HC Deb 02 July 1918 vol 107 cc1656-9

(1) The Board of Education may hold a public inquiry for the purpose of the exercise of any of their powers or the performance of any of their duties under the Education Acts.

(2) The following provisions shall (except as otherwise provided by the Education Acts) apply to any public inquiry held by the Board of Education—

  1. (a) The Board shall appoint a person or persons to hold the inquiry;
  2. (b) The person or persons so appointed shall hold a sitting or sittings in some convenient place in the neighbourhood to which the subject of the inquiry relates and thereat shall hear, receive, and examine any evidence and information offered and hear and inquire into the objections or representations made respecting the subject-matter of the inquiry with power from time to time to adjourn any sitting;
  3. (c) Notice shall be published in such manner as the Board direct of every such sitting, except an adjourned sitting, seven days at least before the holding thereof;
  4. (d) The person or person so appointed shall make a report in writing to the Board setting forth the result of the inquiry and the objections and representations, if any, made thereat, and any opinion or recommendations submitted by him or them to the Board;
  5. (e) The Board shall furnish a copy or the report to any local education authority concerned with the subject-matter of the 1657 inquiry, and, on payment of such fee as may be fixed by the Board, to any person interested;
  6. (f) The Board may, where it appears to them reasonable that such an Order should be made, order the payment of the whole or any part of the costs of the inquiry either by the local education authority, if the inquiry appears to the Board to be incidental to the administration of that authority, or by the applicant for the inquiry, and may require the applicant for an inquiry to give security for the costs thereof;
  7. (g) Any Order so made shall certify the amount to be paid by the local education authority or the applicant, and any amount so certified shall, without prejudice to the recovery thereof as a debt due to the Crown, be recoverable by the Board summarily as a civil debt from the authority or the applicant as the case may be.


I beg to move, in Subsection (2, e), to leave out the words "person interested," and to insert instead thereof the words "ratepayer requiring it."

What I would ask is, whether "any person interested" is an intelligible expression? Does it mean anybody who has interest enough in the subject to go and apply for a copy of this Report, because, if so, I am satisfied. If, on the other hand, it means only some person who may be interested in some particular way as a prospective teacher, or prospective scholar, or prospective ratepayer, I think the old principle of the Education Act, 1870, was that the ratepayers were the people who had the right to inquire. I move my Amendment, not because I wish to press it particularly, but to elicit a clear understanding what is meant by the words "any person interested." Is it a wide expression or not?


I am under the impression that the insertion of my hon. Friend's Amendment would merely limit the effect of the Clause. He asked whether a wide interpretation would be given to the words "any person interested." I think he may rest assured on that point. If anyone can show he has any kind of interest, he may obtain a report.

Amendment negatived.

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


I would like to make an appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary with regard to Sub-section (2, f). This is a provision which, I think, is most objectionable. If a public inquiry is necessary, people should not be deterred from either working for it or taking part in it by the fear of having to pay a large sum of money in the event of the Board of Education thinking they had put forward a case they were not able to sustain. In the course of my longish life I have attended an enormous number of public inquiries of this nature, but never in any of them have the costs been given one way or the other. The uniform practice in this country to my knowledge of the last forty years has been that in local inquiries each party bears their own costs. What is the result? Costs are insignificant. A man who, going to a public inquiry, has to pay the costs in any event, will incur only those costs which are necessary. It is just the same when you have an arbitration, when you say that the matter shall be referred to an arbitrator and whatever the event each party shall pay its own costs. The result is that each party is extremely careful not to spend more money than he can help. By this Clause there is a temptation, especially for the local education authority, to spend a large sum of money to engage counsel, expert witnesses to prepare all sorts of plans, to-have lengthy correspondence copied, in the hope, and probably the very confident hope, that the Board of Education will order the party who asked for the inquiry to pay the costs. I do not know whether my words have had any effect on the right hon. Gentleman who is now reading some notes (Mr. Lewis), but I do hope he will make some representations to the President of the Board of Education that this paragraph (f) is one that ought to be considered before the Report stage. It is such an objectionable thing that a man should be deterred from having a public inquiry where it is necessary in the public interest because he will be mulcted in costs which either he cannot pay or which would be a serious matter to him if the Board of Education came to the conclusion that he was wrong, that the local authority was right, and that simply for that reason—nobody can know until the inquiry is finished, and the evidence has been taken—he should have to bear the cost of that inquiry. This is a provision that makes the protection of a local inquiry almost nugatory, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he would kindly bring the matter to the attention of the President and see whether that cannot be reconsidered before the Report stage.


I am very glad the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Denniss) has raised this point. I had had my attention called to it, and I had Amendments on the Paper which I did not move because I did not know whether my opinion would be shared by others. I entirely agree with the tenor of his remarks, and I think it is most undesirable at this time when you are increasing the power of officialism in every way to put additional obstacles, fears, and difficulties in the way of holding public inquiries. I hope there will be no intention of pressing this power, which is a permissive power for the Board of Education, unduly. It was because I had had private assurances that such was the ease that I did not move my Amendment. I take this opportunity of endorsing what the hon. Gentleman said, and of expressing the hope that we shall have an assurance that this will not be made an objection or a difficulty.


My hon. Friend (Mr. King) has rightly stated the intention of the Board of Education in this measure. They have no intention whatever of pressing this measure hardly or unreasonably against any individual who, having reasons, desires to have an inquiry. On the other hand, of course, there must be some power kept in reserve for the purpose of saddling the costs of the inquiry upon a person who on merely frivolous grounds seeks to have an inquiry. There are cases when it would be wholly unreasonable to bring forward matters of this sort, but as regards the general attitude of the Board of Education with regard to it I can assure my two hon. Friends that there is no intention on the part of the Board of Education of pressing unduly that power.


The fact that this may happen will deter people. If you only need to enforce it in the case of frivolous applications, then it should be limited in the Bill, and persons could come forward with confidence in exercising a public right.

Clause 37 (Evidence of Certificates, Etc., Issued by Local Education Authorities) ordered to stand part of the Bill.