HC Deb 24 February 1944 vol 397 cc988-1023
Amendment proposed

In page 9, line 33, at the end, to insert: otherwise than in pursuance of a development plan submitted under the provisions of Section ten of this Act."—[Mr. Moelwyn Hughes.] Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

When the Committee adjourned last week we were discussing this Amendment, the purpose of which is the avoidance of duplication and waste of time. The Committee will recall that under Clause 10 a plan has to be drawn up by the local authority. They are allowed 12 months in which to prepare it, and then it has to be submitted to the Minister. He considers it and, if he approves of it, he makes an order under Clause 11. There is then the plan for the whole of the area covered by that local authority. Under Clause 12 as it stands there has to be a repetition of all the stages which the local authority have gone through in preparing their plan under Clause 10. The suggestion made by the Parliamentary Secretary was that the plan under Clause 10 would not contain very many particulars but be rather of a general nature, and I was disputing that when the Committee adjourned. Let me point out how detailed is the plan prepared under Clause 10. I had already dealt with paragraph (a) of Sub-section (2), where it says they are to specify which of the schools should become secondary schools and give particulars even of the proposals which they have made as to the nature of the education to be provided. Under paragraph (b) they have even to specify what alterations are required in the premises of any school and furnish estimates of the cost. That means going completely into details. Under paragraph (c) the plan must specify what additional county schools and auxiliary schools, if any, will be required in the area. Further, the plan is to contain such other particulars of the proposals of the authority with respect to schools for providing primary and secondary education for their area as the authority think necessary, or as the Minister may require: In doing all that they have to consult the managers under Sub-section (3), which says: A local education authority shall, before submitting their development plan to the Minister, consult the managers or governors, or persons representing the managers or governors, of all schools other than county schools, whether within or without the area of the authority, which would in the opinion of the authority be affected by the execution of the plan, and shall, after submitting the plan to the Minister, forthwith furnish to the managers or governors of every such school such particulars relating to the plan as are sufficient to show the manner in which the school would be affected by the execution thereof. A whole 12 months are to be taken up in going into all these details, and then the complete plan for the area is drawn up and is submitted to the Minister. He takes his own time over considering it and then he makes his order. Then we come to Clause 12, which says: Where a local authority intend— (a) to establish a new county school. That comes within the plan under Clause 10; or (b) to maintain as a county school any school which at the time being is not such a school. This again is dealt with under Clause 10; or (c) to cease to maintain any county school … they shall submit proposals for that purpose to the Minister. But they have already done it. Why have they to do it a second time? Having done that, they then have to wait three months, during which period an opportunity is given either for the management or for any 10 electors to make objections. The whole thing will be held up for three months, because under Sub-section (5) a local authority shall not without the leave of the Minister do or undertake to do anything … for which proposals are required by this Section to be submitted to the Minister until such proposals have been approved by him. If Clause 12 remains unamended there will be a postponement for an extra three months even after the plan has been approved. That seems to be playing with the whole matter. I submit that there has been shockingly bad drafting. If the Government wanted to maintain the right of 10 electors to oppose the proposals or to make their own proposals it should have been arranged for in Clause 10, before the final plan was drawn up. For some reason or other the draftsman has been unable to frame it that way. As an after-thought he puts it all in again in Clause 12. The only way in which we can put this matter right is by accepting this Amendment which says "Frame a plan, have a year for the consideration of the scheme, and there is an end of the whole matter."

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)

I think my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) is mistaken upon one or two points, but I am getting so alarmed over the number of occasions on which these development plans can be held up that I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary a few questions. He has spoken earlier of a complete survey, with details of every auxiliary school and an estimate of bringing it up to date. As I understand it the difference between Clause 10 and Clause 12 is the difference between a plan and specific proposals, but I am not sure that that is quite good enough, because the President of the Board of Education said a development plan referred only to the lay-out of existing schools within an authority's area. Is it not time that we became a little realist about the nature of this development plan?

I have taken the trouble to look up the 1921 Act and it seems to me that, so far from speeding up the proposals any local education authorities may put forward, this Bill is going to lengthen the procedure. In Clause 18 there is a provision for new schools, and the scheme suggested by Mr. Fisher is not very different from the new development plan. In fact, the only difference is that there is an Education Order, and I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. M. Hughes) and the hon. Member who has just spoken that there is likely to be some duplication. But it is much more serious than that, especially after the last few days and nights.

We are living in an utterly different world. A large number of schools no longer exist, and for many areas, certainly many county borough and built-up areas, no plan worth its name can be put forward until the general civic planning scheme is also put forward. How do we know where the population is going to be housed? How do we know where the arteries of transport will be required and, in regard to the religious question, how do we know where Catholic and Church of England schools are going to be required? We are at present living in a complete dream world on these matters. There is in fact no difference between the Fisher scheme, which asks for a progressive and comprehensive scheme of education, and this plan. The only difference is that my hon. Friend limited his words to existing schools and the alteration in auxiliary schools which were going to be made into county schools. I understand also that this plan does not include technical adult education: this is for secondary and primary schools only.

