HC Deb 15 February 1944 vol 397 cc79-97
Mr. Key (Bow and Bromley)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 26, to leave out "three" and insert "four."

I do so to call attention to what I think is a grave omission from the Bill—the necessary arrangements for the children who, at present, attend nursery schools or infant schools. It is rather an astounding fact, I think, that the infant schools are not mentioned in this Bill at all, particularly when we look at the White Paper to find what the opinion of the Board is on the present infants' schools arrangements. In the White Paper, for instance, it says: Many of the infants' schools are among the most successful of the publicly provided schools and then, in another passage, it says: It is generally accepted that there should be separate schools for infants and juniors respectively. Then, when we come to the definition in the Bill for the provision of junior pupils, we find that junior pupils are to comprise all children under the age of 12. Again, with regard to nursery schools, these, so far as the Bill is concerned, are regarded as being outside the normal provision for children. They were excluded from the categories of county or auxiliary schools, and are specifically included with the special schools for mentally and physically defective children. This is, I think, an altogether inadequate provision for what is a definitely distinct step in the education of the child, and I am certain that all people who have experience in the education of younger children will say that the period of from two to seven years is a definitely preparatory stage, for which separate provision should be made by the local education authorities.

Under the arrangements which are here contemplated in the Bill, I feel there is a very grave danger that those who have been hitherto regarded as infants in the separate establishments between the ages of five and seven, will find themselves merged into that general primary arrangement and mixed with the children of from seven to eleven. I also want to say, from many years' experience in elementary schools, that this break at five years of age is not a real psychological break in the child's development. It is merely an arbitrary break introduced into our legislation as a period of compulsory attendance and has nothing to do with educational development at all. I am certain that those who have given the greatest study to this matter would agree that the result of the psychological work which has been done in the last 25 years is to determine that this period, which is an all important one in settling the development of the future adult, is really a separate period in the child's development. The technique which has been worked out for dealing with the children in infant schools and nursery schools has been a result of a scientific and psychological approach to child development, and I feel it would be a disastrous thing if the benefits of that were lost merely in order to get a merger of these two types of school.

Moreover, I would say that this preparatory stage is an essential thing for the children who first attend school at the age of five, because children of that age are not physically capable of taking their stand in the general 7–11 school, and particularly in the case of those who come first to school at the age of five from single-child families. There is a period which is essential in their education for their adaptation to the communal surroundings of the school and their general fitting-in with its activities.

Even as far as the nursery schools are concerned, I am appalled at the sort of decision which the Board seems to have made that the natural thing is to separate the nursery school from the infants' school to make one period of 2–5 years and then another period a little later. I feel that this fatal mistake is quite clearly shown and demonstrated in the Bill, when it says that nursery schools are to be classified with special schools and that nursery schools are not to be regarded as a part of the normal provision. They are not, so far as adequate and full details are concerned, to be included in the development plan. There are no provisions made for adequate and proper boards of managers or governing bodies to look after the interests of the children in nursery schools, and they are left without guarantee so far as the standards, either, of building or of staffing, are concerned.

In the White Paper, it seemed that the Board was of opinion that the separate nursery schools would give a more suitable environment to smaller children as well as being nearer to the homes of their parents. That seems to imply that the infant school does not need that very natural environment, but, as I have said, the infants' schools have provided the greatest development in our system of education and have been the most hopeful places so far as the rearing and training of the young are concerned, and certainly the majority of the worth-while educational reforms in recent years have had their origin in the infants' school practice. At the same time, the claim for the nursery schools, that they may be nearer to the homes, has in it a greater drawback than advantage. I want to say that, from the point of view of the parents themselves, I think there is a great advantage in combining nursery school provision with the infant school provision.

I can imagine that there will be a great trial for many mothers in some of our areas who have two small children, one under the age of five and one just over, who have to be taken to school in the mornings—and so many of them feel it is essential to take them to school—and who have to make the choice, if the nursery school is in one direction and the infants' school in another, of doing this double journey four times a day. I am certain that, as soon as the attendance of the children over five is compulsory under the law, the one neglected, the one who will suffer and not receive the benefits of the nursery school provision, will be the child under five. There may be a great danger of the provision of small, separate nursery schools near to the people's homes resulting in a very inferior type of service. If we are to have a number of small, poky buildings in back streets, and call them nursery schools, we are not going to get the same benefit out of them as we should out of spacious nursery wings and the wide open spaces associated with a modern infant school.

