HC Deb 08 June 1964 vol 696 cc105-20
Sir E. Boyle

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 7 to leave out from "the" to "'to" in line 8 and to insert "Secretary of State".

The effect of this Amendment is to substitute "Secretary of State for Education and Science", for" the Minister of Education "and" the Department of Education and Science "for" the Ministry of Education." There are 41 identical Amendments to the rest of the Bill and, on a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I suggest that it might be for the convenience of the House if these 41 were taken en bloc with this Amendment.

Mr. Speaker

That is a very sensible suggestion, but it is a little difficult to manage under our rules. The present position is that the right hon. Gentleman is moving Amendment No. 1. If it be the wish of the House I would allow that and the other Amendments leaving out the word "Minister" and inserting the words "Secretary of State" to be discussed together.

Mr. Willey

As we are covering a very large number of Amendments, there are one or two questions I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman. We are not very enthusiastic about these Amendments. We were impressed by the right hon. Gentleman's interest in libraries, his promotion of the Bill and his conduct in discussions in Standing Committee, and we shall be sorry to see him lose personal responsibility now.

Why were these Amendments not moved in Standing Committee? The right hon. Gentleman's title was translated to the new title while we were in Committee and I should have thought we could have dealt with the Amendments then. I mention this because the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State was not present at our meetings of the Standing Committee. If we are to make him responsible for libraries we ought to have had him with us in Committee. I take the view in matters of government that there should be personal responsibility. There is far too much obscuring of personal responsibility nowadays.

The present Government are remarkably lucky in that Ministers have escaped accepting full responsibility for their Departments. If it was known that we were to have these Amendments, the Secretary of State himself should have made conventional arrangements. He attended once or twice here today, but I think that was because he is interested in the subsequent business. If the Secretary of State is to have these responsibilities, he should have accepted them during the course of the discussion of the Bill in Committee.

Other points I raise are of constitutional importance and follow the point I have made about personal responsibility. We know quite well that if we insert these words the phrase will be subject to the Interpretation Clause and, therefore, "Secretary of State" can mean any Secretary of State.

Mr. Ede

There is only one Secretary of State.

Mr. Willey

My right hon. Friend the Member for south Shields (Mr. Ede) has expressed this in the correct form; there is only one Secretary of State.

It is time we made it clear that we are here concerned with an individual responsibility for government. It is unrealistic now to make this collective responsibility as though no individual Minister were presently accountable to the House. I hope that the Government will consider designating the particular Minister and not seek to avoid this personal designation of responsibility by referring to "Secretary of State" and relying on the Interpretation Clause.

The third point is of considerable importance. We do not know—I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman knows—up to the passage of the Bill, if the right hon. Gentleman remains in office, who will be personally responsible for libraries. The House of Commons does not know what the division of responsibility within the enormous Department of Education and Science will be. This is a constitutional matter which is of concern to us. The division of responsibility is something in which we are interested and about which we ought to be informed. If we are concerned with the machinery of government, we do not want this again to be obscured by the Secretary of State being an overlord and having overall responsibility, if we know quite well that by the constitution of the Department and by the fact that in this case we have a Minister who is a Cabinet Minister there is within the Department particular personal Ministerial responsibility.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can deal with these three points: first, explain why the Standing Committee could not have had the attendance of the Secretary of State if it is his responsibility for libraries; secondly, whether the time has not come when we ought to reconsider this general Ministerial responsibility designated by a Secretary of State; and, thirdly, when we get a development such as the new Department of Education and Science, whether the House of Commons should not have some say in and some knowledge of the personal Ministerial responsibility carried within that Department.

When we had the debate on the Ministerial responsibility within the Department of Education and Science, we had two conflicting accounts of how the Ministerial responsibility was deployed. Both the Secretary of State and the right hon. Gentleman spoke in that debate, but they did not speak with the same voice; there was a difference of emphasis by them. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can tell us before we depart from this Amendment what the position within the Department will be and which of the proliferation of Ministers there will be the Minister who will have within his personal responsibility the public libraries, museums and art galleries.

Mr. Ede

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has raised a most important constitutional point. The theory of the constitution is that there is one Secretary of State. In my day, he was liable to be split into seven or eight separate persons. I do not know how many Secretaries of State there are now, but one of the anomalies is that no matter how many there are—[An HON. MEMBER: "Too many."]—they may each act for any other person in the Government who is called a Secretary of State if that term meets Ministerial convenience.