I should like to ask my hon. Friend about the Amendment which he accepted from the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir W. James). I have reread the wording of that Amendment. Does it mean that this plan is going to include the playing fields? The only point in accepting that Amendment was that it must come into the development plan. His whole speech was devoted to the building process and unless playing-fields are also included which implies a detailed knowledge of the general civic plan it seems to me we cannot make much progress. Either Clause 10 is going to be a general financial estimate or something in fairly considerable detail. I continue this because of a highly informed article in "The Times Educational Supplement" of a few weeks ago, in which the writer said: "Mr. Butler wants to know what new schools you want and where you want them." Until physical reconstruction plans are ready he said "it is impossible to give more than a provisional answer." In his words, all educational planning remains "tentative."

I appreciate the point my hon. Friend made that where a new school is going to be built you must obviously have some local inquiry. This may be more democratic, but it is also more delaying. Right at the end of the last Debate my hon. Friend accepted an Amendment from the hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir J. Mellor). He accepted it in a peculiar way. He said "We had to resist all the others so we accept this." He also said the Amendment had been moved very convincingly. What does that mean? The Amendment means a further delay. If local education authorities disagree with Clause 11 or with certain points in it, the Education Order can come back to this House and can lie on the table for 40 days. I am all for genuine democracy and proper regard to people's wishes, but the number of delays now being put in Clauses 10, 11 and 12 does not mean a speeding up process in building schools as compared with the Fisher Act or with pre-war methods. It does mean that the Education Order lays some of the obligation on the local education authorities.

Then I come to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster). He rather attacked me in the opening Debate on this Bill when I said "Direction rather than control," and yet in moving an Amendment he said he hoped the Minister would not modify the plan of the local authority and give directions to over-ride the original plan—

The Chairman

I do not think the hon. Member should extend his remarks to all these other Clauses. He should confine himself to the Amendment in question.

Mr. Lindsay

I will bring my remarks to a close, but I rose to speak because we do not yet know the exact financial relations between Whitehall and the Local Authorities. We have already agreed that the size of classes and the equivalence of secondary schools have got to be in regulations that we have not seen, and yet we are parting with the main issue of this Bill, which is a development plan, on Clause 10, and I am only asking that some consideration shall be given to the Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend who wishes to be quite sure that there is no duplication between Clause 12 and Clause 10. I beg to support the Amendment.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

May I make an appeal to the Chair? We all want to facilitate the passage of this Bill and all of us who are seriously concerned with Amendments are very anxious to make them clear, but I would suggest that hon. Members in moving Amendments might make their speeches more concise and keep to the point.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

On a point of Order. Is it not correct to say that whether Members make their speeches brief or not has nothing to do with the Chair? It is one of the privileges and rights of this House that individual Members shall decide on the length of their speeches.

The Chairman

In strictness, the Noble Lord is, of course, correct, but I hope the Committee will co-operate in keeping speeches short.

Mr. Lindsay

I refrained from speaking during the discussions on Clause 10, and that is why I had to intervene to support my hon. Friend to-day.

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

I think that if we proceed along the lines followed by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) we may be able to get this matter correctly into perspective. The development plan was described the other day by the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. M. Hughes) as a blue print. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) said it was not a blue print but a sketch. May I say that on that matter I find myself somewhat surprisingly in alliance with the hon. Member for Ipswich. The development plan, in the main, is a sketch and not a blue print, and I think the Committee will see the strength of that remark when we examine Clause 10 (2, c) along the lines adopted by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. Clause 10 (2, a and b) relate to existing schools and can be examined in complete detail. The surveys, in most cases, are already in the offices of the education authorities and the question in many cases will merely be whether it is better to patch up an old school or build a new one. I think that will be the main contention under (a) and (b) but when we come to (c) I find myself in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay).

Clearly, when we come to new schools—the development plan will have to be finished by the 31st March, 1946—we shall have to know where the population is going to be and we shall also want to know about the layout of the district. We hope to be in on the town planning in a way we never have been in the past. When local authorities are laying out a district they will have to show that they have taken into consideration the population in relation to where the schools are to be built. But before 1st April, 1946—I take the point that was made by the hon. Member—it will be exceedingly difficult to say, to use the words that the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen used last week, "That is the spot where the school will be." We may not even know the wishes of the parents with regard to a particular school.

