Standing Committee A
Thursday, 16th April, 1970
[Mr. John Brewis in the Chair]
At our last sitting the Committee disagreed to Clause 1, which is the only effective Clause. I have considered the precedents under these circumstances. I found the usual course to be that the Member in charge of a Bill—in this case the Secretary of State—moves
“That the Committee do not proceed further with the consideration of the Bill.”
If the Committee agreed to the Motion, it would then be appropriate for the Secretary of State to propose that the Committee make a special report to the House stating that, in the circumstances, the Committee cannot, with advantage, go further in considering the Bill.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Edward Short)
I beg to move,
That the Committee do not proceed further with the consideration of the Bill.
I am very grateful for your advice, Mr. Brewis, and for the trouble which you have taken to look so very carefully into this matter. Of course I accept the advice which you have given us. In order to be able to speak, and in order to enable others members of the Committee to say a few words—and I have no doubt that they will wish to do so—I accept your guidance.
I should like to make our position perfectly clear. First of all, when talking about the general power of a Committee and the limitations by which it is bound, Erskine May says:
“A committee is bound by the decision of the House, given on second reading, in favour of the principle of the bill, and should not, therefore, amend the bill in a manner destructive of this principle.”
That is precisely what happened here last week. On 12th February, the House agreed to the principle of the Bill by a majority of 74. The Committee, last week, rejected the principle by a majority [column 326]of one. Presumably that is what the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) referred to as a victory for democracy and the defeat of dictatorship. It was, in fact, a defeat for the House of Commons.
I should like to make it perfectly clear that the Government intend that the Bill shall reach the Statute Book in the present Parliamentary Session. What I am doing now is not dictated by the Rules of Order—it would be quite possible to go on with the Bill—but it is dictated by good Parliamentary manners that we should report this position to the House and begin again. It will then be for the House to decide what action should be taken. I should like to make that perfectly clear.
We could have carried on. I suggest, with the respect which I have always held for the Chair and the respect which I hold for you personally and for the Clerks who advise you, that the Chair is concerned only with the Rules of Order. Provided the Committee—or, indeed, the House—stays within the Rules of Order, it can put anything it likes into a Bill. It would be quite possible, technically, to carry on with the Bill, to pass the remaining three Clauses—amended or unamended—and to report them to the House. It would, however, not be a very meaningful Bill when it reached the House, to say the least.
Alternatively, it could be made rather more meaningful if we were to carry an Amendment to Clause 2 to delete the reference to Clause 1. We could then carry on and report that to the House. That would be rather more meaningful, but not very meaningful. Thus, there are other courses open to us. There is no technical reason why, according to the Rules of Order, we should not carry on with the Bill. Certainly there is nothing wrong with the principle of the Bill. The House itself has endorsed its principle, and the people of this country have endorsed its principle on many occasions.
It is simply out of consideration for a concept—which I am sure we in the Committee all hold—of what constitutes good Parliamentary manners and behaviour that I suggest that we accept your advice, Mr. Brewis, and take the Bill back to the Floor of the House. The House will then have to decide what action to take.[column 327]
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher
I rise to support the Edward ShortMinister in his decision but not in his reasoning. It was right to take this course of action. Indeed, under all the circumstances, it was the only reasonable course to take. Clause 2, to which the Minister referred, is dependent upon Clause 1. I submit that it fell at the same time as Clause 1 fell, because it refers to the principle in the preceding Clause, which the Committee has negatived. Clause 3 was dependent on Clause 2 and, therefore, fell at the same time as Clause 2 fell—which was at the same time as Clause 1 fell. That left the Bill with a Long Title at the beginning and a Short Title at the end, with nothing in between.
It has happened before.
The Committee was duly constituted under the procedure of the House. It deliberated for eight sittings—deliberated very thoroughly, considering all the arguments and some of the latest evidence—and arguments were adduced from both sides of the Committee with knowledge and competence. It was after that deliberation that we decided against Clause 1 and, therefore, against the rest of the Clauses.
The right hon. Gentleman says that this has happened before. There is no comparable precedent for a Government Bill. Indeed, my hon. Friends and I have spent considerable time going through all the precedents. He knows, as well as I know, that the only comparable precedent arose on a Private Member's Bill. If he is looking through Erskine May, he will find the reference on pages 683, 684 and 685. If he is looking for the precedent, it is the Playing Fields (Exemption from Rating) Bill, the relevant portions of which I have had copied from the proceedings of Standing Committee A, 22nd May, 1930. That was the only comparable precedent, and that was a Private Member's Bill.
