HL Deb 22 May 1924 vol 57 cc602-16

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of a Bill to extend the period during which contributions under the School Teachers (Superannuation) Act of 1922 are to be payable. I am not altogether unfamiliar with the complexities and difficulties of the salaries and superannuation of teachers, and I must confess that it was with some apprehension that I learned from my right hon. friend, the Minister for Education, that he expected me to pass a Superannuation Bill for Teachers through your Lordships' House. But when I came to peruse the Bill, and to see its nature and scope, my apprehensions were largely removed, because the Bill is of a purely temporary character and is to extend the Act of 1922.

Even so, it will be necessary for me to trouble your Lordships, briefly I hope, with some explanation of how this Bill comes before you. I will take your Lordships back in the history of the subject to the year 1918. In that year an Act was passed entitled the School Teachers (Superannuation) Act, under which a non-contributory system was set up for teachers very much on the lines of the superannuation which prevails in the Civil Service. Two courses, however, led to the supersession of this Act. In the first place, the financial burden of the scheme proved much greater than was anticipated, and, in the second place, there was a public demand for the curtailment of the financial obligations of the nation.

If I read to your Lordships paragraph 16 of the Report of the Departmental Committee on the Superannuation of School Teachers (which was presided over by my noble friend Lord Emmott) it would, perhaps, explain to you in a very short and concise form the first of the causes which I have mentioned as leading to the supersession of this Act of 1918. Paragraph 16 is as follows:— In moving the Financial Resolution on the Bill of 1918, the President of the Board of Education said: 'On the whole the best indication of the expected cost of the present measure is to say that at the present moment the salaries of teachers in grant-aided schools amount to something over £20,000,000 a year, and on those teachers and on those salaries we expect the pension system ten years from now to cost something like £2,500,000 per annum, of which £2,000,000 will he new money, and the remainder is what the present system would cost if left unaltered.' This was the only estimate which the House had before it while the Bill was under discussion. It was avowedly conjectural, and Mr. Fisher referred more particularly to two uncertain factors. He had not attempted to forecast what might be the increase in the number of teachers duo to the extension of our educational system. Nor had he attempted to forecast the rise in salaries which might take place in ten years time. The second of these factors was destined to come into play at a far earlier date, and with far more startling effect, than anyone could have anticipated. In little more than a year after the Bill had become law, the estimate was valueless. I need not dwell on the second cause which led to the supersession of this Act.

—namely, the public demand for the curtailment of the financial obligations of the nation, because that is familiar to all your Lordships.

As a result of the demand for the supersession of this Act there was considerable discussion, and it was agreed that teachers should be required to contribute 5 per cent. of their salaries towards the ultimate cost of the pension scheme. It was also agreed that the question should be reviewed as a whole by a Departmental Committee and, as I have mentioned already, that Departmental Committee was presided over by my noble friend Lord Emmott. Accordingly, the Act of 1922 was passed, to provide for the payment of contributions by teachers towards the cost of benefits under the School Teachers (Superannuation) Act, 1918, to regularise those contributions on the part of the teachers; but that Act was limited in time and was to expire on May 31 of this year, in the hope that between the date of the passing of that Act in August, 1922, and June 1 of this year some permanent scheme might be devised. That hope was not realised, hence the necessity for the present Bill to which I am asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading.

Lord Emmott's Committee reported on July 30 of last year, and in view of the fact that my noble friend is, I believe, going to address your Lordships on this Bill, I think it might be well that your Lordships should bear in mind that date. It is obvious that the late Government, in view of the General Election as a result of which a change of Government took place, could hardly have been expected to pass any legislation consequent on the Report of the Emmott Committee, and I think the same might be said of the present Government without unfairness. It was hardly to be expected that in the four months that we have been in office we should have been able to prepare and carry through all stages in both Houses before May 31, a Bill of the complexity which would necessarily characterise a measure embracing the whole subject of superannuation. I think the impossibility of that will be realised all the more clearly if any of your Lordships were to peruse the Emmott Committee's Report.

