HC Deb 22 February 1956 vol 549 cc450-87

Read a Second time and committed.

7.1 p.m.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill, to provide that the Corporation in carrying out the works authorised by this Act shall not employ or cause to be employed any person who is paid, either directly or indirectly, by way of salary, contribution to superannuation fund or otherwise, any additional sum of money on condition that he does not join or maintain his membership of any trade union. Under Part III of this Bill there is provision for considerable street works, and it is in relation to the work done there-under, and to the employment taking place there-under, that this Motion will be relevant. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that when the Blyth Generating Station (Ancillary Powers) Bill [Lords] came before the House a Motion in similar terms was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo).

I understand that there is some objection to this Bill on the ground of victimisation of certain properties. My Motion has nothing to do with that. Indeed, it has nothing whatever to do with the merits of the street improvements proposed in Part III, and it proposes to defeat an altogether different type of victimisation. That such victimisation exists in this country will be a surprise to many hon. Members.

There are certain organisations of which I will give a glaring example. The Foremen and Staffs Mutual Benefit Society is an organisation for the payment of benefits to its members. The intention of this organisation is to defeat trade unionism because it has two conditions of membership, both of which hon. Members will find extraordinary. One is that membership of the organisation is proposed by the employer, so obviously it is not a genuine workers' organisation. The second is that membership and benefit are both refused to any person who is a member of a trade union.

This organisation is what has been crudely called a bosses' union. Not only that, but it is a deliberate attempt to prevent trade unions from being organised, and is an attack upon a principle which is well established in this country. I should think it would be agreed by all Members of the House that trade unions are important and valuable institutions, that they contribute towards our social stability, and that they are part and parcel of our way of life.

We believe that the practice of this organisation is a pernicious one, and in moving this Motion it is my desire that there should be no extension of this principle as regards the work done by the Croydon Corporation or by the contractors which it employs, and that this attack upon trade unionism should not be allowed to continue.

I apologise for holding up the proceedings, Mr. Speaker, but my colleagues and I believe that this is an important matter of principle and that this Bill is a proper vehicle in which to introduce it.

7.6 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)

I beg to second the Motion.

I also wish to assist this debate by emphasising the arguments put by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. J. Silverman). To my mind, far too many statements are made in the House about restrictive practices that are unfounded, but here we are dealing with something which is not only an example of restrictive practices in industry but also affects the liberty of the person. The organisation to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention not only stipulates that its members shall not belong to a trade union, but specifies clearly that if, having paid into that organisation for the purpose of receiving certain benefits, they at any time become members of a trade union, they shall not derive the benefits which would normally accrue to them.

That is an extraordinary state of affairs. In this country insurance companies, friendly societies and benefit societies have often been accused of discriminating. Some discriminate on the grounds that a man is an actor or a bookmaker and, therefore, ought not to be given cover when driving a car because he is a hazardous risk. Often that discrimination is not based upon actuarial evidence, to my mind, but where can one find any evidence that a man, on becoming a trade unionist, becomes a greater risk or a difficult individual?

This is an appropriate Bill in which to try to get this Motion agreed to by the House because there is some concern about the Bill in the borough with which it is concerned. There is concern that it will impinge upon the liberty of many people who live in Croydon. For that reason, and for the reasons advanced by my hon. Friend, I have much pleasure in supporting the Motion.

7.10 p.m.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North-West)

May I say, first, to the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. J. Silverman) that there is no foundation in the thought which he had in his mind that there is any victimisation against anyone in the Bill?

Mr. J. Silverman

I am not suggesting that there is. I have simply stated that there are some objections on that ground.

Mr. Harris

The hon. Gentleman is quite right; there have been objections, and still are. I wanted to make it clear that there was no victimisation, because the hon. Member referred to victimisation.

Mr. Silverman

I never suggested that there was victimisation. I simply pointed out that the question of victimisation was being raised, and that this was a suitable opportunity to raise it.

Mr. Harris

I thank the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) said there might be some infringement of the liberties of the people of Croydon. I should like to assure him that, as he will find in due course, there is no possible foundation for any such thought. In fact, the Croydon authority is doing its utmost, in compliance with requirements, to make certain that it does all it possibly can for the people of Croydon and that there is no victimisation. It is trying to ensure that nothing of that nature can possibly occur.

I trust that I am not wrong in stating that this matter is being raised tonight as a general employment and trade union matter and is not specifically directed against the Croydon Corporation Bill. The very same issue occurred on the Blyth Generating Station Bill some weeks ago. In view of what I have seen on the Order Paper, I presume that it was also the intention of the same hon. Members to raise the issue on the British Transport Commission Bill had that Bill reached the House before the Croydon Corporation Bill. They may still raise it on the British Transport Commission Bill. It has so happened that this Bill appeared first, and the hon. Members presumably felt that it was an appropriate time to raise this problem.

There is a natural desire on the part of the hon. Members concerned to ventilate the problem, which to them is of considerable importance. I trust that the presence of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour means that later he will take some part in the debate, and possibly will state the Government's view on this issue. I hope that he will see his way clear to intervene on that aspect.

In any case, I want to make it absolutely clear that so far as I am concerned this issue does not specifically concern the Croydon Corporation Bill, and I do not intend tonight to get involved in the very complicated general issues which have been raised by the two hon. Members. I shall be very happy to leave it to the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with those general issues.

My purpose in speaking is to give, on behalf of Croydon, an assurance to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen which I myself have obtained from the town clerk and officials of the council, that there is not a single case on record in which the Croydon Corporation has discriminated between members and non-members of a trade union, nor has it intervened in a man's undoubted right at any time to join or to maintain his membership of a trade union.

In fact, in matters of trade union practice the Croydon Corporation has an outstanding and first-class record. In all its present written contracts there appears a clause to ensure—and these are the words—that in the employment and engagement of workmen required for the execution of the work the subject of this contract no preference shall be given as between unionists and non-unionist. I believe that that attitude by the Croydon Corporation has always had the approval and general support of other authorities throughout the country which appreciate Croydon's attitude in this matter.

I therefore conclude by saying that whatever decision is reached tonight I should like it to be clearly understood that there cannot possibly be any reflection whatever against Croydon specifically. Croydon has a fine and outstanding record in all matters appertaining to trade union practice. Because of this and what I have said, I naturally trust that if this Motion is pressed to a Division it will be defeated. This would be an entirely unnecessary Instruction, and quite irrelevant to the Croydon Corporation Bill.

7.16 p.m.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

Some years ago, when I was deputy-leader of the Labour Party on the Kent County Council, we drafted new standing orders, and we called for an examination of all fair wages clauses throughout the country At that time the trade union side put to us as a model fair wages clause and as the best they could find at the time—1946–47—the fair wages clause of the Croydon Corporation. That was the sort of clause which they wanted. I think I ought to say that in fairness to Croydon.

I want now to throw the ball right back to the Ministry of Labour, because this subject has been raised in the general context before. It is merely because I sat in the Chamber to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and did not go out to get the evidence, that I have not the evidence here. The trade union group of Members of Parliament with which I have been associated has been concerned about this matter for some time. I have been reading the records since 1945 on this specific issue and, although I have given an alibi to Croydon about it, I want to deal with the general merits of the case.

