, why the rural should not be separated from the industrial part of a county for this purpose. In the upper ward of Lanarkshire—which is practically the Southern Parliamentary Division—in 1919 the rate alone, without the grant, came to nearly two-thirds of the expenditure chargeable, including central administrative expenditure. The rest of the county, which spent its own rate, also received its own portion of grant and the upper ward's proportion of grant, and in addition incurred a deficit of £54,000, a portion of which falls to be extracted from the upper ward. This shows that the upper ward of Lanarkshire supplied two-thirds of the expenditure while the rest of the county had their own rate, their own portion of grant, a considerable part of the upper ward proportion of grant, and in addition incurred a deficit of £54,000. These figures are very striking when compared with those for a similar area. Take a high school area, which has six or seven parishes attached to it for the purposes of school management. This is partly a rural self-contained area, and the rate alone more than covered the expenditure for the whole of the year, while the rest of the county has the benefit of a grant as well as its own rate, and yet incurred a deficit. I have no doubt similar instances could be found in other parts of Scotland.

The Secretary for Scotland said the other day that he did not think there was anything inequitable in this burden of rates. But that is not the opinion of the people in at any rate the rural districts of Lanarkshire. Some six weeks ago there was a large meeting called in Glasgow which was attended by representatives of the parish councils from every part of Scotland. Over three hundred parishes were represented. It was a very remarkable gathering, because they met together in protest against this Education Act. The organisers drafted a very moderate resolution setting forth their grievances and asking the Government to amend the Act. The meeting went on harmoniously for a time. Then a gentleman rose and said he was a Baptist minister from Creich. I was in the chair at this meeting, and I felt he was going to speak against the motion. But not a bit of it. He said our motion was not strong enough. Amendment was not sufficient. What was wanted was the total repeal of the Act, and the great body of the meeting strongly supported him. So strong was the feeling that we had to amend the resolution asking whether the Government would repeal or amend the Act. I mention this because it shows what a strong feeling has been aroused throughout the whole of Scotland, except in certain industrial areas, as regards the working of this Act. The Secretary for Scotland treated this matter rather as one of large owners of land and occupiers. Rather an unworthy sneer in my opinion. The meeting was far more representative than any claim which could be made by any Member of Parliament. The representatives of the parish councils of those districts reflect far better the feeling than those who represent a large number of boroughs where there were political issues of different kinds. These people came together at great expense and at great trouble and registered their protest to try to secure some amendment if not the repeal of the Act. Therefore I trust that it will not be considered that there is not a very strong agitation going on in Scotland with regard to this Act.

If I read correctly, there is a movement for the suspension of tine English Education Act. If that is the case something ought to be done to meet the grievance I have represented, because the excuse for introducing and passing this Scottish Act was that the English people had secured their Act. If they are going to obtain suspension if not repeal of that Act it is a justification that we in Scotland should not be put at a greater disability than those who live in England. The Secretary for Scotland promised that there would be a grant of £400,000 in excess of the grant previously allotted. I cannot say how far this is going to affect beneficially those rural areas for which I speak. It will require a lot of consideration. As I have already pointed oat to the noble Lord, we get no benefit at all from the grant. Our rates are very heavy, and how far this grant of £400,000 will do anything to meet them I cannot say. I know it is no use to look a gift horse too closely in the mouth. Children attending secondary schools were given their books and their stationery free and housed and fed doling their time of training. My view is that you are placing a terrible burden on other people, and that the parents of most of these children are perfectly able and willing to pay for the schooling of their children. I regard it as a great come-down from our old Scottish educational system where parents did their best, and very successfully, to give a good education to their children. Now the whole of the tendency is that they should bear no burden in this direction.

I think it is most desirable that this question should be brought forward at the present time because it must be remem- bered that we are only now at the very outset of this increased expenditure. I see the increase is about £4,500,000. Over £3,000,000 of that goes in the direction of increasing teachers' salaries, to which nobody objects. When the other parts of the Act are put into force the rates will become so oppressive that the landowner will probably have to pay 15s. in the £ rates and taxes, and if I am told by the Scottish Education Department that the estimate for the education rate goes up to 8s. in the £ it will mean starvation and ruin to a large number for the benefit of a large number of people who are perfectly able to provide for their children's education. What I claim is that the whole system and purport of the Act ought to be reconsidered and put on a fair and just footing.


