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Orders Of The Day

Volume 154: debated on Monday 22 May 1922

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Teachers In Grant-Aided Schools (Superannuation)

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [ 18th May],

"That a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report whether in fixing the present scales of salaries for teachers in grant-aided schools any undertaking by the Government or Parliament was given or implied that the provisions of the Teachers' Superannuation Act, 1918, should not be altered while these scales remained in force."—[colonel Gibbs.]

Question again proposed.

With regard to the first Amendment on the Paper—after the word "report" to insert the words "by Monday, 5th June, 1922"—I do not see by what machinery the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson) can compel a Select Committee to report by a certain date. Perhaps he will explain.

I thought that, if this House laid it down that a Select Committee should report by a certain date, it would have the same effect as that of saying in a Bill that there should be an appointed day for such and such a thing being done. I imagine, if the provision were put in that the Select Committee had to report by a certain date, the Committee would take notice of that wish of the House, and would report. by that date.

I confess that I cannot see how it is to be done Perhaps, however, that is more a matter of merit than otherwise, and I will let the hon. Member move.

I beg to move, after the word "report," to insert the words "by Monday, 5th June, 1922."

The intention of this Amendment is to provide that the Committee should report by the 5th June this year, namely, on Whit Monday. I am sure that a good many Members in this House were very disappointed at the defeat of the Government the other day on one of those very few occasions when they showed themselves earnestly desirous of securing retrenchment in public expenditure. Therefore, I am certainly not going to question in any way the propriety of setting up this Committee. It seems to me that it is the only possible course that they could take, the only other alternative being their own resignation. I certainly do not question the propriety of the later Motion on the Paper with regard to the personnel of the Committee. If the House agrees to that Motion, the Committee will be composed of very able members.

It is a very narrow point, if indeed the Amendment be in order at all. The only question is whether the Select Committee should be ordered to report by a certain date.

I believe that this Amendment will very greatly help the Committee. I anticipate that if during the sittings of the Committee, there be any suspicion at all in the minds of the teachers that the verdict of the Committee is going to be in favour of a contribution, great pressure will be brought to bear upon that Committee to hear additional witnesses and an interminable amount of evidence. I think it will strengthen the hands of the Committee very much to have their proceedings as short as possible, and for this reason I think we ought to put in a time limit. It seems to me that the work of the Committee is very simple. You, Mr. Speaker, have said that we are dealing with a very narrow point. I have been looking into the matter during the last few days, and it seems to me there are only four documents which the Committee have to consider. First of all they have to consider the Debates on the original Act of 1918, and I find that those Debates only amount to about 82 pages. In this House, as a great many hon. Members know, we talk about 60 pages a day, that is to say from 4 o'clock to 11 o'clock, a day of 7 hours. Therefore the whole of these Debates which the Committee will have to consider only amount to about a 10 hours' Debate.

The second document they will have to consider is the Act of 1918 itself. It is an extremely short Act of about 18 pages. Thirdly, they will have to consider the shorthand notes of the Burnham Committee. The vast proportion of those notes will really be quite irrelevant to the discussion, and only a very small proportion of them will come into the discussion at all. The fourth document is the very tiny little Bill, although of great importance, which was introduced the other day and contains only five Clauses. I am not in the least exaggerating when I say that the whole of those documents ought not to take this Committee more than four or five days, and this Amendment, if it is carried, allows them very nearly a fortnight.

The Government may say that 5th June is a very awkward date, being Whit Monday, but I do not say that they are to report on Whit Monday, but by Whit Monday. My object is if they report by that date, the Government will be able to make up their mind when they will be able to bring in the Second Reading of the Bill again. I believe my Amendment allows ample time. I am very anxious that the Committee should sit as shortly as possible, because, if the negotiations and deliberations are prolonged in Committee it simply means that the Government will come again for an extra Supplementary Estimate.

I beg to second the Amendment. I would like to draw the attention of the House to the terms of the actual Motion on the Paper, which are extremely narrow. The Committee is not being set up to find out whether the pensions of the teachers should be put on a contributory basis, but simply to find out whether a certain undertaking was given by the Government, and that is a very narrow point. If the Committee had to go into the whole question as to whether salaries or pensions were too high, it would take two or three months to decide such a point, because the teachers would bring up a very great deal of ancient literature on the subject. The Committee have to deal with a very narrow issue, and simply to find out whether an undertaking was given by the Government. It really ought not to take more than 10 days to decide a point like that. I am aware that in these Committees there is always a certain amount of red tape, but I think the fortnight which is suggested by this Amendment ought to be amply sufficient. I hope the House will carry this proposal, and provide that this Committee shall report within a fortnight which will make the actual Supplementary Estimate entirely unnecessary.