It is not a good thing to have too many people who can be called in in emergencies, whether real or imaginary, to act and to give a decision. I hope that this practice of creating Secretaries of State and giving individual Ministers who have not previously held the title, the title of Secretary of State will be more sparingly used in the future than it has been during the past few months. If the Minister in charge of education and science is made a Secretary of State and the Home Secretary does not happen to be available when it is essential to reach a decision with regard to a recommendation of the Royal prerogative, the Minister of Education and Science could, if it suited the convenience of the Government, be asked to consider that matter.

There are, of course, other things besides recommendations with regard to the prerogative which only a Secretary of State can deal with. If the law says that a Secretary of State is required for a certain purpose, not even the Prime Minister can take the action which has been assigned to the Secretary of State. That, I believe, is sound constitutional doctrine and it makes it desirable that the number of people who shall be armed with these powers shall not be extended beyond the number that is absolutely necessary.

I think that for education and science it would be better if we had a Minister of Education for education and science rather than we should have a Secretary of State acting as the Minister for Education and Science and capable of acting when required for any other Secretary of State who may be too busy to give attention to the matter that is generally understood to be referred to him. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman will contest the constitutional position as I have mentioned it. I protest against the multiplication of people with the title of Secretary of State who can act for any other person enjoying the same description.

I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will be able to discharge all the offices of a Secretary of Slate, but we should be assured, as far as we can be, that where definite assignments appear to have been made they should exist and that only in the most exceptional circumstances should a Secretary of State understood to be for one Department act in respect of any other Department. It is a pity that so large a constitutional issue as this should be raised, as it were, more or less by accident so far as the House is concerned, on this Bill.

If I am given sufficient assurances that the Secretary of State for Education and Science will have a very limited power to action in other Departments, I shall be satisfied, but I think that it is a great pity that the matter has not been more clearly thought out so that we could have a pronouncement, if possible by the Prime Minister, on what is a most important constitutional issue.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

Perhaps a Scottish Member may intervene in the debate.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has raised a very interesting matter, because it is possible that the change of title from Minister to Secretary of State for Education and Science means that the Secretary of State for Scotland may become responsible for the English and Welsh Library systems.

Mr. Ede

He becomes responsible for foreign policy if the Foreign Secretary is not available.

Mr. Willis

He has that responsibility at the moment, and I understand that he has had it for some time. But we are to add to the duties of Secretary of State for Scotland those, if necessary, of becoming responsible for the public libraries and museums in England and Wales. This is a strange line for English Members to take, and it is a bit of an imposition on Scotland. The main complaint in Scotland is that the Secretary of Slate for Scotland has already far too much to do—so much that he has not time to attend to his multifarious duties with that assiduity which we expect of him. Now we are to add to his duties.

This ought to be questioned closely. It is not for me to speak on behalf of English Members; it is up to English Members to do so, and if they are prepared to have the Secretary of State responsible for their libraries and public museums, I will not quarrel with them from that point of view. But as a Scottish Member it seems to me to be rather unfair that these additional duties are placed upon a Minister who already has far too much to do and who is unable to accept any additional duties of this character in respect of England and Wales.

Has the Minister discussed this matter with the Secretary of State for Scotland? What discussions have taken place with him? Am I to understand that discussions have taken place? If so, am I to understand that the Secretary of State has expressed his willingness to accept this responsibility? Or have no discussions taken place? If not, we ought to know why. We ought to have an answer to these questions, one way or the other.

As a Scottish Member, I should like to know what is the reaction of the Secretary of State for Scotland to this proposal. Has he welcomed it? Is he prepared to accept the extra duties which might fall on him as a result of the Amendment? The Minister should give us some information about his relations with the Secretary of State for Scotland and the amount of consultation which took place when these Amendments were being framed.

Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)

It is a strange anomaly for the Secretary of State for Scotland to come into the Bill, since the Bill does not apply to Scotland. But I am worried about the nature of these Amendments, which simply refer to the "Secretary of State". We have many Secretaries of State, but there is nothing to indicate that it means the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

The Bill as it stands, explains what the Minister means in the interpretation Clause— 'the Minister' means the Minister of Education". By one of the Amendments which we are discussing, that is to be deleted, and there is no interpretation as to which Secretary of State it is. The Committee should not be asked to pass such imprecise wording. I wonder what the Minister has to say about it.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Colne Valley)

I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), and I agree entirely with what they said. On this very important constitutional issue we must fix the responsibility. Hitherto, in following the progress of the Bill, perhaps in my innocence, I have thought that I could fairly place responsibility on the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Education and Science. This is a matter of great importance to me, because my attendance this afternoon is primarily in connection with Clause 6 on which I, and I am sure some of my hon. Friends, have some important questions to put to the Minister.