My Lords, as on the previous occasion on which the noble Lord who sits behind me brought forward this question I was unfortunately unable to be present, I wish to take this opportunity, even in a somewhat attenuated House, of saying a few words. My purpose is to warn your Lordships not to accept the view which the noble Lord puts forward of Scottish opinion or of the aim of the meeting which took place recently and to which he referred. I, too, live in Scotland; I, too, am a ratepayer in Scotland; I, too, have had my rates for education largely increased. But I will say this, watching Scottish opinion, that it was absolutely essential that the Government should have passed the Act, which has put education in Scotland on a very much better footing than ever it was before.




The noble Lord has not devoted the attention to this question that some of us have, or he would not assert what is contradictory to fact. The whole essence of his speech was, "Let the people educate their own children; it is their duty to do so. And repeal the Act." If the noble Lord went to Scotland and said that to a large section he would get a response which I think would astonish him. What is it that the noble Lord complains of? He gave the rise in the districts as the difference between £6,000,000 and £10,000,000. He then proceeded to take the heart out of that by saying what he was bound to say, that £3,000,000 of it was for the salaries of the teachers which he did not grudge or question. In the something under £1,000,000 which was left the noble Lord suggested one or two very slight economies. I agree with him that there have been some expensive things in connection with this Act—the expenses of people, for instance, attending meetings of the county education authorities. The reason of that was the desire that the working classes should be enabled to put their representatives upon these bodies, and as the meetings took place at a distance poor people could not be expected to pay their way there. I think that has been carried rather far, but it is a very trifling item.

The complaint of the noble Lord, indeed, the real thing of which he complains, I will explain to your Lordships. He lives in a parish where the education rate used to be very low. In those days education was paid for by a parochial rate levied on the parish area. All the particularism of that Lilliputian system of education which was in existence then has been swept away, and in the Scottish Act of 1883 the Government very wisely insisted upon county areas taking the place of the small parochial area. Education is provided on a general scale now and distributed so that all necessities are provided for, and there is an absence of overlapping. Of course, it has cost money. The salaries of the teachers are, perhaps, the largest item, but that is an item—the noble Lord himself does not question it—which is part of the ascending scale of the times.

What in reality the noble Lord complains of is that whereas his rate in the country parish was low his rate in the large area is much higher. What is the reason? The children in the small parishes could not be provided for under the old system except so far as the most elementary of education was concerned, and they were sent to the better schools, the higher schools, in towns which were, perhaps, at a distance. I have often watched the older children going off by the early trains to the neighbouring town to carry on their education there, returning to their homes in the villages in the evening. That, of course, threw a burden upon the town which had to keep up the school. Accordingly, a twofold reform has been set on foot under the new system. First of all, there is better provision for higher education in the locality because there is an education authority which has a much larger mind than the little aggregation that used to constitute the old school board, and which sees now that higher education is provided in the little centres. In addition, while the towns still provide the higher and secondary schools to which country children may go and get their education in the way I have described, it was seen that it was fair that the cost should not fall entirely upon the town which was providing such services for the distant country parish.

What has been the effect of that? A single rate, of course, for the whole thing, and the education rate is now distributed and falls as a flat rate over the area. The consequence is that the little places which were getting part of the education of their children for nothing at the expense of the town which had to keep up the schools where it was provided have now to bear part of the cost of the education in the towns, whereas the towns are relieved in part from the cost of what they were providing for the benefit of the country districts. The result of that has been that in many cases the towns in which the higher education is given to the children have paid a smaller education rate than under the old system. If the noble Lord will look into the matter he will find plenty of cases where towns pay less than they did while the country districts are paying more; that is because there is a flat rate over the larger area.

To propose, as the noble Lord does, to return to the benighted times when parishes looked after themselves and provided very little in the way of education, looking to the towns to pay the difference, is to suggest that we should go back upon the light of day. If one went to Scotland and asked people about these things one would find, of course, plenty of grumblers; there are grumblers everywhere. One would find grumblers among the people who do not care about a national system of education and do not take the trouble to understand it. Any one going among the people themselves and among the enlightened leaders of public opinion will find that it is a mere handful which is raising the objections of which we have heard to-day, and I unhesitatingly ask your Lordships to disregard the appeal that has been made.


My Lords, the Question asked by my noble friend is as to what relief shall be given. I believe he has a special grievance, because in the list I saw that the cost of each scholar in his particular parish has risen in the last two years by no less than £68 per annum, I think it is.




