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Clause 11—(Information To Be Furnished By Education Authorities)

Volume 437: debated on Wednesday 7 May 1947

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I beg to move, in page 7, line 14, after "about," to insert:

"the educational attainments of."
I think this is the best peg on which to ask a question. I have not attempted any research in the matter, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us whether this formula is anything like common form, or whether it is something comparatively new? I am a little surprised that it should be thought necessary. Very frequently I am asked for information of all sorts and kinds about ex-students of mine, and sometimes very embarrassingly, going many years back, and so on. I should not think that any Government Department or respectable inquirer ever had any difficulty in getting information from educational organisations and persons in charge of them, and officials employed in doing their work. But I am a little surprised that it is necessary to have this formula. If I am told that it is something like common form, or that, although new, experience has shown that it is necessary to be able, by compulsion on some people, to obtain it—if the Minister of Labour tells me either of those two things, I will take his word for it. Even in that case, I would ask him to consider whether my Amendment may not possibly be worth looking at. As the Clause stands—the Attorney-General will correct me if I am misconstruing—it seems to put on a duty not only to give the information one has, but the information one may be expected to be able to get hold of. That, I think, is rather a difficult thing, and may drive people rather a long way. Secondly, apparently the information which one has, or can get hold of, and is compelled to give, is about persons receiving or who have received education, without any limitation. I wonder whether that is considered necessary and right? It may be that my words are too narrow. Personally, I have never for a moment refused or hesitated to tell all sorts of things about a chap, assuming there was no privilege involved. I should have thought there never was any difficulty in getting people to do that, but, if we are to put a statutory command on them to do that, there seems rather a strong argument for the view that educational attainments ought to be the limit of the field of inquiry.

I have heard it suggested—although this would not have occurred to me—that there might be a political danger here, that people might be asked to disclose their political background, opinions or prejudices. That might have unfortunate effects. I notice that during the war practically all my Communist pupils got high situations in M.I. If I were to be forced to disclose the Communist tendencies of any ex-pupils of mine, it might be that M.I. would be populated entirely by Communists, and I should have thought that was carrying the thing a bit too far. However that may be, I ask the Minister to consider whether he really wants to be able to put compulsion upon us to give him, not only what we know without doubt about the educational attainments of our pupils, but also anything we know or can find out in any other connection at all. If so much as that is needed, it ought to be explained to us why.

I can give the hon. Member the information for which he asks in both respects. First, he asked if this was common form. This Clause is reproduced from an identical provision in Section 10 of the Military Training Act. Therefore, the Clause as it stands is in use, and so far as I am aware, there have been no complaints about its restrictions. With reference to the hon. Member's Amendment, that the inquiries should be restricted to educational attainments, that would be restrictive. He himself suggested that he hardly liked to have registrative statutory demands. On the other hand, that would be a statutory restriction. It is true that it would be possible for all sorts of undesirable questions to be put. But I think we must trust our Government Departments, whatever may be the Government of the day—[Interruption.] Has the experience of hon. Members opposite been that they could not trust their Governments? I am just wondering if the hon. Member could put forward any of these questions in a form which would indicate they were undesirable inquiries. I am trying to answer the question of the hon. Member in the spirit in which he put them to me. He asked me if I could give him the information.

The two things we specially want to have power to ask are these. We want to check up on the registration particulars of the individual. We may be in the process of calling somebody up and find there are two people of the same name, or similar names and registration numbers, and we are not quite sure which is which. Therefore, we must ask them for their registration numbers and their names, and be able to check up on the home addresses. They are the things we might frequently want to ask. We do not want to find ourselves faced with a restriction in regard to their educational attainments, and have the educational authority asking, perhaps quite properly, what the information is for and then refusing to give it, although I do not think they would refuse. As the hon. Member has said, he has given a good deal of information which he need not have given. I believe he gave that information because he thought it would help his pupils.

In spite of that, I do not think the hon. Member would go out of his way to injure one of his pupils by the information he gave. Any information he gave would be for the purpose of helping them.

Since the right hon. Gentleman does me the honour of raising this point, let me say that I have always taken the view that it is in the general interest of everyone that one should speak on these matters with extreme candour. Therefore, I have always put forward the worst points of my pupils and not tried to hide them, and it has not always been to the credit or advantage of any pupil.