Take the Roman Catholic community. When the London County Council started to build the St. Helier estate, the Roman Catholics came to the Surrey County Council and said that experience showed that 8½ per cent. of the children would be Roman Catholics, and therefore they would want two Roman Catholic schools for this particular estate. At that time, however, they did not know whether, in fact, the Roman Catholics would be there, but it would have been quite right, had we been considering the development plan, to have put in two auxiliary schools to be provided by the Roman Catholic community. In future we might, similarly, have to put in schools to be provided by the Church of England. Now it is quite clear that at the time the development plan is finished there will be, with regard to new schools—and hon. Members will notice that Clause 10 (2, c) relates entirely to new schools—the necessity for such authorities to "specify what additional county schools and auxiliary schools, if any, will be required for their area" and I do hope the Committee will realise that.

Mr. C. Davies

Will that apply to schools already in existence?

Mr. Ede

I am not assuming that any notice under Clause 12 will be required for mere alterations.

Mr. C. Davies

Clause 12 (a), I think, relates to new schools, and Clause 12 (b) to the maintaining of a county school.

Mr. Ede

That might be a school which is not in existence at all within the public estimate. You may have a private school that for certain reasons desires to be brought into the public system and, quite clearly, before that can be done, whether it be included in the development plan or not, the locality ought to be consulted as to whether they desire that to happen.

Mr. Lindsay

Is that the meaning of Clause 12 (b)?

Mr. Ede

That is one meaning. Also, of course, it would relate to the case of the auxiliary school which desires to be transferred. May I say, in view of the provisions in the Bill for controlled status and the financial advantages to be drawn from that, that it is very unlikely that an auxiliary school will ask to be transferred to county school status. The controlled school status, with its financial advantages, is, of course, a new thing in this Bill. In the framing of the development plan, the negotiations will take place between what I may call the big battalions of the interests involved, with, more or less, the headquarters staffs, and the representatives of the county and the representatives of the managers of the different denominational types of schools. The parents at that stage will not know from any publication what is going on, and it is quite right that these general arrangements should be made and that the sketch should be prepared. With regard to old schools, it is unlikely that notice will be required, but with regard to new schools, in the areas where schools have to be built, very often for the first time, it is clearly right that public notice should be given, so that parents shall know what is the actual proposal of the local education authority, You may put a site on the town plan and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of War Transport may come along and place an arterial road between the site of the school and the homes of the bulk of the children.

Mr. Lindsay

My hon. Friend said just now that we were working this time in close conjunction with the town and country planning people.

Mr. Ede

My hon. Friend knows that even their plans develop. I have had the good fortune to serve on an authority which is both an education authority and a highway authority, and it is very difficult to see which of the two plans develop and vary the quicker. It is clearly right that, when we come to the actual provision of the school, the parent should have a very considerable voice with regard both to the siting and to the type of school. This will be the more necessary in future, because we are, for the first time, giving the parents any right in questions relating to the establishment and provision of secondary education. Hitherto parents have had no voice in that at all, and no notices have had to be given under Section 18 of the Act, which only relates to elementary schools. But in future parents may very well desire that there shall be a greater proportion of grammar school or technical school accommodation than is actually in the development plan and may wish to make their submissions to the local education authority on that point.

I hope that the Committee will feel that this is a necessary corollary to the Amendment which was accepted the other day by my right hon. Friend dealing with the rights of parents with regard to the type of school that was to be submitted. He said then that the spirit of that Amendment must pervade the whole of the later Clauses of the Bill, and this is one of the places where, if we resist this Amendment, we can retain a substantial right for the parents.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery drew attention to Sub-section (5) of Clause 12. There, for the first time, we are enabling the Minister, where it is a matter of grave urgency, to dispense with this notice procedure. It says: The local education authority shall not, without the leave of the Minister, do or undertake to do anything. In the past, the Departments and local authorities have been seriously handicapped by a speculating builder suddenly deciding to develop say, 1,000, or even more, houses in a particular area, and nothing could be done until after the expiration of the three months' notice which, after all—I ought to insert this in parenthesis—is only re-enacting the existing law with regard to the three months' notice. The local education authority could not proceed until the end of the three months, and we very often had the scandal of children running about out of school for nine or 12 months. It is hard enough, in any event, to keep pace with the speculating builder when he is determined to do his worst. We have provided, in the words "without the leave of the Minister," for this procedure to be dispensed with where a case of grave urgency exists, and it is necessary to get on with the building of the school. In all these matters, we shall have to face two conflicting interests, the desire for urgency, Which we share with my hon. and learned Friends, and also our desire—and I am sure the desire of the whole Committee—that the locality shall be able effectively to voice its views with regard to the type of school and the siting of the school.