When the present House of Commons fair wages clause was adopted in 1946 or 1948, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) was Minister of Labour, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) raised this issue. I am stating this from memory, but, I think, perfectly correctly, and it may be some guidance to the Minister when he investigates it. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading at that time moved a Motion to achieve what my hon. Friends the Members for Aston (Mr. J. Silverman) and Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) are trying to achieve in the Croydon Corporation Bill. That was a rather better occasion, if I may say so to my hon. Friends with respect, because it would have dealt with the issue generally.

The Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading was withdrawn on the assurance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, then the Minister of Labour, that the matter would be watched and that if specific cases were raised with the Ministry of Labour a record would be taken of them to see how far this was a vicious practice and how far these people who think they are suffering from it have in fact complained about it. There is not much point in my hon. Friends complaining about it unless there is vociferous advocacy of their instruction from the men on the job. I do not believe in carrying people about. If they cannot complain on the factory floor they should not have people to complain on their behalf here.

I hope I may have the Parliamentary Secretary's attention on this point, because I do not want it to be raised on Private Bills; I want it to be settled as a matter of general application, and so do my hon. Friends. I happen to know—and I feel sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark will not mind my saying this—that since I raised this matter with him within the last week or two he has written to the Ministry of Labour, as an ex-Minister, asking what has been the effect of that undertaking which he gave all those years ago, whether there have been any complaints and whether the Minister now sees a reason to introduce this instruction into the general fair wages clauses which regulate the affairs of the House.

Curiously enough, it is not a general law of the country which regulates these affairs, but a decision of the House. I believe that people who tender for contracts have to undertake that their conditions of service coincide with, or are in line with, whichever is the correct term, the Resolution of this House to which I have referred.

I do not blame my hon. Friends, who hold strong views on this issue, for raising it on the Blyth and Croydon Bills. It is a form of guerilla warfare, and it is really not the responsibility of the Croydon Corporation. If the Minister of Labour feels that it is a malpractice, he should deal with it, and there is no question that, if the allegations are as stated, it is a malpractice.

The right hon. Gentleman may remember that the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) thought sufficiently strongly on this point to become a supporter of a Bill put forward under the Ten Minutes Rule by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading—I forget the date, but it was some little time ago—to establish this very point and, in a representative capacity, I have been concerned with it.

The point at issue is one on which the members of my own union—the Amalgamated Engineering Union—feel very strongly. It is an old sort of practice by which, when a man becomes a foreman, he joins a mutual benefit society, which is not a trade union at all, but, in the language of the trade unions, a "pudding club." He joins that organisation, membership of which is not permitted if he is a member of a trade union. In fact, it is a hangover from the old days of mass unemployment, and it is a method by which a man traded his freedom for a little brief authority. That was the origin of the business, and the practice is found in the nationalised industries.

The man takes this step, and is given certain benefits and certain superannuation benefits, but he really becomes some sort of bondsman. It is the idea that a man must belong to a closed corporation and cannot belong to a trade union. If he belongs to a trade union, or hides his membership of it, all his benefits may be forfeit.

Mr. J. Silverman

Are forfeit.

Mr. Pannell

Yes, are forfeit.

That is the nub of the case which my hon. Friends are putting up, and there is no hon. Member on the Government side of the House who can defend it. I have already made my own position clear, with regard to the Croydon Bill, and I hope I have dealt in justice with it, but the House must now address itself to the Motion. Certainly, the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) cannot get up, in spite of his allegiance to the Tory Party, and say that he stands for that sort of nonsense. Neither can any hon. Member on that side of the House in any circumstances get up and say that he stands for this sort of nonsense. It is a form of feudalism.

It is not something born of the concept of a free society and free men, and the Conservative Party, which always boasts now that it includes so many trade unionists in its ranks, really must address itself to this matter. I happen to belong to a trade union which is one of the oldest in the country. Its history goes back to 1780, and it has always catered for the craftsmen of the country. It is quite common, as far as the Amalgamated Engineering Union is concerned, for people starting as apprentices to become engineer-admirals in the Royal Navy or managing directors, but it so happens that the Section I card of the A.E.U. is something of which people are proud and keep to the end of their lives. It is not the sort of thing they easily give up, and it ought not to be taken away from any man as the price of his advancement.

That is the point we are dealing with here, and it is no light point which my hon. Friends have made. It can be argued out of court on the basis of the Croydon Bill, but it cannot be argued out of court in this House. I have spoken shortly and without notes, and I hope that the Croydon Bill will go through, because it deserves to go through. Croydon is one of the outstanding local authorities; I have worked in the place and I know it. I think the only thing wrong with it is its political representation in this House. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour represents a constituency near enough to Croydon for him to know the merits of that borough, which wishes to become a city and probably ought to be one.

There is a responsibility on the Parliamentary Secretary, who is not insensitive to these considerations, to give an answer to my hon. Friends and not to rest satisfied, but to look at the references I have made to the fair wages clause and to the debate in which there was complete unanimity on these things, some years ago. This is the basis of all fair trading and fair regulations between employers, employees and all Government Departments, but this is an issue which should be decided in a general way, so that it shall not be raised, as it is now, on a Private Bill in this House.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

I hope that the House will reject this Motion. I think it wrong that this sort of issue should be dealt with on consideration of a Bill relating to a particular borough like Croydon, that if this sort of subject is to be dealt with it must be dealt with for the country as a whole, and that it is quite wrong to try to write this sort of stipulation into a Bill of this nature.

I hope that the request which the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has just made to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, who, I understand, will reply to the debate, will be listened to, and that, if legislation is necessary, it will be of a general nature. I do not think it is right that one local authority should be bound in this way when other local authorities throughout the country are not so bound. I therefore hope that the House will reject the Motion.

I can understand the feeling among hon. Members on both sides of the House about the Foremen and Staffs Mutual Benefit Society. I do not want to say whether I am in favour of a limitation upon the activities of people who subscribe to that society or not, but I think that the hon. Member for Leeds, West was certainly right when he said that this is an old-established arrangement which came down from the bad old days. I agree with him on that point, but it is a society which gives benefits to its members, and I do not think it right that we should by this sort of device either restrict its activities or prevent it continuing.

Mr. J. Silverman

There is nothing in the Motion to prevent the continuation of its activities or the distribution of benefits. The only thing to which we object in the activities of the Society are its restrictions upon trade unionism.

Mr. Williams

If there is to be a change in the whole set-up of the Society, it may not be acceptable to some people who have to finance it, and it may jeopardise some of the benefits accruing in future. I do not see that we can really dispose of such an issue on a Motion of this nature. I therefore hope that the House will reject the Motion and that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give further consideration to the points made by the hon. Member for Leeds, West as to whether or not general legislation should be necessary.

7.28 p.m.

Mr. Victor Collins (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

I sympathise with the defence put up by the hon. Members who represent the Borough of Croydon, but it was entirely unnecessary, because my hon, Friends and I who put our names to this Motion had no intention of casting any reflections on the Croydon Corporation or its Bill. Having said that, I am astonished to learn that both hon. Members asked the House to reject the Motion.

Mr. F. Harris

On a point of order. The hon. Member who has just spoken from this side of the House does not represent a Croydon seat.

Mr. Collins

I am sorry if I have made a mistake, but I think the hon. Member who has just interrupted does represent a Croydon constituency, and that he said that he shared the view that this Motion should be rejected. I found that astonishing, in view of the sentiments which have so often been expressed by hon. Members opposite who support trade unionism.

The hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris) said he did not want to deal with the main issue, because he thought it was too complicated. I took down his words at the time, and I think that if he looks at the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow he will find the word "complicated." There is nothing complicated about this at all. It is simply a desire to assert the right of an employee to become or to remain a member of a trade union without any effect on his employment. That we regard as a fundamental right, and I should have thought that every hon. Member in this House would have so regarded it.

Mr. Williams

The hon. Member is not putting the situation quite correctly. What he is saying is that any contractor to this authority will not be able to contract if he is a member of the Society. That is a very great restriction.

Mr. Collins

Anybody who is a member of the Foremen and Staffs Mutual Benefit Society can become a member of that Society only if he has been nominated by his employer and undertakes that he is not and will not become a member of a trade union. Therefore, he labours under that disability and nothing can get round it.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) said, it would have been better for this subject to have been dealt with in a general way by legislation, if it was thought necessary. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) said, when he raised this point in the Nationalised Industries (Membership of Trade Unions) Bill, under the Ten Minutes Rule, that it was supported by hon. Members opposite.

The Motion is in complete accord with the principles advocated on that occasion, and for the life of me I cannot see why anybody should now oppose it. We have made it perfectly clear that there is no reflection on any other aspect of the Bill, which will no doubt be considered on its merits. We are concerned with this one point. Since the Government have not seen fit to take any action, and as we lack information—a gap which we hope will be filled tonight—this is a perfectly proper procedure, although not so satisfactory as the one I have suggested.

The hon. Member for Croydon, North-West said that Croydon Corporation had never interfered with the right of employees to join a trade union. I am very glad to hear that, and I accept it completely. That being the case, it is very difficult co understand how there can be any objection to the Motion. The hon. Member may say that it merely underlines what is already the practice, but there is no harm in underlining it, and I should have thought that the sponsors of the Bill would be prepared to accept the Motion. In view of the very clear expression of opinion given on this matter by my hon. Friends, I hope that the Motion will be approved without a Division.

7.34 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Robert Carr)

As the House will realise, this is a matter which concerns a Private Bill and is, therefore, not one for which the Government have a direct responsibility. Nevertheless, we feel that the issue raised by the proposed Instruction to the Committee has important and far-reaching implications in the field of industrial relations. It is for that reason that I thought it would be for the convenience of the House if I intervened fairly early in our discussion and gave the House the Government's view.

I am afraid that the view of the Government is that they should advise the House that the Motion should be rejected. I should like to explain the reasons for that point of view, and, in the course of so doing, I shall refer to the points put by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr, C. Pannell). I should first make it absolutely clear that I do not oppose the Motion because I wish in any way to support discrimination of any kind against trade unions or trade unionism as such. The record of the Government, as of preceding Governments for many years, makes it clear that Governments of all parties are aware of the fundamental importance of trade unions in industry and in the life of the country as a whole. Our support for trade unionism and the right to belong to a trade union cannot be assailed. I want to make it clear that there is no question of opposition to the principle of trade unionism in our advice to oppose the Motion.

Equally, I want to make it clear that I am not here to support, any more than I am here to criticise, the Foremen and Staff Mutual Benefit Society, which is the main organisation at which the Instruction is aimed. Whatever we may think about the rules of that Society—and perhaps we ought to remember that it was established about 57 years ago—it is, nevertheless, a perfectly legal society. It is registered under the Friendly Societies Acts, and its purposes are the valuable ones of providing sickness and superannuation benefits. That is something we must remember.

It would surely not be right for Parliament to impose some statutory discrimination against the employment of individuals who have freely chosen to join a society whose objects are perfectly legal.

Several Hon. Members

indicated dissent.

Mr. Carr

Hon. Members seem to dissent from that, but I cannot say that anybody has ever been under any pressure to join the Society. I am sure a great number of the Society's members joined perfectly willingly—perhaps I may add without careful consideration and examination of some of the rules of membership. But I am sure it is a fact that many people have freely joined the Society to receive from it benefits which are good, and it would be wrong for Parliament, by legislation, to discriminate against the employment of those people.

Mr. J. Silverman

The hon. Member has missed the point of the objection. It is not a question of voluntarily joining the Society, but of allowing a person voluntarily to join the Society and to join a trade union at the same time.

Mr. Carr

If the hon. Member will be patient, I shall come to that a little later.

There is another matter to which I must draw the attention of the House and that is that this Instruction relates not only to direct employees of the Corporation engaged in the work for which the Bill provides, but might apply to employees of all the Corporation's potential contractors and sub-contractors on the same work. That is a point which we must take into account.

Even if some hon. Members opposite think it right by law to impose such conditions, the proposal should surely be one of general validity and not one for sporadic application as Private Bills happen to come before the House.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

The hon. Member is now raising a very substantial issue. Will he declare the attitude of the Government on this general issue? Will he continue to condone this discrimination against trade unionism or not?

Mr. Carr

Again, if the hon. Member will be patient, I will come to that.

I have in any case already made clear in my opening remarks that our position on this Motion is in no way based on objection to trade unionism, and we uphold implicitly the right of people to join trade unions and not to suffer discrimination in any way if they do so.

As the hon. Member for Leeds, West said, this is certainly not a matter for sporadic application. He suggested that the matter might be more satisfactorily dealt with by some amendment of the fair wages resolution. He referred to the debate in 1946, when the fair wages resolution was passed by the House. As he pointed out, it is interesting to note that this most important question was dealt with by way of a Resolution of this House and not by legislation. That strengthens my case, that legislation is not a satisfactory way of dealing with these problems.

The undertaking given by the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) on that occasion, when he was Minister of Labour, was in the following terms: …if the organisations, individually or jointly, can raise any question with regard to the operation in relation to the point referred to, I promise it will have immediate consideration and that it will be referred to the tribunal mentioned so that a decision can be taken at once."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th October, 1946; Vol. 427, c. 716.] I have not had the time or the opportunity to look into the matter in detail, but I am provisionally advised that there have been no objections of the kind mentioned by the right hon. Member for Southwark when he gave that undertaking. I will certainly go back to my Department at the first opportunity and inquire into the matter in order to make sure that what I am saying is correct.

Mr. C. Pannell

I rise only to make it clear to the hon. Member that, following the debate upon the Blyth Bill, I discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs), whom I felt would not mind me asking, and he said that he had written to the Ministry on this point. Presumably the hon. Gentleman's Department had this question under consideration. We shall look forward with interest to the result of the hon. Gentleman's investigations. The question, briefly, is whether there have been any complaints of the kind referred to. If the hon. Gentleman will read the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) on that occasion he will understand the point that I am making.

Mr. Carr

I readily give an undertaking to look into the point, and especially into the correspondence which the right hon. Member for Southwark has had with the Ministry of Labour in connection with this matter.

I have given certain reasons why I must advise the House to reject the Motion. My main case in giving that advice, however, rests upon the fact that in any case it is not right to deal with matters of this kind by legislation. These are matters affecting relations between employers and workers and, in our opinion, are best left to negotiation and settlement between the parties concerned. If there is any difficulty, if there is something wrong, if this rule is outmoded, the matter should be dealt with by way of ordinary negotiations between representatives of employers and employees, according to the normal practice in our system of industrial relations.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House accept that principle. I would ask hon. Members who support this Moion to think very carefully before pressing the House to depart from that well-established principle. It is a most important one, and I have always felt that it was a tradition and a practice which was adhered to most strongly by trade unionists themselves.

