HC Deb 20 January 1931 vol 247 cc132-42

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I should like at the outset to assure the House that I shall be as brief as possible in presenting this Measure and explaining its object, and I am encouraged to believe that it need not take up any undue length of time because I think it will be found that the Bill is largely non-controversial. The object of the Bill is to correct an unforeseen consequence of the provision of Section 46 of the Local Government Act, 1929. Under that Section, as many Members of the House will recollect, county councils were required to review the circumstances of the county districts, and to consider whether it was desirable to change the boundaries or in other ways to alter the existing arrangements for the distribution of the counties into rural and urban districts. The county councils were to report to the Minister of Health and to make proposals for any changes that they thought desirable, and the Minister, subject to various provisions as to publication and the holding of local inquiries, was empowered to make orders for the carrying out of the proposals with or without modification. Section 47 of the Act provided for the holding of similar reviews at intervals of not less than 10 years.

The desirability of these provisions was a matter of general agreement. It is equally a matter of general agreement—and I am sure that the Ministers who were in charge of the Departments concerned at the time of the passing of the Act of 1929 will confirm this—that at the time of the framing and passing of that Measure it was not realised that this review of the county districts was likely to lead to the constitution of numerous new local education authorities for elementary education, and still less was this result intended. In order to make clear to the House how it is that this result will come about, unless legislative measures are taken to prevent it, I must refer to the provisions of the Education Act of 1921, which prescribe the bodies that are to be local education authorities for various purposes. Under Section 3 of that Act, which incorporates the provisions of the Act of 1902, the council of a borough with a population of over 10,000 and the council of an urban district with a population of over 20,000—the population in both cases, be it observed, being reckoned according to the Census of 1901—are constituted as local education authorities for elementary education. It will be observed that, inasmuch as the population is to be reckoned in accordance with the Census of 1901, the mere automatic increase of the population cannot lead to the creation of new local education authorities; but the creation of new local education authorities can arise from such an addition to the area of a borough or urban district as would increase its population, according to the 1901 Census, to 10,000 or 20,000 as the case may be; or, again, a rural district with a population of over 20,000 in 1901 might be turned into an urban district. In point of fact cases such as these have been very rare; in the course of the last few years there have only been nine of them all told. But, although the number of cases hitherto has bean somewhat small, the position has been entirely changed by Section 46 of the Local Government Act, 1929.

The extent to which the operation of this Section would result in the creation of new local authorities for elementary education, unless steps are taken to prevent it, cannot in the nature of things be foreseen, but it has become clear that, if the statutory reviews of districts proceed with proper regard for the purposes for which they were designed, and especially the purpose of securing that the districts shall be large enough to have sufficient resources to carry out their non-educational duties adequately, an incidental result will be that new local education authorities will be constituted on such a scale as very seriously to disorganise the existing system of elementary education in the counties. The present Bill is accordingly designed with the special object of securing that new local education authorities for elementary education shall not come into existence where they do not exist already, but that the areas concerned shall remain under the administration of the county councils for the purpose of elementary education.

I said at the beginning that it would probably be found that this Measure was largely non-controversial, and I would therefore venture to remind hon. Members opposite, if it be necessary to do so, that in this connection the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) addressed to my right hon. Friend some time ago a question which showed that he was fully alive to the difficulties inherent in the situation. I think I can say with confidence that all local authorities accept the principle of the Bill. The counties would perhaps have liked it to cover rather more ground, while urban districts would have liked a rather easier means of creating new Part III authorities. As is inevitable in connection with compromises of this sort, no one can get all they want, but I think, having said that, all are prepared to accept the Bill as steering a reasonable middle course. One observation that I ought in justice to make is that no reflection is intended in any way in regard to the manner in which boroughs and urban districts have hitherto discharged their functions as local education authorities. Still less does the Bill constitute, or indeed foreshadow, anything in the nature of an attack on the autonomy of existing authorities of these types. The question of the distribution of duties and powers among local authorities for the purposes of the reformed system and their classification in relation to elementary and higher education respectively may need attention at some later date, and perhaps before many years have passed, but the time is not yet ripe for this and the Government are not proposing in this Bill to make any change in the existing situation. What they do propose is to prevent the creation of new small authorities by operation of law merely as a result of local government changes which are initiated with an entirely different purpose.

With that explanation of the general nature of the Bill, perhaps I might summarise its purposes. It deals with the situation in Clause 1 (1) by first of all laying down the broad rule that the council of a borough or urban district shall not become a local education authority unless it is already such an authority at the passing of the Act. There are two exceptions engrafted upon this rule. The first leaves the way open for an urban council to be made a local education authority by private Bill legislation. This incidentally covers the constitution of new county boroughs, which can only be formed by an Act of Parliament, and which should not be prevented from attaining their full educational status. The second exception, introduced by way of proviso, deals with the peculiar case of the union of two or more urban districts any or all of which are already autonomous for purposes of elementary education. In that case, the council of the new united district is to retain the educational status of the former council or councils.