I hope that the Committee will agree that, in retaining Clause 12 in its present form, we shall be able to deal with both of these matters. There is one inconsistency which I ought to point out. Whereas the Amendment is moved to Clause 12 (1), it is not moved to Clause 12 (2), although Clause 12 (2) will also relate to schools, promoted by the denominations, that will be in the development plan. Clearly, what is sauce for the council goose is sauce for the denominational gander, and we ought to insert a similar Amendment there also. But I would suggest to the Committee that there is no desire on the part of the Board to provoke any unnecessary delay, but we desire that the schools, when erected, shall be those which legitimately appeal to the local authority in which they are to be erected.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes (Carmarthen)

When this Debate was adjourned after the last sitting of the Committee, I hoped that by to-day the Parliamentary Secretary would have been able to come here with some suggestion that would have put the terms of the Bill somewhat more into conformity with the case which he makes for it. If, as he now says, it is the intention to deal with the general viewpoint of the whole area of the local education authority, that it is the intention to consider denominational or other group interests as a whole for the area, and that the provisions with which we are now dealing under Clause 12 are thus limited to immediate and local wishes, it would have been the simplest thing for the draftsmen of the Bill to have said so. They could have said so in Clause 12, but, instead of having any concession to meet this obvious duplication, I am even more perturbed by the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary than I was upon my consideration of the Clause before I put down the Amendment. Apparently, the design and intention now is, that, having got your plan and having agreed with the denomination on the number of particular types of schools that are required, the moment you come to site them, you are cutting through not only the question of siting, but through the whole desirability of the particular type of school. There is nothing in Clause 12 to limit it to the matters of which the Parliamentary Secretary spoke. I do not want to delay the Bill and I agree with the hon. Member who said that it is undesirable to prolong these discussions, but I assure the Committee that I am far more concerned with the delay in effecting these educational reforms if we are to have proceedings for objection piled one on top of the other before we can get the new schools. Therefore, I must insist on my Amendment, and I do not wish to withdraw it.

Mr. Ivor Thomas (Keighley)

This is an entirely academic Debate. The development of our educational system is not going to be hindered by the speed with which the development plans can be carried out; the limiting factors in this Bill are bricks and mortar and teachers. The delays that will come from these material and personnel difficulties are immeasurably greater than any that may be due to the development plan. I see nothing that will delay the operation of our educational system through this proposal, and I shall support the Government.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

I beg to move, in page 9, line 40, after "they," to insert: shall, if they are a local education authority in Wales, consult the Central Advisory Council for Education for Wales referred to in section four of this Act, and. This Amendment, which also stands in the name of other hon. Members, raises a point which has been discussed by the Committee before. I do not want to repeat the arguments of the desirability of having Wales considered comprehensively, or to press the Amendment, but I would ask either the right hon. Gentleman or the Parliamentary Secretary to say that they will, as far as they administratively can, see to it, that the needs of Wales as a whole are kept in view when the different local authorities are preparing their plans and setting up the new schools.

The President of the Board of Education (Mr. Butler)

We had our Debate on the duties of the Advisory Councils at an earlier stage, and our idea has always been that they shall be advisory, and that we shall leave their authorities' administration and function uninterrupted. I cannot believe that the local education authorities in Wales or the Federation would desire that this Amendment should be carried. I appreciate the sincerity of the hon. and learned Member who has moved the Amendment, because he desires to be certain that the Welsh position in this regard is fully safeguarded. If I satisfy him by saying that, in England, we would not desire this to be the case, I hope he will feel that Wales has been in no way less well provided. Our desire is to see that the position of the authorities in Wales, in the drawing up of plans for their areas, is in no way prejudiced. The place at which the Advisory Council is to come is not the planning of the schools, the question of new schools and so forth, but the wider educational sphere, which we discussed previously. That would not prevent its having its say on those matters where legislation impinges on educational theory, but it does mean that they should not interfere with the day to day administration. Therefore I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will not press the Amendment.

Professor Gruffydd (University of Wales)

I have only a question to ask the Minister on the matter. I sympathise with his point of view very largely, and for that reason I did not put my name to the Amendment. I realise that you cannot very well get the Central Advisory Council to give advice to the local education authorities unless that advice is asked for, and it should only be given through the Minister. There is no provision for that in the Amendment, but there is a very important complement to this Amendment, and I can best put the matter in the form of a question. Is it likely, in the Minister's opinion, that the Central Advisory Council will be given an opportunity of stating their opinion on reorganisation in Wales in general to local education authorities before the local education authorities draw up their final plan?

Mr. Butler

It would, naturally, be desirable to have the views of the Welsh Advisory Council. The trouble is that the Council has to be set up, and it can only start doing its work after it has been set up. I would like to see it set up as soon as we get the Bill passed, and that is all the more reason for hurrying on with the Bill. When you have the Advisory Council established, there is rather a doubt in my mind whether it would have been able completely to survey the field, which is a question of the types of education within the secondary schools, in such a way as, we hope, might apply to the development plan. Therefore, I cannot give that undertaking, although one would hope that the Advisory Council would press on with its work.

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)

I hope that hon. Members will do everything they can to preserve the rights of the elected councils in this matter and not give everything over, even to non-elected Advisory Councils. I do not want to argue the matter any further.