Mr. Willey

I fully accept that point. Will not the hon. Gentleman accept the view that there is an obligation to prevent discriminatory practices which militate against good relations in industry. Does not he agree that good relations themselves depend upon the observance and enforcement of certain rules, and that we have to prevent any discriminatory practices which are directed solely against trade unionists?

Mr. Carr

I am sure that these matters are best dealt with by way of negotiation between the two sides of industry, according to our traditional practice.

It would be an understatement to say that we have other problems just as important as this in the industrial field today, and these matters, as is right, should be left to the two sides of industry to negotiate and solve between themselves. For example, mention has been made, both inside and outside the House, about various restrictive labour practices, and on a previous occasion when this matter was debated, the hon. Member for Reading likened the practice of this society to a closed shop in reverse. We have always felt that these matters are not matters for legislation by Parliament. That is a doctrine to which the House would be well advised to stick—and any Government which departed from it would be stepping on to a very slippery slope.

Mr. J. Silverman

The hon. Member has said that it is desirable that these matters should be settled by negotiation between the two sides of industry. We agree with him about that—but who are the two sides? If one side is so discriminating as to ensure that the other side does not operate in an organised fashion, who will represent the other side—the workers—in any negotiation with the employers?

Mr. Carr

The hon. Member must remember that the fair wages resolution in its present form, as approved by the House in 1946—including the resistance to the Amendment moved at that time by the hon. Member for Reading—was approved by the National Joint Advisory Council, which includes Trades Union Congress representatives as well as those of employers both in private and nationalised industry. The then Minister gave an undertaking that if there were any objections they would be considered and referred to the appropriate tribunal, which, speaking from memory, I believe is the Industrial Court, beyond which there is the Minister himself. I have already given an undertaking to make sure that I am right in saying that there have been no such complaints, and also to look into the matter thoroughly.

Once again, I would ask the House to say that it would not be right to depart from the present doctrine of not dealing with matters of this kind by legislation. The principle which we want to uphold is that people should have freedom to belong to trade unions. That right is already firmly established in the case of Croydon Corporation, and no legislation is required to ensure it in respect of any work carried out under the auspices of that authority. The Corporation already includes a fair wages clause in all its contracts. The terms of the clause include a provision that all those employed on work for the Corporation shall be free to be members of trade unions. The Motion is clearly unnecessary in this case.

I hope that I have been able to satisfy the House, first, that there is no need for legislation of this kind in relation to the Bill, because the practice of the Croydon Corporation is already satisfactory; and, secondly, that, as a matter of principle, legislation is not the right way to deal with these problems. They should be left to be dealt with by way of our normal industrial relations practice, by the two sides of industry. I hope that the House will accept my advice not to press this proposed Instruction, but will agree to its withdrawal.

7.50 p.m.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

The most interesting thing that has emerged from this debate is that the Parliamentary Secretary, in his person and in the way he has treated his brief, has underlined the point I wanted to make in a short contribution to the discussion. The hon. Gentleman has had to be told about these things. He has given us the impression that he is a little bewildered about the fuss raised on this side and says that we should all be reasonable—that these things do not happen in these days.

Indeed, he talked of this Society which has been mentioned as if it were purely a benefit society, and seemed completely to have missed the point that what he calls absence of complaints may be due to the fact that one does not get the job as foreman or member of the staff unless one does join the Society. It is not a question of complaining afterwards that someone is discriminating against one or requiring one to take a certain course of action. One knows that one is not eligible for promotion, and that is absolutely inadmissible in modern times.

Those of us who support the Motion feel, perhaps, a little guilty at the possibility of the Croydon Corporation being embarrassed by the holding up of its Bill during this discussion, but I am very glad to learn from the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris), and from the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), that we could not have hit upon a better opportunity, or upon a more co-operative public body—a borough whose record fully entitled it to be the first to adopt the suggestion contained in this Motion. It will cost the Corporation nothing. It does not upset the Bill at all.

The hon. Member for Croydon, North-West, used the word "ventilating" as though we had just used the occasion to get yet another debate in the House. There is nothing to ventilate on the subject any longer. It is thirty-three years since this matter was first ventilated by the Trades Union Congress, on the initiative of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. Let us remember that over large parts of the country—certainly in the rural districts in which I lived—there were before the war remnants of the most ruthless discrimination against trade unionists. It is fair to say that at the beginning of the war, with the dispersal of industry all over the country and the new type of organisation for war production a lot of those old, bitter prejudices were broken down.

This is the interesting point. It is seventeen years since there were active fights between the two sides about whether or not, in principle, to recognise trade unions; seventeen years since there was a general acceptance in the country of the importance of trade unions. There is no one working in industry today younger than the Parliamentary Secretary whose whole experience has not been based on the fact that the trade unions are accepted as a perfectly normal, constructive, creative part of our industrial structure.

This condition is an out-of-date prejudice. This is just as much nonsense as is discrimination against Roman Catholics. It is no answer to say that it is not often practised—it ought not to be practised at all. Since the Corporation of Croydon, on the evidence and testimonial of my hon. Friends, has the reputation for having initiated a fair wages clause so good that it came to be adopted for general use by this House as a model of the sort of clause to be used, surely the Croydon Corporation, above all, should be glad to seize this opportunity of including in this Bill a form of words which will be an example to others who follow on, and which will ultimately be embodied in the sort of resolution which the Parliamentary Secretary foresaw in his speech.

It would be a very unfortunate thing indeed if hon. Members tonight were to vote against this Motion and to rouse again those old arguments and prejudices and petty tyrannies which have been forgotten for half a lifetime.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I understand this is the first time that the hon. Gentleman has appeared at the Box to defend his Department and to make known its views. He is also the hon. Member for Mitcham. We have just heard about what happened thirty-three years ago—and thirty-three years ago I was the hon. Member for Mitcham. As one of the hon. Gentleman's predecessors, I should like to offer him my personal congratula tions on the way he has handled this very difficult matter tonight, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides will join me in that.

I am not sure that the Parliamentary Secretary did not prove that what my hon. Friends desire is not already contained in the Croydon Corporation's fair wages clause which the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris) and the Parliamentary Secretary quoted. As I understand it, the Croydon Corporation's fair wages clause provides that a person shall not be required to be either a member or a non-member of a trade union. Very well—the people in this Society are required not to be members of trade unions. That is one of the conditions of eligibility for membership of the Society.

I should have thought—and I put this to my hon Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin)—that it would be rather dangerous to cast doubt on the efficacy of that provision in the Croydon fair wages clause by putting into the Bill other words merely to support what is the general practice and is a condition in every contract into which the Croydon Corporation enters. I hope that I have stated the position clearly.

I know the Croydon Corporation very well, and I have heard a lot of testimonials given to it tonight. I have a good many friends on that Corporation. My only complaint is that so many of them are people whom I would not dare to call "Friends" if they were in the House; they would not be "Friends"—they would be "Gentlemen." That is my chief grievance against the Croydon Corporation, with many of whose members I work in very close association on the governing body of the Whitgift Schools in Croydon. If such a body has gone as far as both the Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West have told us, I should have thought it might be a rather serious thing with this particular Bill—when we are assured that the issue is covered in the way which my hon. Friends desire—to insist on putting these words in.

