HC Deb 14 July 1949 vol 467 cc799-821

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 14th June, 1949, entitled the Youth Employment Service (Particulars) Regulations (S.I. 1949, No. 1118), a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th June, be annulled. These regulations are made under the Employment and Training Act of last year, which, I think the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour will agree, was treated as a largely non-controversial Measure. Indeed, the only element of controversy that arose on the generally very amicable discussion of that Measure was on the element of compulsion included in it. It seems to me and certain of my hon. Friends that these regulations are objectionable precisely because of that element of compulsion which, during the Debates on the Measure last year seemed to us to be the only objectionable features of that Measure.

The effect of these regulations, briefly summarised, is that they impose an obligation upon all schools, whether independent or part of the State system, to supply with respect to their pupils of a certain age, a very large number of particulars in accordance with the pro forma attached to the order, and they subject those who manage those schools to criminal penalties if they do not supply those particulars. That is the effect, and it is manifest that when such a duty is imposed on educational establishments and when that duty is backed by the imposition of criminal penalties in default that is taking a very serious step. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will not controvert the fact that it is exercising a direct and forcible compulsion upon them.

The submission I make to the House is that so far, at all events, the House has not been favoured with any explanation of the need for such compulsion. I am certain that Members on both sides of the House will agree that in all cases in which it is sought to exercise compulsion upon any section of His Majesty's subjects it is necessary for those who seek to exercise that compulsion to show that there are good and sufficient reasons to justify it. As lawyers would put it, the onus is upon them to establish the need for that compulsion; there is no onus upon those who object to that compulsion. One of the objects of the discussion of this Motion tonight is to seek to inquire of the Ministry of Labour what are the reasons which in their view justify this quite serious interference with the liberty and discretion of those who conduct educational establishments in this country.

During the Debate on the Act under which these regulations are made we were given no indication whatever of the reason. Almost the only reference in that Debate to the particular subject matter of these regulations occurred in the speech of the Minister of Labour. He said: We are placing one compulsory provision in this Bill. That is the compulsion upon the education authority to submit to the employment officer a report as to the capacity of the child. Most education authorities will be co-operating in this scheme and will therefore be reporting to themselves; but there may be schools outside, and we want them to tell us something about the children. All we wish to know is about the child's health, ability and progress at school, and any particular interests and aptitudes which he has shown. The information will be in the form of a report which will be a confidential document."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1948; Vol. 449, c. 1375.] That shows very clearly why the information is required. It makes no attempt whatsoever to show why it is necessary to exercise compulsory powers to elicit that information; and that is the particular point with which I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to deal in his reply. I should have thought that those who conduct these schools, whether independent or part of the State system of this country, will freely co-operate with the Ministry of Labour or the local education authority in providing such information as may be necessary to help the Ministry in the conduct of the very beneficial scheme provided under the Bill. It would be a very grave reflection upon those who conduct these establishments to suggest otherwise.

There may, however, be cases where, for one reason or another, schoolmasters and the managers of schools may desire not to give full information. It is known, particularly in the case of difficult children that teachers are apt to feel that their relationship to both pupil and parent has something of the same confidential nature of that of confessor to penitant. Teachers feel there are certain matters confided to them which they cannot divulge to third parties without the express and definite permission of the parents and perhaps the child itself. Yet here is the Minister of Labour saying, "If you adopt that attitude we shall subject you to penalties in the courts as laid down in subsection 4 of Section 13 of the Act of 1948."

There may be such case and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he anticipates the slightest difficulty in obtaining voluntarily from the schools all the information which he reasonably needs? Has he any evidence to lay before the House of the scheme being hampered in its working by reason of the deliberate refusal by schools to give such information? If he has then that information is clearly material and relevant to the Debate. I hope he will give it to us with precision, and tell us the type of school which refuses to co-operate. If the Parliamentary Secretary has no such information I hope he will tell us what is the reason for taking these compulsory powers.

