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Clause 81—(Appointment Of Chief Education Officers Of Local Education Authorities)

Volume 398: debated on Tuesday 28 March 1944

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I beg to move, in page 59, line 16, to leave out from the first "authority" to the end of the Clause.

This Amendment stands upon the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb). I think that all the Amendments to this Clause apply equally and are about the same thing, and I presume that we may discuss them altogether. Whether we do or not, the discussion will be very brief.

I think we may consider this Amendment and the next four Amendments, as they all stand together—

In page 59, line 18, to leave out from "Minister" to "If," in line 23;

In line 20, to leave out from the second "the" to the end of the Clause, and add:

"names, previous experience and qualifications of persons, one of whom they propose to appoint. If the Minister is of opinion that any person named in such a list is not a fit person to be a chief education officer of the authority he may give directions to remove his name from the list of persons so submitted."

In line 21, to leave out from "the," to "If," in line 23, and insert "persons from whom they propose to make a selection"; and,

In line 22, to leave out from "appoint," to "If," in line 23.

As it seems to me now almost even money that we may finish the Committee stage of this Bill before we finish the war, I shall be very brief. The purpose of these Amendments arises from the fact that the Minister is taking power away from local authorities, which is what we object to. I do not know if any hon. Member has ever moved an Amendment more briefly than this, but we think the local authorities should have more power.

I do not think that we are really taking any power away from local authorities—

—by this Clause. What we are anxious to do is to ensure that, in the partnership between the local education authority and the Board of Education, we shall be assured that there is a competent liaison officer with the authority making the arrangements. We do not desire to impose our views unnecessarily upon local authorities, but no one can have been connected with local education without knowing that, in the past, some most unsuitable appointments have been made. I can think of a good many authorities where a person who has been an ordinary clerk in the town clerk's office has been appointed chief education officer of the borough, without any experience that enables him to give the local education committee sound advice on the matters that come before them. We are anxious that that shall be avoided in future, but we realise that perhaps the form in which we propose to act in the Bill is, as I heard about something else to-day, rather heavy-handed. We do not, therefore, propose to retain this Clause in its present form, but, if this Amendment is withdrawn, I shall be prepared to move the Amendment that stands in the name of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin).

Hon. Members will see that the effect of that will be that the local education authority proposing to make the appointment of chief education officer will submit a short list of the names of the people proposed to be interviewed to the Minister, who will indicate to them if there is any person on that list to whom he takes such objection as to think he ought not to be given the appointment. The remaining names on the list will then be considered by the local education authority with the knowledge that the Board of Education feels that any one of those persons is suited to the needs of the locality, if, in the wisdom of the committee appointing him, he is considered acceptable. I hope that hon. Members will feel that this is a reasonable way to make these very important appointments. It must be remembered that, at the moment, Government Departments have very considerable power in the appointment of people like the senior medical officer of health for an authority, the engineer responsible for the roads, and, of course, the chief constable, and we do not regard the chief education officer of a county or county borough as a less important officer than those I have mentioned.

I have listened with respect to what the Minister has said, but he did not go as far as I would like him to go. I am rather worried about powers which may be given to Departments, and which may be extended to others, and looked upon as a precedent by which the Departments may get still further control over local government than they have at present. The responsibility of the local authority should be to the Minister, but the responsibility of the servant or employee of the local authority should be to them. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is so now."] That may be, but there is a danger of weakening it, if we allow the Minister to come in and take part in the appointment of these officers. I understand that the proposal which the Parliamentary Secretary has made is that the Minister shall have the short list submitted to him and he shall have the right of objecting to it. I hope it will be limited to objecting, and not that the Minister is going to make recommendations about the other names remaining in the list, because I think that would be a very dangerous precedent. In view of the fact that the Minister has made this somewhat partial concession to the request I was going to make, I shall be prepared to accept what he said, hoping that it will not have the ill effect which I am anticipating.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 59, line 21, to leave out from "the," to "If," in line 23, and to insert:

"persons from whom they propose to make a selection."
This is the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin).

It is a little difficult to follow this Amendment from the way it has been moved, and I would like to have it made quite clear that it will not do anything to weaken the authority's power in regard to the qualifications of these persons. Otherwise, there may be long delays in making the appointment.

I should like to ask if the Minister will give an indication to the local authority as to why any name has been struck off the list which the local authority submits. It is important that local authorities should be given some reason if, after they submit the names, one is struck off the list.

I would like to consider that before giving an answer. I could conceive of circumstances where it may perhaps not be the right thing to do. I imagine that, no matter what the powers under the Statute are, what would probably happen, if the Minister desired to strike a name out of the list, would be that someone connected with the local education authority would be invited to come up to the Board and the particular name would be discussed with them. These things are generally done in administrative practice, and anyone concerned with the appointment of a medical officer of health, or chief constable, or county engineer knows the way in which the power of the Department is exercised. May I say to the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) that the powers that we are now accepting here are far less than those exercised by the other Government Departments in the three appointments I have just mentioned.

We may assume that what the Parliamentary Secretary has said indicates that the great abject of the Board is to see that the directors of education are men who have inside educational experience. The Minister must realise that those anxious to retain the local authority's rights have not, in the past, always appointed these officers from persons with inside teaching experience, and that teachers greatly resent the appointment of administrators who never got such experience or any inside experience of a school.

I am sure that, if the Board, by this Amendment, make it clear that they are going to help all education authorities to come up to the standard of the best by appointing people of real educational experience to these really important posts, they will be doing a great service to the whole profession and to the country.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.