The effect of trying to make small nursery schools near to homes will result, almost inevitably, in an unqualified staff, mad certainly in the absence of the assistance of a really experienced headmistress, while at the same time it will cause a very harmful and unnecessary psychological break in the child's development. These are not just mere idle fears. When I come to analyse the White Paper I find that, while it is discussing the question of the difficulty of raising the school-leaving age until 18 months after the end of the war, it is stated that one of the reasons for that difficulty is, that there will not be sufficient additional teaching staff available. In the very next paragraph I find these words: On the other hand, the expansion of nursery schools will not present the same difficulties. The only conclusion that can be drawn from that is that there will not be the same necessity in the nursery school for qualified members of the staff, which means in reality that they will only become baby minding institutions and not schools at all. In the Financial Memorandum which precedes the Bill it is said that little could be done in the first year or two after 1st April, 1945, in the way of new school buildings, because local authorities will be making plans and acquiring sites and the rate of development will depend upon the availability of building labour and materials. In the very next sentence it says: There will, however, be a relatively substantial early expansion of nursery schools which do not present the same difficulties of accommodation. The standards of nursery schools are designedly and deliberately inferior to the standards of the primary school. The last really disturbing thing is that even the inadequately staffed and equipped provision that was contemplated in the White Paper has, on second thoughts, been considered too good as far as the nursery school provision is concerned, for the Financial Memorandum reveals that the ultimate cost of the nursery school system—

The Deputy-Chairman

I am very reluctant to have to interrupt the hon. Member but he has covered a very considerable number of points which are likely to come up on other occasions on the Bill, and in discussing this Amendment I ought to warn the Committee that, if the discussion covers too many points, it will inevitably cut out other Amendments later.

Mr. Cove

That thought was passing through my mind as my hon. Friend was speaking. As far as I gather from his speech there are a number of us who are sympathetic to his point of view and to the Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd Georģe)—in page 4, line 41, after "of" insert "infant and"—and the Amendment which I have myself put down—in line 42, after "of," insert "infants and"—express what my hon. Friend desires. If this discussion ranges over a wide area, shall we have an opportunity on our Amendments of getting a decision from the Committee? Some of us are very keen about this, and it may be that the Minister, in his reply, will not satisfy us. We might, therefore, want to divide the Committee. From opinion outside, I find very great interest in it and a very keen desire to preserve intact all education up to the age of seven. I would like to know from the Chair whether we shall now have an opportunity of discussing the matter.

The Deputy-Chairman

Possibly I can relieve the hon. Gentleman's mind on the Amendment of the hon. Lady the Member for. Anglesey (Miss Lloyd Georģe). It is not necessary, as it is already covered, and so we need not have any worry about it.

Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)

My hon. Friends and I attach a great deal of importance to the word "infant," which does not come into the Bill in any part of any Clause. "Nursery school" is a different thing, and as education is organised at present there are infant schools with separate head teachers. We want it to be made clear whether the infant school is to remain part of the educational organisation or whether it is to disappear. That is why we are so anxious that the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd Georģe) shall be discussed.

The Deputy-Chairman

That may be raised when the time comes. I do not think that it comes in at the present time.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

Will you tell the Committee, Mr. Williams, whether you are allowing us to discuss this and the following Amendment—after "as" to insert "preparatory education"—together?

The Deputy-Chairman

The first two Amendments standing in the name of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key), who is moving the present Amendment, stand together.