But we want to know whether we are wasting our time in putting those questions to him or whether we should put them to his right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council and Secretary of State for Education and Science. Will he comment on this? If he answer in the affirmative, we may ask why his right hon. Friend was not in attendance during the Committee stage and why we have not seem him until the last hour or two on Report.

Mr. Blackburn

My hon. Friend is assuming that "Secretary of State" means Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Mr. Duffy

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me that I am assuming that that is what the title means. Is it an omnibus title, or does it mean what I have assumed it to mean?

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I have been intrigued by the changes made in the Bill. I read the Bill when it first came out and saw that it had nothing to do with Scotland. This was clear. It stated in the long title that its purpose was to Place public library service provided by local authorities in England and Wales under the superintendence of the Minister of Education". In the main body of the Bill we had references to the Minister and in Clause 22 that was defined— 'the Minister' means Minister for Education". Then one day we had an announcement of a complete overhaul in relation to education and higher education. May I remind my hon. Friends who seem to think that Scotland could not be affected by the Bill that those changes affected Scotland? The Minister of Education was wiped out, and we had the Lord President of the Council becoming Secretary of State for Education and Science. His duties included higher education and the universities—not just the universities in England and Wales but also the universities in Scotland. They included also the training colleges for teachers, among them the training colleges in Scotland.

As far as I can understand from the explanations given, the development of the public library service in England and Wales will be put under the Secretary of State. We have talked glibly of a Secretary of State, but the correct constitutional position has been laid down by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). The one Secretary of State we tend to talk about is the Secretary of State for Scotland, but that is only one form of this multi-bodied being, the Secretary of State.

Let us forget the formula, the fiction and the shadows, and get down to the substance. The Departmental responsibility for public libraries now passes to the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is Lord President of the Council and Secretary of State for Education and Science. I question whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman has time to do this. If he accepts further responsibility, how will Scotland fare, because he has assumed responsibilities for Scottish universities? Although the right hon. and learned Gentleman has no connection with Scottish schools, he will be responsible for the training of teachers in Scotland. Only a Scots Etonian could have thought that one up.

I appreciate the difficulties of the Minister of State. When he addressed the National Union of Students, he confessed his difficulties because none of the Ministers in charge of education had gone through the State university system. The same applies to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the Prime Minister, who has organised all this. I cannot be surprised if the Prime Minister has glibly passed on this new job to the Secretary of State for Education and Science and assumed that nothing matters.

Who is to do it? We were told that there were to be two Departments. One was to be for higher education. The other was to be for the recognised public education system, for which the present nominated Minister is in another place. The more one delves into this the more unsatisfactory it becomes. The man who is titular head will not be doing it, because he has far too much to do.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should now appoint a Minister for Libraries? If the Labour Party wins the General Election, which is very doubtful, will it appoint a Minister for Libraries? We now have a Secretary of State, a Minister of State and an Under-Secretary in this House. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we are inadequately staffed with Ministers to deal with the Bill when it becomes an Act and with the public library service?

Mr. Ross

I would dearly love to give the hon. Gentleman a potted version of our policy on education, higher education and those other aspects of local Government services which fringe upon that subject. However, if I did so, I am sure that I should be ruled out of order. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, under the Labour Government, the Minister in charge of public education will be in this House and not in another place. I can also assure the hon. Gentleman that the titular head will not have all the multifarious duties of sport, science, pig disease and the rest of it that are the responsibility of the present Secretary of State. It will not be a case of "Hogg in the fog" with us. It will be someone who is seen to be responsible. He will be responsible in this House and will have definite and specified duties.

My concern is with the whole mechanics of the change. I am also concerned about the ability of the Minister designated in this vague way to carry out all his duties. The whole thing is getting out of hand. We shall probably get assurances from a Minister who himself will have no responsibility for this. Is not the Minister in charge of the Bill to be in charge of higher education? Is it the Department for which he is answering, or is he answering for another less senior Minister who is coming under the senior Minister—the Secretary of State—who himself has taken no part in the proceedings on the Bill? This is highly unsatisfactory, both from the point of view of the way the House is being treated and from the point of view of the House legislating in this way.

7.15 p.m.

