The Government have given careful consideration to the vote of the House last night. The Government cannot but consider as a serious matter any refusal by the House to support them in the steps which they think necessary to secure a reduction in public expenditure and an alleviation of the public burdens.
But, whatever may be said about the exact significance of last night's vote, the decision of the House was given upon a dilatory motion, upon which it was not in order to argue the merits of the case. In these circumstances, the Government have decided to defer to the wish expressed by the House that a small Select Committee—which the Government think should consist of not more than nine members—should be appointed to ascertain and report the facts which the
majority of the House appeared to think were insufficiently known. We propose that the reference to the Committee should be as follows:
To consider and report whether, in fixing the present scales of salaries for teachers, 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 remain in force.
Immediate steps will be taken by the Patronage Secretary (Colonel Leslie Wilson) to set up this Committee, which the Government hope will meet at once, and proceed with all urgency.
It is evident, however, that compliance with the wishes of the House will, in any event, involve considerable delay in the passage of the Bill, and that it will consequently not be possible to ante-date the now charge—if it be ultimately approved by Parliament—to the beginning of the financial year. Until the contribution is imposed, an additional harden of approximately £200,000 a month will fall upon the Exchequer, and we shall at once lay a Supplementary Estimate for £600,000 to cover this charge during the first three months of the year.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the decision of the Government after the defeat is quite in keeping with the advice tended to the Government repeatedly during the course of yesterday's Debate?
Yes, I realise that fact, and I well knew, when I went to a Division yesterday, that the Government stood in grave danger of being beaten. I was so advised by the Whips. I thought it my duty, and those of my colleagues, whom I was able to consult, agreed with me—I thought it the duty of the Government to put their own proposition to the House, and it was for the House to take the responsibility of rejecting the advice if they wished. We have deferred, so far, to the wishes of' the House as to appoint this Committee.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. NORTONGRIFFITHS:
Will my right hon. Friend say whether the Select Committee suggested will interfere with or do away with the other Committee, which in any case was to be set up to investigate the whole question of teachers' salaries and pensions?
May I ask whether, in order to minimise any possible expense to the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend will arrange for the Patronage Secretary to move the appointment of the Committee at the earliest possible moment, with instructions that it shall report as soon as possible?
Do not the terms of reference now read out specifically declare that the inquiry shall be whether the Government did give an undertaking or not, and not whether it was in the minds of the Burnham Committee, when they fixed this scale, to consider the Superannuation Act of 1918?
I think it will be obvious to every Member of the House that what is involved is the obligation incumbent upon the Government and upon Parliament and the terms of reference are:
Whether in fixing the present scale for teachers, any undertaking by the Government or Parliament was given, or implied, that the provisions of the Teachers' Superannuation Act should not be altered while these scales remain in force.