In view of what I have said in regard to the general purpose of this Clause, I hope the hon. Member will not press his Amendment.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Military Training Act as containing a precedent for this Clause. Of course, his information about that is entirely accurate. But was not that Act suspended by the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, 1939, and, in fact, has any use been made of that Section in the Military Training Act, 1939? If I am right, on looking at the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, 1939, it would appear that that particular provision was only in force for a very few months. I suggest we ought to know to what extent that Clause was used before passing a Clause in this form which, from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, really goes much wider than he desires for his own purposes? I do not know whether the Minister could answer that question. I should be grateful if he would.

9.30 a.m.

I am a little doubtful about this Clause. I listened to the Minister with interest, and I gather that the information to be got from the local education authority will have particular regard to the registration number or address. Is an educational institution the proper source from which to get such information? I should not have thought so; I should have thought that it would be the registration authority which would be the one to supply it, and I wonder if the Minister was correct in what he said? I really rose to refer to the suggestion that, when an application is made to any authority for information, a copy of it should be sent to the person concerned, so that he may see what is being said about him. I think it is important. The Parliamentary Secretary will remember the many struggles we had in the past on the subject of information asked for from employers in connection with unemployment insurance, and the strong demands that were made that the applicant should get a copy of the certificate sent by the employer. I cannot see why the soldier, in these circumstances, if he is having a report made upon him by any educational authority, by a former headmaster, or the principal of a university, should not have that information supplied to him. His whole career may be at stake.

The Parliamentary Secretary indicates that his career may not be at stake, but though I would like to take this head-wagging as concurrence with what I say, I would like something more definite—I would like a promise that the information will go to the soldier. I say that from experience; there were several young people from my district who did not get the promotion to which we thought they were entitled, or did not get the entry to some institution to which we thought they were entitled to go, and it may be that it was because some such reports were made about them. There was one case of a brilliant young student who was a constituent of mine and who was in the Royal Engineers. I could not understand why he did not get a commission, but perhaps some application had been made to an institution and some professor made an adverse report. I believe in having the safeguard. If it is only a matter of little importance, why continue it in the Bill? It may mean a little extra clerical work, but that is really of little importance. There will be no harm in supplying a young soldier with a copy, so that he will know there is no dossier being prepared in regard to him which may be used to his disadvantage.

As the Minister of Labour has been the most helpful of all his colleagues throughout this Debate, it seems almost ungenerous to go on hammering him on this specific point. But there is something about the wording, as the Clause stands, which I do not like. I agree that the Minister is the last person who would wish to take undue advantage of these powers, but, as has happened with other Acts this Government have passed, there is implicit in these words the power for great evil. The Minister may be promoted any day now. He may perhaps become Minister of Defence, or Minister of Fuel and Power. We do not know who will come after him. I ask him to consider again whether he cannot accept my hon. Friend's Amendment, which does produce a very definite safeguard against flagrant misuse of these powers.

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman, even at this mellow hour in the morning, should adopt such a worn-out argument. The right hon. Gentleman accepted the view that the powers being taken are extremely wide, and then proceeded to say that it did not matter because they would be wisely and humanly administered. That is almost the oldest argument in the world, and it is almost the worst argument. It is not an argument at all to say that he wants certain powers on the understanding that he will never use them. That makes a mockery of the whole process of legislation. It also proceeds on the assumption that Ministers are not only omniscient but are eternal. The time will come when the right hon. Gentleman will not occupy his present office. It may be that he will be replaced by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher).

I think that we had better have the hon. Member's remarks on the Amendment.

I much regret if I have not made clear my point in reply to the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman's argument is that the Minister responsible will always use these admittedly excessive powers wisely and humanly. In my submission, it is material to point out in reply to that argument, that the time will come when there will be other Ministers. We are not objecting to giving the right hon. Gentleman excessive powers, but to giving to any Minister who may be a Minister during the currency of this Measure, powers which are admitted to be excessive. My noble Friend has said, with truth, that the Minister's attitude has been reasonable. Surely, with all the reserves that are behind him, he could evolve some form of words which will give him the necessary particulars to which he has referred. I do not think anyone wants to deny him those particulars, while not handing over to him potentially dangerous powers, however wisely they may be administered by him. I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman sees the danger and that he would be the last to subject everybody in the country to this potential inquisitorial process. I hope that he will introduce, either on this or on some later stage, some form of words to do what we all want, and so replace these wildly excessive and wholly unnecessary powers.