It was a public Bill.
It was a public Bill in the charge of a private Member. It was not a Government Bill. I repeat that there is no comparable precedent for a Government Bill in which Clause 1, the main Clause of the Bill, was negatived and in which all the other Clauses depended upon Clause 1. I spent a great deal of time going through about 15 [column 328]precedents before reaching that conclusion.
I do not wish to follow the Minister into the merits of the Bill because this is a procedural Motion. The Committee was charged with the duty of giving the Bill due and sufficient consideration. It was not told what preconceived conclusions it must reach. To have done that would have made a mockery of democracy. If, by inference from what the right hon. Gentleman said, he intends to appoint subsequent Committees whenever the Government dislike the conclusions of an earlier Committee, that would bring Parliament into disrepute and would substitute for democracy a procedural dictatorship.
I thank you, Mr. Brewis, for the charm and calm with which you have presided over the Committee. I support the Minister in this Motion.
Before calling the next speaker, I should like to stress that, while the Motion is debatable, I should deprecate any lengthy debate and that I shall call hon. Members to order rigorously should they get out of order.
Mr. Angus Maude
I certainly do not intend to make a lengthy speech. Indeed, I wish to make only one point. I do not think that the Secretary of State should be allowed to get away with the observation which he made which is that, to all intents and purposes, a Clause to a Bill has to go through in its precise form, unchanged by Amendments, or else the principle of the Bill is destroyed. That simply cannot be true. We have debated 35 Amendments to Clause 1, none of which would have changed the principle of the Bill but all of which would have improved it. He has tried to reject every one. It is nonsense to say that to object to the Clause is to object to the principle of the Bill.
Mr. Stan Newens
I am prepared to accept the advice given about the advisability of re-committing the Bill. I hope that I shall not be out of order if I make a few comments on that procedure and comment briefly on the events of last Tuesday.
There has been a great deal of crowing by hon. Members opposite, and they are quite entitled to crow if they wish to do so. Their statement that hon. Members on [column 329]this side of the Committee are flagging in support of the principle included in the Bill is sheer, unadulterated nonsense. The support for the Bill throughout the country is enormous. In these circumstances, it is important that we should ensure that the Bill is placed on the Statute Book after doing all that is necessary in the way of Parliamentary procedure.
The Opposition's attitude was made quite clear by their vote last Tuesday. They are opposed to the comprehensive principle and to reorganisation. They are prepared to support the most reactionary authorities in the country.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting out of order.
I hope that I shall not get out of order, but I want to refer to a statement made by the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) at the speech day of Bexley Grammar School, which was reported in this morning's copy of The Times. It is a disgraceful, partisan speech which should never have been made at a speech day ceremony which people attend to listen to the proceedings irrespective of their party political considerations. According to the report in The Times, the right hon. Gentleman said:
“The Government have lost in committee the vital clause of the Bill. … For the Government it is a humiliating defeat. But they should look upon it as a blessing in disguise—an opportunity for second thoughts. I call on the Minister to make the most of this opportunity. Let him drop the whole Bill and with it the attempt to impose the reorganisation of our school system on local authorities by decree from Whitehall.”
Mr. Fergus Montgomery
I am delighted to hear hon. Members opposite backing the speech of the right hon. Member for Bexley. They have made it clear that they are opposed, root and branch, to reorganisation along comprehensive school lines. Everyone knows that Tuesday's occurrence was an accident. The Opposition's attitude has been made perfectly clear. It is sheer nonsense to suggest that we are not in favour of this principle. The challenge which the Opposition has laid down will be taken up by hon. Members on this side of the House, and we shall still have the delightful experience of seeing the Bill become an Act. Comprehensive education, which is [column 330]the wish of the majority, will apply throughout the country.
Mr. Kenneth Lewis
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was in his best school masterly form this morning. I thought that at any minute we of the Opposition were to be asked to go to his study. I do not know whether we should have been caned.
The Minister has been in Government long enough to know—and as a former Chief Whip, he should know—that it is the job of the Opposition to oppose, and we opposed. A suggestion has been made that this was a procedural defeat for the Government. It was nothing of the sort. It was a defeat on a vote on the main Clause of the Bill which occurred not only because we opposed it but because certain hon. Members on the Government side of the Committee did not think the Bill sufficiently important for them to vote on it. Hon. Gentlemen opposite apparently considered a “ticket touts” Bill more important than the Education Bill. Others were absent for personal reasons which are best known to themselves. They were not here to carry the main Clause of the Bill. They knew that the Clause would be voted on at that Sitting.