I do not wish to seem unreasonable or obdurate in the matter. If real difficulties have arisen let us hear what they are and consider whether it is right for the Minister to have these compulsory powers. But if, as I suspect is the case, schools are co-operating, and have given every indication that they will co-operate freely in this matter, perhaps he will tell us why he requires the power to compel them to co-operate. I would like to know what consultations he has had so far as the independent schools are concerned. Has he taken the views of the Governing Bodies Association, or the Headmasters' Conference? So far as the State system is concerned, what are the views expressed from the Ministry of Education? Has the right hon. Gentleman consulted with bodies specially interested in this matter, such as the National Union of Teachers? I do not for one moment assert that these consultations have not taken place. I should like to know what the results have been.

Those are the matters which I desire to deal with tonight. I start, I confess, with the old-fashioned attitude, as perhaps it is nowadays, that it is wrong to exercise compulsory powers unless one must, and that it is much better to seek voluntary co-operation. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that if he gets the co-operation of those who run the schools, he will get reports of some value. Does he really think that a report given only under the threat of criminal penalties from an otherwise unwilling school will be worth the paper on which it is written? Does he really think that the delicate, complex assessment of a child's character and abilities which is required in this report is the sort of thing which one can simply order a school or a teacher to produce? Is it not the experience of human nature that such reports, if compulsorily obtained, are generally quite worthless? Is it not much better to seek the voluntary co-operation of the schools, and only to come back to this House and ask for compulsory powers if the voluntary approach fails?

I address this appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary. I do not seek to make any party political point. It certainly is the tendency nowadays in many countries to place in the hands of the Government detailed and inquisitorial powers of this sort over the people's lives, to seek to tabulate the facts and the details about every person, to strip the little veils of privacy from the lives of all of us, in order that each Government Department may have all of us neatly card-indexed for whatever purpose it requires. That is the prevailing tendency. I am very sorry to see it introduced into the working of an Act which I regard as a good Act and which, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows, in my humble way, I sought to support when it was before the House. It is because I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will either explain these matters or banish this blot of compulsion from an otherwise fair picture, that I have moved this Motion.

10.13 p.m.

Sir John Mellor

(Sutton Coldfield): I beg to second the Motion.

I associate myself with the general case put forward so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). I should like to draw attention to certain parts of the order. First, I wish to refer to the phrase: pupils to whom these Regulations apply. That expression is defined as: … pupils attending that school who are within six months of the date on which they will attain the upper limit of the compulsory school age applicable in their case and who are likely to leave school on attaining the upper limit of the compulsory school age. That definition contains the expression: … and who are likely to leave school on attaining the upper limit of the compulsory school age. That is an extraordinarily vague expression to put into an order. It is something which cannot possibly be a question of fact: it is merely a question of opinion. I object to an order which is enforceable on a penalty of £10 as a criminal sanction, if it contains such an extraordinarily vague expression. The Schedule contains particulars which proprietors of schools are required by the Minister to furnish.

Under "Health and Physique," information is required on general health of the pupil, and further, whether or not there is an physical disability. It is an extraordinary thing that the proprietor of a school should be required to express an opinion on the general health of a pupil, and, more especially, on whether the pupil suffers or does not suffer from any disability. Surely that should be a matter for a doctor, and not for the proprietor.

Mr. Bechervaise (Leyton, East)

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the information given to the Employment Service is likely to help in obtaining work—knowledge of the health of the child?

Sir J. Mellor

I think it should be obtained from the proper quarter, and that information about health and physical disabilities, if required at all, should be obtained from the doctor and not from the proprietor of the school.

Mr. Bechervaise

Should it not be based on the health record card of the school?

Sir J. Mellor

That is a matter of opinion, but the hon. Gentleman will perhaps have the opportunity of developing the point later.

Information assessed on school work, on other activities, and by test is also required. If given, further information is sought whether the general ability is high, average or below average. What is meant by "average"? Average of what? Average over the pupils in the school, or average over boys or girls of that age throughout the country? I would like to know from the right hon. Gentleman, who seems to think that this is slightly amusing, what is meant by the word "average"? Does it mean that the proprietor of the school has to take an average of the pupils of that age in his school, or what he believes to be the average of boys or girls of that age in the nation as a whole? I am quite certain that every proprietor would ask himself that question in endeavouring to answer all the points in the schedule.