I will not reproach my hon. Friend for choosing an awkward day, but I thought there was a certain amount of grim humour about providing that the Committee should report by Whit Monday. Apparently, the hon. Member's intention was that the Cabinet should meet the next day, and that Members of the Cabinet, having studied the question during the Whitsuntide Recess, should meet at once to decide upon their action, and that when hon. Members returned to the House refreshed with a week's holiday, they would find that the Cabinet had thoroughly mastered this subject. There is a certain amount of grim humour about that. Nevertheless, I hope my hon. Friend will not press his Amendment, not because I am any less anxious for a rapid Report that he is himself, but because, as far as I can ascertain, this House never has set a, time limit to the deliberations of the Select Committee, and I think it would be an unfortunate precedent. It may he quite true that a fortnight will give ample time to consider this question. I do not think the House would he conducing to the dignity of its Committees or to their good work by adopting a precedent of this kind. I would much sooner trust to the knowledge the Committee would have of the universal desire of the House that they should proceed with all expedition and render their Report with the least possible delay. I hope that the House will feel that that is the proper way to treat the Committee, and I hope my hon. Friend will not press his Amendment.

There is one precedent which the House might remember, and that is the case of the Sankey Commission.

I would remind the hon. Baronet that that was not a Select Committee of this House.

I am aware that it was not a Select Committee, but. it was a Royal Commission, appointed to deal with a very urgent question. There, I understand, the Government approached the Chairman and asked him definitely whether he would carry through this work in a definite time. Mr. Justice Sankey accepted the invitation to become Chairman of the Commission on that condition, and promised to carry it through within a month. May I suggest that the Leader of the House should approach the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cam-borne (Mr. Acland) as was done in the case of Mr. Justice Sankey, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us that this Committee will begin work at once, and even if the Amendment is not accepted, that he will be able to carry it, out in spirit?

It is quite unusual for a member of a Committee which has not yet been set up to speak as if the Committee was going to be set up, but as my name, coming among the "A's," stands first in the list of members of the Committee, I take it upon myself to say something about the probable course of the. Committee's work, and it does seem to me that everything that the House desires the Committee to do can be done with speed. I have already taken upon myself to discover lines upon which the teachers would like to adopt, and I can assure my hon. Friend who has raised this matter that they have no intention whatever of delaying matters at all. I believe they feel that everything they desire to be said with regard to their case can be said in one day, and that day could be arranged this week. Any other evidence that we should have to consider from members of the Government or other persons could probably be taken early next week.

It is possible that, if the Committee thought fit, a draft Report could be brought up by Wednesday or Thursday of next week, and the Report could be agreed to before we separate for Whitsuntide. That is only an individual opinion from one of the persons who are to be asked to consider this matter. I must say I think the Committee would feel much more free to deal with the question in the way the House desires, and with such expedition as is consistent with the reference, if this Amendment were not carried, and if we were not limited to a certain number of days. I feel sure that the general opinion of the House is that no time should be lost. I have already arranged, in anticipation, that if the Committee is set up to-day it should meet to-morrow morning, and I am sure we should all like to see it proceed with expedition.

I am much relieved by what my right hon. Friend has just said, and I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move to leave out the words

"the provisions of the Teachers' Superannuation Act, 1918, should not be altered while these scales remained in force,"
and to insert instead thereof the words
"improved financial status of the teachers should be assured to them during the periods the scales are to remain in force."
Those present during the Debate last week are obviously dissatisfied with the terms of,she Motion which the Government have put down. We feel that those terms do not meet the points raised by various Members in all quarters of the House who differ very widely upon this problem, but they are all agreed to a certain extent with the salient fact that there was an assumption in the minds of those negotiating that there was a certain permanent Act on the Statute Book which was unalterable, and having regard to that, there would be no question whatever of repealing legislation. I would like to quote from Lord Burnham's letter, which was read on file last occasion. It says:
"It was common knowledge in the minds of both panels that the scheme had been sanctioned by Parliament and was in existence. If in politics it is the circumstances which determine whether a Measure is good or bad, according to Burke, we must assume that the special circumstances of the Pensions Act did have some bearing on the settlement which was made. How much, neither I nor any of the Members of the Committee can possibly tell you. This is all I can say. Of course, you are quite free to make what use you like of it.—Yours very truly, BURNHAM."