The right hon. Gentleman made great play of the fact that the Government had a majority of 74 in favour of the Bill on Second Reading. Of course they did. The Whips were on. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to take the view of the House as a whole, let him have a free vote on the Bill when it returns to the House. Hon. Gentlemen opposite failed to vote on the main Clause of the Bill. Therefore, we should have a free vote on it.
Perhaps the hon. Lady will recommend that suggestion to her Chief Whip. I shall be glad to recommend to my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip that we have a free vote.
I should be very glad if that situation arose.
If the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to drop this Bill and to introduce a new Bill, I will certainly recommend that course.
Of course I do not recommend dropping the Bill. Of the seven [column 331]General Elections since the war, we have won four. In one of the Elections which the Conservatives won, we received 250,000 votes more than they received. This principle has been endorsed by the country over and over again.
Order. We are getting out of order.
The truth is that, whatever the merits of a comprehensive education vis-à-vis a grammar school education, this country is not interested in the Bill because no one wants the imposition of a particular educational policy. The country is not interested in the Bill. We oppose the Bill because we are not interested in it, either. What we discovered from last week's occurrence is that the only people who are interested in the Bill are Members of the Government Front Bench. Clearly their back-bench Members have no interest in it.
Mr. William Price
The hon. Gentleman has suggested that I regard the Sale of Tickets (Offences) No. 2 Bill as more important than the Bill on comprehensive education. I will deal with that point, and with that point only. I had spent 16 hours in the Committee listening for much of that time to the hon. Gentleman. I regard that as the ultimate sacrifice to make in the cause of the furtherance of the Bill. I had spent ten minutes discussing what the hon. Gentleman called a “ticket touts” Bill. I think that I am entitled to weigh 16 hours against ten minutes, which should demolish the fatuous argument which he adduced.
Mr. David Lane
I had not intended to speak. I do so briefly only because it would be a pity should we pass the Motion with any misunderstanding in any quarter.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens), whom I respect very much, allowed himself to be carried away by his well-known enthusiasm for the Bill into distorting—and I am sure that that distortion was accidental—the attitude of hon. Members on this side of the Committee.
I believe that all of us have shown, both during Second Reading and in the course of our discussions here, that we [column 332]are not opposed to comprehensive reorganisation. We are not defending the 11-plus. What we oppose is compulsion, rigidity and excessive haste. In the light of all that has been said and because of the developing opinion in the country, I look forward to further discussions on the Bill.
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down——
The hon. Gentleman has sat down.
Mr. Simon Mahon
I feel it necessary to say one or two words about the procedural Motion. I have attended every Sitting on the Bill to date. I have sat through rather protracted proceedings without being absent, except on one occasion, for more than a moment.
I say to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that to make more of this situation than to accept that a procedural technicality has gone wrong is very dishonest. Much—or little—can be made of what went wrong the other morning. There are things which one can equate in life, as there are things which one cannot equate. I was missing from this Committee. My absence from the Committee is responsible for the position in which the Government find themselves today—no more, and no less.
My reason for being absent from this Committee—I say this with whatever humility I have left in this regard—did not occur on the morning of the Bill. It occurred 25 years ago, when this country was engaged in other business in other parts of the world. Because I was involved in that business, the other morning there were repercussions from what I incurred many years ago—you will appreciate, Mr. Brewis, that this is a difficult thing for me to say—and I was not able to be in this Committee. I think it incumbent upon myself to tell the members of this Committee and the people of this country why we are involved in this situation. It was a simple accident of that kind. It is the greatest humbug on the part of Members opposite to suggest anything different.
The people of this country, and I myself after a lifetime in education, were looking forward to seeing the end of these Committee proceedings, as a stage towards the introduction of comprehensive education. Whatever hon. Gentlemen [column 333]opposite may say, they have a violent opposition to the introduction of the comprehensive system in this country.
In some way I have been responsible for the present situation, and I apologise to you, Mr. Brewis, and to my right hon. Friend for the inconvenience that I have caused. This has been a pleasant and interesting Committee. What has happened has been most unfortunate, but there has been no more to it than that.
Mr. J. E. B. Hill
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) has played a valuable part in the proceedings of this Committee. He has been critical of the Bill, often in the same sense as we have, in that it failed to provide the flexibility which we and many people outside think that the Bill ought to have had.