I wish to underline the remarks of my hon. Friend. Any Clause in which wide powers are being taken by the Executive are very much the concern of every hon. Member, as it is our duty to protect the citizen against such increase of power in the hands of the Executive. The Clause requires careful scrutiny, but I am reassured by the indication that the Minister has given of the reasons why he wants the powers. The danger is of their being used to extract information about opinions rather than about facts. I gather that the Minister expects them to be used to obtain information about facts, and there can be no objection to the sort of factual information of which he spoke. When it comes to matters of opinion, character and behaviour, we get on to very dangerous ground. I hope that the Minister will give further consideration to the matter and will put in words to safeguard the point.

The Amendment is entitled to be given an adequate answer. The Joint University Recruiting Board has been functioning for a long time under a similar Section in the Military Training Act, 1939, and getting information on which to carry out those functions. It consists of Chancellors of the Universities and a representative of the Ministry of Labour. Information is supplied by the Chancellors and records are kept by the Ministry. The board gets the deferment account of the man and the terms of his deferment. If he fails his examination, the board re-examines his case and report to the Ministry, and the man is called up. That is one side.

9.45 a.m.

Then there is the other side—the men who were in the Forces. As is well known to the Committee, they have the right to a number of the places in the Universities. When they apply for a Class B release, we must have confirmation of the fact that they have really been attending the university to which they want to return. This has been operating since 1939 and has been perfectly open and above-board. There has not been a single case of complaint, to my knowledge, that information has been obtained which ought not to have been obtained. In those circumstances I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his Amendment.

Is this not wider in the sense that it will cover a large number of additional institutions? The example given by the Parliamentary Secretary was of the University Board only, and this will obviously cover every secondary school if the country, if need be.

I am sure hon. Members on both sides will recognise the fact that we have discussed wider deferment for students in a wider category. We have brought in technical schools and we have said that deferment for apprentices in certain cases shall be conditional upon the attendance at technical schools, so that it shall be a real apprenticeship, It will be appreciated, therefore, that we have to go slightly wider in the type of institutions from which we require information, in order to get a fair working of the provisions that have been operating already.

I am sure the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are seeking to meet the Committee in every way, and I only intervene because this is a matter which, in various forms, has caused a good deal of general interest—the general increase in the desire of Governments to get information about young people for various purposes. As a parallel example I would quote the Innes Report on Juvenile Education, which has caused a good deal of interest in many quarters, where similar provisions are made for information to be given about boys without an opportunity for the parents to be present and without the boy being given knowledge of it. Obviously, so long as the information is used in the right way, there is no danger. Incidentally, the picture drawn by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Chancellors of the Universities meeting the Minister to give information about their pupils was, I thought, rather fanciful. Imagine Lord Baldwin, Lord Halifax or Sir John Orr doing that. I think myself that a boy's school record is. a thing which would be much better left to die when he leaves school, instead of letting it pursue him as a kind of bad dossier all through his life because some schoolmaster has written it. What is the purpose of a school report? It is not a report to the authorities, it is a report to the parents. The only object of a school report is to tell the parents what his child is doing in order that they may bring their influence to bear. I think the Parliamentary Secretary might look at this before the Report stage.

We are necessarily becoming a highly-organised and planned State and we understand the need for conscription and so on, but I hope we shall try to maintain the principle that when anything is said about anybody, he knows what is said, whether he is a young man or an old man. The second principle is that in the case of anyone who has not grown up, the people who have the responsibility for him—the parents—should have full knowledge of what is said, and nobody else. If we maintain those two principles in the regulations, we shall be able to work this system without injury, but I fear that if we create a feeling that under State discipline dossiers are built up which follow people through their lives, there will be much resentment and a danger of people feeling that they are being treated too much as pieces of furniture to be moved about, and not enough as living human beings. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary can meet that point before the Report stage, either by some Amendment or in the regulations to be made.

I very readily give that undertaking. I entirely agree that we do not want private dossiers about anybody knocking about. I will certainly look into the matter.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary will not think that we have been wasting the time of the Committee by discussing a matter which was not proper to the Debate. I am sure that I am not overstepping my authority by saying that my hon. Friends and I very much appreciate the way in which this subject has been discussed, unlike some of the other subjects. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 7, line 18, after "of," to insert:

"subsection (2) of section ten."
This Amendment, I think, goes a considerable way to explain itself without my having to take up the time of the Committee in doing so. I must apologise to you, Major Milner, and to the Committee for being absent from the previous discussion on this Clause. I am moving this Amendment because I feel that it is one to which the Government might be able to give consideration of a not unfavourable character.

I must ask the Committee to reject this Amendment because it seeks to withdraw the authority which has already been given to the Minister in regard to obtaining the information. If the Amendment were accepted, it would mean that the information which we are authorised to obtain, as the result of the withdrawal of the previous Amendment, would be denied to us. Therefore, I would ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the Amendment.