I should like at once to pay a tribute to the noble Lord and his Committee on that Report. It was very comprehensive and extremely lucid both in its examination of the various problems submitted to it and the recommendations which it made with regard to those problems. But I feel sure the noble Lord, Lord Emmott, would be the first to admit that some very far-reaching conclusions were arrived at in his Report and that in many respects his recommendations were of a highly controversial nature. Apart altogether from those considerations which I have attempted to put before your Lordships, I would add that superannuation must be inextricably bound up with the question of salaries, and therefore, on that score alone, there must be delay in view of negotiations which I may inform your Lordships are at the present moment going on for the settlement of salary scales. In view of this I think your Lordships can hardly have any-real expectation that there can be any permanent measure which is going to find a solution for this problem much before the end of next Session in 1925, but I may say at once, on behalf of my right hon. friend the Minister of Education, that he has every intention, barring accidents, of bringing forward a Bill in the early part of next year which will attempt to deal with the whole of this problem.

I think it must be also patent that he must have a little margin of time for the purpose of dealing with this matter. The last thing your Lordships would tolerate, I am sure, would be that someone at this Table should next year come forward with another extension-of-time Bill such as that which I am proposing to-day. Therefore, I think, it would be very much better that you should afford to His Majesty's Government a certain margin of time within which they may produce their measure and pass it through both Houses of Parliament. I may point out to your Lordships that in the one operative clause of this Bill provision is made, if it becomes an Act, for its coming into operation at an earlier date than the two years which are taken under its provisions:— The School Teachers (Superannuation) Act. 1022, shall, unless Parliament shall hereafter fix some earlier date for the purpose, have effect as though—— and so on. I think in every way this Bill does provide for a measure being produced and put into effect as soon as His Majesty's Government are able to pass it. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Chelmsford.)


My Lords, my noble friend opposite has referred to the fact that I had the honour of presiding over a Committee to consider this question of the superannuation of teachers, and perhaps, therefore, your Lordships will allow me to say a few words upon this Bill. It is a small Bill in itself. It merely prolongs for the period which the noble Viscount mentioned the deduction of 5 per cent. from the salaries of the teachers of this country who are the beneficiaries under the superannuation system at present in force. Owing to the change of Government, it is quite clear that some delay is almost inevitable in making any permanent, settlement of the question with which our Report deals, but the delay asked for in this Bill seems to me unnecessarily long. Even so, I should not be greatly troubled about it if the President of the Board of Education, Mr. Trevelyan, had ever shown in the debates in another place, any realisation of the entirely unsatisfactory character of the present temporary arrangement or any real desire to replace it by a permanent settlement. What the noble Viscount has just said is a more direct promise in regard to his action than anything the Minister has said in another place.

The history of the question of the superannuation of teachers in this country during the last six years is an example of how not to do things. Before 1918 there were in this country two schemes of superannuation, one contributory and the other non-contributory. Both were entirely inadequate, and their inadequacy is dealt with in our Report. In Scotland, from 1912 up to 1918 or 1919, there had been established a liberal and satisfactory scheme of pensions for teachers on a contributory basis. It was working smoothly, and everybody was satisfied with it., The teachers contributed, local authorities contributed, and it was thoroughly sound in its finances. It was done away with owing to the fact that a non-contributory scheme was introduced into England, making it necessary that a similar benefit should also be given to Scotland. I wonder if Mr. Fisher, when he brought in his Bill of 1918, ever examined the Scottish scheme which was working smoothly and satisfactorily, and if he realised that his Bill of 1918 for England must inevitably smash up the Scottish scheme. Under his Bill of 1918 the scheme was a non-contributory one. For teachers who often leave their profession at an early stage, some to join again later, a contributory scheme of superannuation is much better than a non-contributory scheme. It is certainly a more direct lesson in thrift, because teachers see their contributions go into a fund and grow, and if they retire before reaching a pensionable age then they are able to withdraw all their contributions plus three per cent. compound interest. They know that a sum is accumulating for their benefit, apart from the extra sum they will eventually receive when they become pensionable.