Order. We are in danger of getting into the merits of the Bill. I must rule this out of order.
I wanted to traverse the statement of the Secretary of State that we on these benches had been opposing the comprehensive principle, and that successive Elections had reinforced the principle of this Bill. The principle of this Bill, which we have defeated, is to compel local education authorities to act against their better judgment, and to deprive them of the facility of providing education for children by outlawing certain practices which may be necessary if a child is to have the educational environment best suited to his individual requirement.
Is it not a fact that a number of local education authorities are completely refusing to introduce reorganisation of secondary education? In opposing this Bill, the Opposition is giving complete support to those authorities.
Order. If the hon. Gentleman were to answer that question, he would be out of order.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) will raise that point on an occasion when it will be in order, and then someone, if not myself, will give him a pertinent answer.
After what the Secretary of State has said, it is important that we should establish that it is the principle of compulsion upon local education authorities [column 334]to which we object. This is not something we have thought up on this Committee. Representations have been made to us by various bodies. The Assistant Masters Association has written to us and has pointed out that in the view of——
Order. I really must call the hon. Gentleman to order.
May I just say that we have had representations from outside. We have had representations from the Association of Education Committees saying that the Bill is inflexible and expressing the hope that some Amendments would be made to it.
Because we argued on those lines, anyone who studies our debates—that may be purgatory for certain hon. Members, but the debates are quicker to read than to listen to—will draw the conclusion that the arguments in this Committee have been made on educational and not political grounds, other than the one of compelling local authorities. It is in the light of that knowledge that I would dispute the statement of the Secretary of State that this Bill is approved by public opinion—the comprehensive principle maybe, but not the main principle of this Bill.
That is the difference between us, and I hope the Government, between now and any later stage, will think over the matter most carefully—not on the comprehensive principle but on compulsion.
Mr. Fred Evans
A technical procedural mistake, which was rather embarrassing to this side of the Committee, is being exploited to the full by the Opposition. One does not grudge them their moment of glee, but to try to elevate a technical procedural chapter of accidents into a fundamental principle behind this Bill is nonsense.
I hope that the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher)—she has been quoted in the Press, and quoted accurately—announcing that this was a reprieve for the grammar school, with all its connotations of the preservation of the 11-plus and of preserving a selective system alongside a non-selective system, will be clearly understood. The debates in this Committee have been about the preservation of some area of selectivity in the educational system, and her speech was obviously in support of this. [column 335]
I hope that we do not continue this nonsense of elevating a technical procedural matter into an argument on principle, and that we get back to this very important Bill as quickly as possible, to ensure that the wishes of the people of this country are carried out.
I was glad I arrived in the middle of the speech of the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens). If the beginning of his speech was like the end, I could not have borne to have listened to it.
The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Alice Bacon)
The hon. Gentleman has had to suffer a lot!
We have had to suffer a lot. The right hon. Lady is right. She is one of the causes of our suffering.
The hon. Member for Epping, in his scathing attack on my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath), is quite wrong. My right hon. Friend has every right to say what he thinks. I believe that the majority of people in this country support him.
Does the hon. Member think that this is an appropriate thing to say at Bexley Grammar School Speech Day, to make a violently partisan contribution of this kind?
The hon. Gentleman is making a great issue of this. My right hon. Friend is right to say what he thinks at a school speech day. I am perfectly sure that his speech at Bexley Grammar School last night was received with great rapture.
Order. Hon. Members must not continue to refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman at Bexley Grammar School. We must come back to the Procedural Motion.
I am very sorry, Mr. Brewis, but I am sure you will agree that I was drawn by the hon. Member for Epping.
It boils down to this: on Tuesday the Government had a defeat in Committee. It is no good offering all kinds of excuses now. The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) was ill—and we accept that. Even without the hon. Member for [column 336]Bootle, the Government has a paper majority of two in the Committee. They have the Chairman's casting vote if required.
That is a highly improper remark which the hon. Gentleman should withdraw. It reflects on the impartiality of the Chair.
The Secretary of State is perfectly correct, and I call on the hon. Member to withdraw his remark about the Chairman.
I withdraw that remark, Mr. Brewis, although we realise that the Chairman, whatever his party, if there is a tie in Committee or in the House must vote with the Government.
Am I to understand, Mr. Brewis, that the well-established customs on how Chairmen should vote in certain eventualities no longer hold?