In framing the Motion as it stood in their name on the Paper, the Government were actuated by a desire to get, as rapidly as possible, a decision as to what they understood was really troubling the House the other day, namely, whether by the action of the Government or by the action of this House, explicitly or implicitly, the honour of the House was engaged in a sense contrary to the provisions of the Bill we were then discussing. I believe that that question is properly covered by the words of the original Motion. I do not think it would be satisfactorily raised by the terms of the Amendment which the hon. Member seeks to introduce, nor can I think—he will correct me if I am wrong—that he has consulted the teachers or their representatives before putting the Amendment on the Paper. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Education is clearly of opinion that the words would be restrictive of the case the teachers may wish to bring before the Committee—restrictive rather than permissive, and he thinks that the words of the Government proposal are more favourable to their having the question brought up than are the words of the Amendment. It is' not orious that the Government did not guarantee the payment of the Burnham scale, and in proof of that I may mention that forty-three local authorities—[,HON. MEMBERS: "More—fifty-six"]—are not paying them. For the purposes of my argument the exact number does not matter, although I am informed that forty-three is the proper figure. At any rate we gave no such guarantee, and it is not pretended by anyone that we did. The most we said was that if the Burnham scales were adopted subject to certain restrictions and conditions, not suggested by the Burnham Commission but imposed by us, we would pay grants in aid to the local authorities on the basis of the scales so adopted. I do not, however, want to go into the merits of the question on the present occasion. I desire to make it clear to the hon. Member who moved this Amendment that he will not help the Committee thereby to tackle the real question which troubled the House the other day.

If I may say so respectfully, I am disposed to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this Amendment would not carry out the wishes of its Mover. It is, after all, a relatively small point at issue, but I should be glad if the Government can give a definite assurance as to whether this Motion will enable the teachers to raise the point which was raised in the Debate on the last occasion, namely, that they did, in fact, accept the Burnham scale because they understood that they were also to have the non-contributory principle. If the right hon. Gentleman assures me that that point can be raised before the Committee, I shall accept the Motion.

It will enable them to raise the question. It will be for the Committee to consider whether it is proved—and they will have to decide what kind of proof is needed—or they may come at once to the point, assuming it is proved, whether it is relevant to the matter. If they think it relevant to their terms of reference, without doubt they will be able to find a verdict on that point.

In view of the very satisfactory explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

I want to raise one or two points and to say a few words on the point which has been raised by my Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil). When this matter was under discussion last week, one phrase was repeatedly used and, as I thought, absolutely wrongly used. The Noble Lord has asked if the teachers will be able to raise the question whether they accepted a certain decision based upon two things, the Report of the Burnham Committee and the action of their own local authorities upon that Report. Two years before the Burnham Committee was set up I sat as Chairman of the first Commission appointed to deal with the question of teachers' salaries. We heard the teachers and we had representations from every quarter. We listened to evidence of all sorts and I should have been very much surprised if the teachers had turned round when our decision was come to and when it was submitted to the Government—

This would be all very well upon the Bill, but it is not relevant to a, Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee.

That question was raised by the Noble Lord. He asked if the teachers would have the right, before the Committee to raise the question whether they accepted a particular ruling, and that was what I objected to.

It is only in that sense that I am now speaking. I should be very much surprised if this Committee which is to be now appointed is to take such a very doubtful point as that into consideration. I make no concealment of the fact that the personnel of the Committee does not secure my confidence—

Question put, and agreed to.


"That a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report whether in fixing the present scales of salaries for teachers in grant-aided schools any undertaking by the Government or Parliament was given or implied that the provisions of the Teachers' Superannuation Act, 1918, should not 1)e altered while these scales remained in force."

Question proposed, "That Mr. Arland be a member of the Committee."