I am obliged to the noble Lord. The noble and learned Viscount who spoke last has studied this question more than I have, but I think the account he gay; was somewhat exaggerated and not by any means accurate. I do not know whether it has very much to do with this question of the rising of the rates, but the great complaint is not that the country districts have to pay for their own education but for the education of the towns. The noble Viscount referred to the benighted condition of the country districts before the passing of the Act. I think he is aware that county councils had their secondary education committees and provided these schools and were the means of the children going to these schools. That was before the passing of this Act.


Hear, hear.


The noble Viscount admits it. Each parish then paid for the elementary education provided in its own district, but what the country districts have to do now is to pay for the elementary education in the towns. They do not complain in the least of having to pay somewhat larger sums for secondary education, but they complain very greatly of this, that it is obvious twat those living in the country districts cannot take the same advantage of the expenditure on the schools in the towns as those who are more fortunate in being closer to the schools and more unfortunate in not having good country air. Over and above that, when the Bill was first introduced the rating was to be the same as the county council rate on the gross value. That was not proceeded with. In the following year a Bill was brought in introducing what my noble friend calls the parochial rate; he will correct me if I am wrong. That is the course that has always been taken in regard to the Poor Law and elementary education in the parochial or parish schools in the past. It did not matter so very much, though it was not a very fair way of doing it because there were certain deductions made from the gross, in some cases I think as much as 50 per cent.


Hear, hear.


The objection is that those are not statutory deductions, and that they may be 50 per cent. in one parish, 30 per cent. in another, and 10 per cent. in another. As a matter of fact they may not vary quite so much as that, but they do vary throughout the whole of Scotland. So that at present not only are country parishes being levied on to pay for the elementary education of the children in the towns, but over and above that they are assessed on a higher value, because the reduction given in their case—probably in all cases—is much less than that in the towns. The people who gain by this, and who, I think, were very instrumental in bringing about the change in the Bill when it came on in Parliament, are the railway companies and the big manufacturers. They protested. But that is one thing which has made the rate most unfair.

Those are the two great points. The cost of education has, of course, risen like the cost of everything else. The teachers of Scotland in the whole of the country districts are receiving much higher pay, and in many cases—as I have no doubt the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, would agree—perhaps the pay is too high at the present time for those who are receiving it, because some of them are not as qualified as they might be. But the great complaint is that the cost of the education of the children of the towns is being thrown now on the country ratepayers. They do not object to making a reasonable contribution for secondary education, but they do think it is very unfair as regards elementary education.

The other thing to which great exception is taken is the system of throwing on the rates a burden which it is thought very extensively in Scotland should be borne by the National Exchequer. There is, in effect, at the present time a second Income-tax: there is an Income-tax on the ratepayers, in addition to the Imperial Income-tax. I notice that Mr. Bonar Law said the other day that the Government had no control over the rates. They may have no control over keeping the rates down, but they have a great deal of control —which they exercise—over putting the rates up, and we have to pay for these things which are ordered by the Government or by some Government Department either in Edinburgh or—worse still—in London, over which we have no control.

There is a great cry now for devolution, but every Bill brought in and everything done by the Government—and by this Government most of all—has led to greater power being given to bureaucrats and less to the popularly-elected boards—the county councils, and so forth. I do not quite agree with the noble Viscount when he says that my noble friend was wrong in supposing that it was unpopular. I cannot prove it one way or the other, but I think that on the whole my noble friend who put this Question would have more support than the noble Viscount. However, I do not want to quarrel over this. We think there is a gross unfairness, and very strong feeling prevails in Scotland. I hope that my noble friend opposite will be able to give some satisfactory answer, because I do not exaggerate in saying that it will not be particularly good for the Government when they appeal for votes if they do not do something to remove this great anxiety, for, although the rates are very high now, people are still more apprehensive of what they may be in the future.


My Lords, following upon an undertaking given in both Houses of Parliament in the present year the Vice-President of the Scottish Education Department has been considering whether it is possible in any way to mitigate the burden falling upon rural parishes with a small population in comparison with the more populous parishes in the same education area. He considered, first of all, the possibility of taking some standard of cost per head—say, £10—beyond which relief might be given by a special grant from the Education (Scotland) Fund proportionate to the excess beyond the standard figure. But in the course of investigation of individual cases it soon became apparent that cost per head beyond the average of the education area was invariably accompanied by a valuation per head more or less proportionate to the higher cost per head. In such cases it is difficult to regard the assessments under the existing Act as inequitable.

