HC Deb 15 July 1918 vol 108 cc776-82

(1) For the purpose of performing any duty or exercising any power under the Education Acts, a council having powers under those Acts may enter into such arrangements as they think proper for co-operation or combination with any other council or councils having those powers, and any such arrangement may provide for the appointment of a joint committee or a joint body of managers, for the delegation to that committee or body of managers of any powers or duties of the councils (other than the power of raising a rate or borrowing money), for the proportion of contributions to be paid by each council, and for any other matters which appear necessary for carrying out the arrangement.

(2) The Board of Education may, on the application of two or more councils having powers under the Education Acts, by scheme provide for the establishment and (if thought fit) the incorporation of a federation for such purposes of any such arrangements as aforesaid as may be specified in the scheme as being purposes relating to matters of common interest concerning education which it is necessary or convenient to consider in relation to areas larger than those of individual education authorities, and the powers conferred on councils by this Section shall include power to arrange for the performance of any educational or administrative functions by such a federation as if it were a joint committee or a joint body of managers.

(3) A scheme made by the Board of Education constituting a federation, and an arrangement establishing a joint committee or a joint body of managers, shall provide for the appointment of at least two-thirds of the members by councils having powers under the Education Acts, and may provide either directly or by co-optation for the inclusion of teachers or other persons of experience in education and of representatives of universities or other bodies.

(4) A scheme constituting a federation may on the application of one or more of the councils concerned be modified or repealed by a further scheme, and, where a scheme provides for the discontinuance of a federation, provision may be made for dealing with any property or liabilities of the federation.

(5) Where any arrangement under this Section provides for the payment of an annual contribution by one council to another, the contribution shall, for the purposes of Section nineteen of the Education Act, 1902, form part of the security on which money may be borrowed under that Section.


I beg to move to leave out the Clause.

Just now, Sir, you intimated that a new Sub-section in Clause 3 which I proposed might come as an Amendment to Clause 4. I do not propose to move it. I move this Amendment in order to give the President of the Board of Education an opportunity of justifying the Clause. On the Report stage we are accustomed to have many Amendments to leave out individual Clauses, and it is a remarkable fact that this is the only Clause which any Member proposes to leave out of this Bill. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that fact. It shows that on the whole it is a very remarkable and successful Bill in carrying the sense of the House with it. I have the unique distinction of being the one Member who proposes to leave out one Clause of the Bill. I do not know whether I am entitled to be congratulated upon that fact, but I intend to use the privilege that I have in having the Amendment upon the Paper. The Clause proposes a federation of various authorities or districts to deal with educational problems. It is a very wide and comprehensive Clause. Its proposals are very different from those in the first Bill a little over a year ago. That Clause was indeed a sweeping proposal, by which the Board of Education seemed to intimate that they would set up federations of authorities over large areas of the country, combining willy-nilly various education authorities. That proposal, fortunately, is dropped. It might have worked well, but I believe it would have worked well in the interests of the bureaucracy, and even now there is too much bureaucracy in the Bill.

The Clause that we have now proposes to set up federations for different areas for different educational subjects. It is a very loose proposal, and, before I had some private conversations with people who understand these things better than anybody can who has not the secret or the suggestion or the advice of the great men of the Board of Education, I imagined that it was only to be put into effect in a few cases and in rather large areas for rather large problems. I understand now that it will be proposed as time goes on to have federations in a great number of places. They can now have joint committees, but these joint committees will have to give way to federations where two counties come together and where geographically or by reason of the population there are well-defined districts under two local authorities. You may there have a federation for the purposes of higher education, leaving elementary or continuation or other parts of our educational system as at present. It is obvious, therefore, that as this federation Clause was very little discussed in Committee and has had very little public discussion, it ought to be justified, and I hope we shall have some elucidation of the right hon. Gentleman's intentions in this matter. Apart from that, however, I believe it requires some justification, because it undoubtedly is a rod—I might even say an instrument of execution—held over the heads of local authorities. It is going to be a power to make them give up a large part of their life, if not the whole of their separate existence. I do not like that. I do not believe the President wishes to have any part of this Bill carried through with any feeling of threat or with any feeling of lack of sympathy or agreement with those authorities with whom he has to work this Bill. It is with the feeling that this policy and the reasons for this Clause need great elucidation that I move its omission.


I beg to second the Amendment.

There are parts of this Clause to which I, for one, have profound objection. It is a very great pity that this Bill, which in almost every other particular carries with it the almost universal assent of the House, and have had put into it this Clause, which, by means of very intricate and adroit words, contains a suggestion of federations, not limited to any one object or any series of objects, but of a wide variety of indefinite extent and of indefinite power. In a word, you shadow forth in this Clause the policy of semi-compulsory federation. I know that the words have been very carefully considered and, if one looks back to Sub-section (2) of Clause 1, can be defended as being voluntary or intended only for the moment to be voluntary in action. I hope I shall not be thought to be obstructing the Bill or to be acting in any way other than as a strong supporter of the Bill generally when I respectfully make my protest against the policy of this Clause. It is not liked at all by the county councils, and it is only because one does not want to delay the Bill and Debate more points than are necessary, and because the counties have been so fairly met by the right hon. Gentleman in all other matters, that there is not a sheaf of Amendments put down to this particular clause.