Mr. C. Davies

Our desire is that a good standard should be maintained throughout Wales. We are most anxious that each local authority shall work independently, but we know that some authorities are better than others, and all that we are asking for here is not that the Advisory Council should lay down what should be the position but that, before the plan is finally passed with the Minister, the local authority should consult the representative body who might be able to give advice. The Advisory Council might say "We have seen the plan of County A, may we suggest to County B that they should alter their plan and bring it to the higher level which we really desire"?

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

We want Wales to have the same education opportunities as Scotland, but we want to get on with the Bill.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Ede

I beg to move, in page 9, line 45, after "shall," to insert "after consultation with the authority."

These words are on the Order Paper in the name of my right hon. Friend, and I suggest it would be convenient if we take the next three Amendments together with this one.

The Chairman

Yes, that will be in Order.

Mr. Ede

It is clearly right that the local education authority should have some knowledge of the proposals that are being made, and submitted to the Board, with regard to the establishment of auxiliary schools. In the form in which we have put it down we ensure that before the proposals come to the Board at all, they shall have been considered in consultation with the promoters and the local education authority. In that way, where there are merely minor differences, I have no doubt they can be smoothed out and the proceedings facilitated. I suggest, therefore, that the words in the name of my right hon. Friend, while they meet the point of the next three Amendments, meet it in a way that may be even more satisfactory to the hon. Members who put their names to the three Amendments in question.

Sir Adam Maitland (Faversham)

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for accepting the principle which is embodied in the three Amendments to which he has referred. I am not quite sure, however, that the words which he uses are as effective as the words of the Amendments in the name of myself and others hon. Members. However, as the principle has been accepted, I think that is as much as one can expect, for one does not always expect to get Amendments accepted in the form in which they are put down. I think, on the whole, as long as the fact is recognised that this consultation is eminently desirable, we shall not press the Amendment, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for having accepted the principle.

Sir P. Hannon

I would like to add one word. Some of our larger education authorities are very much concerned with the Amendments on the Order Paper, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the statement he has made to the Committee admitting the principle that the local education authority is to have as much consultation as possible within the limits of effective administration. One of the largest of our education authorities, in which I am interested, will be very grateful for the concession.

Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I agree with what has been said by my hon. Friend that this meets our point of view very thoroughly, but I would suggest, when he comes to administer this, that he may find it convenient to see that he has all the papers in front of him at one time. The wording of the Amendment that we put down made certain that when he had the file, he would have the views of everybody concerned and would not find afterwards that there was some other point which he would have to refer back and so have to pick the file a second time. My small experience of Government Departments is that you do not want to have to handle a file a second time if you can possibly help it, and I suggest that when they have got it they make certain that they have all the views in front of them and do not have to send back and have a second bite at the cherry.

Mr. Eccles (Chippenham)

I want to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for meeting the principle of the Amendment which is down in the name of the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) and myself. We are quite satisfied with the words proposed and thank the hon. Gentleman.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)

I beg to move, in page 10, line 4, after "manner," to insert: including notice to the county district councils for the area in which the school is situate. This Amendment and the next one standing in my name—in line 6, after "proposals," to insert "and the council of any county district affected."—have for their purpose two things. The first is to ensure that where a proposal is made to establish a new county school or to maintain as a county school a school which has not hitherto been a county school, the local authority in whose district the school will be, or is, situated should be entitled to receive notice; secondly, that the local authority should be entitled to submit any objections which they might entertain to those proposals. Of those two things the first is, perhaps, of less importance than the second, and I hope, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary, or my right hon. Friend, will be able to meet us with regard to the second Amendment. It is important, that where it is proposed to establish a new school, or to discontinue any school which is already established, that the council of the local authority should be entitled to submit any objections which they might entertain to that. Dealing with an earlier Amendment, the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the fact that town planning provision would be required for the establishment of a new school. The local authority in the area where the school is to be established is normally the town planning authority. Therefore, at a later stage, it would have an opportunity of making known its objections by refraining from making the necessary provision in its town planning scheme. I suggest that that is not a satisfactory form of procedure, and it would be very much better to short-circuit the whole business by providing in this Bill that if the local authority has objection to one of these proposals it should be permitted to make its objection at the same time as other persons make their objections when the proposal is first advertised.

Perhaps I might add this further point. The Parliamentary Secretary has also referred to the fact that school siting is a question of special importance to parents, and that it is desirable that parents should have special opportunities of making their wishes known. One way in which that can be done is through the council of their local authority. It usually happens that the local council are in a strong position to know what are the wishes of the population in their district in matters like this. It would be convenient that they should be entitled to make their objections at the same time as other persons are entitled to make their objections. In these circumstances I very much hope my right hop. Friend will be able to meet us on the second Amendment.

Sir A. Maitland

I support the appeal made by my hon. and learned Friend. I do not think the Minister responsible for the administration of this Bill will lose anything by accepting the Amendment, whatever feelings there may be now in regard to the changes that are being made under the Bill. I think the President will have more to gain by conveying as far as is practicable and reasonable to the local authorities that he is anxious to have their views and to have the benefit of their experience on matters which are really of local concern and interest. In that short way I appeal to my right hon. Friend, because it will have a very reassuring effect upon the minds of local authorities and those concerned.