Clause 1 (2) enacts a merely formal and consequential Amendment as to the area for which a county council is to be the authority for elementary education. Clause 2 gives the title of the Act and incorporates it with existing educational legislation. I would ask the House to accept this as a useful and uncontroversial measure to obviate an unexpected difficulty arising under the recent local government Act which would have seriously impeded educational administration. The matter is one of some urgency because, until this question is settled, county councils will find themselves embarrassed in considering their schemes for the rearrangement of boundaries under the Local Government Act, and also their plans for the reorganisation of education. I hope the House will deem that as being a sufficient explanation of the reason for the Bill.

9.0 p.m.


I should like to say one or two words upon this Bill inasmuch as it arises out of the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1929, for which I happened to be the responsible Minister. I approach this subject not, from an educational point of view but from the point of view of general local government administration. I have no quarrel with the description the hon. Gentleman has given of the object or origin of the Bill except in so far as he has described these consequences of the Act of 1929 as being unforeseen. If he had said only unintended, I should entirely agree with him. It was true, I think, when the Bill was originally drafted, that this particular consequence was not foreseen but, as a matter of fact, we did become aware before it passed the House that this was a possible result of the operation of the Clause which afterwards became Section 46. The Act, in so far as that part of it was concerned, was founded upon the report of the Royal Commission on Local Government, the second report of which made certain recommendations, and in their report no mention was made of any possible consequence in the way of setting up Part III authorities in addition to those already existing. As far as I am aware, that consequence was not present to the mind of the Royal Commission. But while the Bill was going through the House we became aware that this might happen, and the question arose whether we should attempt to correct it in the Bill before the House. It was a very long Bill, already almost overloaded with Clauses and Schedules and, seeing that the provisions of this part of the Bill would not take effect for a very considerable time after it was passed, we felt that there was ample time to deal with the matter by means of a special Bill at some future time. This Bill is the legislation that is required.

As I understand the position, it is not desired or intended—in fact the Bill will not in any way change the position of existing Part III authorities. What it does is to avoid the creation of new Part III authorities, not as part of educational policy but merely as unintended and incidental results of other provisions which were intended to facilitate the general development of local government. I think it must be clear that county councils, in making a review of the conditions and in considering what recommendations they shall make for extension of existing boundaries, or of amalgamations of existing authorities, or for combinations of two or more existing authorities, once they are faced with the prospect that such recommendations might completely upset their educational programme, would find themselves very much hampered in their review of the conditions, and indeed that consideration might lead to their making recommendations other than those which they would have felt it desirable in the general interest to make if it had not been for that particular contingency, and, that being so, it seems to me that there is a sound case for providing, by means of special legislation, that no such result should follow. That, of course, does not in any way prejudice the present position of existing Part III authorities nor does it lay down any rule or principle which could guide us in deciding whether one kind of authority or another is the proper one to deal with education under Part III of the original Act. All that it does is to conserve the existing situation, and, in those circumstances, as far as we are concerned, we are not offering any opposition to this Bill, and it may be treated, as the hon. Member has suggested, as a non-controversial Bill.


I do not intend to oppose this Bill, but I am bound to say that I regret that the Government did not take the opportunity to deal comprehensively with the position of Part II and Part III authorities. The fact that we have this Measure before us at all is another proof that, viewed from the point of view of the Ministry of Health, education is still the Cinderella of the local government services. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman in framing his Local Government Act, 1929, received no recommendations from the Royal Commission to help him, because when the County Councils' Association pressed upon the Royal Commission the desirability of hearing evidence on this point, the Royal Commission declined to hear any evidence and ruled the administration of education outside the scope of any report they intended to make. Obviously, the right hon. Gentleman himself was not responsible for that fact, and I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman, but it is unfortunate that all the developments in education, when outside controversial matters are now taking place, are very largely hampered by the fact that we have separate education authorities for Part II and Part III of the original Act of 1902.

It is, surely an anomaly that if within a borough or an urban district a child is in a selective central school doing advanced work, its education is provided for out of the borough or urban district rate, whereas if it is in a junior technical school or a, junior commercial school or a secondary school, its education is provided for out of the higher education rate. One has the amazing anomaly of a county council which is conducting a scheme of non-selective central schools and the boroughs and urban districts in its area conducting a scheme of selective central schools. The work of what is technically higher education is hampered and neglected by the fact that there are different policies with regard to education in the same area. It is an anomaly that should not be allowed to exist. I cannot help thinking that, far sooner than my hon. Friend led us to expect, it will be necessary, if we are going to get the best out of the reorganisation of elementary schools, that there should be one education authority in respect of all forms of education in connection with any one area. I suggest that die time for those Part III authorities has long since passed, and that the definition of elementary and higher education needs redrafting at the present time so that it shall really be in accordance with existing educational practice. It is being hindered by the fact that we have Part II and Part III authorities existing at the present time.

