HC Deb 02 June 1960 vol 624 cc1611-3
11. Mr. W. Griffiths

asked the Minister of Education whether his attention has been directed to the fact that at a school, details of which have been supplied to him, security officers have interviewed the headmaster and brought pressure to bear upon him to ascertain from his sixth form pupils the nature of their political allegiances; and what guidance he will give to principals of schools to ensure that, when any approaches of this kind are made, both principals and pupils are aware of the proper procedure for dealing with them.

Sir D. Eccles

I looked into this as soon as I heard of it. The headmaster of the school assured me that the statements made in the first part of the Question are entirely without foundation and that no inquiries have been made about boys still in the school. No guidance from me is, therefore, required.

Mr. Griffiths

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that answer is rather worse than I had expected? I am informed that this matter arose in the following way: there is no doubt that the headmaster interrogated one class of the lower sixth—containing about 27 boys—about their political affiliations, telling them, for instance, that they should not wear the badge of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and warning them of the danger of holding left-wing views. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that subsequently, when parents and boys protested to the headmaster, he told them that one of the reasons he had asked them about their political affiliations was because he had been asked to do so by M.I.5?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have supporting evidence for this which I would be glad to show him privately? Finally, is it not, in any case, highly improper that headmasters should ask questions of this kind, whether they are prompted to do so by the police or anybody else?

Sir D. Eccles

What advice on the facts of life a headmaster gives to his pupils is entirely within the province of the headmaster.[HoN. MEMBERS: "Nonsense".] A headmaster is entitled to say to his pupils that in his opinion, this or that is not good for them in the rest of their lives. He is entitled to do that, and the Minister has no control over that whatever—and I am sure that the House would not wish me to have any control. As to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, if he will send me the information, I will, of course, look into it.

Mr. Greenwood

Is the Minister aware that this must be the first time that a Minister of Education has enunciated the principle that it is perfectly proper for a headmaster to seek to interfere with the political view of his pupils? Will the right hon. Gentleman look into the complaint made by my hon. Friend and seek to ensure that the Prime Minister will represent to the security authorities that, if any steps of this kind have been taken, any information obtained in this way will immediately be expunged from the records?

Sir D. Eccles

The headmaster informed me—as, I think, I said in my original answer—that no inquiries were made about boys in the school. [Interruption.] It is common practice when a young man seeks an appointment with the Atomic Energy Authority for inquiries to be made into his past political affiliations.

Mr. Grimond

When the Minister says that no inquiries have been made about boys still in the school, will he make it clear that this is not to be taken as casting any imputation on boys who have just left the school? Is that his intention, or were the inquiries of a more normal sort?

Sir D. Eccles

It does not cast any aspersion on anybody who has left the school, but it is routine practice when an appointment to a security job is being made to inquire into the antecedents of the person.

Mr. Peart

Is not the Minister aware that no headmaster in any school should interfere with the political views or liberties of a student in the school, either inside it or outside? Will he give an assurance that the Ministry of Education would disapprove of any interference with that fundamental liberty by police, M.I.5, or any other organisation?

Sir D. Eccles

Of course, I give an assurance as to interference with liberty, but in education some advice is given about different things the whole time. That, under our system, is left to the headmaster.

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that we cannot debate this now.

Mr. Griffiths

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I beg to give notice that in view of this very unsatisfactory answer from the Minister on the threat to the liberty of the subject, I shall take steps to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

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