Mr. Bartle Bull (Enfield)

Is it the Minister's intention to reply to this Amendment and the next one in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson)?

Mr. Butler

I will, with your permission, Major Milner, deal with these Amendments at the same time. The proposition put by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) and others who have taken part in this Debate, is certainly a very attractive one. It is naturally our desire to bring those who are responsible for local government into these matters as much as possible, but I think, if they examine the wording of their Amendments and realise the scope of what they are suggesting, they will perhaps not press me, but for just one moment I will explain how this matter may come up at a later stage in the Bill. The wording of the first Amendment—"in which the school is situated"—is rather wide, and does not cover the case in which a number of county district councils are served by a particular school.

On the other hand, the second Amendment, which deals with the council of any county district affected, does open up to us as educationists a very wide picture of any county district council in the country being brought in, without being absolute experts on the subject, into the detailed question of the setting up of a new school. That has appealed to hon. Members because of the possibility of such a school being referred to in any plan for beautifying the city or laying out a type of site. I agree with that, but I must insist that in matters of this sort it is the educational organisation of a district which is really affected.

Therefore, I think it would be wise not to press these Amendments as they stand, but to realise that under Part III of the First Schedule—where the scheme of delegation is referred to—it should be possible to reach agreement whereby, perhaps in some cases the council, and in other cases a broader organisation involving more than one council, would be brought in and have their views considered at the right time. If we do it in that way, we are much less likely to get into a muddle than by putting these broad and sweeping Amendments into the beginning of the Bill. That, I think, is the right way to consider it. Therefore, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend and his supporters will not press this Amendment or their point of view at this stage. The only other matter which I have not mentioned is that the suggestion of my hon. and learned Friend does actually limit the freedom which the Minister is allowed to prescribe the manner of publication. I should rather leave the Minister the general right to prescribe in the sense in which it is described in the Clause, rather than limit it in the way that has been suggested. That general right does not altogether preclude bringing the local authorities into this matter.

Sir John Mellor (Tamworth)

I am sorry my right hon. Friend will not accept this Amendment. After all, the district councils are responsible authorities and will not make frivolous objections about matters which affect people within their districts. I do not think my right hon. Friend need fear that if this Amendment is accepted the action taken by district councils will cause embarrassment. I know the concern we all feel to ensure that the district councils should feel that they are not being left out of the picture. They have felt rather sore at the terms in which this Bill has been drafted, and I think my right hon. Friend could give us this point without running any risk of disadvantageous consequences.

Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)

I do not think the Minister meant to suggest that local councils would make any frivolous objections but that the machinery he envisaged was adequate to deal with the situation. Personally, I was convinced by my right hon. Friend's argument.

Mr. Hutchinson

I am disappointed that my right hon. Friend has not been able to meet us. However, I appreciate the force of what he said and I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Parker (Romford)

I beg to move, in page 10, line 8, to leave out "three months," and to insert "one month."

The Clause as at present drawn will lead to too many delays in getting a start made with the actual building of schools. I would like to ask the Minister exactly what is the average length of time at present between the first publication of notice of plans of a school and the actual cutting of the first sod in order to start building? It seems to me that one month would be quite long enough in which to have inquiries made and objections lodged and heard.

Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)

I want to support the Amendment, because I believe it is far more important than it appears to be on the surface. When you get public authorities to do a job it is customary to find them taking the maximum time allowed under regulations or an Act of Parliament. I cannot see why more than a month should be required for this purpose, because this is not a matter which requires a long, exhaustive examination before there are objections. If it was a question involving long-drawn out negotiations, research and consultation with many interests one could understand it, but here all that is required could, I think, be done in the space of a month. When the Bill comes into operation I want to see its provisions speeded up. There is a tendency in some quarters at the moment to be rather cynical as to when it will become operative, and I think that in this matter we ought to show our good intentions.

Sir George Schuster (Walsall)

I support the Amendment. I have been looking through the Bill to find what provisions there are in it which will help to speed things up, but I cannot find any. If the Minister would accept this Amendment, if he would make a gesture, it would have an important psychological effect.

Mr. Lindsay

I, too, support the Amendment, and I would also ask what is the time between the publication of notice and the cutting of the first sod. I know there are a number of processes, but no doubt they could be telescoped to some extent.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

I support the Amendment for the reason given by the Parliamentary Secretary in replying to me on a previous Amendment which was negatived. The Parliamentary Secretary emphasised particularly the local application of the Sub-section we are now considering. Obviously the more local the application the more readily everybody concerned will be informed of the proposals when they are published. If this Sub-section is designed to achieve the object which the Parliamentary Secretary said it was designed to achieve, then there is no reason whatever for three months' delay. A month is an appropriate and generous period, and I hope the Amendment will be accepted.

