HC Deb 03 July 1918 vol 107 cc1790-3

In cases where town councils have not delegated any of their powers to education committees under the Education Act, 1902, the co- opted members of such committees shall have the right to attend the meetings of the local education authority and to take part in any discussions which may arise in connection with the minutes of the education committee in all respects as if they were members of the local education authority.—[Captain J. Watson.]

Brought up, and read the first time.

Captain J. WATSON

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

I think the object of this Clause will be clear when it is read. As members of the Committee know, at the present time co-opted members of education committees have not the power to attend the meetings of the ultimate education authority. As a rule, in urban districts the ultimate authority is the council, and what often happens under the present regime is that while co-opted members, who, according to the words of the Education Act of 1902, are appointed as "persons of experience in education and acquainted with the needs of the various kinds of schools in the area for which the council act," have no opportunity and no right either of attending the meetings of the education authority, such, for instance, as the town council, or of taking any part in the discussion. I have purposely limited the powers of the Clause. When I first discussed this matter with my right hon. Friend (Mr. Fisher), the suggestion put before me was that not only should co-opted members have the power to attend the discussions and take part in them, but also to vote. I saw at once, and my right hon. Friend quite agreed, that if that were insisted upon it would be likely to cause acute controversy and contention, and, in a Bill of this sort, we are all anxious to avoid that as far as possible. The reason why I have introduced this Clause is that at the present time co-opted members are appointed because of their special knowledge and ability to deal with matters of education; but very often when a matter comes before the education authority, such as the town council, the co-opted members are not present, and because of the lack of the knowledge which they might throw upon the subject and of the information that they might give, very often quite unwittingly, a wrong decision is come to.

My proposal is that co-opted members should be at liberty to attend the meetings of the council and to take part in the discussion, but not to vote. I am perfectly willing, if the Clause does not make this perfectly clear, to add the words, "this shall not include the power to vote." At present it is very difficult to get suitable men to take an adequate interest in local affairs, and I think it is a difficulty which is increasing. Many co-opted members of education committees have resigned their positions because their powers are so limited. I do think that if we agree to this Clause it would be an incentive to gentlemen having an interest in education to take a practical interest. It might be said, and perhaps will be said by my right hon. Friend in charge of the Bill, that at this moment the council may invite co-opted members of the education committee to attend meetings of the council, and to take part in the discussion. But I suggest that that is putting co-opted members in a very invidious position. If it is desired that they should attend the meetings of the council and take part in the discussions, why should not the power be given to them by this Bill? I addressed a question on this subject to my right hon. Friend in January, and he replied that the subject raised a general question of great importance, and he was not prepared to express an opinion upon it. He added that, legislation would be required to give effect to the proposal. I suggest that this is a proper opportunity of giving legislative effect to the proposal. I have had an opportunity of discussing the suggestion with many members of the Committee, and I have not found one who has discouraged me or sought in the slightest to discourage me in moving this Clause. Therefore, I trust it will be accepted by the Committee with something approaching general consent.


The hon. and gallant Member has stated very clearly and very ably the case for the Amendment. I think there can be no doubt that in many cases it would be very desirable that the town council should have an opportunity of hearing the observations of experienced co-opted members of the local education committee when educational points are being discussed, but, as he has pointed out, it is within the power of the town council at the present time to invite the presence of co-opted members for the purpose of enlightening their educational debate. The hon. and gallant Member, however, wishes to give co-opted members the right to be present when these matters are being discussed. This Amendment is very similar to a Resolution which was passed by the Stockton-on-Tees Education Committee on the 8th January, 1918, the provisions of which have been very widely circulated. It was the subject of a question which the hon. and gallant Member addressed to me on the 16th of January. The Board of Education have not received any indication that the change proposed by the hon. and gallant Member would be agreeable to the persons whose duty it is to conduct educational business, and in the absence of any evidence of any general desire for the introduction of such a Clause, it would, I think, be difficult for the Government to accept the Amendment, in view of the general principle which it has adopted in the conduct of this Bill of not altering the administrative machinery of education in this country.

Captain WATSON

I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but the great distinction between the Resolution which has been circulated and the proposed Clause is this, that the Resolution included voting. I have purposely omitted that from the Clause.


I am aware of that, but I think, in view of the principle which has been adopted all through these discussions, it would be wise not to disturb even in so small a matter the educational machinery of the country. The Amendment does introduce a practice which is foreign to our system of local government, and it is important that our education systems should obtain as fully as possible the confidence of the councils which are ultimately responsible for the conduct of educational affairs and the financing of educational affairs. I think, therefore, that there would be some inconvenience in accepting this Amendment. It might give rise to a great deal of friction, and might expose the Government to the charge of having departed from the principle upon which it has proceeded in the conduct of this Bill.

Colonel THORNE

Organised labour has always been opposed to co-option of any kind. That has been decided at various trade union conferences times without number. When the present Education Act was passed that was one of our troubles. Therefore, even if this was accepted by the Committee, I believe it would meet with very serious objection throughout the country.

Question put, and negatived.