I am giving the Committee no information on which way I should have voted.
This speech is giving me very good practice for my campaign in the next General Election. I am being heckled on all sides.
The hon. Member for Bootle was ill, but the Government still had a majority on the Committee. However, two hon. Members opposite were not here. We are told that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) was away in Copenhagen. I hope that he does not think the price of his being in Copenhagen too high.
There was also the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price), who made a speech stating the number of hours he has spent in this Committee. I accept that the hon. Member for Rugby has been here through most of the Committee stage. The point is that we are supposed to be here, or just outside the door, throughout. I will not reprimand the hon. Member for Rugby as I understand that his right hon. Friend the Chief Whip did it rather effectively yesterday. According to this morning's——
Order. I have allowed statements, in the form of an apology, by hon. Members who were not present at the last Sitting. But I will not allow [column 337]this form of debate. The hon. Member is out of order.
That is a great pity, Mr. Brewis. I had intended to quote this morning's Daily Telegraph, a very accurate and very well-informed paper.
We have to decide what will happen to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman should not try to put words we have not said into our mouths. We have not said that we are opposed to comprehensive education as such. We have said that we are opposed to the principle of the Bill, which is its enforcement. The wisest and most sensible thing for the Government, who cannot stay much longer in office, would be for them to drop this Bill.
Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee
It might be to the general convenience, Mr. Brewis, if we came to a conclusion on the proposition made by the Secretary of State. I have little to say in winding up the debate from this side of the Committee.
It will be by common consent that our discussions on the crucial Clause of the Bill were good-natured, good-tempered and—if I may say so, as one who took part—well-informed from both sides, showing genuine concern, from both sides of the Committee, about the problems relating to reorganisation. The issue between us was that of compulsion. That must be said quite clearly.
It must also be quietly said that there were several occasions on which, if hon. Members on this side of the Committee had so chosen, using methods well known to both sides, the work of the Committee would not have always started at the hour at which, in fact, it started. There was no disposition on this side of the Committee to take advantage of such methods. It will be in your recollection, Mr. Brewis, that we proceeded without any undue pushing of any kind from hon. Members opposite. These things should be quietly said, and they owe a great deal, Mr. Brewis, to your personal charge.
It must also be said to the hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is not good enough, upon a major Clause of a major Bill, to talk about a technical mistake. It was a straightforward defeat. It is the duty of Government to get through their business. I believe, incidentally, that this [column 338]defeat is indicative of a greater break-up in morale than is indicated by two votes in a Committee.
I thought that the Secretary of State proferred his sword with considerable dignity and good manners. It would be appropriate for us to remember Churchill 's dictum that in victory we should show magnanimity.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee do not proceed further with the consideration of the Bill.
Draft Special Report brought up, and read the First time, as follows:—
That as the effective Clause of the Bill has been struck out during the consideration of the Bill in Committee, your Committee cannot with advantage proceed with the Bill.—[Mr. Short.]
Draft Special Report read a Second time.
That the Draft Special Report be the Special Report of the Committee to the House.
That the Chairman do report the Bill, so far as amended, to the House.
I should like to express on behalf of the whole Committee our gratitude and thanks to you, Mr. Brewis, for the manner in which you have conducted the Committee. It has been a very well-mannered Committee, and we owe a great deal of that to the charm and to the efficient way in which you have carried out your business. We may well have made Parliamentary history and earned a footnote in Erskine May. If we have achieved nothing else, we shall have achieved something!
Before you finally say “Order” , Mr. Brewis, may I say that that is the one speech made by the right hon. Gentleman in this Committee with which I wholly agree.
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman, the hon. Lady, and all the Members of the Committee for their courtesy. After the rigours of the Scottish Committee, it has been a genuine pleasure to Chair this Committee. As one interested in education, I found it quite enthralling.
Committee rose at six minutes past Eleven o'clock. [column 339-340]
The following Members attended the Committee:
Brewis , Mr. (Chairman)
Armstrong , Mr.
Bacon , Miss
Boyle , Sir Edward
Evans , Mr. Fred
Eyre , Mr.
Hill , Mr. J. E. B.
Jones , Mr. J. Idwal
Lane , Mr.
Lewis , Mr. Kenneth
Mahon , Mr. Simon
Maude , Mr.
Montgomery , Mr.
Newens , Mr.
Oakes , Mr.
Price , Mr. Christopher
Price , Mr. William
Short , Mr. Edward
van Straubenzee , Mr.
Woof , Mr.