HC Deb 08 May 1963 vol 677 cc628-40
Mr. James Bennett (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

I beg to move, in line 2, to leave out "a teacher".

I have no intention of speaking at length, which may relieve the minds of some hon. Members. I believe that some of my hon. Friends disagree with me on the point which I am about to raise and which is simple; the Bill confers a very special privilege on teachers as a profession. Nothing that I say should be taken as reflecting on the ability of teachers to serve on a local authority. Many teachers serve on such authorities, but when they do I would rather that they were not appointed but elected. If the argument is that teachers, by virtue of their profession, can bring expert knowledge to education, there is no reason why we should stop at teachers or discuss such an important principle in isolation as we are doing now. Once this is accepted there is no reason why other employees of a local authority, with expert knowledge in other spheres of industry, should not be appointed to the authority.

To my mind, this opens up avenues which we should be well advised to consider very carefully. I appreciate the desirability of having teachers, with the knowledge which they possess, on these bodies, but I am not convinced that it is necessary for them to be appointed to education committees in order that we should receive that benefit. We have the directors and deputy directors and the joint consultative machinery which normally operates whereby the expert knowledge which we hope to gain by appointing teachers to education committees is already available.

If we introduce this principle, no one knows where it will stop. No doubt we shall he told that this principle operates in England. I have never accepted that what is good for England is equally good for Scotland. I have had some knowledge of local government for a long period, and I have never seen any reason why some members should be appointed to committees rather than having to seek election as ordinary members have to do.

2.30 a.m.

We must also remember that if we appoint teachers to serve on education committees they will be adjudicating on issues, financial and otherwise, without being accountable to the electors. That is something that we should frown upon. I am sorry that an issue such as this must be debated on this Clause; I would rather see it discussed as a matter of principle, when we could debate the advisability of any employee of a local authority being allowed to serve on that local authority. But on this Clause we are forced to consider this matter in splendid isolation.

I foresee that if this goes through, recognising that it may not be obligatory for local authorities, the door will be open and pressures will be brought to bear to nominate teachers for service on education committees. We know that their activities will not be confined to the parent committee, but that they will also serve on sub-committees, and it is clear that teachers should not serve on local authority sub-committees dealing with employment or salaries. Nevertheless, the fact they serve on the parent body gives them a full right to take part in a discussion of all decisions relative to any aspect of education. Although this point would appear to be a simple issue it involves a vital principle.

It is within my knowledge, as a member of a local authority, that occasions have arisen in the past where members have been debarred from sitting on specific committees because they had a particular interest in the industry concerned. No one quarrelled with such a decision, because it was recognised that it was a safeguard But apparently teachers are to be excluded from that provision, and will be allowed to serve only on committees in which they have a vested or specific interest. I find it difficult to reconcile these two points of view.

In the passing of the Clause we are opening the door wide, not to abuses but to tremendous pressures from other employees that they should also enjoy the privilege that we are proposing to extend to teachers. I suggest that if we give teachers this privilege we shall find it very difficult to refuse such pressures. I counsel the noble Lady to think carefully on this issue. It is not as simple as it appears.

I do not dispute the fact that teachers have a contribution to make in education, but this is not the best way in which to allow them to make it. The dangers inherent in this proposal far outweigh any benefit that might accrue from it.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

I hope that the fears of my hon. Friend that the proposals concerning the representation of teachers on education committees will not work out well will prove to be unfounded. The proposal in the Bill does not go so far as I would like, but it is the product of a working party which contained a number of local education authority representatives, as well as of the teachers, and the central Government, and it was an agreed proposal that it should be made discretionary. It was agreed by those diverse people that it should prove to be a useful experiment and I feel that this would be a useful method of advance and should help the teachers in their search for self-esteem.

This is not under discussion tonight, but the more modest proposal in the Bill does enjoy the support of the local authority sphere. There are Scottish local authorities which have been making interesting experiments in terms of teacher representation. For example, in Sutherland, there have been teachers sitting as assessors on education committees and I am told that none of my hon. Friend's fears are well founded. In Aberdeenshire, machinery has been set up for teacher representation, and it has worked well. I do not agree with my hon. Friends in what they have said about wider forms of representation on local authorities.

As I said during the Committee stage of the Bill, one ought to make membership of local authorities, and not merely of education committees, generally available to employees of local authorities and then apply the normal interest rule to which my hon. Friend refers. If there is a rule about builders, surely it ought to apply to bus drivers.

Mr. J. Bennett

I must keep myself to the Bill. I was referring to the wider representation of employees of local authorities on their own authorities.