The result of the Fisher scheme of 1918 was that the teachers of this country received a benefit in the shape of superannuation which, on the average, was equivalent to an increase of twenty-six per cent. of their salaries. When the teachers' salaries were greatly increased owing to the recommendations of the Committee presided over by Viscount Burnham, and the salaries of elementary teachers were increased to two-and-a-half times their 1918 figure, the addition given by the superannuation scheme, formerly twenty-six per cent. on the 1918 salary, became then an addition of considerably over sixty per cent. on the 1918 salaries. Altogether the salaries of teachers were increased, first by 150 per cent. in actual salary under the Burnham scheme, and, secondly, by this superannuation benefit amounting to something over sixty per cent. of their original figures. That is to say, they received about three times their previous salary in one form or another. I am far from suggesting that this is too much. Teachers had been horribly underpaid before 1918, and I do not suggest that they receive too much. What I do say is that whether Mr. Fisher forgot Scotland or not, he certainly forgot that the cold fit follows the hot.

In 1921 the country had naturally become much alarmed at our financial position. The Government were frightened. The Geddes Committee were, appointed and naturally they looked at the expenditure on education as well as on other matters. They reported that the ultimate amount that would be called for under the 1918 scheme, instead of being £2,500,000, as given by Mr. Fisher, would be £9,600,000. The Geddes Committee in their first Report of 1922 recommended:— That a full inquiry should be held with a view to placing the superannuation of teachers on a sound contributory basis under which the teachers and the authorities who employ them would each bear a due proportion of the burden. That Report was accepted by the Government, and the Committee over which I had the honour to preside was appointed to consider the whole question, with due regard to the economy of public funds and the provision of adequate and suitable benefits for the teachers. Pending a permanent settlement a five per cent. levy was made upon the teachers. Many of your Lordships will remember the strong protests which that levy aroused. So strong were the protests, and so strong the accusations of breach of faith on the part of the Government of the day, that a Committee was appointed, presided over by Mr. Acland, to consider the matter. That Committee reported, by a small majority only, that no breach of faith had occurred which need invalidate the legislation then before the House of Commons. That was not a very satisfactory state of affairs. From first to last the conduct of this matter has shown a great deal of hurried action and lack of pre-vision, and has been an example of how not to do things.

I am not going into this matter in any detail—this is not a suitable occasion-but I should like to say one word about my Committee. I have sat on many Committees and Royal Commissions, but I have never sat on a Committee more anxious to find a solution of a difficult question than this Committee, or one more ready to put their ideas into the common stock in order to arrive at a sound solution. There are very many unsound features in the present situation. In the first place, it is entirely wrong in principle that the State should pay pensions on salaries fixed by other bodies; that is, by local authorities. In the second place, it is intolerable that the five per cent. levy now made on the teachers should be used as an appropriation-in-aid, instead of being funded and used for the provision of their pensions in future years. In the case of a teacher twenty-five years of age, his five per cent. levy ought to be put into a fund in order to provide part of his pension at the age of sixty or sixty-five. Instead of that it is used for the general purposes of education, and some minute fraction is actually used to pay his own salary. You cannot have a principle more unsound. Then again—this is a matter which I think will appeal to many of your Lordships, and I hope we shall hear more of it when the permanent scheme is brought forward—there are a great many schools that ought to come within the ambit of the scheme. They are now left outside, and that must be the case in any rigid scheme in which the State pays the whole amount of the pensions, except, of course, the levy on the teachers, and the local authorities and managers pay no portion of the cost at all.