Most amazing and stupid anomalies have been created. Take the county of Surrey, for instance. Wimbledon with 4,500 children is a Part III authority, but Mitcham, the adjoining urban district, with 7,500 elementary school children is administered by the county council. In Mitcham, elementary and higher education are under one authority, the county council, but in Wimbledon there is a scheme of selective central schools under the borough council. There are a junior commercial school, a junior technical school, and two secondary schools under the county council. This case can be multiplied by hundreds throughout the country. I realise that this Bill prevents the multiplication of this difficulty in various parts of the country, but I hope that my hon. Friend and the Board of Education will seriously consider whether the time bas not arrived for a courageous reform of educational administration bringing educational administration more into line with educational practice than is the case at present. If such a thing were done, I am sure that the task of a reasonable reorganisation—I am leaving outside the question anything about raising the school age—and of securing that the children shall get the education for which they are best fitted, would be greatly helped, and that many of the questions arising between borough councils and county councils would be avoided.


I desire to say one or two words upon this Bill, but I am not going into the very big question raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). If he wants to know why the Royal Commission on Local Government did not deal with the question of Part III authorities, I think I can tell him. It was because people like the hon. Member made speeches about Part III authorities similar to that which he has made. He will remember that just before the Royal Commission came to that region of their study a report came out with recommendations on this subject, and immediately a dog fight started between those who took the line of the hon. Member on behalf of county councils and those who, on behalf of the Association of Education Committees, took the opposite line. That great journal "Education" contained fiery articles, which were almost exaggerated to the extent of a European and international crisis, on the subject of Part II and Part III authorities. The Royal Commission would have done no good stepping down into that arena where feeling had been thoroughly embittered already and trying to go over ground which had been gone over by the Hadow Committee with such unfortunate results in the way of disagreement. While it is no good making the kind of friendly attack on Part III authorities which the hon. Member for South Shields has made, there is a very strong case for facilitating agreement between Part II and Part III authorities.

This Bill does nothing more than what is very necessary to correct the effects of the 1929 Act. It is entirely non-contentious, and we shall support it. But I want the Government to consider whether they cannot add to this Bill provisions which will enable Part III authorities and Part II authorities to come to reasonable transitional temporary agreements in connection with the reorganisation of the schools in a county area, especially where the boundaries of the existing Part III authority are going to be extended as a result of the Local Government Act, 1929. The extension of the boundary of a Part III authority under the Act of 1929 in ordinary times would not make much difference—it would be a transfer from one to the other of a certain number of elementary schools—but at the present moment county councils are planning the central schools, and they have not the faintest idea whether this or that central school, by the time it is built—even by the time the foundations are laid—will not have departed from their area, and they will then have no power to finish it, and some other authority, the Part III authority to whose area, the territory has been added, will have to finish it.


I should like to remind the Noble Lord that under the Act of 1921 a local education authority can build a school outside its own area if it has to serve any of the population in its own area.


That is the point to which I was coming. I think the hon. Member has given an incomplete statement of the effects of the Act of 1921. While it is true that a local education authority can provide and maintain a school outside its own area for the benefit of children within its area, it is equally true that the power which is given to one authority by the Act of 1921 to delegate the management of a school to another authority is limited by the fact that the delegation may only be made in the case of a school which is within the area of the authority to whom the management is delegated. The provisions of the Act of 1921 interpose a number of restrictions on the power of these two local education authorities, the Part 2 and the Part 3 authorities, to make arrangements for one to run the schools of the other temporarily, or for one to take over a certain area within the territory of the other.

These provisions of the Act of 1921—I do not want to involve the House in a reference to the Sections of the Act—could be quite easily amended so as to give greater scope for agreement between these two classes of authorities in connection with reorganisation. That is what I want to see done. As the Parliamentary Secretary knows, I have suggested privately a certain Amendment which would have that effect, but I do not want to delay the course of the Bill, because it is important that it should come into operation as soon as possible. Moreover, I am the less anxious to delay the passage of the Bill by moving Amendments because in view of the Title of the Bill I am not at all sure that any Amendment that I might move would be in order. I should, however, like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary for an assurance. He treated us rather cavalierly when we were dealing with the matter on the School Attendance Bill, and I do not think that he realises fully the difficulty which does arise in connection with reorganisation in certain county areas, especially the suburban areas. Whether or not an Amendment of the kind that I have suggested could be put in the Bill, will the Parliamentary Secretary and the President of the Board of Education be prepared, if we do not make trouble by moving Amendments, to consider the introduction of another non-contentious Bill —I am not asking for compulsory powers but only for permissive powers—which will deal with these gaps in the Education Act of 1921, in the interests of smooth and speedy reorganisation in connection with the changes created by the Local Government Act of 1929.


The subject raised by the Noble Lord is one of great interest and one which obviously requires attention. I can assure him that we will examine the suggestion that he has made, in the hope that something may be possible.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr.Morgan Jones.]