Next, aptitudes. I hope hon. Members in all parts of the House have copies of this order, because I have read this part of the schedule which is headed "Aptitudes" and have not been able to understand what it is driving at. It begins: on the whole: verbal/practical/neither predominant. Then, on the next line: specially noticeable: words figures mechanical manual other bents (e.g. drawing, music, domestic). Perhaps we may get a clue from the last line, but it seems to me to be a most extraordinarily vague affair.

Finally, I think it is a very serious matter to trust this confidential information even to officials of the highest importance and character. It is really essential that its non-disclosure should be secured. The penalty provided under Section 13 (4) of the principal Act is only that of a fine not exceeding £10 on summary conviction, which I do not think is an adequate penalty to secure the secrecy of these details. I therefore object to this order, and I think that if the information has to be obtained it should be obtained voluntarily, or, far better, from the parents.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)

I wish to support the protest which has been made against these regulations. I followed this Act with some care—indeed, I had some little responsibility for helping to get the name changed—and then raised the question on the Report stage in an Amendment providing that such particulars shall be made available to the parent or guardian of any pupil concerned in this Section of the Act. In that Amendment, I had the support of many Labour Members, including the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) and the then hon. Member for Rotherhithe, and, I believe, the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). At the end of the Debate, the Parliamentary Secretary persuaded me to withdraw the Amendment on the understanding that there would be included some definite right accorded to the parent. In these regulations we have the following sentence: All particulars furnished by virtue of the the foregoing provisions … (which permits under certain conditions parents or guardians of pupils to examine the particulars in the presence of the officer having the custody thereof). I think this is a complete blot on an otherwise perfectly good Act. I ask that it should be the right of the parent to see the whole of this school record. Frankly, I am more worried about this than about anything that has happened since I have been in this House. This is the beginning, or may well become the beginning, of a dossier. Just think what is recorded about a child—and this is recorded about all children—not only their health, but their aptitudes, their abilities, and a whole series of other points about their life history. This is going from one official to another and the original document which produced this Measure, the report of the Committee on Juvenile Employment Service, the large majority of whose members were civil servants presided over by Sir Godfrey Ince, Chairman, Ministry of Labour and National Service, said: The balance of advantage lies in having one record and passing it from the school to the Juvenile Employment Service. It should, however, be permissible for an Authority to adopt a system of sending forward an excerpt or digest. … I think that the sending of a digest is about the most dangerous thing in this world.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Ness Edwards)

I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not wish to do anybody an injustice. There was only one civil servant on the Ince Committee; he is quite wrong when he says that the majority of the members of that Committee were civil servants.

Mr. Lindsay

The second person on the list is a civil servant, Mr. Wallis, who was succeeded by Mr. Bray who has been in the Civil Service for 20 years. Then there is a whole host of friends of mine who are local government servants. I am saying that the majority of them are in local or national Civil Service.

Mr. Ness Edwards indicated dissent.

Mr. Lindsay

The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I am not saying this idly; I have looked through the list. These are questions which affect the life of the community. There is much talk about bureaucracy which I think is idle, but there is also some significance in that talk. I think it is a dangerous business to allow a report to go through the school to the youth employment officer, and which goes on through the whole of the boy's life. It follows him to the university now, because, in the modern university entrance, he is most likely going to have a scholarship. In other words, it is coming right through, and I am not sure that I want a private dossier going to employers and to the university, a dossier which covers a boy's whole life and which the parent can see only if he goes to the office and sees it in the presence of the youth employment officer.

Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)

Will the hon. Member point out where it says that this will go to the employer?

Mr. Lindsay

It says: All particulars furnished by virtue of the foregoing provisions of these Regulations, subject to the provisions of paragraph (2) of this Regulation, remain in the custody of the Minister or the authority to whom they were originally furnished and shall be used only for the purpose of giving adequate advice and assistance to the pupils to whom they relate. … When the youth employment officer is discussing the boy's future career, will he not have a discussion with the employer on the facts of this case? This is supposed to be a private confidential discussion. Does he reveal nothing? Does he say nothing to the employer about the boy's previous history? Of course he does.

Mr. Wells

Surely he can do so without this regulation.

