HC Deb 09 March 1944 vol 397 cc2205-343

Considered in Committee [Progress, 25th February.]

[Major MILNER in the Chair]

The Chairman

Before calling the first Amendment it may be perhaps for the convenience of the Committee and, I hope, may avoid prolonged discussions, if I say a word or two. I understand that suggestions have been made in the nature of a provisional time-table covering the further progress of the Education Bill through the Committee stage and that copies of that provisional time-table have been circulated. I think I ought to point out to the Committee that such a provisional time-table is not, of course, formally binding upon the Members of the Committee, but that it is hoped that hon. Members will, by common consent, do their best to co-operate in expediting further progress on the lines proposed in the time-table. That will, of course, involve a certain but I hope not too severe measure of self-denial on the part of hon. Members. As far as the Chair is concerned, we will in turn do what we can to co-operate with hon. Members and to assist in any direction.

I venture to make two suggestions to the Committee which may perhaps be helpful. The first is that the Minister may think it right to rise and make his statement at an earlier stage of the discussion upon any particular Amendment than, perhaps, would normally be the case so as to put the Committee in possession of the Government's views at the earliest possible moment. The second suggestion I venture to make is that it would help if hon. Members would do what they can to avoid making requests, for advice, information or explanations to the Chair during the course of debate. If hon. Members desire information or guidance as to procedure or the selection of Amendments I will endeavour to be accessible to Members outside the Chamber each day before the Debate takes place. If they will then see me I shall be happy to give them what information I can. I hope these suggestions may commend themselves to the Committee and that I have made myself clear, and perhaps the Committee may be now willing to proceed with the Bill.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

I think it is rather desirable to raise one point of Order which, I need hardly say, is in no way a reflection upon the Chair, because the course which you have adopted, Major Milner, is a novel one, though not, I think, any the less good for that. May I respectfully ask you to make it perfectly clear that in the course you are taking you are not in any way departing from procedure or suggesting in any way that any of the proposals you have made are in the slightest way binding, but that they are purely suggestions and that they will in no way affect any Rulings of the Chair?

The Chairman

The Noble Lord is perfectly correct and I may perhaps add that the power of selection of the Chair could not in any way be affected by any such provisional time-table as has been suggested.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)

I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

I am doing this because, without a Motion in front of us, we cannot have discussion. I want to make it perfectly clear that the proposed time-table is not binding upon anybody, because some of us are not satisfied that it is desirable to make too rapid progress. The ordinary course is for Members of Parliament to obstruct Measures in the ways that are open to us until we have got our own way. There are certain things in connection with this Bill upon which I want my own way. I am very friendly to the Minister, but until certain things are settled this Bill ought not to make too rapid progress. There is no need to have too many Acts of Parliament. We have far too many as it is. We can live for a long time even if this Bill does not become law. It is not an urgent Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Of course it is.") Nothing will happen under it for two years or so, and it may be a very good thing that progress with this Bill should be rather slow.

I shall be pretty busy on other things to-day, so I shall not hamper progress very much, although perhaps I shall not be so busy later. Members of Parliament should not ran away with the idea that our best legislation is always that which is not closely examined, and it must not be thought that a few hon. Members sitting in a room upstairs can take away the rights of the rest of us. I am making this protest in the interests of legislation. Let hon. Members be clear that if some of us should wish to delay this Measure it is quite easy to do so. The enthusiasts for this Bill are very stupid, they speak on every Clause, while if I come in to make a two minute speech—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) is one of the worst Parliamentarians, because he can always be provoked into speech, and until he learns his lesson he will not discover how to get Bills through quickly.

Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)

I feel that the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) is a very mischievous speech. We have a National Government and this is a Bill which is intended, apparently, to represent the national sentiment for a necessary reform of education. We are not in any way bound by this time-table—that is quite clear and the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to say so—but obviously we are going to keep this Bill on the Floor of the House, and with other competing Measures to be dealt with and passed into law good will on all sides is necessary in dealing with this Measure, and I hope we shall try to carry out in the spirit, not in the letter, any reasonable suggestions that come from the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

The suggestion that the Minister should rise and state the Government's case upon an Amendment early on in the discussion of it would, to my mind, be rather against what I would term the rights of Members. When we move an Amendment we like to think that what we say will have some influence upon the Minister, but if he gets up immediately and says that he cannot accept it we feel that he has not heard the full case which can be put forward for its acceptance. After he has made his statement there will be more contention owing to his not having heard the full case. I hope he will pay attention to that point, because when we bring forward an Amendment we do think there is some substance in it and like to have the case for it fully presented.

Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)

I wish to support what has been said by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) and would remind the Committee that the Act of 1902 was in Committee for 52 days on the Floor of this House. Why, then, should this Bill give the impression of being stampeded? It involves most momentous changes. I very much resent the remark made by the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) describing the speech of the hon. Member for South Croydon as being mischievous. On the contrary, I think it is right and proper that we should examine extensive changes of this nature very carefully indeed, and I hope the discussion will not in any way be stultified.

Mr. Coleģate (The Wrekin)

I want to say, in opposition to the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), that there is a very large number of Members on this side of the Committee who regard this Education Bill as urgent. It is urgent not merely on account of the actual administrative action that may be taken under it but it is urgent as an evidence to every class of the community that we intend to have an entirely remodelled and progressive system of education in this country at the earliest possible moment that war conditions permit.

Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

I do not think it was fair to describe as mischievous the speech to-day of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams). Some of his activities here may be mischievous, but to-day his speech was that of a very good oppositionist, a speech which I myself would have been proud to make. I expect very soon to see an announcement in the newspapers that the hon. Member has withdrawn his support from the National Government. We might do business then. I think the point he made is a good one and that we ought to be careful over arrangements made behind the scenes. There were too many arrangements made behind the scenes before this Bill came to Parliament. If the Government really feel the urgency of getting the Measure through within a stipulated time they could impose a time-table upon us. It has always been within the power of a Government to draw up a time-table for a big Measure that is contentious.

Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)

But there was an Opposition then

Mr. Maxton

Yes, it was imposed on the Opposition, it was the Opposition that felt the weight of the Guillotine Motion, but I do not see why the Government should be more tender about the feelings of their own supporters, who presumably have given them a mandate for this Measure, than they should be about the unofficial Opposition. I would rather have a Guillotine Motion imposed upon me, with an opportunity of opposing it, than have appeals made to my better nature, because that is my weakest spot. I would rather be compelled to accept a time-table than be "nobbled." I like the ordinary procedure of democracy; if I get voted down I accept the will of the majority, but this is neither one thing nor the other. I am not opposing this time-table, but I think we ought to be very careful about it.

Mr. Silkin (Peckham)

I would just like to say that if this time-table is not binding on the Committee then I do not know what it is. It certainly has not been arrived at by agreement. I do not know who has been consulted about it. I certainly have not been consulted, although I have a large number of Amendments on the Paper. A document was handed to me a few days ago purporting to be a time-table, to which somebody had agreed. I want to say emphatically, as far as the Amendments I have put down are concerned, that I shall take whatever time is appropriate and necessary. I shall not take longer, but I sincerely hope that we shall not be stampeded in our discussion of this Bill. I hope that we shall have the opportunity of proper discussion. I would rather put off the operation of this Bill for six months than have it rushed through the Committee without proper consideration. Therefore, while I hope nobody will deliberately waste time, I also hope that we shall not, as a result of having been handed this time-table, curtail any remarks we think it necessary to make.

Sir John Mellor (Tamworth)

Is not the real difficulty in making progress with this Bill that all the important matters appear in the later Clauses; and should we not make better progress if we took the Bill backwards? Putting that suggestion in rather more serious form, would it not be advantageous to take the financial Clauses at an earlier stage, rather than to wait for some weeks? Until we know how we are going to stand on the question of finance it is extraordinarily difficult to decide what is right in dealing with the earlier Clauses.

