HC Deb 05 April 1951 vol 486 cc349-51
3. Miss Irene Ward

asked the Minister of Education whether he will now make a statement on the results of the conversations between the National Union of Teachers and the Durham County Council.

7. Mr. Hollis

asked the Minister of Education whether he will now make a statement concerning the recent conversations between representatives of the Durham County Council and the National Union of Teachers about the appointment of teachers in Durham.

Mr. Tomlinson

No agreement was reached at the meeting. The Durham local education authority did not see their way to abandon their practice of questioning teachers about their union membership. In the result a situation arose which constituted a definite threat to the education service. I have, therefore, taken action against the local education authority, as I warned them last November I should, under Section 68 of the Education Act, 1944.

Miss Ward

In view of the fact that this is a free Assembly supporting the Minister in his action, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, for the purpose of the record, he will publish his letter in HANSARD, SO that it may be a guide to those who come after this House of Commons?

Mr. Tomlinson

Yes. The letter can be published in HANSARD. It has already been published in another place.

Mr. Hollis

Has the attention of the right hon. Gentleman been called to the statement—the alleged statement—of a member of the Durham County Council, made subsequent to this letter, that the letter does not forbid answering the so-called obnoxious questions? Will the right hon. Gentleman make it categorically clear whether he agrees with that interpretation or not?

Mr. Tomlinson

That is something which has not been brought to my notice until this moment. I should like time to think about it before commenting on it.

Mr. Blyton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Middlesex County Council ask questions about political faith, and as the National Union of Teachers have not the guts to take action against them—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—yes, it is true—is he prepared to issue a direction against Middlesex County Council?

Mr. Tomlinson

In circumstances similar to the circumstances that have already arisen in Durham I will direct the Middlesex County Council or any other local authority.

Miss Horsbrugh

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if the fact of his sending this letter, and the words that it contains, do not now show that he regrets the decision of the council, which he, and those who sit behind him, refused to regret on 13th March?

Mr. Tomlinson

I regret a lot of things about this business. My principal regret is that the interests of the children seem to be taking third, fourth and fifth place instead of first.

Mr. James Hudson

Does the possibility of action against the Middlesex County Council or any similarly acting county council depend only upon initiative taken by the National Union of Teachers, or can any step be taken by the Ministry where the Union fail to carry out their obligations?

Mr. Tomlinson

My responsibility is to see that the administration of education is maintained.

Following is the letter:

3rd April, 1951.

Sir, I am directed by the Minister of Education to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of April 2nd, 1951, and to state that he has noted the information contained therein.

The Minister recognises that the Authority have not proceeded to implement their original intention of serving dismissal notices on their employees who did not produce by a prescribed date evidence of membership of a union or appropriate professional organisation. The procedure, however, which they have been following recently of asking candidates for appointments to teaching posts at their disposal whether they are members of such a body and the modified procedure which it is now proposed to follow instead are no less objectionable. For whether it is put to all the candidates for appointment to a particular post or only to the candidate who is considered to be most suitable for appointment, an inquiry about membership of a union or other appropriate organisation must be presumed to be a determining factor in the Authority's choice. Otherwise there would be no point in asking it.

The Minister warned the Authority in his letter of November 22nd that if, as a consequence of their action the education service was, or appeared likely to be, endangered, he would be obliged to intervene. Since a considerable number of teachers in the Authority's service is now, as a direct consequence of the Authority's action, considering resignation from that service, there is a definite risk that the Authority will be unable to discharge their statutory obligations under the Education Acts.

In all the circumstances the Minister is satisfied that the Authority have acted and are proposing to act unreasonably with respect to their power of appointment of and control over teachers. Accordingly, the Minister, in the exercise of the powers conferred on him by Section 68 of the Education Act, 1944, hereby directs the Authority to refrain from taking any steps to ascertain whether applicants for teaching posts at the disposal of the Authority are, or intend to become, members of a trade union or a professional organisation.

I am to request that the receipt of this letter may be acknowledged and that the Minister may be given an immediate assurance that the Authority will comply with the direction forthwith.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient servant,

(Signed) R. N. HEATON.

Authorised under Section 3 (2) of the Education Act, 1944.