HC Deb 03 July 1918 vol 107 cc1746-52

(1) The Board of Education may, after such inquiry as they think fit, make an Order providing that all or any of the powers and duties of a county council under Part III. of the Education Act, 1902, exercised by such county council in relation to any non-county borough or urban district, the population of which is shown by the last preceding Census to have attained the number of twenty thousand, shall be transferred to the council of the said non-county borough or urban district, and as and from the date specified in the said Order the powers and duties to which the Order relates shall be transferred to the council of the said non-county borough or urban district accordingly.

(2) An Order made under this Section by the Board of Education shall, unless the council of the county and the council of the borough or urban district concerned consent, be provisional only, and shall require confirmation by Parliament.

(3) An Order made under this Section shall contain the necessary provisions for the adjustment of property, rights, and liabilities as between the borough or district and the county in which the borough or district is situated, and such incidental and consequential provisions as may appear necessary or expedient (including the modification of any scheme with reference to the system of education in force under the Act.

(4) The Board of Education may submit to Parliament for confirmation any Order which requires confirmation by Parliament under this Section.

(5) If when a Bill confirming an Order under this Section is pending in either House of Parliament, a petition is presented against any Order comprised therein, the Bill, so far as it relates to that Order, may be referred to a Select Committee, or, if the two Houses of Parliament think fit so to order, to a Joint Committee of both Houses, and the petitioner shall be allowed to appear and oppose as in the case of Private Bills.—[Major Newman.]

Brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

4.0 P.M.

This Clause is inverted, so to speak, from one of the stillborn Education Bills which preceded the present Bill. I do not myself claim to be an educationist. I have not yet spoken on this Bill and I have not drafted this, but I suggested in what part of the Bill it might be inserted, supposing that it should be adopted by the Government, and I suggest that it should be inserted after Clause 6 of the Bill. That Clause enables certain education areas to federate. My Clause suggests that certain powers of devolution from the county council to certain urban districts and other councils who have attained a certain limit of population should be given. In this Bill there is a somewhat remarkable first Clause—a progressive, comprehensive organisation of education. When I read the Bill I was struck by that Clause, which was very unusual, and I was inclined to put down an Amendment to it, when I saw that the hon. Member for North Somerset had done so. It is intended that this Bill is to be progressive. We want it to be a Bill for people who will work education in a progressive manner. Surely what is wanted in each area is a small band of men who are educational enthusiasts, who will get together and work in a special area, and will, in fact, get something done. I am not for a moment intending to say a word against county councils. I am, indeed, a council man; but I stand for small councils, small areas, and small bodies as against big councils, big areas, and big bodies. Take the case of the county council which looks after the great county one of the divisions of which I have the honour to represent. Surely the Middlesex County Council has almost more than it can do? It has to look after the affairs of a population more than twice the size of that of New Zealand and about half the size of that of Australia. And, apart from that, it is a population which is growing year by year, and which, fifteen years hence, will make Middlesex an area of garden cities, the county being practically all built over. It is obvious that in process of time a county council dealing with a population of something like 3,500,000 will find itself tied by red-tape and will become bureaucratic. Already something of that nature has happened, and perhaps I may be allowed to read an extract from a letter written by the clerk of one of the urban district councils in the Division of Enfield, which I represent, an extract which shows how urgent it is that this new Clause should be introduced into the Bill. The writer of the letter says: One instance of the disadvantage of education in this district being in the hands of the county council is as follows: Under the Elementary Education (Administrative Provisions) Act. 1907, the education authorities have power to provide medical treatment for the children attending the elementary schools. The Middlesex County Council have not done so, so far as this district is concerned. On either side of us, at Wood Green and Enfield, where the administration of education is in the hands of the local council, there are medical clinics for the school children. Here we have none. A recent answer by Mr. Fisher in the House stated that during 1916, 276 authorities provided treatment and forty-three have no facilities for treatment. We are amongst the latter and have the privilege of assisting through the taxes in paying for the medical treatment in the former. The council are not anxious to set up the suggestion that the Middlesex County Council are negligent in their duties, but in this instance medical treatment would undoubtedly have been provided for the children if the matter had been in the hands of the district council instead of the county council. That is a concrete example of what may happen in the future. That sort of treatment damps down enthusiasm. It means that if a man enthusiastic in education wants something done and finds himself handicapped by the superior authority of the county council, with the result that he cannot get what he wants and what his council wants, he becomes tired, and retires. That is the sort of thing my Clause is intended to prevent. Take Clause 17 of this Bill. It deals with holidays, school camps, and so on. What a comparatively well-to-do go-ahead urban district council, with a valuable rateable area might want to do in these matters might not prove acceptable to the county council of a great county. The county council would turn down the progressive go-ahead scheme for this particular district on the ground that it was not suitable to the whole county. We want to avoid that sort of thing. Then, again, there is the question of the hardships suffered by urban district councils which, in 1902, just failed to reach the population limit, and have now gone far beyond that limit, and yet have to remain under the control of the county council. Take, again, the case of the urban district council which I have in my mind. It failed in 1902 to reach the population limit. It has now a population of 40,000, and it is certain that in fifteen years' time its population will be over 60,000. Is it not very hard that such a population should in educational matters remain under the control of the county council? There are counties in England with a population of barely 70,000 at the present time which have county councils with full powers in these matters. In the case I am referring to we have a progressive, up-to-date council, with a big and valuable rateable area, which wants to go ahead, and yet because in 1902 it was in the unfortunate position of not quite reaching the population limit it is unable to control educational matters for itself.