Mr. Parkin

But if my right hon. Friend will forgive me, it surely is not covered in any way. What we are dealing with here is a state of things by which, in certain firms, promotions to the position of foremen and staff are open only to people who are not trade unionists. It has nothing to do with the fair wages clause. The thing is that we are dealing with firms whose structure is such that, in these modern days, the lowest ranks of supervisory staff are those who are not trade unionists. Whereas the leaders claim to be in favour of trade unionism and to negotiate with trade unionists, the very men who do the supervising at the lowest level are selected because they are not trade unionists.

Mr. Ede

I am afraid that I have not made quite clear to my hon. Friend the point that I have already raised. Let us assume that a firm, whose foremen belong to the Society, get the contract. From what my hon. Friend says, it will not be able to have a foreman on the job because, if he is on the job, it will not be complying with the terms of the contract, namely, that every man employed must be free and must be a trade unionist or a non-trade unionist according to his own desires.

Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)

The dilemma is this. If what my right hon. Friend says is true, it means that members of this organisation working for such firms would not be employed on work covered by the fair wages clause. In fact, many of these men are employed by firms which are doing work subject at all times to the fair wages clause.

Mr. Ede

That raises another question. I would have thought from my knowledge of it that the Croydon Corporation would be competent to discharge the duty which it places on itself of seeing that a contract is carried out in accordance with those terms.

Fair wages clauses are frequently very difficult to enforce, and I speak as one who has been chairman of a great local authority and who has on occasion personally taken steps, in connection with the officers of the authority, to make quite certain that the fair wages clause shall be enforced, and, even where we have found that on the mere payment of wages it has not been enforced, to see that where the default has been discovered payment is made to the men who have not been paid according to the local fair wages clause. That is entirely a matter for the local authority and its officers, but there is no doubt from what we have been told—and it has not been challenged, as far as I know—that what my hon. Friends desire is included in every contract for the sort of work that is contemplated under this Bill.

Were this a corporation that had not such a clause in its contracts, it might not be unwise to insert these words as an Instruction to the Committee. But where we have a corporation whose fair wages clause covers the issue, it would be very unwise to make it appear that that is not a sufficient safeguard, by putting words into the Bill or by giving an Instruction which would make it appear that we do not trust the fair wages clause.

Mr. Parkin

If my right hon. Friend is asking the Parliamentary Secretary for a ruling now and if the Parliamentary Secretary is going to say that he agrees with the interpretation that my right hon. Friend is developing, that will help us a great deal, because if we get a ministerial statement to that effect it will kill the offending clause in the constitution of the Foreman and Staffs Mutual Benefit Society better than anything we could have done.

Mr. Carr

I think I am right in saying that any matters which might arise on the application of the fair wages Resolution there is proper machinery laid down, which is, I believe, by way of the Industrial Court. It would be improper for me or for any Minister on the spur of the moment to try to give rulings in these matters. Because these doubts and difficulties were foreseen when we adopted the fair wages Resolution in this House, a proper procedure was laid down for testing any such points which might arise. As I understand the matter, it was in connection with the resolution of any of these complaints and the tests to be applied that the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) gave his undertaking to which the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) referred in his speech earlier.

Perhaps before I resume my seat I may thank the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for the kind remarks he made, and say that his memory in Mitcham is still very fresh and very warm, regardless of any party considerations whatever.

Mr. Ede

I do not think we can expect the Minister to go beyond that. The Minister, at the end of his speech, quoted the words which were the same as the words quoted by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris). I suggest that what the Minister has just said is perfectly fair to everybody. This corporation, through the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West, claims that the point is already covered in the contract. I am not going to argue with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. J. Silverman) because he is a lawyer—

Mr. Parkin

Surely that is the sort of man my right hon. Friend wants.

Mr. Ede

It is news to me that my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) has any love for lawyers.

I suggest that no matter what may be the case with any other corporation—I am not speaking generally of corporation Bills—the proper thing to do with this one is not to give the Instruction here lest it should weaken the validity of the Croydon clause. No doubt as a result of this discussion, a very close watch will be made by the Croydon Corporation and by the unions that may be interested in making quite sure that the clause is watertight.

If there is cause for complaint on the ground that some man who is not free of his own volition to belong or not to belong to a trade union is employed, let the union aggrieved take the matter to the industrial court or other proper tribunal if the Croydon Corporation does not say, "We regard this as a breach of our fair wages clause." That seems to me to be the wisest thing to do in the circumstances of this Bill.

8.7 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I join with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service on his maiden speech at the Box. He spoke with lucidity and charm, but, if I may say so, his speech was unsatisfactory. It was unsatisfactory because, although he avoided saying anything that might be stigmatised as being reactionary, he equally carefully avoided saying anything which might be welcomed as being progressive. He carefully avoided deprecating a practice which I am sure, as he becomes experienced in his office, he will realise is a practice which is becoming increasingly intolerable.

Until I saw the hon. Gentleman tonight, I had hoped that we were equally united against discriminatory practices directed solely against trade unions. But what has emerged from the course of the debate—and for which we are particularly obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell)—is a point of some difficulty. The Parliamentary Secretary has endeavoured to deal with it, but what impressed me most and raised a doubt in my mind was the hon. Gentleman's reference to the steps being taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs).

While I have no reason to change my own view about this matter, I think that in the circumstances, if these discussions are proceeding, it might be as well to find out how far they are going—this is important, in spite of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said about legislation—and whether there may be an opportunity for dealing with this matter generally rather than in this particular instance. Reference has been made to the steps being taken. I hope that these will develop satisfactorily and that a better formula will be found to resolve this difficulty.

8.10 p.m.

Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)

I will not detain the House for more than a minute because the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has already expressed, with much greater knowledge and eloquence than I could command, the points which I had intended to make. I can imagine circumstances in which a suggestion of this nature might be justifiable in a Private Bill, but I strongly deprecate the suggestion that it would be appropriate in the case of Croydon. I can also imagine circumstances in which more general legislation might be a matter for consideration, but I can only repeat that it would be very unfortunate indeed if this Motion were to be passed by the House in connection with the Croydon Corporation Bill.

Mr. J. Silverman

I have listened with great respect to what has been said by the hon. Members for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris) and Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) and by the Parliamentary Secretary and I want again to emphasise that this Instruction is in no sense intended as a reflection upon Croydon Corporation or as an obstruction to the passage of the Bill.

Mr. F. Harris

On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to make a second speech?

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

It is not in order for him to speak a second time, but I called him because I thought he was rising to take a certain course and to explain his reasons for doing so.

Mr. Silverman

I was about to explain my reasons. I am not at all satisfied with what the Parliamentary Secretary has said. I entirely agree with my hon. Friends that this is a matter for general application and general legislation. Indeed, I insist that it is a matter for legislation and not one which can be dealt with by negotiation. We have here a situation in which one man has a bludgeon and another man has not, and then we tell them to negotiate.

The Deputy-Chairman

I am loath to intervene in the hon. Member's speech, but he has no right to make a second speech.