Mr. Thomson

The reason for doing this in the field of education is really the same reason as that whereby doctors are widely represented in the administration of the National Health Service, but the effect of this teacher representation can be greatly overstated. It is merely a contribution, as I have said, towards creating a greater sense of self-respect within the teaching profession itself, a realisation of the fact that they have a contribution to make and if this is good enough for the medical profession in terms of the National Health Service, I think that it should be available for teachers and for local authority employees.

Mr. Willis

I think that this Clause is quite out of place in the Bill. A Clause dealing with representation on local authorities, and the changing of the representation on those authorities, ought to be in a Bill dealing with constitutional matters and the representation of the people, and not tucked away in a Bill which presumes to deal with education.

We have listened to an argument about children in special schools. It was then pointed out that the Bill was not the appropriate place for them. The Bill, in my submission, is not appropriate for this clause, but it is in the Bill and we seek, in view of the fact that it is in, to extend it from the teacher to all those employed by an education authority. That is what the Amendment seeks to do.

I cannot see any reason why a teacher should have any more right to sit on an education committee than, say, janitors, or the staff of education committee offices. These people have contributions to make. Janitors know a lot about the running of schools, the facilities and conveniences of schools, and probably could give the architects and the committee a lot of advice in the preparation of plans for schools.

If one profession thinks that it has a special contribution to make, I do not see why another one should not do so. Why should not office staffs be represented? They could say quite a lot about the organisation of the work of education committees. I can think of quite a lot of different people who would have useful contributions to make, and the arguments for one set of employees are the same for others.

Why should teachers have special priority? It might be argued—and I can understand the argument—that they can contribute a great deal from the point of view of the administration of schools, the content of the curricula, and so on, and give advice on the general set-up. I have no doubt that their advice would be valuable to the committee. But, after all, there are already people co-opted on to education committees who are re-regarded as educationists with special experience and knowledge of education. Therefore, it seems to me that if the knowledge is already there, there is no special case for teachers being on these committees.

I would agree that there is probably a good case for the examination of the whole of our local government procedure in relation to elections and the people who are qualified to stand for election, so that a number of people who are prevented from standing for election might do so. I would prefer that to be done, rather than do what is proposed to be done here and extend the principle of co-option to people because, for some reason, we think that they have special knowledge. I am not in favour of that. In fact, I once introduced into the House a Bill designed to take the voting powers from people serving on local authorities because they had not been elected.

There is a big case for having the teachers almost out of this category of being disqualified for election. I am not sure, but that seems to me to be the better approach rather than this. However, if we are to have this approach, cannot see why it must be confined to one particular group of persons. If the case is strong enough for doing it in this way, it is strong enough to be applied to more than this group. I support the Amendment.

2.45 a.m.

Mr. Dalyell

There are many widely differing views on this subject among people connected with education in Scotland, but there would be unanimity on one point, if nothing else, that they would be horrified to see not a single Scottish Tory back bench Member present during our debate on a subject which has been discussed and discussed again throughout Scotland.

Mr. Lawson

My hon. Friend will be aware that this fact will be widely reported in the Press. The Scottish Press always takes great notice of the absence of hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member will be aware also that, whether it be reported in the Press or not, the Question before the House is whether we leave out the words "a teacher".

Mr. Dalyell

I should have preferred the debate to be on broader lines.

As regards the Amendment itself, it is right that the Clause should be permissive chiefly because there is no neces- sity today, so it seems, to have uniformity throughout all local authorities. What may be highly desirable, for instance, in the situation referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) might appear quite different to other authorities.

I am not bunking the question, which is a tricky one. Which teachers will do the representation? There is a curious physical problem here, which, perhaps, those who wish it to be mandatory have not faced. How are teachers to be able to attend meetings once or, sometimes, twice a week? Is it not a fact that the only people who can have the necessary amount of time off, without massive interruption of their work, are headmasters? Are we sure that teachers want to be represented on education committes only by headmasters? This is a problem which must be faced. It is not that one wishes to draw a firm conclusion. There is room for flexibility. Perhaps we should watch the example of what happens in those places which take advantage of the Clause and see what happens.

It is important that there should he a permissive power and we should not decide at on no account shall teachers be represented in this way. It is important because energies must be released, and the mere feeling of participating in decisions is of value to teachers. If we have a profession which, rightly or wrongly, suspects that it has little say m what is going on, we may have a rather discontented profession. So far as the Clause tends to release the energies of teachers and give them a feeling that they are participating in decisions which are germane to their profession, I welcome it.