I do not think the people of this country understand what an immobilising effect the Burnham scales plus superannuation have had upon the teachers of this country. There are tens of thousands of teachers who live in terror of losing their places because they know that it is extremely unlikely that they will be able to find other satisfactory positions. They are afraid of being turned out and replaced by cheaper people at a lower salary. Our considerations were devoted to a large extent to trying to provide greater mobility for the teaching profession, and there is nothing more important in regard to education than such mobility. Our recommendations upon these and other matters are really dependent upon the acceptance of our main recommendation of a contributory system, under which the contributions of teachers and of local authorities and managers, if they also are to contribute, should be funded. Only on some such terms as this can schools outside come into the scheme if they desire to do so. Such schools ought to be admitted into the scheme, of course on modified conditions as regards future service. I say again that no greater service could be rendered to education than by promoting mobility in the teaching profession, by making it easy for teachers to pass from school to school. That is one of the most important of our proposals, and we regarded it, and I still regard it, as a most urgent matter. We reported, as the noble Viscount opposite has said, at the end of July, and I have already acknowledged that the change of Government has almost necessitated some delay.

The present position is that Scotland wants our scheme, but Scotland cannot act alone, and the President of the Board of Education, so far as I have followed his utterances on this subject, is unable to make up his mind about it. It is a matter of common knowledge, and was, indeed, referred to by the noble Viscount opposite, that the Committees over which my noble friend Lord Burnham presides, are again meeting to adopt a series of new scales for teachers. The noble Viscount opposite seemed to think that a very natural thing. He said, perfectly correctly, that salaries and pensions are complementary one of the other. If that is the case, surely the conditions of pensions affect the scales of salaries, and, if that be so, then a broad statement of the lines upon which the new pension scheme is to be founded, or, at any rate, a statement whether the contributory system is to be adopted and made permanent or not, is absolutely essential if my noble friend Lord Burnham is to settle satisfactorily the new scales of remuneration for teachers. The terms of a superannuation scheme ought to come first and not second.

Unless both sides know what they are doing in this matter, no permanent settlement of these new scales for teachers is possible. Unless teachers know whether the contributory scheme with regard to superannuation is to be permanent or not, there is a danger of another accusation of breach of faith later on, if a contributory scheme is introduced, and we shall have the old story of the Acland Committee over again. Owing to past mismanagement, this matter of teachers' superannuation is in a very tangled condition, and some courage and backbone are needed by any Government which is going to deal with it. Of this I have so far seen very little sign on the part of my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Education, and I am afraid I must say also on the part of His Majesty's Government.

I know that our recommendation that local authorities should contribute raises a highly controversial and difficult question. I should like to say one word upon that point. It is natural that local authorities at a time like this, when rates are very high and people are complaining very loudly, should avoid all new demands that can be avoided, and indeed, in face of these suggested new demands in regard to housing, they are certain to do so. The answer is that the whole question of Grants-in-aid as between the State and local authorities is being considered by a Committee presided over by a distinguished member of your Lordships' House, Lord Meston. If local authorities cannot afford to pay more and are unable to find the 2½ per cent. that we recommend for the superannuation scheme for teachers, then clearly that fact ought to be taken into consideration in the adjustment that ha" to be made of Grants-in-aid to local authorities. There can be no permanent incentive to economy in regard to this matter on the part of local authorities unless they contribute some of the cost. Unless this adjustment is made it will be impossible to get a really economic scheme.

I have detained your Lordships longer than I had intended, and must apologise for doing so. I shall conclude with the practical question of what, in my humble opinion, your Lordships should do in this matter. I cannot, of course, oppose the Second Reading of this measure, but I have felt bound to utter the protest that I have made against this somewhat sinister policy of silence that seems to me to have been adopted up to the present time. The question arises whether your Lordships would be justified or wise in altering the date in Committee. I take it that such an Amendment would be a Privilege Amendment (though I have not looked into the matter) and there is always a disadvantage in dealing with an Amendment of that kind. There is, however, one possible reason for alteration. I do not know whether the noble Viscount opposite knows, but I am told that the Scottish Grand Committee this morning altered the date of the Scottish measure which is supplementary to this Bill, and in place of April 1, 1926, inserted some date in July—I suppose July 31, 1925. It may be that the Government itself would, in those circumstances, desire to alter the date in this Bill, but this, at any rate, is a matter which your Lordships may decide subsequently.