Mr. Key

I have almost finished. The point that I want to stress is not really that we want infant schools or nursery schools but that this provision should be regarded as a preparatory stage in the system of education for which we are now making provision and that it would be entirely wrong to make a break at the age of five, because five is not the correct time for the change to be made. The provision that should be made should not be with the idea of saying that we can have charity schools set up as nursery schools or any other sort of organisation taking charge of nursery schools, and that the national provision for education is only to begin at the age of five. I will finish by quoting the opinion of one whose opinion should be followed in this matter, the late Principal of the Avery Hill Training College, who sums up the position in this way: Our aim should be to have preparatory schools for children aged two to seven where nurture is combined with education throughout. Nursery schools have demonstrated a way of life that combines nurture and education, but only for children up to five. Nursery classes have introduced this way of life for children under five in infant schools. Nursery classes represent the transition stage with all its drawbacks but the influence of the nursery class must in time inevitably modify the arrangement throughout the whole of the infant school. The nurture provided for the children aged three and four cannot for long be denied the children aged five and six, who are in the adjoining classes. That, from one of great experience, is convincing evidence of the necessity of making such provision in the new scheme of education of which the Bill is to be the instrument, and that that preparatory stage shall have its position, together with the primary, secondary and continued education, as a stage for which local authorities must make adequate and proper provision.

Mr. Harvey

I hope very much that the Minister may be willing to accept the Amendment. It really marks a very notable stage of advance in our conception of education. We are all grateful to the Minister for the big advance that has been made with regard to the national provision of nursery schools, but it would be incomplete if he did not recognise in the structure of the Bill the points that have been made with such knowledge by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key). The preparatory stage of education is a stage apart in so far as we can separate the whole continuous process of education into parts. Great emphasis is necessarily laid in this stage on the formation of habits and on cultivating a sense of community, of the way of living together, of the gifts of character which get the opportunity of development in the nursery school and in the earliest stage of preparatory education. Education at that stage is necessarily less formal. Children in these schools spend a certain amount of time sleeping. It is well that they should. That is not usually considered education, but it is a very necessary part of the early stage of physical development in the case of these children.

It is of great importance that the transition from the earliest stages of the nursery school to the later stages in the infant school should be made as easy and as elastic as possible. From that point of view it is very desirable that the age of seven should mark the period of transition rather than the age of five. Although no arbitrary age limit can be fixed as the time when the child will inevitably pass from one to the other stage those who have studied this most intimately and who have the most practical experience are united in agreeing that the age of five is not the true age at which to mark the transition from one period to another. Therefore, I hope very much that the Minister will be willing to accept the Amendment, thus marking in the structure of the Bill the importance which I am sure the Board of Education places upon the preparatory period of education and its distinctive characteristics.

Dr. Edith Sunmerskill (Fulham, West)

I want to support what has already been so admirably expressed by the mover of this Amendment. It is difficult to understand why this new system of education has been divided into three stages, primary, secondary and further education, and the preparatory stage has been absolutely neglected. I agree with the hon. Member who has just spoken that the inclusion of the two to fives in the new system of education is probably the most revolutionary part of the Bill and yet we are neglecting it in this Clause; we are going to treat it, as far as I can see, as an afterthought. The psychologists say that our characters are formed before the age of seven, and I think it is right that those curious things known as complexes and inhibitions are instilled before the age of seven. So I want the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider this matter and to treat the preparatory stage as one which is of equal importance with the primary and secondary stages in education.

I am anxious that emphasis should be laid on it for this reason also. We do not want mothers, when they come to consider these new proposals, to look upon the training which the two to fives will receive in our schools as the type of training they might receive in a superior crèche. We do not want the mothers of the country to think "Other women who have two to fives who are not being brought up in a proper manner, should certainly send their children to school, but my child is in a home where it does not need this particular training." That is the wrong approach. Unless, however, the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister decide to put more emphasis on the preparatory stage, this will be the interpretation of mothers of small children in the country. I also want to support what the mover of the Amendment said about the ages which should be included in the preparatory stage. Not only the two to fives should have this particular training but the five to sevens should also be included.

Mr. Morgan

Is the hon. Lady advocating compulsory nursery schools?

Dr. Summerskill

Certainly not. I should like to advocate it, but I have not mentioned compulsion. I am accepting the provisions of this Bill and this is a voluntary measure entirely. But surely, if we are going to offer this provision, we should explain to the country the kind of training that the children should have. Later on it may become compulsory, but I am quite satisfied with the first step. I am a little apprehensive lest the five to sevens will not obtain the same benefits as the two to fives.