Mr. Silverman

I am not making a second speech. I am about to take a certain course in a very few moments, and I am explaining why I shall take it.

Whilst I am completely dissatisfied with what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, we have at any rate heard that certain talks are proceeding between my right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) and the present Minister. We can only hope that these will be fruitful. In the light of this information and after consultation with my colleagues, I propose to ask leave to withdraw this Motion, but I want to make it quite clear that that is without prejudice to our right to raise the matter again on some future Bill if, in the meantime, the results are unsatisfactory. This is a matter of general consideration upon which something ought to be done, and I hope that the Ministry of Labour will do it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 68. Clause 68 reads: (1) Any agreement entered into between the Corporation and the parent or guardian of a pupil at any secondary school may make provision for the payment by such parent or guardian to the Corporation of any sum not exceeding ten pounds in the event of the pupil ceasing without reasonable cause to attend such school before the date fixed by such agreement for the pupil to cease such attendance and the Corporation shall be entitled without proof of any actual damage incurred by reason of such pupil ceasing to attend such school to recover from such parent or guardian any sum not exceeding the sum specified in the agreement which the court may think fit to award in all the circumstances of the case. This Clause is a relic of times past, when it was possible for a local education authority or the proprietor of a private school to claim damages if a child were withdrawn in contravention of an agreement entered into when the child joined the school. The Education Act of 1944 laid an obligation on local education authorities to provide secondary school education for children of suitable age, aptitude and ability, and I suggest that that obligation does away entirely with this kind of damage which could be complained against in the courts before 1944. Indeed, that argument is sustained by the words in the Clause "without proof of any actual damage."

Although the Clause applies to secondary schools and there is no specific mention in the Education Act, 1944, of grammar schools, in effect it means entry to a grammar school. This is not a simple problem and not one which can be satisfactorily dealt with in this way. No evidence has been adduced that such a provision is working satisfactorily in those areas where corporations or local education authorities have obtained Private Acts incorporating such a Clause.

Indeed, the problem of early leaving from secondary schools was referred by the then Minister of Education at the end of 1952 to the Central Advisory Council for Education which, after studying the matter for two years, produced a report entitled "Early Leaving" which went into the matter exhaustively. It is a fact, I think, that although this problem was acute in the immediate post-war years, it has declined by 50 per cent. in the last five or six years. The chief recommendation of the Central Advisory Council to the Minister was that they did not recommend the general adoption of school-life agreements. It has been said on behalf of the Minister in the House that he accepts that view. I would stress that Parliament has never been asked for these powers in the House by any Minister of the Crown.

Paragraph 36 of the Report says that about 20 per cent. of the children entering a grammar school in a particular year "will do pretty badly." Those are the words of the Central Advisory Council. If this 20 per cent.—one-in-five—do pretty badly, we ought to expect a problem of early leavers, but what we find in practice, according to the last Report issued by the Ministry of Education, is that the percentage of early leavers is 13.5 per cent., only two-thirds of the number we might expect to leave before completing the school course.

I do not want to make a long speech, although I feel rather strongly about this matter. As I have told the House before, I was a district education officer and had to enforce such agreements before the war. I have the painful recognition of some of my constituents who have been denied grammar school education, because their parents were not prepared to sign an agreement of this kind. I ask the Croydon Corporation to consider this matter very carefully indeed.

What does the Corporation propose to do for the 20 per cent. of children who go into the schools each year and will do "pretty badly"? We cannot tell when a child enters a school what he or she will be like in two, three, or four years' time from an educational standpoint. I do not want to labour the point, but one of the justifications for the Clause is said to be that there is a waste of public money through children leaving school before completing the school course. I would suggest there is also a considerable waste of public money in forcing children to stay at school for five years when demonstrably they are doing "pretty badly."

The Clause says that the penalty would be paid to the Corporation without proof of any actual damage… and goes on to add: any sum…which the court may think fit to award.… I ask the hon. Members for Croydon whether they are sure that every case of that kind would go to a court. In my experience before the war only one case in twenty years went to the county court. Penalties were imposed by school governors who sat in private and there was no question of going to any court.

The Central Advisory Council speaks of the doubtful validity of a Clause of this kind. As I mentioned in a recent debate, the same point was made by an eminent counsel before a Committee of this House. In these circumstances, I beg the House to support me in asking the hon. Members for Croydon, on behalf of their Corporation, to accept this Instruction.

8.24 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

I beg to second the Motion.

The last time we debated this issue of school life agreements I think the House was much moved and influenced by a speech from one of my hon. Friends who described how his own child, only by exceedingly good fortune, managed to secure a place at a grammar school and he feared at one time that she would not get such a place. He spoke of the natural indignation he felt in later years against parents who allowed their children to take up grammar school places and then threw those places away by taking the children away too early. When that history was related to us I think we all felt a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) will agree that he and I and, I think, everyone who has considered the matter regards it as a very great wrong which parents do their children if they take them away before the school course is completed. As I have said, the House was much moved—moved to a point at which it did not really consider the actual question at issue. We are not deciding now whether it is wrong to take away a child prematurely from a grammar school. We are agreed on that, but we are considering whether this particular device of a school life agreement is a useful instrument in combating the evil of early leaving. I want to put very soberly to the House the suggestion that there is no evidence to suggest that it is.

There is some evidence to suggest that the device is positively harmful and that the weight of informed opinion is solidly against it. From his administrative experience my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne has found this Clause to be positively harmful in operation. By being required to sign a paper with a monetary penalty, the exceptionally prudent or timid might be frightened from sending their children to grammar schools. Some of the families affected are those where the parents have had no educational advantages at all, and, perhaps, have only struggled into literacy. Now their children show great promise and there is the possibility of them going to grammar schools. Then the parents are faced with something they have probably dreaded all their lives, having to sign a piece of paper which may let them in for a penalty. To parents who have not had much educational advantage themselves that signing is a real deterrent. It may be that prudent and timid parents have a child who might have made a valuable member of a grammar school.

The Clause may be effective for ill and will certainly be ineffective for good. Against what kind of parents is it aimed? It is against the parent who cheerfully takes advantage of the fact that the child has a grammar school place, sends the child there and, the moment it appears that the child could earn a little more outside and is above the immediate statutory leaving age, takes the child away. That kind of parent would sign any undertaking in the cheerful knowledge that nowadays the child would earn sufficient to make the penalty derisory.

A Clause of this kind draws a distinction between a secondary grammar and a secondary modern school. In debates earlier today it was said, either by the Minister of Education or the Parliamentary Secretary, that it was important to keep up the status of the modern school. I do not think anyone would dispute that 75 per cent. of our fellow countrymen are educated in those schools. It is already a problem to see that they have proper status and respect.

If it is to be laid down that there is one kind of secondary school in relation to which parents have to sign a special piece of paper and there is talk of a £10 penalty, but that no one really cares whether the child is kept at a second- dary modern school after the age of 15 it is not a good thing for the secondary modern school and is working against the idea of parity of esteem. Perhaps the most serious consideration of all is the danger that local authorities will suppose that once they include a Clause like this in a Bill they solve the problem of early leaving, whereas, in fact, they do nothing in that direction at all.