Mr. Bence

When I first had material on this subject sent to me, I had some sympathy with the objective of the Scot-fish teachers to be represented on education committees, but on reading it, and thinking about it a great deal, I became less enthusiastic. My understanding may be wrong, but I believe that one of the many teachers employed by a local authority would be appointed to the committee, presumably by agreement between the E.I.S. and the authority concerned, As the E.I.S. is a professional body, very much like a trade union, the committee would have a teachers' representative. I understand that representatives of the E.I.S. serve on consultative committees in Scottish education authorities, so that the teachers play their part in those authorities, which is one channel through which they can play the part suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell).

Mr. G. M. Thomson

It was never the suggestion that representatives of the teachers' own trade union should sit on these education committees. With his own trade union experience, my hon. Friend will be familiar with the distinction which I wish to make. What was suggested was that teachers should be appointed as independent members of the education committee, being full members of that committee subject to any restrictions of interest such as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Bridgeton (Mr. J.Bennett) mentioned. This would have nothing to do with normal methods of trade union consultation.

Mr. Bence

This deals with the points about which I am concerned. Out of the hundreds in a local authority, one teacher is to be appointed. By whom? Is he to be appointed by the local authority, the town clerk, the county clerk, or the education committee? With whom would the person making the appointment consult about the choice of teacher? It might be the local branch of the E.I.S. This seems to be the difficulty. I immediately thought of the street lighting committee and the E.T.U. suggesting that one of its electricians should sit on that committee. That may be grossly exaggerated, but that is the sort of difficulty which I have found.

I have always felt that school teachers and doctors and nurses and many others under whose influence we put our children have a part to play administratively, but we should not clutter up our committees—"clutter" is a bad word and I should not have used it. We do not want to fill our democratically elected institutions with non-elected members. We already have a small number of non-elected members of otherwise democratic bodies in Scotland and we do not want more. Once the door to that sort of thing is opened, all sorts of dangers can arise.

I suppose that I should retain an open mind and do a little more study, but from what I have heard tonight I feel inclined to support the Amendment. However, if as a result of the many contributions which are yet to come—unfortunately, mostly from the side of the House but still absolutely first class—I am convinced that the Amendment is undesirable, I might support my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson). My mind is not yet made up.

Lady Tweedsmuir

I hope that I shall be able to help the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) to make up his mind. I have listened with considerable interest to the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Bridgeton (Mr. Bennett) and I understand why he dislikes the proposals in Clause 4 and the reasons why he now proposes that it should be widened instead of, as I think he suggested in the Standing Committee, deleted from the Bill. The hon. Gentleman was supported by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) and we had exactly the opposite view expressed by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson), who would have liked the Clause to have gone much further.

I think that the points were very well put by the hon. Member for Dundee, East, because he reminded us that the proposals in the Bill are the result of the report of a working party which considered specifically the appointment of teachers to education committees. The working party considered all the views, which were just as varied as those expressed tonight, and it found the views pretty evenly balanced.

The working party thought very carefully about the wisdom of allowing any relaxation of the principle that a local authority employee should not be a member of the council under which he serves or of any of its committees. which was the point worrying the hon. Member for Bridgeton. But this was not the working party's only consideration, and its principal conclusion is very clear and specific, and it was unanimous.

It came to the view that it should be made possible for serving teachers to be included by an education authority, entirely at the discretion of that authority and it went on to say: This would meet the claims advanced in favour of change which would be of sufficiently limited a nature to avoid any undermining of the essential principles of local government. I hope that this view, taken by a working party which consisted of people of very different views, will persuade the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East that to allow this discretion is not really such a terrible thing to do. We do not suggest that the Clause should apply to employees other than teachers, because this report was confined entirely to the question of teachers. I think that to allow this at the discretion of a local authority is to do something which might improve relations between local authorities and the teaching professions, and any measure, however small, which will help in this way will be of benefit, and I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Dalyell

I did not say that it was a terrible thing to do. I argued in favour of it being permissive.

Mr. Ross

I am at a disadvantage, because I was a teacher. I know a little about them, and about local government, too. I have never understood why the teachers place such importance on this aspect of raising their status.

Whatever anyone else says, this is a further breach of the principle of local democracy which is based on elections, and these took place yesterday. If we had had a proposal to take away from teachers, or from anyone else, the right to stand for election in the areas in which they taught, or if the Government had come forward with the proposal that instead of setting up a working party to go narrowly into the point that had been raised by the teachers they would set up one to go into the whole question of local authority employees, I think that the noble Lady would have had far more support from hon. Members on both sides of the House.

3.0 a.m.