The Deputy-Chairman

Again I regret having to interrupt, but there is on the Paper an Amendment in the names of the hon. Members for Bradford Central (Mr. Leach) and Park Division, Sheffield (Mr. Burden) which raises the whole question of the five to sevens, and if we discuss it here, we shall not be able to do it there.

Dr. Summerskill

Certainly, Mr. Williams, I bow to your decision. But may I emphasise that I do want the Parliamentary Secretary to amend Clause 7 and to describe the four stages of the system, including the preparatory stage.

Sir P. Harris

I believe there should be four stages instead of three, for the very sane reason given by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) who desires to preserve one of the finest things in our educational system which has been the admiration of the world, the infants' school. We shall be discussing the infants' school, I assume, on the next Clause but in his desire for uniformity the Minister is giving a wrong impression to those devoted women who have dedicated their lives to the work of the infants' schools. That would be nothing short of tragedy. Under the reorganisation scheme, in the London area there would be three stages—infants' schools, the junior school, and the senior school. Now we understand the infants' school is to be squeezed out and merged into the primary organisation. That would be to undermine all the work carried out during the last century.

The danger we see is that in agreeing that the excellent institution, the nursery school, should be organised right throughout this country, the infants' school may disappear. I do hope we can have an assurance that this is not going to happen. If there is any danger of it, I hope my hon. Friend will press his Amendment to a Division. When I was in Germany studying education many years ago, one thing I noticed was that what we call "infants"—the stage from five to seven—were mixed up in the ordinary primary school and heavy Prussian gentlemen were attempting to teach small children from five to seven. That is the kind of thing we do not want in this country. Therefore, it is important that we should have some guarantee that the machinery of education which this Bill is going to build up will include, not merely infants' classes, but proper infants' schools, with special teachers and a special syllabus—based on the Froebel idea and all those delightful experiments which have been the admiration of everybody who has seen our schools at work. There has been much criticism of the junior schools—that comes out in various reports such as the Hadow Report—but there has been nothing but admiration for the infants' schools. I want to see that the organisation is such that it will be possible to secure as part of our educational system the excellent institutions known as the infants' schools.

Sir Harold Webbe (Westminster, Abbey)

I hope very much that the Minister will not accept this Amendment. The argument put forward by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) can only be valid and have full effect if one contemplates what was said by the hon Lady the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) who, quite frankly, said she would desire the lowering of the school age to two. Apart from that, there can be no merit whatever in specifying a separate stage of preparatory education. I do not at all share the fears of the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). I, too, attach the greatest importance to the maintenance of our excellent infants' schools in their present very advanced stage of development. I believe the infants' schools have developed more over the last 40 or 50 years than any other section of our education, and that they are the best of their kind in the whole educational system. It is because I am anxious that these excellent schools should not be spoiled, that I deprecate strongly linking them with the nursery schools in the way in which the mover of this Amendment has done.

I am old-fashioned enough to believe that the training given in the nursery schools in ideal conditions should certainly be given not in a school at all but in the home. But I am quite aware that, in many cases, home conditions do not permit of this training being given as we should desire. Where those conditions obtain, then we must have recourse to the second best of either nursery schools or nursery classes, but in my personal view it is definitely a second best with the school usurping the place of the parent.

I am afraid my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will get into trouble if ever he tries to do anything good. The provision in his Bill for the development of nursery schools and nursery classes is excellent. It gives us hope of the development of something which, in our social and economic condition, is a necessity. But immediately that concession is made in the Bill, he is at once driven by the educationists—and Heaven forbid that I should ever be one of those—to the idea of a school age of two. If he ventured to go much further along the road, the school age would be nought, because we have exactly the same argument every time, both about the age for beginning education and the age for finishing it. It is, invariably, in the view of the educationist, the year before the child goes to school, whatever age you fix, and the year after he leaves, whatever age you fix, which is the critical one in his period of development. I hope sincerely that this Amendment will be resisted. It will give the impression that Parliament wants to rope in to the school system children of two years of age throughout the country.

The Temporary Chairman (Sir Robert Young)

I do not think there is anything here about children of two years of age.