Mr. Lindsay

Then why put it in? And why prevent the parent from having a copy of this in his own home? That is the main point I wish to make. The object of my Amendment was to see that the parent should have a right to have this knowledge in his own home, and that is where the hon. Member for Ince and other hon. Members were sympathetic. The Parliamentary Secretary is not the sort of person who would be disposed to prepare the way for a State, whether totalitarian or not, where private rights are dismissed. He is not that sort of person. Why has he, and Lord Hall in another place, allowed this to go through? I thought we should get some sympathetic treatment about this so I withdrew my Amendment, but all we have received is the statement that the parent shall have the right to this information in the presence of the officer. He has to go to the youth employment officer and sit and look at the record and then go home and try to memorise it—and it is about his own boy!

Mr. Sparks (Acton)

Is it not correct that at the present time a record is maintained in the schools? Is that record available to the parent of any child?

Mr. Lindsay

Yes. The argument put forward earlier by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Corlett) was that any parent can go and talk over the record of his boy with the schoolmaster in the later stages. That is not good enough. That is a dossier. I have been in countries where every person in the State has a dossier. I do not want it to happen in this country. It is the most dangerous thing in the world; something is known by somebody about other people. Imagine if it were known about every hon. Member in this House and nobody could get at it. That is what I saw with my own eyes and it is a very dangerous business because it immediately breeds suspicion between man and man.

I do not want to talk a lot of extravagant Gestapo nonsense, but I say that hon. Members of this House have to look very carefully at any inroad into the private liberties which affect the relations between parent and child. This is material which can go out as a private record—not only a physical record but also a mental record. For instance, a person may be, as happens so often, a little bit unbalanced between the ages of 11 and 14, yet many such persons turn out afterwards to be considerable persons in the community. Who knows? How dare it be suggested that that record should be kept from the private knowledge of the parent of the child except through an employment officer?

If I have spoken with some heat it is because I think it is one of those small occasions where there is a danger of personal liberty being trampled on. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to take these regulations back and to amend Section 13 so as to make it obligatory to give the information to the parent. I do not know how it is to be done—by amending Section 13 of the Act, I suppose.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman cannot say that Section 13 of the Act must be amended.

Mr. Lindsay

I am sorry, I was going a little beyond the bounds of Order. Take the regulations back. Then, later, deal with the Act, and make it absolutely clear that parents have a perfect right to see the record of their children and to have that in their own home and not only by permission of the youth employment officer. That is why I am against the regulations.

10.31 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

The hon. Gentleman has clearly destroyed his case by his own exaggerations. He has been trapped by the strength of his feelings into one or two rather strong statements. I am sure he would carry every parent with him in deploring a permanent assessment of a child which is still developing. Surely it is just for that reason that the people who are expressing their views about the aptitude and ability of a child do not want to disclose it to unauthorised persons. Particulars are being taken for the information of those people who want to help and guide a child into a fruitful job. If that information was broadcast or put out willy nilly, the child itself might come to regard itself as, for instance, below average. That would be in every way deplorable.

Mr. Lindsay

I do not ask it to be used willy nilly or broadcast. I simply ask that parents should have an equal right to see it.

Mr. Wigg

The parent has a right to see it.

Mr. Lindsay

Under conditions.

Mr. Wigg

Under conditions; but if we are going to have a duplicate copy supplied to parents, the people giving this information are going to be extremely guarded, or less than candid.

Mr. Lindsay


Mr. Wigg

Obviously they are. It is the tendency, and rightly so, for every parent to regard his or her child as the "tops." If, therefore, the master supplying information puts down that the child is below average, he might be faced with a storm.

Mr. McCorquodale (Epsom)

I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not want to malign the teaching profession, but he is saying, so far as I can gather, that the teaching profession would modify their reports if they knew they were to be seen by parents. That is a monstrous thing to say. Surely the teaching profession is prepared to speak the truth about the child?

Mr. Wigg

In the course of my life I have written a few thousand confidential reports, and one thing I am sure about confidential reports is that they much more reflect the personality of the person who is writing them, than that of the person who is reported on.