Mr. Ede

I would remind the Committee that some local education authorities meet only once in three months. There is no statutory obligation on them to meet more frequently. Some county councils, which are local education authorities, do meet more frequently, but there are many which do not. They are the bodies which will have the right of making the objections. We are exceedingly anxious to secure that the Bill shall be speeded up, and if the Amendment is not pressed at this stage we will see whether, between now and the Report stage, it is possible to suggest a shorter time than three months for making objections. We have, however, to take account of the statutory position of the local education authorities that do not meet more frequently.

Mr. Lipson

Is the Parliamentary Secretary really putting forward as a serious argument against the weighty arguments which have been advanced in favour of this Amendment the suggestion that county councils meet only once in three months? There is nothing to prevent them having a special meeting at any time. I was hoping that the Parliamentary Secretary would welcome this evidence that the Committee were anxious to get the Bill implemented as quickly as possible. By prolonging the time beyond the month you are only storing up trouble for yourself by objections being made to perfectly reasonable proposals.

Mr. Ede

I had hoped that the words I used would have indicated that we were taking this Amendment very seriously, and that we desired to meet the views of the Committee. As I have said, between now and the next stage of the Bill we will see whether a shorter period can be substituted. No doubt the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) is, like myself, a member of a county council, and he will know the joy with which members receive notice of a special meeting. He can imagine the comments that would be made if members were merely called together to endorse an objection to a proposal by voluntary managers to erect a voluntary school.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Henry Brooke (Lewisham, West)

I beg to move, in page 10, line 19, at the end, to insert: Provided that, if it is proved to the satisfaction of the Minister that a large number of parents are anxious that their children should attend a school as to which proposals have been submitted under subsection (2) of this section and that the funds for its erection will be forthcoming the Minister shall approve the proposal with such modifications as aforesaid.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

On a point of Order. May I ask, Mr. Williams, are you not calling the Amendment in page 10 line 19 in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir J. Shute)?

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)

The Amendment which has been selected is that in the name of the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke).

Mr. Stokes

We were given to understand that the Amendment in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend was to be called.

The Deputy-Chairman

I am sorry, but I cannot help that. The point has already been discussed on a previous Clause and, anyhow, the hon. and gallant Member's Amendment has not been selected.

Mr. Brooke

The Amendment I have moved is designed to give the Minister some guidance as to the decision he should take when proposals for the erection of a new school are submitted to him under the provisions of Sub-section (2) of this Clause, that is, proposals for an auxiliary school. The Committee will remember that the Government brought forward an Amendment of their own to Clause 8 which laid it down that local authorities, in drawing up their development plan, must have regard, among other things, to the wishes of parents. This Amendment corresponds with that Government Amendment, but on the higher plane, because the Government, having laid down that guidance for local authorities, are now, if they do not accept this Amendment, leaving the position quite open as to how a future Minister will use the power given to him in Sub-section (4). The Minister receives the proposals for a new auxiliary school, and he receives all the objections and comments. How does he act? So long as we have the present Minister in office I think the whole Committee would agree that he will act with perfect fairness and justice. But we have, throughout this Bill, to remember that the words, "the Minister," will not always mean my right hon. Friend. We might have a Minister peculiarly friendly to denominational schools, who would accept all proposals for new auxiliary denominational schools. On the other hand, we might have a Minister peculiarly hostile, who might refuse to accept any of the proposals that were passed to him. The Committee ought not to let this passage in the Bill go by with such complete liberty to the Minister in his future decisions. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will be ready to accept this Amendment, which would require him and his successors to have regard to the wishes of a large number of parents in an area, where it was proposed that a new auxiliary school should be built.

Sir P. Hannon

I support the Amendment. I agree that, if we could have the present President of the Board of Education in office in perpetuity these matters need not be more closely defined in the text of the Bill. We live however in the world of politics with its varying phases in our national life. I think my hon. Friend has established a case which ought to receive the sympathetic consideration of the Minister. On the Second Reading I said I hoped he would indicate at some time during the progress of the Bill through Committee, what machinery he proposed to set up to ascertain the views of parents in relation to the whole question of new and existing schools. This point puts that in its correct place in the Bill. I hope the Amendment will be accepted.

Mr. Butler

The motives of the Amendment are, no doubt, above reproach, as also I believe, according to hon. Members who have spoken, is the record which they ascribe to me. For that I am grateful, but it is somewhat difficult to include these words. The Amendment requires that when the Minister is satisfied that a large number of parents are desirous that their children should attend a school for which proposals have been submitted and that funds will be forthcoming he shall approve the proposal. That is a very general and vague matter to put into this Clause. No attempt is made to define what a large number of parents means. I anticipate the very greatest difficulty, if these words were inserted, in ascertaining what constitutes a large number of parents at a particular time.