Sir H. Webbe

I was only following the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley and by the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham. They based the whole of their arguments for this period upon a linking up of the nursery school provision from two to five with that of the infant school from five to seven.

The Temporary Chairman

But the question is whether it is to be four instead of three, and whether the words "preparatory education" should be added. I understand that the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) was answering an interruption from the other side of the Committee.

Sir H. Webbe

I must leave it to the Committee to say whether I have heard the hon. Lady aright, but I am protesting against this introduction of what is called a fourth stage of education, and I do so on the grounds I have tried to make clear.

Mr. Cove

I have risen to try to point out that we have not got at the real heart of the problem. There is no fear existing that infants' schools will be swallowed up by nursery schools. The difficulty, and the fear, is that the infants' school will be swallowed up in the junior school. I am in touch with a large number of teachers and administrators of education and there is a genuine fear that the infants' schools will be swallowed up in the junior schools. That is that the infant school will suffer from the downward thrust of the junior school. May I put it this way? There is the fear that the man who is the head of the junior school will intrude into the sphere of the infant and nursery schools, where a woman is the better fitted person. I am not an expert in educationist methods and psychology and things of that kind, but it is generally true that the greatest contribution made to the British educational system during the last 10 to 20 years has come out of the treatment of our very young children in infants' schools. It would be a tragedy if that were lost.

I know the difficulty of this matter. When schools have been reorganised and younger children have gone into the junior schools there has been a tendency to have the pressure of examinations at 11 years of age thrusting itself downwards into the methods of the school. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] The hon. Member must not tell me that, because I know. I have had experience, and it is useless for him to tell me that. I want to keep young children free from the incubus of examinations. I want them to have a free play life. It is the plain and natural method of the young child I want to see if he is to have a chance. I want to keep children of seven out of the claws of the examiners. I know there can be resiliency in the organisation. We do not mind whether they are nursery schools or infant schools, and so on, but let us have a chance in this free play area to carry out what we have already started. There is great difficulty about the Amendment, but I want the Committee to come to some decision. It is vitally important in the interests of our education that we should preserve our young children from all the pressure that comes afterwards. Margaret MacMillan's great experiment ought to be carried out in the State schools. Where I differ from the hon. Member opposite is that I do not want State compulsion for children of two years of age.

Mr. Astor (Fulham, East)

If the hon. Member is referring to me he is quite wrong, because I agree with him.

Mr. Cove

No, I was not referring to the hon. Member. I do not want State compulsion for children from two to seven, but I do want the State to be directly interested in this sphere of education—and I leave out all private venture or merely the assistance of the State as a private venture. I believe the State should come in much more and should safeguard the lives of these growing children, and not allow pressure from the top to squeeze their lives into the rut of the examination system.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education (Mr Ede)

My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key), who moved this Amendment, ranged over a wide area of the educational field, and to reply to all the points he raised would involve a reply to all the Amendments on the Order Paper which deal with the next three Clauses. I cannot hope, Sir Robert, that you would allow me to do that. I hope the Committee realise that this is a declaratory Clause and that it endeavours to set out for the first time the conception that education is a continuous process. We have now arrived, by fairly general consent in the country, at what is the boundary line in age as between the primary and secondary stage. The magic phrase "11 plus" seems to command fairly general assent. But we have no such consensus of agreement as to the point at which the preparatory stage should pass into the primary stage. My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley has an Amendment, which is linked up with this Clause, on the next Clause, which would limit preparatory education to full-time education suitable to the requirements of infant pupils and pupils who have not attained the age of five. There is a great volume of opinion in the country which holds that the proper age for the end of that stage would be seven years. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford Central (Mr. Leach) has an Amendment down to effect that, and, quite clearly, there is a very wide range of difference on that first point.