We on these Benches, representing Welsh constituencies, take no objection to the names which are suggested, but we do protest against the exclusion of Wales from this Committee. There is not a single Welsh representative on it. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Member for West Houghton?"] The hon. Member for West Houghton has the good fortune to be born a Welshman, but he does not, represent a Welsh constituency. I am sure that, now the attention of the Leader of the House has been drawn to the matter, he will, with his customary courtesy, acknowledge the right of Wales to be represented on this Committee. After all, Wales has a distinct interest in this question, and is therefore entitled to be represented on the Committee. I hope before the Committee is finally constituted the Leader of the House will, in justice and fairness to Wales, recognise its right to representation on it.

I am sure my hon. Friends from Wales will acquit me of any intentional discourtesy to them in this matter. On this occasion I have been anxious above all things for expedition. I have been anxious to secure a small Committee because it was likely that a small Committee would report much more rapidly than a large one, and would be less likely to be divided in opinion. The hon. Member now presses for a Welsh member. It is not a Welsh problem or a. Scottish problem—it is really a House of Commons problem, for the allegation is that the honour of this House has been pledged to a course contrary to that which the Government has asked it to pursue. That is the whole question which is being raised, and I repeat that it is not a Welsh or a Scottish question. Again I would remind hon. Members that there is a Welshman on the Committee in the person of the hon. Member for West Houghton, although he has the misfortune not to sit for a Welsh constituency. Any addition being made now to the Committee, as my hon. Friend knows, would mean re-casting the whole Committee. There would have to be a revision of names and a swelling of the numbers, and I do beg my hon. Friend to accept my assurance that there was no thought of slighting Wales, and that the only object was to get a small Committee which would report expeditiously. I hope they will withdraw their opposition to the suggested constitution of the Committee and permit the names as they appear on the Paper to be adopted. Had representations been made before the constitution of the Committee was decided upon, I would have been glad to have taken them into consideration, but I hope that under the circumstances I shall not now be pressed to make any addition to the Committee.

Perhaps I rosy be allowed to say a very few words on this question of the personnel of the Committee. I feel very strongly that the Government should have secured for it a number of absolutely impartial men. Had the Government asked me to take a place on the Committee, I should have refused on the ground that I had committed myself during the Debate, and was no longer in a judicial position I think it is a most unfortunate circumstance that the Government should have selected for the Committee one who took a very prominent part on the other side in the Debate, and his presence upon it will undoubtedly shake my confidence in the Committee.

I do not know whether I am right in assuming that the right hon. Gentleman referred to myself?

The right hon. Gentleman has said I am unfit, to act as a member of this Committee, because I took a prominent part—

And, inferentially, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that I should not be able to bring to bear on the question an honest mind—

I have referred to the speech I made. in the Debate the other night. I do not suppose hon. Members want me to read it. I remember quite distinctly I said:

"I do not say that the teachers' view is right or that it is wrong."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1922; col. 319, Vol. 154.]
I repeated that statement twice in the course of my speech. I said all I desired was to find out whether the teachers' claim was right. That being so, I have nothing more to say. I place myself entirely in the hands of the House. The appointment was not of my seeking. When I was asked to join the Committee I said I would sooner not be a member, but if the Government thought it right that I should serve, I would place myself in their hands. I now place myself in the hands of the House. If the House has the slightest difficulty about appointing me a member of the Committee, by all means I ask them not to do so.

I readily accept the assurance of the Leader of the House that no discourtesy was intended to Wales, but I may say that, as the Secretary of the Welsh National party, I made representations to the Whips, before the names were put down, pressing the claims of Wales.

I think we are quite entitled to raise this question to-day. This is not the first occasion on which an important Committee set up in this House has not included any Welsh Members at all, and we have made it a rule to ask the Whips to include a Welsh Member on such Committees for the purpose of representing Welsh views.

Question put, and agreed to.

Mr. Grant, Mr. Gregory, Sir Ellis Hume-Williams, Lieut.-Colonel Hurst, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, and Mr. Rhys Davies nominated members of the Committee.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Spoor be nominated a member of the Committee."

On a point of Order. Before we accept these names, may I say that we intend to press the matter to a Division? We desire to object to the inclusion of these hon. Members until the Government give us an assurance that a Welsh Member will be placed on this Committee.

Would it be in order for me to move that a representative of East Anglia be added to the Committee?

Question put, and agreed to.

Lieut.-Colonel Stephenson nominated a member of the Committee.

Ordered, "That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records."

Ordered, "That five be the quorum."—[ Colonel Gibbs.]


Considered in Committee.

[Mr. JAMES HOPE in the Chair.]