§ 10.59 p.m.
§ Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
I beg to move, in page 2, line 6, after the word "authority," to insert the words:or by the local education authority for an adjoining area.It may be that this Amendment and the subsequent Amendment which I have put down—in page 2, line 13, after the word "situate," to insert the words "or in an adjoining area"—are more or less Committee points and would have been better raised when the Bill was considered in Committee upstairs on the 22nd June. I do not dissent from that view, but I was not a member of that Committee. Bills are passed through Committee sometimes so quickly that occasionally they call for Amendment on the Floor of the House. This is not a frivolous or an ill-considered Amendment, but one which has been very carefully thought out by responsible bodies, and I move it on behalf of the Municipal Cor- 1462 porations' Association, who, as every Member of the House is aware, are deeply interested in the administration and the advancement of our educational system.
In urging support of the Amendment I must crave the indulgence of the House for a moment or two. The law at present prohibits and prevents the closing of any school whether it is a private or a non-provided school, or whether it is a school run by a local authority or by some voluntary organisation, if there is any dispute in the matter or if there are more than 30 children in attendance at the school. This Bill repeals part of Sub-section (1) of Section 19 of the Education Act, 1921. That Sub-section reads:The Board of Education shall, without unnecessary delay, determine, in case of dispute, whether a school is necessary or not, and, in so determining, and also in deciding on any appeal as to the provision of a new school, shall have regard to the interest of secular instruction, to the wishes of parents as to the education of their children, and to the economy of the rates; but"—and these are the words that are struck out—a school for the time being recognised as a public elementary school shall not be considered unnecessary in which the number of scholars in average attendance, as computed by the Board of Education, is not less than thirty.In substitution of those words, it is proposed by this Bill to allow the closing of a school of over 30 children, provided that it can be shown to the satisfaction of the Board of Education that such a school is unnecessary, that accommodation is available in a neighbouring school, by the same local authority, and, in the case of non-provided schools, of the same denominational character as the school to be closed. This provision prevents and forbids co-operation between neighbouring local authorities. My Amendment, if accepted, will allow of such co-operation if a school in the area of a neighbouring authority is reasonably accessible, provided the accammodation is suitable and available. The determining authority as to whether there is that accessibility and availability is the Board of Education, and I may add that the Board of Education, in giving their decision, must have due regard and give due weight to all interested bodies and associations which care to make representations to them. That, in my judgment, is a very important safeguard.
1463 The advantage of the Amendment is that it is a permissive and an enabling power, and I think it may prove in certain cases of real value. In support of the Amendment, I would like to cite a hypothetical case of an authority which is carrying out a large housing scheme, and in the process of carrying it out also erects a modern, convenient, and efficient school, at which the welfare of the children is well looked after, at which there are good playgrounds, and where the best interests of the children are taken into account, both in respect of their ages and to their capacities, where also the wishes of the parents are duly considered. It seems to me that under this Bill it is somewhat absurd if, just over the border of a local authority that wishes to close a school, there are all these advantages and amenities, and yet the local authority is unable to take advantage of them and send its children over the border by arrangement with the neighbouring local authority. I submit, with all respect and diffidence, that it is unreasonable to deny a local authority those advantages and privileges which we are asking for officially through the medium of the Amendment, which has been put forward by the Association of Municipal Corporations.
There is a further point which is worthy of consideration by the House, and that is the question of the saving of expense. As a result of this little Bill, a saving may be anticipated in rates and taxes and in Exchequer grants of something like £100,000 a year. That is a saving of £2,000,000 capital at the rate of 5 per cent. interest. It has been urged against this proposal that there might be administrative difficulties. I fail entirely to see why there should be administrative difficulties, and for the reason that the Amendment is proposed by those who are most concerned with the efficiency of our educational system. At the present time we know that arrangements are constantly made as between one local authority and another in respect of nursing services and various kinds of educational services.