We now come to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), namely, that there is considerable doubt—to put it no higher than that—as to whether the proper place for a child in the five to seven group is in the infant school or in a junior school that has a range from five to eleven. The point of view of the Government, as expressed in the White Paper, was paraphrased by my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley, but it is necessary to point out the actual words, because they are one of the limiting factors in development along these lines. The White Paper stated: It is generally accepted that wherever numbers make it possible there should be separate schools for infants and juniors respectively. That is the view of His Majesty's Government, and we stand by that. The fact that the word "infant" does not appear in the Bill is not peculiar to this Bill, because it cannot be found in the Act of 1921 under which we are now working. This is a question of the organisation of schools after the system has been determined. We believe that, where numbers make it possible, there should be a separate infants' department for those children of compulsory school age who are under their seventh birthday. It means, in general, that they stay in these schools until they are about 7½. We accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) and others said regarding the valuable work done in recent years in infant schools. I recollect that my first job as a member of the National Union of Teachers was to agitate in my own county that infant school teachers should be paid as much as girls' school teachers. No one would suggest to-day that infant school teachers are in any way inferior to girls' school teachers or that their job is not in every way equivalent. We have, I think, generally recognised that what has been said in favour of infants' departments is justified.

It is quite clear that any effort to define the upper range of the so-called preparatory department would involve us in a controversy with regard to which the bitterness of the Part III controversy would be quite mild. The differences between the advocates of the two to five nursery school and the two to seven nursery school are so acute that it is as well for mere man to keep out of them. I have had to meet deputations of people who have advocated both methods, but I have never yet attempted to meet the two deputations simultaneously. We have given very careful consideration to this question of the stages. We must realise that some words are used in this Bill in a way that they have not been used hitherto. It is true that, up to the present, junior means seven to eleven, but from the definition Clause of this Bill junior means a pupil who has not attained the age of 12. Therefore, the phrase "junior pupil" as set out in one of the Clauses, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley referred, has a far different meaning from that which is commonly used at the present time. My hon. Friend alluded to the fact that in a later Clause of the Bill we have exempted nursery schools and special schools from coming into the category of county and auxiliary schools. We did that for this simple reason: We did not want to extend all the disorders and terrors of the dual system into the nursery school.

Mr. Lindsay

Could my hon. Friend deal with the management question?

Mr. Ede

Yes, it is quite clear that we did not want to have the stereotyped form of management which the 40 years' working of the 1902 Act has imposed on us with regard to the provided and non-provided schools of the country. These schools are experimental; very many valuable experiments are being carried on in them at the present time. To attempt at this stage to stereotype the experiment and limit it by attempting to decide whether five or seven will ultimately be the right age at which the preparatory stage should end and the primary stage should begin, would be a disaster to one of the freest movements going on in the country at the moment. I hope the Committee will agree that three stages will represent the real view of education as it will be practised. I hope they will feel that we must have elasticity in the system to allow any development from five to seven to occur. Perhaps our successors at some future date will be able to decide which is the appropriate age at which the preparatory stage should end.

Mr. Woods (Finsbury)

I have listened with considerable interest to the Parliamentary Secretary's speech. I was waiting for strong arguments as to why the Amendment should be resisted, and although I agreed with a good deal of what he said I did not hear one such argument. He said the Clause was declaratory. If that is so, why not recognise that there is a stage of education which can only be properly called preparatory?

If the Government would accept this Amendment and agree to recognise that, then there would be more likelihood of some wider and subsequent statement elaborating our experience. There could have been provided in this Bill a much more definite experimentation. The whole idea of compulsion being applied is, in my view, right outside the question. The arguments that have been used against this with regard to the home being the proper place seem to me to avoid entirely the actual experience in working-class homes to-day. In many homes nowadays there is just one child, and the education of that child is achieved very largely by contact, intercourse and fellowship with other children, and I think a large percentage of people to-day suffer from the effects of loneliness in infancy. It is obvious, as the Parliamentary Secretary and the Committee know, that if these nursery schools are going to be worth while it is no good just adapting any old building and getting any person there.

With all due respect, my contention is that nothing would be lost and a good deal would be gained if the Government accepted the insertion of the words "preparatory education," and then they would be justified in making the necessary revisions within that so that the experiment could take place. With regard to the desire expressed by the Parliamentary Secretary that nursery schools should not become involved, I think the whole Committee heartily agree and endorse that. As I see the problem of education, one thing we have to avoid is the putting of additional expense upon those parents who have families. We should go out of our way to make every provision to see that their children have from earliest infancy the fullest facilities for a first-class education.