I want the right hon. Gentleman to say whether this is the most specific way in which it could be written into the Bill. Does "Secretary of State" mean the Secretary of State presently responsible for Education and Science, Sport, and all the rest of it? If that is so, is the Minister of State satisfied that this is the right way to do it? It may well be that some of my hon. Friends who hitherto thought that it might be right to transfer this function to the Minister of Education may now think that it would be better to leave it to the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

All these matters arise from the changes which have been made in the duties which now rest on the Secretary of State who is being nominated, or who we understand is being nominated, although the term embraces him rather than specifies him. If it is to be the Secretary of State for Education and Science, can we have an assurance that his other duties will be properly carried out? In our part of the world, we are very concerned about this interference with Scottish universities. We are appalled at the suggestion that a man who has no responsibility for Scottish education should assume responsibility for the training of teachers. We are even more worried when he is given responsibilities additionally for the development of the public library service in England and Wales. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) made special reference to Scotland. It may well be that an Amendment will be tabled in another place to give the same Minister responsibility—

Mr. Blackburn

All I said was that it would be an anomaly if "Secretary of State" meant the Secretary of State for Scotland, since Clause 23 provides that the Act shall not extend to Scotland.

Mr. Ross

As we have this assumption of powers over education in Scotland by this newly nominated Minister, I should not be at all surprised if this Government amended Clause 23 so as to give the Secretary of State for Education and Science the power to deal with the development of the library service in Scotland. That provision might even be made in a Private Member's Bill, which would cause concern to my hon. Friend.

I sincerely hope that these fears will be allayed by the speech we shall eventually hear from the Minister who I presume is in charge of the Bill. Hitherto, he has taken an interest in the Bill. We should have liked to have seen the person who is to be in charge of the service showing the same interest.

Sir E. Boyle

May I reply to one or two points which have been raised. I do this also in the interests of enabling the hon. Member for the Colne Valley (Mr. Duffy) and the House to get on to the discussion of Clause 6 at a reasonable hour, because the hon. Member rightly regards that Clause as very important.

Debates between the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and myself usually take place at a very different hour. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has learned that there are Secretaries of State beyond the Secretary of State for Scotland, though, as I shall show the hon. Gentleman, he is not quite so well informed about the present set-up in the Department of Education.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) asked me three specific questions. He asked, first, why the Government had not tabled these Amendments in Committee. The answer is that we had three sittings of the Committee in March. We were in the middle of dealing with Clause 6 in Committee when the ministerial changeover took place, and it seemed more appropriate to make all the changes on Report rather than to make some changes in Committee to Clauses subsequent to Clause 6 and then have to make a new batch of changes on Report.

The hon. Gentleman asked me, secondly, why the Secretary of State for Education and Science is not specified. The answer is that, although there are a number of Secretaries of State, each presiding over separate Departments, the office of Secretary of State is, in constitutional theory, one single office. I can assure the House that this does not mean that the Secretary of State for Scotland proposes to add public libraries in England and Wales to his other responsibilities.

Mr. Willis

In which case should not that be written into the Bill? Should it not be defined that "Secretary of State" means the Secretary of State for Education and Science?

Sir E. Boyle

The hon. Member will find that, by common form, the Secretary of State for a separate Department is not specified by name.

Mr. Willis

He is in Scottish legislation.

Sir E. Boyle

In accordance with normal practice, he is not in this Bill.

Mr. Willey

What are the precedents for the exceptions? In which cases is the Secretary of State specifically designated?

Sir E. Boyle

I cannot answer that without notice. I am assured that not specifying my right hon. and learned Friend is in accordance with normal practice.

The third question was what arrangements we will be making in regard to ministerial arrangements. I can inform the hon. Member for Kilmarnock that we have one Department and not two. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is alone responsible as a departmental Minister to this House. It is quite a common practice, during the passage of a Bill, for someone who is not actually the Minister in charge of the Department to be in charge of the Bill.

From the point of view of commonsense it would have seemed rather odd if, in the middle of Clause 6, someone were to have taken the place of the Minister who had been in charge of the Bill. There is no intention of making this division of responsibility too formal though it is true—and it has been announced—that, in general, I shall myself be associated primarily with the unit of the Department dealing With higher education, while my noble Friend Lord Newton will be associated primarily with schools and the further education system. There is no formal distribution of responsibility here and I am ready to say, for there is no need to make any mystery about this, that it is my right hon. and learned Friend's intention, for the remainder of this Parliament at any rate, on matters to do with the public library service and the Bill we are discussing, that these will be handled, from the day-to-day Parliamentary point of view or in correspondence with hon. Members, by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary and myself.