Mr. McCorquodale

The hon. Member has blown the whole thing sky high!

Mr. Lindsay

Why have them?

Mr. Wigg

That is another matter. We are now dealing with the distortions of the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay). He has made a serious charge. He says this is the foundation for dossiers. The motive behind the Minister is of the best. He wants to help these children. If the hon. Gentleman has constructive proposals to put forward, my right hon. Friend will listen to him, but he ought not to make charges of that kind.

Mr. Lindsay

But I put forward an Amendment which was turned down. It is no good saying that I have not put forward a constructive suggestion.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. McCorquodale

We on this side welcomed the Bill when it came before the House. We thought that it was an excellent step forward, in the main. We did not regard it is a party measure. I was careful to state that on Second Reading. All hon. Members want to asist the valuable Youth Employment Service, and we are all grateful to my hon. Friend for getting a reasonable title for the service. I am sure that everyone wants to see everything possible done to ensure that the young men and young women of this country get into suitable jobs, so far as that is possible. To get them into jobs suitable for their aptitudes is one of the most important things from an economic point of view, as well as for the happiness of the young people concerned.

But we did take exception—led by my hon. Friend (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter)—to the original Clause with regard to the compulsory and secret nature of these reports on the boys and girls. We drove the Minister, as the House will remember from the quite untenable position which he had been put up to defend. By a concerted attack from all sides of the House, we made the Minister agree to take back his original proposals. For the great majority of those in the House at that time agreed, in the Debate on this non-controversial measure, that to withhold from the parents the right to see these compulsory reports would be totally wrong. Indeed, some hon. Members from all parts of the House expressed themselves with considerable vigour on that point, as we well remember.

The Minister promised to take the matter back and to put it right in another place, and on that promise being given, my hon. Friend withdraw his Amendment. But the Minister carried out the very minimum of his promise, and did that very grudgingly; and I said so at this Box when he brought the Amendments back from another place for us to agree to. Now, he comes with these regulations, made as wide and sweeping as they can possibly be, to be squeezed into the four corners of the Act which he has to administer. I cannot help feeling that the officials in the Department who were advising the Minister may have been very annoyed at his withdrawal in the face of the concerted attack in this House, and that they made him come to heel, as far as possible within the latitude we had given to him.

Seriously, I am making this charge. I dislike this method of getting the absolute maximum out of what this House has allowed to pass in this way. I do not believe that any hon. Member actually likes these proposals. We all see the value of reports, although the hon. Member who has just spoken does not think very much of them. Possibly he has had a good deal of experience. But I do not think any hon. Member likes the compulsory nature of these proposals, with the fines behind them to be inflicted upon people who do not respond in toto. I myself do not like this form of report—some people do not like the word "dossier"—which the headmaster or headmistress has to fill up.

The more I study this matter, the more I dislike this compulsory, secret, or semi-secret reporting upon these boys and girls. I believe I have a good deal of agreement upon that from hon. Members in all parts of the House. I am only speaking for myself, but my dislike continues, and may continue for a considerable time. Who knows what hardship, what millstone may hang around the neck of a boy or girl until 21 years of age—when, thank God, these reports have to be destroyed—by reason of some unfortunate remark in these reports?

My hon. Friend raised a good point with regard to the health of the pupil. No layman can accurately judge the health of a human being. We see in front of us a number of apparently healthy people, but who knows whether, in fact, they are healthy or not? When young people are growing up and passing through adolescence, it is extremely difficult for a layman to prophesy what the state of health of that adolescent will be in at 18, 19, or 20 years of age; and for a layman to write that the general health and vitality of that pupil are below average, and for that report to go through while he is seeking employment, is extremely dangerous. He may well be passing through some adolescent disturbance, and his general health may be excellent in more mature years.

Let the Minister take this back and bring it out again in a much more simple form, without these compulsory powers behind it. A brief guide may be of use; a detailed dossier may be dangerous. There are right hon. Members on both our front benches who, if reported on at the age of 15 years, might never have gone into the political world. [Laughter.] It is easy to joke, but the position is serious. When we are seeking compulsory powers to force headmasters and mistresses to answer questions which they might not wish to answer for perfectly valid reasons, we are doing something which is wrong, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said so eloquently. I do not believe it is right, and I do not like it.