There is plenty of evidence on which the usefulness of Clauses of this kind can be tested. There are, I think—my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne knows better than I—about two dozen authorities throughout the country who have Clauses like this in operation. They are authorities of different types, in different parts of the country and of different social background. One can compare their record of early leaving with the record of early leaving of authorities which do not have these Clauses. To the best of my knowledge, the result of such a comparison is that there is not the slightest correlation between a Clause of this kind and whether an authority has early leaving or not. It is quite impossible to adduce any evidence to suggest that Clauses of this kind help to cope with the problem of early leaving; and as I have said, they have disadvantages.

An authority might be tempted into the mistaken belief that by inserting a Clause of this kind it is doing something socially useful when, in fact, it is not doing any such thing. It may be blinded by that to the fact that there are constructive and useful things that it can do to help deal with the problem of early leaving. I do not propose to weary the House by repeating what they are, for they are all discussed in the excellent Report on Early Leaving, to which my hon. Friend referred.

I do not believe that any authority could come forward and say, "To the best of our resources and ability, we have taken all the constructive measures described in the Early Leaving Report and they have still failed. Therefore, we must have a penalty." No authority takes up that position. To any authority which is concerned about early leaving, I would say that I sympathise and share its concern, but I would ask it to solve the problem by constructive and modern remedies and not by a remedy that is purely negative in conception and which the evidence shows to be ineffective at the best and, at the worst, positively harmful in action.

We were told earlier today by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that a similar Report has been prepared on the problem of early leaving in Scotland. When he explained this to hon. Members, the Committee re-echoed with cries of praise for the excellent Report on Early Leaving that had been prepared in England. What is the sense of the Ministry of Education appointing a high-powered Committee, composed of people with wide practical and philosophic knowledge of education, asking them to consider a problem and then taking an early opportunity to go flat in the face of one of their own recommendations? It really is not a sensible way to behave.

I earnestly join the plea of my hon. Friend that the Members for Croydon, recognising that we are as concerned as they to deal with the problem of early leaving, will decide that they will be making a more constructive approach to this policy and will be able to go from this House with more good will if they decide not to use this outmoded and ineffective weapon for the purpose they have in hand.

8.33 p.m.

Mr. F. Harris

I assure the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), who moved the Motion for an Instruction to leave out Clause 68, and the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), who seconded, that the Croydon authority will give the most careful consideration to everything that is said here tonight. I leave the general issue, on which we all know the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne holds sincere views, to be answered by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, confining myself to comment specifically on Croydon's attitude to this matter.

We have all studied carefully the speeches made during the debate on the Gloucestershire County Council Bill, when this matter was fully discussed. I presume that the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne feels so strongly about the question that he will continue to raise the issue on any similar Bill which incorporates this kind of Clause. We in Croydon seem to be a little unfortunate in that we are at the receiving end of such attacks. Nevertheless, I assure the hon. Member that we fully appreciate his great sincerity on this issue.

By Clause 68, the Croydon Corporation merely wants to make provision in any agreement with the parent or guardian of a pupil at a secondary school for payment by such person of a sum not exceeding ten pounds in the event of the pupil ceasing without reasonable cause"— I stress, "without reasonable cause"— to attend…school before the… end of the agreed period. The Clause makes it clear that the Corporation may recover such sum as the court may think reasonable, not exceeding an amount specified in the agreement.

The Corporation's present practice in this matter requires parents to sign an agreement which contains the following clause: The guardian will not withdraw nor take steps with a view to withdrawing the pupil from the school before the end of the final year of the school course without consent of the Education Committee, and in the event of any breach of this condition the guardian will pay to the Corporation the sum of £5. That is the clause in operation at the moment.

The number of pupils attending the secondary schools in the borough who are over the statutory school-leaving age of 15, and who have not yet completed their five-year course, is approximately 614 in academic schools and approximately 152 in technical schools. Over the past four years the average number of withdrawals of such pupils before the completion of their five-year course is about 45 academic students and 11 technical students.

In 50 per cent. of those cases the Corporation felt that there was very good reason for the withdrawal, a reason which, in itself, would have satisfied the Corporation at any time. In cases where no satisfactory reason is given, however, the parent is requested to pay this monetary penalty of £5 under the existing arrangements. In some cases it is paid automatically by the parent or guardian concerned. At the present time, the request for the money is not pressed so far as the taking of legal proceedings.

The cost of the withdrawal of such a pupil is difficult for the Corporation to estimate, but the Corporation immediately loses the £6 per annum Treasury grant because of the withdrawal. There has also to be considered the waste of grammar school places when courses are not completed. Obviously, the withdrawal is a deliberate breach of the arrangement by the parent or guardian concerned, and such a breach could obviously have a cumulative, snowball effect which would tend to undermine the organisation of the school, especially of its fifth-year form.

Unfortunately, some parents are prepared to sign this existing school agreement which applies in Croydon without intending seriously to keep to it, if it should not be convenient to them to do so. The Croydon Corporation feels that in such cases the penalty is a deterrent to a breach of the agreement.

I do not want to take up more of the time of the House. I trust that the House will support Croydon Corporation in this matter. I can assure hon. Members that the Corporation takes a very reasonable attitude in this matter. I trust the House will refuse the suggestion to delete Clause 68, which the local education committee and education officials think would be an advantageous Clause.

Mr. Hayman

Will the hon. Gentleman explain the wording of the Clause? It says: …the Corporation shall be entitled without proof of any actual damage incurred by reason of such pupil ceasing to attend such school to recover from such parent or guardian any sum not exceeding the sum specified in the agreement which the court may think fit to award in all the circumstances of the case. I think that the hon. Member has already said that Croydon Corporation, under its existing powers, has not gone to court in a single case.

Mr. Harris

The hon. Member is quite right. Nevertheless, although the Corporation has not thought it necessary to take legal proceedings hitherto, it feels that the Clause would act as a sufficient deterrent and would assist it in seeing its task through. I hope that hon. Members will support the Corporation.

8.40 p.m.

Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)

I agree with the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris) in supporting the desire of Croydon Corporation to have this Clause in the Bill. I was for many years chairman of an education committee in a large industrial town, and I fail to understand the argument of my hon. Friends who oppose the clause. At present, children are compelled by law to attend school until they are fifteen and a penalty is imposed for breaking that law. We on this side of the House have argued for years in favour of making the compulsory school-leaving age sixteen when the economic circumstances of the country allow that to be done. In the light of that policy, therefore, I cannot understand the argument against the Clause.

Mr. Hayman

Surely my hon. Friend will do me the justice of crediting me with supporting my party's policy in favour of raising the school-leaving age to sixteen.

Mr. Blyton

If we are agreed that we should raise the school-leaving age to sixteen but that owing to economic circumstances that cannot be achieved at present, surely we should be in favour of getting part of the way towards that objective in this instance. When children sit for the eleven-plus examination a list is prepared of the marks obtained and of the available number of places. The parents of the children who are high on the list are interviewed. Places in the secondary school are awarded to those children in accordance with the marks obtained and on the undertaking given by the parents that the children will remain at school until they are sixteen years of age.

If a parent said that a child would be leaving school at fifteen, the education committee would not allocate that place to that child. The place would go to the child next on the list of marks whose parents were prepared to give the undertaking. I do not see why a parent who had given this undertaking when the child was eleven years of age should not be required to keep the, undertaking at a time when local authorities are restricted by lack of accommodation in their efforts to extend their educational facilities.