I beg leave to say just one word upon an even wider aspect of the matter than those with which I have dealt. I am excessively anxious about the whole trend of the education system of England and Wales. My experience upon the Superannuation Committee to which I have referred, and other investigations that I have made since, have led me to see that there is at the present time a tremendous peril of over-centralisation in this country. It is not due to any malice prepense on the part of the Board of Education. It is due to the system that has been set up. In the first place, a deficiency grant system, a system by which 50 per cent. of one item and 60 per cent. of another item is paid by the State to the local authorities, makes it necessary that the Board of Education should examine into every little detail of expenditure for which the deficiency grant is made. It is their duty to do so. Then again, the Burnham scales, on the one hand, and the superannuation system, on the other, make it absolutely essential that the Board of Education should look into the salary of every teacher for a portion of whose salary, as well as for the superannuation that is based upon that salary, they are responsible. These three things together mean that the Board of Education at present has a strangle-hold on the whole education system of this country. Scotland has wisely avoided all this, and my great anxiety is whether England and Wales are going to wake up in time and recognising the danger to our educational system insist upon greater freedom for local authorities and less interference from the centre.


My Lords, I find myself in the agreeable position of being able to say that in introducing this Bill the Government have followed not only the right course but the inevitable course. Indeed, if a change of Government had not taken place, I think there is very little doubt that we should be laying before your Lordships a similar proposal. The Report, to which the noble Viscount alluded, issued by the Committee so ably presided over by Lord Emmott, was of a most exhaustive and valuable character, and I should like to add to what has been said by the noble Viscount, and in another place, as to the appreciation which we feel, and which was felt at the Board of Education when I was there, of the labours of that Committee and the exhaustive nature of its Report.

It has been urged in another place—not here, I think—and in the Press, that steps should have been taken to adopt that Report immediately, and that legislation should have been introduced to give effect to the recommendations. But, as the noble Viscount opposite has said, and as the noble Lord also said, the provisions of that Report were of a highly technical character, and, in some instances, of a controversial character. As the noble Viscount has said, it was obviously impossible for the late Government to do anything in the time at their disposal, and the present Government are in the same position. There has not been time in which to do anything. This, of course, is not the moment to go into the recommendations of that Report, but I may give one instance of the technical character of some of the recommendations. There is the proposal that the teachers should contribute 5 per cent. of their salaries, to be carried to the pension fund, and that it should be supplemented by a contribution of 2½ per cent. from the local authorities, with a further contribution from the State. Obviously, such a proposal is one which requires very grave consideration, because the assistance which the pensions fund would give at the outset to the taxpayer would be slight. The taxpayer would have to wait some considerable time before he got any relief from the fund. I do not wish, however, to discuss this question, because there are arguments for it just as there are others which may be raised against it, and I merely mention the matter as an example of the highly controversial and technical nature of the Report.