There are one or two small points on which we should like guidance. Are all schools to fill up these forms? Have all headmasters to use them? Are local youth employment committees or education authorities to find this information and chase it back? What is the position of the governing bodies and the Headmasters' Conference with regard to this matter? Have they made any representations? Have their views been sought on this subject? I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to answer these points. I wholeheartedly agree with what has been said from the benches behind me. I frankly do not like this compulsory business and this secrecy, and I believe it goes far to mar what otherwise would be a very useful Act.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Ness Edwards)

We have had a very useful Debate. The Prayer was moved in a very prayerful way but, I think, without the precision that one usually associates with the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). My predecessor in this office has laboured very hard, and has had to dig up a lot of the Debate which took place on the Bill, in order to be able to indulge in some criticisms. Then we had the extremely intemperate outburst by the hon. Gentleman, the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay). I would remind the House that what is provided for in these regulations is provided in Section 13 of the Act, and all these regulations do, in so far as they apply compulsion, is to carry out the purpose of the Act. As was rightly said, this matter was discussed at great length.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

If the right hon. Gentleman will look at Section 13 of the Act, he will see it provides that the Minister may make regulations to this effect. There is no compulsion upon the Minister to make regulations having any compulsory effect. That is the point of our Motion.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I shall come to that, and I think I shall be able to confute the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames by the declared policy of his party in relation to the compulsory element in this Bill, as enunciated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale), who was leading for the Opposition.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

That is quite a separate point.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Well, we shall be dealing with that point. First of all, let me deal with the question of bad faith—a serious allegation. We were pressed time after time during the Committee and on Second and Third readings of the Bill to make sure that these reports would be destroyed, that they would not be kept for all time to follow the youth through the rest of his life. That was the argument which was accepted by the House for not providing copies of the reports for parents. The Bill, as it then was, provided for the destruction of the reports after a certain time. The Government, or the Ministry, the education authority, or the Youth Employment Service in the various parts of the country, could only destroy those reports, if they were in their possession. It was that point which the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Combined English Universities himself accepted on Third Reading as being a valid point for not providing a copy for the parent.

Let me remind the hon. Member of the phrase I used. This is in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Third Reading. I said: I think it is agreed on both sides that copies of this report ought not to be made.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th May, 1949; Vol. 451, c. 236.] That was accepted by the House. What I undertook to do was that provision should be made whereby parents should see what was written about their child. To safeguard the child the House accepted the view that no other copy of the report should exist except the one in the possession of the authority, and, that after a certain time, it should be provided for in the Act, as it now is, that that report should be destroyed. That went through the House without any vote against it at all, and I understood that the point of view was never challenged, when we came to the Report stage and later when the matter was referred here from the other place.

I come to the argument of the mover of the Motion. He asked, quite rightly, whether any case was ever stated for the use of compulsory powers. I should like to quote to him what his right hon. Friend said about the use of these compulsory powers: I hope that hon. Members will follow the advice of the Minister. It was only after considerable discussion and anxiety that we on this side of the Committee were prepared to accept this measure of compulsion; because it was to be operated by one single authority, and therefore would be operated fairly all over the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 11th May, 1948; c. 75.] That is the statement made by the right hon. Member for Epsom, and I am rather surprised that tonight he should run away from the declaration he made on behalf of his side of the Committee.

Mr. McCorquodale

The Parliamentary Secretary has read out words I used in the Debate, as he is perfectly entitled to do; but I should not have thought that what I said was a very high appreciation of compulsion. We had to accept the lesser of two evils. That was the trouble. We had either to accept that, or get something very much worse.