I hope the Minister in charge of the Bill will not reject the Amendment, but will look upon it with sympathy. It may meet with some opposition, but when opposition is made to any proposal we are entitled to consider whether that 1464 opposition is reasonable or unreasonable. The main consideration before the House should not be merely to make a change, but that when we make a change we should see that it is made for the greatest good of the greatest number. Some saving will be effected. There will be some economy by the closing of redundant schools, which will undoubtedly lead to greater efficiency in administration and efficiency in our educational system. The burden of rates at the present time is excessive, the load of taxes is most oppressive, and any and every step the House can take to lighten either of those loads is to the advantage of the community as a whole. I commend the Amendment in that respect to the consideration of the House.
§ 11.8 p.m.
§ Mr. ANNESLEY SOMERVILLE
There is one point to which attention has not been drawn by the Mover of the Amendment, and it is that the adjoining authority may be an urban authority and the children transferred may belong to a village. One of the objects of the countryside is to preserve village life, and I would not like to give in any Bill power to transfer children from a village school to an urban school.
§ 11.9 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of EDUCATION (Mr. Ramsbotham)
There is a good deal of substance, as might be expected in an Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton). It has a certain logical basis, but I am not sure that logic is always the essential ingredient of our legislation. There are powerful practical arguments on the other side, and I hope to convince the hon. Member and the House that on the whole the balance of argument is in favour of leaving the Bill as it stands. I will state the arguments briefly. They are four in number. The first is that, by Section 34 of the existing Act of 1921, the local authority, with the approval of the board, has power to redistribute children between voluntary schools of the same denominational character. That is to say, children over 11 in church school "A" can be directed to attend church school "B." There is also a provision in Section 34 that this redistribution can 1465 only operate in schools in the area of the same local authority. If this Amendment were accepted, you would get this anomalous position—that you would be able to carry out the major operation of closing the school entirely and sending the children across into the area of another local authority, whereas you could not, under that Section 34, carry out the minor operation of redistributing the children. It may be asked, why not amend Section 34? The answer is, first, that this Bill is confined to Section 19 and designedly confined, because it is the desire of the Government to make as little inroad as possible on the great settlement of 1902.
The second point is that many local authorities naturally dislike what is called the problem of the border-children. They give rise to serious financial complications, and there are disagreements between the local authorities as to the rate at which one should pay for children who live in one's own area but go to school in another area. The third point is that the cases in which a removal of this restriction as suggested by the Amendment is likely to be useful are, I am advised, very few and far between. They are likely to be very rare. So that financially speaking, and educationally speaking, this Amendment is really de minimis.
Fourthly, even if the effect be unimportant, the bodies responsible for the voluntary schools do not view, or would not view, this Amendment with any great pleasure. As the Bill stands now, I am bound to admit that it has been received by the voluntary school bodies with acquiescence rather than with enthusiasm, and it is the Government's policy to do nothing in this Bill which can give rise to the claim that the settlement of 1902 is being upset. Therefore, I suggest to the House that on the whole it is wiser to maintain the limitation as in the Bill, and I beg my hon. Friend not to press the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."1466
§ Mr. A. SOMERVILLE
We all recognise that the village life of the country must be preserved. We are trying to foster some form of village industry. The great movement of women's institutes has done much to preserve the amenities of the countryside. The Ministry of Health is endeavouring to recondition rural dwellings that need reconditioning, and the Minister of Agriculture is trying to improve the conditions of agriculture. It is not for the Board of Education to come in and, possibly, destroy a most valuable centre of village life, the village school. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has just stated that this Bill has been received with acquiescence rather than with enthusiasm by the voluntary schools. I plead with him and with the Board generally to exercise the powers of the Bill with mercy and discretion, because the village school is the centre of village life, and it will be a great pity if, in the name of efficiency and economy, that centre is destroyed.
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ Mr. WELLS
I should like to support the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville). I have several villages in my constituency where the schools have already been closed, and the effect has been that the villages are becoming smaller. People prefer to go to the larger villages where the schools exist, so that the larger villages have increased in size while the smaller rural villages will gradually disappear if this process goes on.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.