There are, I think, fifteen urban district councils which come within the limit now who ought to have these powers, and therefore I do suggest to the President of the Board of Education the desirability of making this small concession. If the right hon. Gentleman will read the new Clause he will find that it is purely permissive. It is hedged round with restrictions of all sorts. If I had had the drafting of it, it would not have contained those restrictions. But they are there, and as they have been approved by these urban district councils, I hope the Government will accept the Clause. I can imagine the right hon. Gentleman will say that he does not want to upset the bargain of 1902. I really do not know what that bargain was. I am aware that that Act lost me my election in 1906. It was forced through the House of Commons against the will of one of the parties of the State. Sow we are carrying this Bill through by agreement. But I do suggest that there will be nothing contrary to the bargain in meeting the reasonable wishes of those who support this new Clause.


If this were indeed a Clause which could be accepted by general agreement the Government would have no difficulty in adopting it, but, so far from it being that, it is of a highly controversial character. It seeks to multiply the number of authorities and to curtail the rating powers of county councils, and it would meet with strong opposition from county councils all over the country. In view of the fact that it is the settled principle of this Bill not to disturb existing educational areas, and not to revolutionise the general administrative system of the country, the Government feels that it is unable to accept this new Clause. It will be perhaps in the recollection of the Committee that the Education Bill introduced in 1917 contained provisions under which, in certain circumstances, and by the machinery of a Provisional Order, the areas of existing Part III. authorities could be merged in the area of the county council, and the Part III. authorities would consequently cease to exist. But that proposal was omitted from the present, Bill for the reason which I stated in the House of Commons, that the Bill did not propose to interfere with the educational machinery set up by the Act of 1902, and that Clause was regarded as involving a breach of the pledge in that respect. In view of these circumstances, I am unable to accept the new Clause, which seeks to carry out an object which, to my mind, is involved in more doubt and difficulty than the course which was contemplated in the Bill of 1917. Under the machinery of the Clause which I have alluded to in the Bill of 1917, it was proposed to make it possible to diminish the number of local educational authorities in the county. The proposal of the hon. Member, however, would have a contrary effect, and for these reasons the Government feel that they cannot accept this Clause.


As a representative of a non-county borough and as one who has been connected with urban district councils since they were formed, I want to support this Clause. There is no doubt there is a great deal of feeling in the country among some of our best local government administrators that a step of devolution of this kind should be taken. I am afraid there is no answer at present to the statement of the Minister that this proposal would raise opposition from the county councils. But we are always prepared for that; indeed, it is impossible to champion district councils and the smaller boroughs in this House without the big authorities coming down and pouncing upon us. Our experience in such matters as gas and water is that we get far better treatment from a, commercial company than from these big authorities. I am certain that in these matters they pursue a mistaken policy. But I am inclined to think that the county councils are rather overburdened, and therefore on such questions as education they should welcome the assistance and help which these smaller bodies might well give. If they would permit these smaller bodies in some way to co-operate, without doing harm to or undermining their own powers, I am sure the smaller bodies would fall in with the suggestion. But the tendency is for the bigger authorities to say, "We do not want your help; we do not want you to interfere."

I was thankful to notice in the speech of the Minister an indication that the Government, at any rate, are not so un-reasonable as that, and that they would be willing, if some plan could be put forward which would not arouse controversy, to see a step taken in this direction. Surely, we have got centralisation enough in this Bill? It would have been very much appreciated if somewhere in the four corners of this measure there had been a real power of devolution which would have afforded an opportunity to some of these hard-working authorities to take their place in the ranks of the workers on educational matters. Many persons in these urban centres have given a good deal of attention to educational subjects. They know the conditions, and they are anxious to render service. The county council will allow these persons to attend to drains, sanitary conditions and things of that kind, but, when it comes to important matters such as education, they are not permitted to interfere. Among the members of these local authorities are a large number of school managers and some who have been teachers, and they would like to take part in the work of education, but the county council is not prepared to give them an opportunity. In the West Riding there are a great many urban districts where those interested in education reside, and they cannot spare the time to travel to the headquarters of the county council in order to attend to educational matters, and, though their interest in educational work is intense, and they are anxious to do something useful, yet they are prevented from doing so. I would point out, further, that the county council cannot enforce attendance in various towns in the efficient manner of those who dwell in the different districts. You must have local people to do that work, and to take their share in the constructive part of education. I very much regret the answer given by the President of the Board of Education, but I hope that before very long he will see whether he cannot devise some way in which these various county boroughs and urban district councils may have their claim met to take part in the educational work of the country.


The position we find ourselves in is this: When this Education Bill was introduced first, it had certain provisions in it, and when they were criticised we were told that they were very good, that they had received a very great deal of consideration, that they were most valuable, and that we must stand by them. After a little time there was a second edition of the Bill, in which it was found that certain powers and objects that were contained in the first Bill had disappeared. Later on, there was the third Education Bill, in which various other objects and powers, were thrown overboard. We who are educationists are trying to put back in the third Bill what we considered was excellent in the first edition, and then the President of the Board of Education makes a facing-both-ways speech. When one gets up to criticise him, he talks to his companions on the Treasury Bench, and apparently it is very convenient for him not to listen to what is said. All I can say is that these matters are taken note of, and we hope that, on a future day, first impressions and first resolutions will be reverted to, and that the educational objects and machinery which ought to be in this Bill will have some chance of consideration.

Question put, and negatived.