Mr. Ness Edwards

That is a very queer explanation. But there are other quotations which could be given from the right hon. Gentleman's speeches. Let me give one from the Second Reading: I wish to refer to the report on the boy which is to be compulsorily demanded from schoolmasters. If the juvenile employment officer, and his advisers, are to deal satisfactorily with young men and women, it is necessary they should know as much as possible about them. Therefore, I am glad to see that a standard form of report is to be prepared."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1948; Vol.449, c. 1383.] This is in connection with the discussion that a standard form of report is to be demanded from all the public and private schools in relation to the operation of the scheme. There is the declaration by the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the party which is praying against this scheme and complaining about this element of compulsion which, I repeat, was discussed many times. The right hon. Gentleman understood that it was to be a compulsory obligation on the part of headmasters of all schools, and it was accepted by the Committee unanimously. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames shakes his head, but that was the position. I say that these regulations carry out completely the intentions of the Committee, and of the House, in connection with the operation of the youth employment service.

I was asked a number of questions. I was asked whether or not there was any reference made to compulsion other than by my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames will realise that this question was discussed on Second and Third Readings, as well as during the Committee stage, and was thoroughly hammered out, because there were a number of Amendments dealing with the form of this compulsion. He is quite wrong in saying that this matter was not dealt with adequately.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The Parliamentary Secretary has completely misunderstood my argument. I did not say there had been no reference. What I said was that no grounds were given for the necessity for this compulsion. So far, no such justification has been given tonight.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The hon. Member said that the only reference was that given by my right hon. Friend, but I have already quoted what his right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom said in declaring his party's support for this compulsion.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter


Mr. Ness Edwards

I am sorry if I am taking it too far, but I have quoted the words which were used, and the House must judge. I do not seek to do an injustice to my opponents in Debates; I like to be as fair as I can.

I was then asked whether adequate consultations took place. Hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House know that the Act provides for the setting up of a Youth Council. That has been set up, and its duty is to advise the Minister. During discussion on the Bill we had a considerable number of suggestions about who should be on the National Youth Employment Council. There are represented on it employers, work-people, youth employment committees, independent representatives, representatives of the County Councils' Association, the Association of Education Committees, the Association of Municipal Corporations, London County Council, the Association of County Councils in Scotland, the Welsh Federation of Education Committees, and the National Union of Teachers. Among the representatives is Mr. Wolfenden, who is a very distinguished headmaster. There is a long list of very substantial people on the National Youth Employment Council, which considered this form and the type of information which would be required from headmasters. They took a long time to come to their conclusions as to the nature of this form and the schedule of information.

I think it will be agreed on all sides of the House that the ladies and gentlemen forming the National Youth Employment Council are specialists in their field. I would assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that the members of the Council are not predominantly of the same point of view as my hon. Friends on this side of the House, so that there is no political bias at all. The members of the council started to examine the nature of the information which would be required on 7th July of last year, and did not come to their final conclusion until 23rd March this year. Members of the Council were given the opportunity of submitting a draft of the form to their educational associations which they did; and the final form represented a unanimous opinion. What more could the Ministry do in connection with the production of a proper form than to accept the advice of a Council of extremely eminent people in whom authority is placed by the Act to advise the Minister? What more could the Minister do than, having considered the advice, issue a form in the way he has done?

Commander Maitland (Horncastle)

Did the council make any representations on the question of compulsion?

Mr. Ness Edwards

As compulsion is in the Act itself—

Hon. Members


Commander Maitland

Surely the Act says "may."

Mr. Ness Edwards

As compulsion is in the Act itself—the word "may" being used in the way in which it is usually used in Acts of Parliament—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)

When discussing regulations no reference can be allowed to what is in the Act, or, strictly, what led up to it and what was meant.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The trouble is that this Prayer is really directed against the Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, against Section 13 of the Act, which provides for the compulsory powers, and this regulation is being prayed against because it contains the element of compulsion. I am in the great difficulty of having to deal with a Prayer which is really aimed at the Act, as the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities let slip, and at the same time, trying to keep in Order. However, I will leave the point and try to argue as best I can.

There are one or two other points with which I should deal—

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Before the right hon. Gentleman continues, is his answer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) that the very distinguished people he consulted on the form were not consulted on whether the return of the form should or should not be compulsory?

Mr. Ness Edwards

As the Minister has the obligation placed on him to obtain this information, it would have been quite outside the jurisdiction of the National Youth Employment Council.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Then is the answer "No"?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I have not got advice on the point, but I should assume that the answer is "No." I think the House understood that in providing for this, we were taking compulsory powers in this connection.