Mr. Lindsay

I only want to ask my hon. Friend one question. Could he be a little conciliatory—I do not think this is worth a Division but there is a very big issue coming up on a later Amendment—and give us a statement as to whether we are dealing with children aged two to seven? Many of us, both inside and outside the House, feel that there should be flexibility between the ages of two and seven. There are something like 1,500,000 children in this category, half a million aged five and another half million aged six and the remainder in nursery schools and classes. We do not want all of them to be in nursery or all in infant schools. Each area has different problems, rural and urban.

Mr. Ede

I am anxious to be conciliatory to my hon. Friend. I had hoped that I had made it quite clear that we were resisting this Amendment so as to retain flexibility. Nobody knows better than the hon. Member himself of the great war going on between the two-to-five and the two-to-seven protagonists, and while he wants, apparently, to retain flexibility from two to seven and regards that as the preparatory stage, there are other people with experience in education equal to his own, neither greater nor less, who hold the other view. Quite clearly, when the matter is still very fluid and when no one can say a decision has been reached it would be wrong of the Government to attempt to put the whole education system into a strait-jacket and say the preparatory stage ended at either five or seven. What my Friend the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Woods) said will be answered when we come to the next Clause. What I have really been asked to do by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) is to give a Second Reading exposition of the next three Clauses of the Bill. That, clearly, is impossible on this Amendment. We desire flexibility and we think the best way of securing flexibility is not at this stage to introduce a particular limit which is, at the moment, the subject of the most violent controversy.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)

I think before we allow this Clause to leave the Committee there are one or two points we should refer to or get further enlightenment upon. The Parliamentary Secretary has, just stated that this Clause is merely declaratory. I think it is rather more than declaratory, yet not sufficiently definitive, for if one reads the terms of the Clause it definitely puts a special responsibility on local authorities. It charges them with the moral, mental and physical development of the community. That is a very tall order, and I am not even sure that they are in a position to be so charged or made responsible for the moral, mental and physical development of the community. Such development does not depend on education alone. It depends upon the housing authorities to a large extent, and if this is going to be carried out according to the declaration it will mean that the education authorities and the housing authorities will have to work in close contact. There are one or two points which my hon. Friend has not made clear enough to the local authorities. In the preliminary stage of education which is mentioned in this Clause local authorities will be responsible for denominational teaching. I am not sure that it would not be better to ignore denominational teaching in the preliminary stage and simply concentrate on the Christian virtues.

The Temporary Chairman

Would the hon. and gallant Member discuss only what is in the Clause?

Sir T. Moore

That is just what I thought I was doing. May I again quote the words "moral, mental and physical development"?

The Temporary Chairman

I cannot allow the time of the Committee to be taken up in a discussion of this sort. We should be here all day.

Sir T. Moore

It rather cramps one's views and responsibility to pass a Clause like this, because obviously the local authorities, as I said at the beginning, are charged with a very serious and wide scope of duties, and there is nothing in the Clause which goes beyond the declaration that they are so charged. My view is that the Clause should contain something more definitive as to how the local authorities—

The Temporary Chairman

The Committee has not amended it, so the question that the Clause stands part has been put, and we must discuss it as it is.

Sir T. Moore

I think my hon. colleagues have failed considerably in their duty, and I am merely trying to make good their omissions. However, I am not quite clear as to whether the question of the local authorities having been sufficiently guided by the Minister in regard to securing teachers of the necessary quality would come under your Ruling, because that, to my mind, is an important point.

The Temporary Chairman

I think the hon. Gentleman must be advised that he cannot pursue that point. We have now discussed the matter and he should remember that when the Clause comes to be discussed as a whole we are very largely in the same position in relation to the Clause as we are when we read a Bill the Third time. We must discuss what is in the Clause or Bill.

Sir T. Moore

Far be it from me to handicap the great efforts that my right hon. Friend is making towards getting this Bill through with such good will, and it is strongly against my better judgment to prevent this by standing on this Clause, and therefore, while retaining to myself full authority to bring in any such Amendment at a later stage as may appear to make good the Clause as it may stand, I will for the moment resume my seat.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.