The real objections are these: The moment you get a federation, particularly if it be incorporate, and if these provisions are adapted for a long period of time and are connected with capital expenditure and with the building of institutions, you have established an education authority which is responsible neither to the ratepayers nor to this House. The grave danger of these hybrid authorities is not only the sterility which accompanies hybrids too often, but the fact that you cannot get at them either for stimulus or for criticism. What is done by the Board of Education can be attacked or criticised in this House, and might lead to a change of policy or even a change of Government. What is done by a county council can be criticised and, if necessary, punished by those who elect them. But these hybrid federations are inaccessible to effective regulation and to effective criticism. While I admit that there may be matters, such as the training of teachers and widespreading scholarship schemes, which are matters to be carried out by one local authority alone, and which are not easily worked from the centre by the Board of Education, I would much prefer separate Clauses in an Act of Parliament, or even a separate Act of Parliament, to deal with those exceptional matters rather than to provide, as this Clause does, for an indefinite possibility of these remote federations, because I am confident that the convenience which the federation idea has to the bureaucratic mind has been, is, and will be, a great temptation for the creation of these bodies. I believe that the education of this country thrives best when there is strong public interest in it, and strong public feeling behind it. You can neither awaken that interest nor organise that feeling when you are dealing with bodies which are neither directly responsible to Parliament nor responsible to the electorate. Therefore, I make this protest at this stage. While as to the rest of the Bill I am proud to be a Member of Parliament in its support, I dissociate myself from this policy for the reasons I have put to the House.


The two hon. Members who have spoken against the Clause have thrown down a challenge which it is my duty to take up. The Clause itself is prompted by a very serious and very urgent educational motive. Nobody who has had any experience of the working of our educational machinery in this country, with its 319 local education authorities, can fail to be impressed with the importance. I would even say the urgency, of securing a combination between adjacent authorities for certain specific purposes. My hon. Friend the Member for the Middleton Division (Sir B. Adkins) alluded to that necessity as something exceptional. In my view, it is a necessity which is chronic and universal. You cannot frame an adequate scholarship scheme for an area without combination. You cannot have a satisfactory system of residential schools. You cannot have special schools for defectives without combination. You even cannot manage a single elementary school on the border of two authorities without combination. You cannot organise a satisfactory scheme for the supply and training of teachers without combination. These objections and purposes are incidental to the common ordinary life of public education in this country, and existing Education Acts contain many provisions to encourage co-operation between authorities. The general purport of this Clause is to repeal the existing provisions and to substitute a wider and more general power in place of them. My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton expressed his objection to hybrid authorities. I perfectly realise that the scheme is open to the particular line of criticism which he has addressed against it; but I would ask the House to observe the very careful safeguards which accompany this Clause and which are embodied in it. In the first place, a federation is debarred from raising a rate or borrowing money. In the second place, it is provided under Sub-section (3) that an arrangement establishing a joint committee or a joint body of managers shall provide for the appointment of at least two-thirds of the members by councils having powers under the Education Acts. Those two provisions, the one limiting the financial powers of federations and the other affecting the composition of a joint body of managers established under the provisions of this Clause, do very largely meet the objections which my hon. Friend has brought against the Clause. I regard this Clause as a most important instrument of educational progress, and I should consider it a disaster to the Bill if the Clause were dropped. I may add, perhaps, that the representative associations of the local education authorities have raised no objection to this Clause. We have had no indication that it is unfavourably looked upon by them. It is further to be observed that the federation is voluntary. My hon. Friend spoke of these federations as being something compulsory. I see no vestige or scintilla of Compulsion in this Clause.


May I point out that the Education Committee of the County Councils Association asked that all the Clause except Sub-section (1) should be eliminated? I do not want it to go on record that the local authorities have no objection to it.


I beg the hon. Member's pardon; that is the solitary protest.


It is an association representing all England.


It represents the counties, but there are other authorities besides them which are very numerous. I would urge the House to support the Government in maintaining this very valuable Clause as a constituent part of the Bill.

Major WOOD

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman one question? I have just had put into my hands a letter from a correspondent in Lancashire, who raises a point with which, I admit, I am not very familiar, but which I am bound to bring before the right hon. Gentleman's notice. My correspondent and those for whom he speaks appear to be very much afraid that under this Clause something, as he describes it, like a compulsory policy of centralisation of the higher classes in the non-provided public elementary schools may be in contemplation. I will read the right hon. Gentleman one paragraph from the letter: It would allay much anxiety in the minds of many of my friends, as well as my own, if this question could be answered satisfactorily. In the discussion of the Clause a full declaration of policy should be asked for, otherwise we may one morning receive orders that all our higher classes are to be marched off to some centrally provided school. This would be calamitous. He reinforces that with an argument with which I think the right hon. Gentleman would agree, namely, that up to the time a child goes to a continuation school it is desirable, on all grounds, if other things are satisfactory, that his education should be completed—at least, that stage of it—in the school with which he has associations, attachments, and traditions. If the right hon. Gentleman would give some assurance that what my correspondent fears is not intended by the Clause it would be gratifying.


I am very willing to give my hon. and gallant Friend that assurance. There is no such intention embodied in this Clause.

Amendment negatived.