I come to one or two other matters. First, in regard to detailed criticism of the Schedule, we are advised that this is the correct method of obtaining the best information about the boy or girl to whom it is intended to give advice. It is experimental. A circular of guidance will be issued to headmasters to assist them in filling up this form and I should have thought that a very good first shot in an endeavour to get some experience of the working of this scheme. I am not wedded to it and my right hon. Friend is not wedded to it, but let us have some experience of it. The National Youth Employment Council will keep this in mind and be watching it all the time. I am sure that if they find they are getting something they ought not to have, or are not getting the things they ought to have, they will suggest Amendments to the Schedule.

Sir J. Mellor

I asked a direct question—what was intended by the word "average"? Will the right hon. Gentleman reply to that?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I was dealing with the matter in a general way by saying that a circular of guidance will be issued to headmasters. "Average" means the average for boys or girls of the same age in the school.

Mr. K. Lindsay

Schools differ greatly. The average of physical health in a favoured, privileged, area, where children have every advantage, is tremendously different from that in another area. That is an argument for flexibility.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I quite agree, and there is that flexibility, for the headmaster is giving the average for his own school, whether it is of health or aptitude. I should have thought it could have been left to the good sense of the headmaster, who knows what is meant by this sort of thing.

It has been alleged that the Ince Committee is composed of civil servants. I have checked that up and find that there are four civil servants and 12 who are not civil servants. It is suggested that the form will go to the employer, but that is not so. The Act prevents the information being passed on to the employer; no one will see the report other than the parent, guardian, or youth employment officer.

Mr. McCorquodale

And the school inspector.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The school inspector, yes, people in the school. I have dealt with the question of taking copies home. In view of replies I have given to Questions put recently on the matter, I hope the House will accept our assurance. This is a new field and is largely a great social experiment. We are getting the best advice we can. We have regard to the necessity to safeguard the interests of the individual; there is no desire that any dossier should follow anyone. The Act prevents a dossier following anyone.

Mr. Lindsay

Up to the age of 21.

Mr. Ness Edwards

There was an argument about the age when we discussed the matter originally. We settled this point, and I do not want to go over it again. I wish the arguments we had over these issues were not raised at a time when I am unable to reply and remain in Order. In those circumstances, I ask the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames to withdraw his Motion. We shall keep an eye on this. There will be an annual report made on the operation of this experiment. If there are difficulties, if we can find greater safeguards, if new suggestions arising out of experience come forward, then there will be an opportunity of discussing perhaps the recasting of this regulation or any others.

Commander Maitland

Would the hon. Gentleman elucidate something which puzzles me. The main object of the report is to assist the juvenile employment officer. The interview itself is not com- pulsory. Why is the provision of the information compulsory? Should it not be provided only in those cases where the interview is held?

Mr. Ness Edwards

Here, again, we are in great difficulty. There was an Amendment, when we were discussing the Bill, on this very point, but I am afraid I should be out of Order in traversing again what has taken place.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I cannot say that I am completely satisfied by the right hon. Gentleman's reply, although I would say at once that I very much appreciate the tone of his concluding sentences. I agree with him that this is a social experiment of very great importance, and the only part of the matter which still seems to me highly disputable is this element of compulsion. I do not want to press this matter, if I can avoid it, to a Division, which would undoubtedly place it on party lines, because I do not regard this is any sense as a party matter, The last thing I want to do is to harden the attitude of the hon. Gentleman and his Department against the point of view I have been seeking to put forward.

I would express the hope that in the consultations he has already indicated he proposes to take part in with the very able people upon whom he can call, he will also include, in those consultations, a reconsideration not only of these regulations in general, but of the compulsory element in particular. It is because I hope that he will do that that I do not propose to press the Motion to a Division. [Interruption.] I am sorry if hon. Gentlemen opposite regard this as a matter to be treated in this way. I treat it seriously, as the Minister does, and I am hoping very much that the right hon. Gentleman and his Department will pay attention to what has been said in the House tonight. For that reason, while I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's reply is sufficient for me to withdraw, I am content that the Motion should be negatived.

Question put, and negatived.