Take a village or town with, say, 400 children. Where does "a large number of parents" begin or end? Is it going to be made less easy to establish one school which will just cover those 400 children, because a large number of parents desire to give a particular type of education to 200 or 300 of the children? It is for practical reasons of that kind that I find it impossible to accept the Amendment. But that does not mean that the wishes of the parent are going to be omitted from consideration in the Clause. There was a Government Amendment to Clause 8 (b), under which the duty is imposed on the local authority to bear particularly in mind the wishes of the parent, as far as is compatible with the need for providing efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable expense. There it is laid as a general duty on the authority to make provision to enable pupils to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents.

My hon. Friend who spoke last was anxious about how far, within the detail of the Bill, we could introduce machinery to ensure that the wishes of the parents are carried out. The answer to that is that the general duty which has been put in so important a Clause as 8 will pervade the whole Bill. I have made inquiries since we inserted that provision in Clause 8 and I should advise the Committee to rely much more upon the general provision than upon a particular provision here. When I was asked whether I could guarantee that in every case everything would work out exactly right for everyone, I said I thought that unlikely. We could only hope that there would be a more general consideration of the parents' wishes than appeared when the Bill was first drafted. That seems to me to be exactly the position here. I could not guarantee that everything is going to be exactly right everywhere but I can say that, thanks to the Amendment the Government have inserted, the position under Clause 12 will have been improved on what it was before, and I think my hon. Friends can rely rather more on the provision we have already included in Clause 8 than upon this rather too generous form of wording. I am afraid I cannot accept these words.

Sir P. Hannon

On the Report stage, will my right hon. Friend put it in a more definite form, in the text of the Bill?

Mr. Butler

I do not think it will be necessary to put it in this Clause. Throughout the Bill I shall certainly reserve the right to examine every issue in the light of the discussion but I cannot guarantee that in this Clause we shall find it necessary.

Mr. Gallaeher (Fire, West)

If there are three parents with 10 children each, and 10 parents with two children each, are the 10 parents with 20 children a large body of parents, or are the parents with 30 children a large body?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Member has successfully reinforced the plea of the Minister that the phrase "a large number of parents" contains an element of vagueness. I appreciate what my right hon. Friend has said, though I do not think he has met my point, because, although the Bill is binding on local authorities to regard the wishes of parents, the Minister is still left free. I hope he will consider whether some words can be introduced which will influence the conduct of future Ministers in this respect.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Colonel Sir John Shute (Liverpool, Exchange)

As my Amendment to this Clause was not called, may I say that while one realised that a long discussion had taken place on the basic idea underlying it on Clause 10, I should have hoped to get some reply on the question of new schools that may be promoted, or schools which it had been decided to abandon, where opposition has been formulated against such proposals.

The Deputy-Chairman

Is not the hon. and gallant Gentleman, speaking on Clause 12, referring rather much to Clause 10?

Sir J. Shute

I am referring to Clause 12. I should desire the Minister to give the same consideration to my point on this Clause as he gave, on Clause 10, to the question of new schools.

Mr. Butler

My hon. and gallant Friend has raised a point, on which he feels some anxiety that, if there are objections, an inquiry may be held. I believe that what he had in mind was that, if there were any objections outstanding, ipso facto the matter should be held up and an inquiry should take place. We regard that as being a very dilatory procedure because, without intending it, he has fallen into this position, that one outstanding objection would hold up the matter and necessitate an inquiry. He is perhaps more anxious than he need be. My general answer is that there is a special Clause, 86, regarding inquiries and, in the event of some of the elaborate provisions of Clause 12 not being satisfactory to an aggrieved person, there is always a chance of the Minister employing Clause 86 and I do not doubt that, if circumstances justified it, he would do so. That is why we have a special Clause on the subject of inquiries.

I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will realise that there is not so much need to be anxious. He is probably anxious about the case where a school, which is not an auxiliary school, is set up and there is some objection by those who prefer an auxiliary school. But, similarly, there might be a case in which an auxiliary school is set up and people would object who did not want an auxiliary school. The Amendment in his name would cut both ways and it might not be as satisfactory as he supposes. I prefer to leave the question more open and I think my hon. and gallant Friend will find that the Clause as drafted is a good one. We have had objections that the procedure in the Clause is too elaborate. It is said that the procedure for people to express themselves is more elaborate in this Clause, than in any other Clause in the Bill. Therefore, there is less reason to mention an inquiry here than in any other part of the Bill.

Mr. Stokes

Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he does not want frivolous objections? To that I entirely agree. There should be no dilatory proceedings. But does he mean that, where objections are substantial, from responsible people, and they are not withdrawn, it is the intention of the Minister to hold a local inquiry?

Mr. Butler

I can give no absolute undertaking of that sort. I have said that the Bill is so drafted that it is possible for the Minister to hold an inquiry for the purpose of the exercise of any of his functions under this Act. It will be possible, therefore, to have an inquiry under Clause 12.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.