Teachers are not the only people who have been concerned about this, and the teachers' concern has not been related to their right to be elected and to sit on the county council. They have sought privilege. They sought the easy way. They have sought appointment and co-option. But firemen, certainly in Scotland, have been ruled as ineligible for election in a burgh, despite the fact that the employing authority is a joint fire authority. It would have been only fair to all the people affected if we had had a much wider inquiry.

If we have an inquiry into the position of teachers and we select sixteen people to carry it out, I am not very surprised at the result when 12 of the 16 happen to be or to have been teachers. This applies even to the local authority people. One sees after the names of many of them the magic letters F.E.I.S., which do not mean, as the wee boy said, "French, English, Irish and Scotch", but fellowship of the Educational Institute of Scotland. A person who has that honorary degree might tend to be appreciative of the claims of the Educational Institute of Scotland. One can also count the assessors, the people from St. Andrew's House who had been members of the inspectorate, I expect, and before that had been teachers, and one would find that the committee was not the kind of committee which I should have thought would have led people to believe that it was a group of men and women who had no bias one way or another.

I think that the Government have given way to these demands by the teachers only because it was the one easiest to satisfy and it cost the least and did not mean very much. I am sorry about this, because I think that it will cause some embarrassment to the Government and the authorities, for other people will want exactly the same privilege. If the teachers have something special to offer to an education authority, have not the police to their relevant authority or lamp-lighters to a department of a local authority? Any local authority which wants special help from teachers out of their special knowledge can easily obtain it by establishing a liaison committee. It has been done. I cannot understand my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) falling for this proposal.

Mr. J. Bennett

It is the practice that when a member of a local authority has a pecuniary interest he must declare it and then he does not vote. Can my hon. Friend say whether teachers appointed to an education committee or sub-committee will have the full voting rights enjoyed by other members despite the fact that they have vested interest in the operations of the committee? Does my hon. Friend consider that this is implicit in the Clause?

Mr. Ross

This is one of the embarrassments of this position. They may be members of teachers' staffing committees, and so on. There are many committees and other bodies, the members of which could give valuable advice.

It must be remembered that only a limited number of people will be appointed. A number of local authority committees are composed of only 10 members. Others have just over 30. This was revealed in a report published recently. I cannot recall the name of it. It is not late enough in the morning for my memory to be sufficiently jogged. I may remember it by 4 a.m. or 5 a.m.

It will mean that from the whole profession in a teaching area only one person will be selected. To be the right person he must have central specialised knowledge, administrative capacity and be endowed with all sorts of other qualities if he is adequately to represent his area. One representative might be endowed with special qualities of administration and local government, but I can assure hon. Members that most of these sort of teachers are already standing for local council elections and will, therefore, be barred from membership. It would be interesting to know whether the education interests of Scotland are prepared to allow teachers who have been elected to councils to be appointed.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

I do not think that there is any question of the Educational Institute of Scotland nominating these people. They will be appointed by education committees in the same way as representatives of churches and other people interested in education are appointed. There will, no doubt, be consultations with the Institute.

Mr. Ross

I merely said that I would like to know whether the Institute would want co-option on to the education authority of teachers of those who have already been elected to local councils. For example, we have at least two teachers in Kilmarnock—enlightened, Labour men—who, because of their public spirit, have been elected to the Labour council. Both are headmasters. Under the present rules they can serve and while one of them may be the treasurer of the town he cannot be on the authority. It would be interesting to know whether the Institute has any views on the co-option of people who have been elected. It may be that not only in the teaching profession, but in other aspects of local administration people could give good service; and the Amendment would help them to do so. There is every reason, if we go this far, to give it to other members of education authorities.

The logic of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Bridgeton (Mr. Bennett) was impeccable and made the position clear. I do not see how anyone can fault it. I am only surprised that the noble Lady did not accept it. I am sure that she knows the defects of her case about the working party. She hopes saying what she did about the brilliant contributions from teachers in Aberdeenshire that they will forget the pledges she did not redeem about superannuation in 1954.

I hope that the Government have listened carefully to what has been said and that they realise that in this disqualification lies the real cause of all the trouble, and that more and more people are no longer eligible to stand—and that we are desperately short of people of public mind and spirit who would serve the community well if they could. The sooner we get down to seeing how far we can eliminate the present disqualifications in many categories, the better we shall serve the community, raising the status not only of the teaching profession but of local government and administration as well. In view of the discussion, I am sure that my hon. Friend will not want to put his Amendment to the test.

Mr. J. Bennett

I would be dishonest if I said I was happy with this Clause. I am not in the least happy about it. I want to see good and workable legislation. But in view of the fact that this is permissive, and having great respect for the intelligence of the membership of local authorities, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill read the Third time and passed

Forward to