Earl Winterton

I have always endeavoured in the course of a long and inconspicuous career to throw oil on the troubled waters. I would like to associate myself with the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) in some respects, and with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), whose Parliamentary career has been much more distinguished than mine, in others. I would like to say that while I differ from the hon. Member for South Croydon on the urgency of the Bill, I do agree with him—and I would say this to the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway opposite—that it does not necessarily mean that a Bill is a proper Bill if it goes through with very little discussion. Also, it does not necessarily follow that because there appears to be a certain amount of repetition of argument, the result will not in the long run improve the framework of the Bill. But I must say this in support of the hon. Member for South Croydon—and I was rather surprised to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the leader of one of the branches of the Liberal Party—that we are getting into rather a totalitarian frame of mind. Owing to a large number of Members having got into the House without election, any proposal which is made from the Front Bench is loudly cheered by my hon. Friends above the Gangway. I have often said that if the Prime Minister suddenly went mad and thought it would be a good thing to stand on his head, there is no doubt that a number of my hon. Friends above the Gangway would cheer him loudly. We must understand that we do not come to this House to accept the ipse dixit of this or any other Government.

Sir P. Harris

I am against the Guillotine and in favour of good will and co-operation.

Earl Winterton

I am sure that is so, but my right hon. Friend must not object, because he made an attack on my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon. I would now like to take up the point which was so admirably taken up by the hon. Member for Bridgeton. This, I suggest, is a serious matter which we need to discuss. What the hon. Member said is perfectly true. If after a most acrimonious Debate which lasted a fortnight this House accepted the Guillotine and then accepted certain principles, after a row on the time-table, the thing is then generally accepted. That is the proper procedure of the House. There is a second form of procedure which has been generally accepted, and that is friendly agreement between the Opposition and the Government. This, of course, is much easier when you have an Opposition, because the Leader of the Opposition can, to a large extent, bind his party. This is in no way a reflection on your Ruling, Major Milner. What is not completely in accord with precedent is for a Chairman to suggest that course of action to the Committee. An hon. Member who is not prepared to accept the suggestion of the Chair, might appear to be doing something discourteous, and I would like to say that none of us who are not privy to this arrangement can be bound by it. I would like to support the chairman and the—

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)

I would like to know on what basis we are carrying on this discussion. Is there anything concrete before the Committee? I understood that it was merely a suggestion from the Chair.

Earl Winterton

I thought the hon. Member was going to ask me a question. Instead of that he has made a statement. I am sorry to be involved in a domestic dispute in the Labour Party.

Mr. Cove

On a point of Order. Are we in Order in discussing the method of the Guillotine?

The Chairman

I understood there was a desire to discuss this matter and I accepted the Motion to report Progress. The Noble Lord's remarks appear to me to be in Order.

Earl Winterton

I was only saying that I wished to associate myself with the remarks made by the hon. Member behind me. Both he and I would like to see this Bill go through, but we are by no means bound by any arrangement. What has been shown is that it would be better to return to the old Rule.

Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but THE CHAIRMAN withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. Parker (Romford)

I think there are a great many people in this Committee who are not Opposition-minded and who would like to see this Bill proceeded with. A great many Members take the view that the country is right in expecting the Government and the House to take action and to produce results in regard to post-war planning and proposals generally for reconstruction after the war. The Members of this House feel that the suggestion made by the Chair and by the Government for an organized time-table is a reasonable thing, and I expect the majority of my hon. Friends would say that, if we cannot make more rapid progress than has been made up to now, they would support the Government in seeing that a more rapid procedure is adopted. But I hope and trust we shall be able to operate this programme and that we shall produce results which will justify Parliament and ourselves to the country by showing that we can take action and not merely talk.

Mr. R. Morģan (Stourbridge)

I wish to intervene only for a few moments. I know the difficulties of what has happened in the past, but I want to know what is going to happen to-day. Do I understand that we are going through the Amendments as tabulated on the Paper or, if not, is it to be indicated at some later time to-day, which Amendments will be taken?

The Chairman

The position to-day is the same as on any other day. I have selected Amendments and if the hon. Member will be good enough to see me at the Table to-day and on any other day outside the Chamber perhaps it will save time in the future.

Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

I do not propose to keep the Committee long, because I think we ought to get on with the Bill, but I suggest that this discussion will facilitate the later passage of the Bill. One of our main difficulties in this matter is that certain groups of people and certain interests concerned have fashioned this Bill—not merely this time-table but the Bill itself—and these groups are represented in this Committee. As Members of this House they want to impose upon us decisions reached outside the House. That is the difficulty and my hon. Friend reminded me of that difficulty in his speech. Many of the people in this Committee who are now discussing this Bill are its architects. I am not saying that individual Members are its architects, but they are associated with bodies whose proposals are embodied in the Bill. They want to rush through Parliament the decisions to which they have come. I think hon. Members will agree that this is a true description of our situation at the moment. What happens? It happens that these compromises which have been reached outside the House are offensive to Members of this House. We want to examine them.