Amendment agreed to.

Sir E. Boyle

I beg to move, in page 31, line 8, to leave out "development" and to insert "improvement".

This Amendment is designed to meet a point made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and others at a very early stage in our proceedings, before any question arose of changes in Ministerial responsibility. The whole purpose of the Bill is that the public library service should be made better. The Amendment specifies "improvement" for "development" and requires the Secretary of State to promote the improvement of the service. It will take a skilful linguistic philosopher to devote a complete lecture to the difference between "development" and "improvement", but I am prepared to agree that "improvement" is the better of the two.

Mr. Willey

I rise merely to thank the right hon. Gentleman, to remind him that this was the first Amendment which my hon. Friends and I moved to the Bill and to agree that it represents an improvement. If the right hon. Gentleman wished to discuss the advantages of "improvement" as against "development" I would be prepared to discuss it with him. We pointed out in Committee that "development" was a neutral connotation nowadays. I am satisfied that the word "improvement" is an improvement and I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for inserting it.

Mr. K. Lewis

This is really a distinction without a difference, if I may say so. I do not know whether he thought it was an improvement or a development when my right hon. Friend found that the present Lord President of the Council and Secretary of State for Education and Science was created overlord over my right hon. Friend's Department. I should have thought that it was a development; and I think that that upsets nobody.

It would seem that one can always improve something when one says that one will develop it. I am doubtful whether it follows that one can develop something when one says one will improve it. My view is that the library service generally is a good one, although it may need expansion and improvement in certain cases, with some development. I doubt whether there are many councils which run library services which would not be regarded as at least quite good and, I repeat, this is really a distinction without a difference.

Mr. Boyden

It is possible to develop bad habits and usually the phrase used for curing them is "improve the situation". It is generally thought that by doing that one will cure the bad habit in question. There may be some substance in that.

I welcome the Amendment, which was initiated by my hon. Friends. Although, in Committee, we spent a considerable time discussing public libraries and their improvement, we did not in anything like the same detail go into Chapter II of the Working Party's Report, which specfied what the improvements should be. We discussed one or two of those improvements, but we did not discuss the whole range. It will be remembered that the Working Party gave six ways in which the service could be improved. We have discussed two but have omitted four and I hope that hon. Members will not think me tedious if I quote some words from the Report and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. They will be in order only if they would be covered by the word "improvement" as opposed to the word "development".

Mr. Boyden

I should have thought that it would be in order, when discussing the development of the Bill, along with its improvement, to remember that a considerable number of hon. Members opposite were opposed to the provision of cheap public fiction. They regarded it as something that should not be in the library service.

One of the recommendations of the Working Party specifically referred to this point. Its Report stated, for example: The public library service can help to ensure that the heavy public and private expenditure on education and training is productive not only in economic terms but also in terms of a human happiness. It can also in large measure fill in the gaps in awareness of those people whose education and training has necessarily been of a specialised nature.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I still do not follow the hon. Member. Is he urging that "development" should not be left out or that "improvement" should not be inserted? These are the issues.

Mr. Boyden

No, Sir. I am suggesting that it is an improvement in the library service to maintain fictional books and to develop them. This is one of the things which has been pushed aside. It should be developed and improved as something which needs our attention. I was trying to show, and I should have thought that this would be in order, that the word "improvement" is an improvement over "development". I therefore support the Amendment and am pointing out how it has a bearing on the Report of the Working Party.

The other specific improvement to which we referred in Standing Committee was the provision of material for children and young adults. We glanced at this matter, but did not consider it in detail. The Working Party pointed out that steps should be taken by libraries to help the reader to find books suited to his or her interests, ensure that the right books are available and that the library is kept up to date. This is a question of improvement and I mention these facts to show how important it is to use the word "improvement" rather than "development".

A great deal of thought and a great deal of technical ability might be applied to this. As I say, it was rather disappointing that we did not discuss it in any detail at all in Committee. In the same way, we did not discuss the reference and information services or the provision of books for students, although I hope that we shall be able to do so when we come to a later Amendment.

What I really wanted to stress was that although we assumed that the whole purpose of the Bill was to improve the library service, we rarely ever got down to the detailed recommendations of the Working Party and Robbins Reports.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 1, line 15, leave out "Minister" and insert "Secretary of State".—[Sir E. Boyle.]