I must confess that I was a little suspicious about this matter. As the Committee will see, my name is not associated with the Amendment. As far as I am concerned, it was a bit of a gift horse. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

I only desire to raise one question to which I shall be grateful to receive an answer from the right hon. Gentleman. As the Committee will appreciate, this Clause lays a duty upon every local educational authority, and upon the governing bodies, etc., of schools. I am not clear from my knowledge of the Bill, such as it is, what is the sanction for the performance of this duty. What, in fact, happens if the local educational authority or other educational authorities do not carry out this duty? Usually in Bills of this sort, where a duty is laid down, a penal Clause is provided dealing with what happens in the case of a breach of that duty. I have not been able to find such a Clause in this Bill. Therefore, I shall be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman will tell the Committee, either that there is a penalty or that there is not. If there is not, this laying of a duty is largely bluff and eyewash. Are we being asked to impose a duty which can be enforced on those who are negligent in performing it, or are we simply putting in a phrase which may mean much or remarkably very little?

There is no penal authority, and it is not bluff nor eyewash. The fact is that it has been found in our country that, in the main, local authorities are only too willing to fall into line with the desires of the Central Government. There may be times when that does not always happen, but there is no necessity for a penal Section in an Act of Parliament calling upon local authorities to cooperate with the Government. I think the worst we could do with regard to a penal Clause would be to confine the men to barracks.

Would my right hon. Friend agree that if he did not have this Clause in the Bill, the local authority to whom he went for information would be under a duty to refuse it because the information is private, and they ought not to disclose it to anybody—especially to the Government or for a public purpose—unless the State decides to lay a duty upon them to do so? That is why it is right to have the Clause and equally right not to have any sanction attached to it.

Would my right hon. Friend say if he accepts that statement, as it were, from the crypto-Front Bench?

On a point of Order, Major Milner. A great many of us have sat through many hours all night, and have endeavoured to do our best with this Bill in difficult circumstances. We have not always kept our temper, and I am afraid we have not always succeeded in not being offensive, but do you not think, Sir, as a matter of Order, that when a Member has not shared those obligations and onerous duties with us he might, at any rate, try not to be offensive when he does speak?

I agree that Members have sat through the night, and, on the whole, the Sitting has been good tempered, but I deprecate the remark of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and hope he will assist in preserving the good temper of the Debate.

Further to that point of Order. I had not the slightest desire on this occasion to offend the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), but I did desire to invite the attention of the Committee to the fact that what may be a very good explanation of a Government Measure was being given not from the place where it should come—the Treasury Bench—but from an hon. Member who, however agreeable and distinguished, is not yet a Member of the Government. If you, Major Milner, or the hon. Member were in any degree offended by that expression, I shall be only too happy to withdraw it. The intention was not to draw attention to any criticism of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne if there was any criticism, it was on the Members of His Majesty's Government who had not succeeded in putting up anything like as good an explanation.

Would it be in Order if I asked the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. BoydCarpenter) to explain what he means by "crypto"? Is it a term of abuse?

I rise to ask whether it is right for an hon. Member to draw a distinction between the rights of Members according to the particular periods of time which they have spent in the Chamber. It is rather a novel doctrine. I would like to ask the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) whether he suggests—

I wish to ask the Government one question on this Clause concerning education authorities. In line 10, on page 7, it says:

"It shall be the duty of every local education authority,"
and line 17 contains similar words. We are seeking a great widening of educational institutions. There is a considerable amount of education of a technical kind, but I do not want to find later that those kinds of education are not covered by these words. For instance, I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to find that he is up against the Coal Board, who might say they refuse to give the information. Therefore, I ask for an assurance that all these kinds of education are covered by the words to which I have referred. Could he tell me that he has had the matter clearly considered by the legal authorities, so that the Attorney-General has been able to put his mind to it, as well as other hon. Members?

10.0 a.m.

The point is, what is meant by

"school, or other educational institution"?
Please do not think I am being facetious when I say that it means "other educational institution." We shall have to consider whether they come within the scope of educational institutions. For example, a polytechnic with a variation of training classes, is an educational institution. We have to consider if the Ministry of Labour classes may be an educational institution. The purpose of drawing the Clause made is to see that educational institutions are brought within its scope.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has been helpful in this matter. I know that the Government are very weak on the legal side and they have not been helped in this matter by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I am not a lawyer and I wanted to be clear on the matter.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.