There is a commercial school in my constituency where children are taught typing, shorthand and English. Children are allowed to sit the entrance examination at thirteen, but it is a condition that the parents must undertake to keep those children at school until they are sixteen. A child who has failed to obtain a scholarship to a secondary school at eleven-plus has a second chance of a scholarship to this school at thirteen. If we allowed parents to disregard their obligation to keep the children in school until they are sixteen many of our schools would be in a state of chaos.

In some cases parents, regardless of the welfare and educational future of their child, try to send it out to work in order to increase the total income of the home. By putting this Clause in the Bill, Croydon is protecting that child against its parents who, by sending it into industry, may cause it to lose another year of secondary education.

In the technical world today the most important thing for a boy or girl to have is the School Leaving Certificate. That now seems to be the passport to many jobs in the industrial and technical world. So we must take care that our children shall have that passport, and, if necessary, they must be protected from being put into industry twelve months too soon. Therefore, we must ensure that no child is robbed of a place in a secondary school simply because its parents will not carry out the contract into which they have entered. Because of the reasons I have given, and because of the inconsistent attitude of my hon. Friend about the school-leaving age, I support the Clause.

8.46 p.m

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

My intervention will be of the briefest nature because, as the House knows, this issue was fully discussed on 26th January in the debate on the Gloucestershire County Council Bill [Lords]. I might also add that more than half of the Manchester Ship Canal lies in my constituency. I said earlier, and I repeat it tonight, that it must be our policy to encourage the appropriate pupils to stay on beyond school-leaving age. The central Advisory Council to the Ministry recently produced a report showing what measures they consider necessary to discourage early leaving. That much is agreed between all sides of the House.

From that report it is clear that the position has improved since before the war and has been steadily improving in each recent year. However, this did not deter the Central Advisory Council from putting forward many positive suggestions for further improvements. They are eighteen in number and they are listed in pages 61 to 63 of the report. In part, they provide the answer to the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton). Many of these are for implementation by local authorities, by employers and by trade unions, but nothing is as important—and I repeat now what I said earlier—as the change in the climate of opinion on the part of some parents who are at present reluctant to allow their children to stay on at school. In the earlier debate the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) advocated a further measure which would involve legislation, and which, in any case, would not provide the complete solution of our problem.

My right hon. Friend regards the suggestions in that report, together with any help he may be able to give, as the right way of tackling the problem of early leaving. The general view of my right hon. Friend is that premature leaving is better dealt with by persuasion than by a clause of this nature. Nevertheless, it is a fact—as has been brought to the notice of this House—that some local authorities who feel that it will take time to implement these measures or who have special local difficulties, have been able to take this power of introducing school-life agreements during recent years. There are now twenty-three or twenty-four such clauses in operation.

For that reason I do not think I was inconsistent when I said in the debate on the Gloucestershire County Council Bill that my right hon. Friend was not enthusiastic about these agreements, although he appreciates that there may be local conditions which provide an exception to this general rule. On that occasion the House decided to allow further consideration of this point on the Committee stage and hon. Members must decide for themselves if the Croydon Bill now before the House deserves similar consideration. In coming to their decision, it may be of some interest for them to know that the percentage of children going to grammar schools in Croydon, according to the figures of the Ministry, is 20.5 per cent., which is more or less the national average.

It is even more important to note, again according to the figures of the Ministry, that the proportion of children leaving grammar schools in Croydon below the age of sixteen is much lower than the average for England as a whole. In fact, it seems—and this may be for the reason advanced by my hon. Friend—that the parents of Croydon are not prone to take their children away from school prematurely. Therefore, I do not intend to advise the House either to support or to oppose the Clause. It is for hon. Members to decide against the general background which I have described whether my hon. Friend has made his case.

Perhaps I might take this opportunity to add that other local authorities which are considering taking this power might like to note my right hon. Friend's lack of enthusiasm for it, and might be advised to consider if there is special need before they subject such a clause to the displeasure of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman). I would add that perhaps the hon. Member will for his part, discriminate in his opposition to any clauses which may be forthcoming in the future.

8.51 p.m.

Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

I am sorry to have to oppose my two hon. Friends, but I believe that Clause 68 should remain in the Bill. It is worded in a reasonable way, and the House would be ill-advised to remove it.

When a child goes to a grammar school, its parent signs a declaration that he will keep the child there until it reaches the age of 16. It seems to me that the parent who takes his child away before it reaches 16 years of age is committing a breach of contract. If the authority wished to bring an action against the parent, I take it that it would have to prove damage to itself. Obviously, it cannot do that, because the damage is to the child. I am sorry to say that a great many children still need protecting from their parents.

It is often argued against this kind of penalty clause that there may be family circumstances which make it almost imperative that the child should be allowed to leave school and become another breadwinner in the family. The clause is flexible enough to cater for that kind of child. It uses the words: …the pupil ceasing without reasonable cause to attend… I take it that family circumstances of the, sort I have mentioned would be regarded by the court as reasonable cause for the child leaving school before the age of 16.

Mr. Ede

Does my hon. Friend think that the authority ought to give an adequate maintenance grant in such a case?

Mr. Short

I was about to refer to that matter.

In most areas adequate maintenance grants, and grants for books and all sorts of other things, are given, and parents receive family allowances. The Gracious Speech promised a Bill to extend family allowances to cover children remaining at school. We have not yet seen that legislation, but I hope that we shall do so in the near future.

The child who goes to a grammar school is highly privileged. Only 20 per cent. of our children manage to secure places, and in some areas the percentage is less than 12. In an earlier debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) referred to a secondary modern school in Middlesex and spoke about highly intelligent children in that school's A stream who would almost certainly have been able to profit by grammar school education, but there were not enough places in the grammar schools for them, or for some other reason, they found themselves in secondary modern schools. It is, therefore, very important that children who go to grammar schools should stay for the full course.

Mr. Hayman

Will my hon. Friend comment on the statement by the Central Advisory Council for Education that one in five of the children who enter grammar schools does pretty badly?

Mr. Ede

More than one in five Members of Parliament would do pretty badly.

Mr. Short

If what my hon. Friend says is the case, it is a shocking indictment of the method of selection, and it is high time we got rid of the whole show and had common secondary schools to which all our children could go. However, that is another point, and I shall not argue that case now.

Most of the children who leave school at the age of 15 do so because they have been offered a high wage in industry or elsewhere, sometimes in a dead-end occupation. Parents fall for the lure of the high wages, and the children are withdrawn from school. I would point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Cambourne (Mr. Hayman)—I know that he is as concerned about this as I am, but we regard it from different viewpoints—that the grammar school course is not completed by the time the child reaches 15, it is a minimum course of five years, and is arranged on that basis. A child withdrawn three-quarters of the way through the course has not completed the course, and that is the important thing to remember.

These children are selected, and the local authorities go to tremendous lengths nowadays to take great care in their selection. They have psychologists, psychiatrists, selection boards and goodness knows what in order to make sure that they do the job of selection properly. The children are selected so that they will profit by the full grammar school course, and, in view of that fact, I think the local authorities should be given the power sought in this Bill, to use it if it is required. I think that Clause 68 is drawn in such a flexible and sensible way that the House would be very ill-advised to delete it from the Bill.

Question put and negatived.