Furthermore, strong objection was taken on the part of the Association of Education Authorities to a method of relief which singled out certain parishes as the recipients of special aid to the exclusion of others. It was contended that any aid to be given should be given on general principles applicable to all parishes alike. This objection could be met only by an amendment of Section 13 of the Act of 1918 so as to make population as well as valuation a factor in the allocation of the deficiency of an education authority among the constituent parishes of its area, and the practicability of an amendment in this direction is under consideration. It is obvious that, while an amendment of this sort would operate in favour of rural parishes with a high valuation per head, it would have exactly the opposite effect upon rural parishes with a low valuation per head, such as is the case generally in the western islands.

The balance of advantage to rural parishes in general as between allocation on the basis of valuation alone, as in the Act, and allocation partly on valuation and partly on population, is difficult to determine, and the Department are accordingly in process of obtaining from the several education authorities their opinion as to how an amendment introducing population as a factor of allocation would work in the circumstances of their district, and what proportion of the deficiency might most equitably be raised upon the basis of valuation, and what, if any, upon the basis of population.

In the opinion of the Vice-President, Section 13 of the Act will, sooner or later, have to be amended. His view is that amendment should be postponed until the Department have further experience of the working of the Act, but if, and when, it is amended, there is considerable doubt as to whether the best possible form of amendment would be that referred to above, which has been thrown out for discussion and argument. He thinks, therefore, that it should be considered whether the amendment of Section 13, whenever the appropriate time comes, should not rather be in the direction of cutting all connection with the parish assessment for Poor-law and placing rating for education purposes on the same footing as for county assessments—that is to say, on the basis of an uniform rate per £ on the gross valuation levied on all assessable subjects within the county, directly and individually, and not per parish.

In the meantime the Department find themselves in a position to increase the grant in terms of the Minute of June 30, 1920—the approximate amount of which has already been intimated to education authorities—by an amour t, as mentioned by my noble friend, of £400,000, or thereby, that is to say, approximately by one-tenth of the grant already intimated. I regret that my noble friend thinks that the parish of Lamington will not benefit from this grant. The effect of this increase of grant will be to diminish the amount of the deficiency which the education authority allocates among the several parishes of its area, either in the present year—if that be possible in any case—or at any rate next year. But the allocation among the several parishes of the authority's area of the reduced amount will be on the basis of Section 13, and will not admit of special and exceptional grants being given to selected parishes. I do not know whether my noble friend wishes for Papers, but I should be very glad to promise him any that the Scottish Office happen to have.


I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for his answer. It is very difficult, of course, to follow the various proposals put forward for the giving of relief. This is a very technical matter, and we will have to think it over. But I understand that all these suggestions made by the Scottish Office themselves were put aside one after the other because they would be very difficult to work, so that I get very cold comfort out of the noble Lord's statement. I noticed one phrase in his speech when he said there was nothing very inequitable in the present system. If that is the opinion of the Department, I entirely dispute it. I noticed that one suggestion put forward is to amend Section 13 and to put the assessment on the county instead of on the parish. I cannot see to what extent that would give any alleviation of the burden, or how it would remedy the grievance entertained by those who consider themselves hardly treated. But if this be done, why was not the whole working of the Act put under the county councils? If you are going to have a county rate why are not the county councils made responsible? At least there would have been some co-ordination. At present not one man in five hundred knows who his representative is. These education authorities work independently and there is no control whatsoever over their expenditure. I hope the noble Lord who has replied will inquire whether it is not possible to give a separate education authority for the upper part of Lanarkshire. It will not upset the working of the Act, and while it will not remedy the evils of the Act it will give some local relief, and be absolutely fair as regards the other districts who have been working to get the benefit of their own secondary schools. I hope he will inquire of the Scottish Office whether this can be done. Wide powers are given under the Act. Indeed the Secretary of State for Scotland, apparently, can do anything he likes, and I hope this matter will be considered.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

[From Minutes of November 16.]

The LORD CHANCELLOR acquainted the House, That the Clerk of the Parliaments had laid upon the Table the Certificate from the Examiners that no Standing Orders are applicable to the following Bill:

Pier and Harbour Provisional Order (No.3).

The same was ordered to lie on the Table.

House adjourned at a quarter past six o'clock.