I would suggest that this is just the sort of Bill which could not be sent upstairs even if we had Standing Committees. It is too important. We should have to take this Education Bill on the Floor, though subordinate Bills could be sent upstairs. I hope hon. Members will not let themselves be rushed. That really would be an appalling situation. The Press look upon these things quantitively and they say we have only crawled through the first Subsection of Clause 1, page 2. We cannot expect people, having regard to the crowded space of the newspapers to-day, to make intelligent comments on Parliamentary procedure, and I am bound to ask the Committee not to consider too seriously the comments made about us in the Press because I have known the meticulous examination of a particular Clause in Committee to affect millions of people outside. Therefore, I hope that we will get on with the discussion of this Bill and not be stampeded by comments made here or outside.

Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)

Are the Committee right in understanding that the selection of Amendments will not be curtailed under the proposals of the timetable, as compared with what it would be under the ordinary procedure?

The Chairman

That is the case. My mind is in no way influenced by the fact that any suggestions have been made.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

It does seem to me on this occasion that the Minister has done the only thing possible. He has collected together representatives of various parties to try to get them to agree on some sort of programme. I can tell the Committee that no undertaking has been given by anybody. It is only a means by which the Minister hopes to achieve his object, but he knows that some people will object very strongly to some of the Clauses, and, unless we can get an accommodation, the Debate is likely to be prolonged. It seems reasonable, and I hope the Committee will accept it.

Mr. Maxton

Do I understand the hon. Member's statement to mean that my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) has got an agreement by which his Clauses are to be debated at length, and mine will be closed down?

Mr. Stokes

I assure my hon. Friend that I have no agreement of any kind whatever.

The President of the Board of Education (Mr. Butler)

It might be thought discourteous if the Government took no part in this discussion. The Leader of the House, myself and the Government have noted the observations of hon. Members, and it has been very valuable to have this short Debate at the opening of business. It is quite clear that this time-table simply consists of suggestions to which we can work. Let us, then, work to it as far as we can. The Government have profited by the Debate we have had. The point has been made that, in certain quarters outside, there is an idea that we have not made enough progress. That is not very valuable. This Bill must pass with the general agreement and help of this Committee, and in that way I feel we shall make it a better Bill.

Sir William Davison (Kensington, South)

May I reply to what was intended to be the taunt of the Noble Lord against those of us who sit on these Benches? He said that if the Prime Minister came into the House and announced that he would stand on his head, there are Members who would cheer him. May I remind the noble Lord of what was said by a previous Conservative Prime Minister, Mr. Disraeli, when appealing to the electors of High Wycombe? When asked what his qualifications were he replied, "I stand on my head," and he was loudly cheered and returned by a large majority.

Sir H. Williams

As the Motion has achieved its purpose, I beg to ask leave to withdraw it. May I say that, if there has been any delay in the programme, it has been due to the verbosity of the educational enthusiasts in this Committee. All the obstruction has come from supporters of the Bill.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

  1. CLAUSE 15.—(Transfer of county and auxiliary schools to new sites, and substitution of new auxiliary schools for old ones.) 3,610 words
  2. cc2241-86
  3. CLAUSE 16.—(Constitution of managers and governors and conduct of county schools and auxiliary schools.) 18,031 words
  4. cc2286-305
  5. CLAUSE 17.—(Managers of primary schools.) 7,765 words, 2 divisions
  6. cc2305-24
  7. CLAUSE 18.—(Governors of secondary schools.) 7,502 words
  8. cc2324-31
  9. CLAUSE 19.—(Grouping of schools under one management.) 2,622 words
  10. cc2331-40
  11. CLAUSE 21.—(Powers of local education authority as to use and care of premises of auxiliary schools.) 3,364 words
  12. cc2340-3
  13. CLAUSE 22.—(Secular instruction in county schools and in auxiliary schools.) 1,271 words