There is, however, one small point to which I would venture to draw the attention of the noble Viscount. When I was at the Board of Education a case of great hardship came to my notice, and if I had remained in office I should have endeavoured to see whether something could not be done to give relief. It was the case of a woman in charge of an important elementary school, I think, in London. She had married in her youth a foreigner, who had deserted her. I do not think she had ever left this country. She had reached the age of sixty-six, and the fact that she was married and was technically an alien rendered her liable to disabilities in regard to superannuation. I believe a similar state of affairs, when it occurs in regard to old age pensions, is dealt with under the Act. I venture to ask the noble Viscount if he will go into the matter with the Board of Education, and discover whether anything can be done to remedy the state of affairs. I do not know whether it is germane to this Bill, but I would ask him to see whether it is possible to do anything under it. If it is possible I think it would be acting in a right and proper manner to set the matter right.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for the support he has given to the plea that this Bill should be read a second time. Indeed, he really echoed the argument I put forward for the necessity of the Government taking the line it has done in regard to this matter, and my right hon. friend, the late Minister fox Education in the last Government, in another place took exactly the same line as the noble Earl has just taken, when this Bill was passing through its various stages. With regard to the particular matter which the noble Earl brought before your Lordships, I can assure him that I will bring it to the notice of the Department, but I really think there may be some difficulty in procedure in getting such a clause put into a Bill with a title such as this Bill has. I am not personally familiar with these matters of procedure, but I can hardly imagine that such an Amendment as he would propose would come within the four corners of the Bill as at present drafted.

I hope that Lord Emmott will not regard me as guilty of discourtesy if I do not follow the speech which he has just made. In the first place, I think it must be abundantly clear, from the speech which he made, that the Government attitude has been eminently reasonable in asking for time to consider the large issues which he put before your Lordships; but I would demur to one epithet which he applied to the silence of my right hon. friend, the Minister for Education, on this subject. He referred to that silence as "sinister." I would ask your Lordships to consider this: Here are some very big issues which, if they are to receive a proper and right solution, must be considered by many large interests, who have to put their heads together and come to an agreement upon them with the Government. Surely it is a little unreasonable to ask the Government at this stage of the negotiations to come forward and say that they come down on the contributory or non-contributory side. You would never tie the hands of negotiators, especially the Government, in such a way as their hands would be tied if my right hon. friend in another place had declared, on that very controversial and difficult question, whether his future Bill would be on a contributory or non-contributory basis.


Will the noble Viscount toll us what he has to say about the re-settlement of the Burnham scales?


I am afraid I am not in a position to answer the noble Lord.


My Lords, there is no doubt from the discussion that has taken place that there are matters of great difficulty and importance which it would be impossible to discuss adequately at the present time, because this Bill is nothing but a Bill to provide that contributions under the Act of 1922 shall be continued for a longer period. My only reason for rising is to ask the noble Viscount who is in charge of the measure what answer he has to make to the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Emmott, that the period should be fixed for July of next year, instead of April 1, the year after. I appreciate the importance of considering these matters, but I have always found that if you let a matter be considered too long it invariably goes to sleep, and I cannot see why this prolonged period is required. Further, I do not know what it was that made the Government pitch upon this rather sinister date, April 1, instead of any other date. It appears to me that it is one of the most awkward of all dates. It is quite plain to anybody who knows anything of Parliamentary practice that it would be impossible to get an important measure such as this through both Houses if you began it in the year 1926. If you intend to proceed with it promptly it ought to be introduced in 1925 supposing the Government is still here. In these circumstances why not accept the date which I understand is being introduced into the Scottish Bill—July, 1925? After all, this is a measure for extending existing conditions for a certain period. My noble friend has pointed out that it may be difficult to alter those dates in Committee, but we should know what the real reason is for introducing the date stated in the Bill. I am sorry to say the noble Viscount gave us no information upon it.


My Lords, the difficulty of giving an earlier date than the one which is proposed is this. The English local authorities, unlike the Scottish local authorities, are not willing to come to an agreement about the proposals contained in my noble friend's Report. I hope they will. Negotiations are in progress with them, and are being continued, so far as I can make out, with as much energy as is possible in the circumstances. But there are a vast number of local education authorities in England, whereas the situation in Scotland is quite different. There we have local authorities which have very large areas, and which are elected on an ad hoc basis, and they have been willing to do that to which the English local authorities demurred—to make a contribution towards this scheme. If you give less time than is asked for the chances are very great that you will find your scheme wrecked. That is the real reason for the delay in this matter.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.