§ Mr. Butler
I beg to move, in page 10, line 44, to leave out "construction" and to insert "establishment."
This is largely a drafting Amendment. "Establishment" is a wider word than "construction" and has been used in other parts of the Bill. On re-examining the Clause after our last discussion we 1024 discovered that it was advisable to make this Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: In page 10, line 46, after "local", insert "education authority or fonner."—[Mr. Butler.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes
Is the Amendment in my name—in page 10, line 48, at end, to insert:and in such manner such as by transfer of the land or buildings of the school as he thinks just—not to be called?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
No, it is not selected and we have got to the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not propose to discuss the Amendment but to discuss the Clause and one of its patent deficiencies. This is a Clause which deals with the discontinuance of auxiliary schools. It does not deal with their discontinuance at the moment when this Bill comes into operation. This Clause will exist in the general system of education as long as the Act is in force, and I do not think that the Committee realises what it provides. In the Bill there are extensive and generous measures to provide not only for bringing up to date auxiliary schools, that is, denominational schools, but for subventions towards making them up to date. They will to a large extent depend for their lives upon the continuance of the denomination of the school. My Roman Catholic friends would not desire to maintain a Roman Catholic school in, say, the Scotland Road district of Liverpool after all the population had been moved out to the suburbs and Scotland Road had a different kind of population altogether. If they discontinued their schools and playing fields, which have been provided very largely out of public funds, they would have there valuable sites and buildings. If they discontinue there are special provisions to enable them, on a transfer of population, to receive assistance elsewhere towards getting the new buildings and playing fields. Public money will come to provide almost everything they need in the other area.
What happens to the buildings and the sites which they have left? The only 1025 remedy provided in this Clause is a so-called monetary remedy. The authority will decide how much public money has gone to the land and buildings. The authority may agree on a figure. There is no provision that the figure shall bear any relation to the amount of public money that has gone into the schools. I can well imagine the local education authority saying, "The trustees have not very much money and we might as well accept a meagre compromise." If they cannot agree, they go to the Minister, who, under this Clause, will have to say what the amount shall be. The trustees may not be possessed of any funds. They have no resources and they cannot be sued in their individual capacities. They can only be sued as trustees, and they may for this purpose be pure men of straw. There is a valuable property, almost entirely created by public funds, and there is no recourse except against men of straw. Would it not be reasonable for the Minister to say that, if the trustees have not any money, the public interest could be satisfied by transferring the land or building or part of them to some public purpose, so that the public will get back some of the money it has expended?
§ Mr. Linstead (Putney)
I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary could satisfy me on a point with regard to Sub-section (3). Two years' notice has to be given if an auxiliary school is to be discontinued, and one understands why that should be the case. If it is a successful school there will be no difficulty in maintaining it for two years after the proprietors have come to the conclusion that they must give it up. On the other hand, if the school is unsuccessful, it is likely that the proprietors will be unable to give the two years' notice. Yet, in the case of the unsuccessful school, which cannot give the notice, it is to be taken over by the local education authority free of charge for the remainder of the period. Therefore, the very people who can least afford that an authority should have it free of charge will be penalised. Could not some payment be made by way of rent for the unexpired period?
§ Mr. Ede
I will deal first with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead). These schools are not conducted as commercial ventures. There is no financial advantage to be 1026 gained by the managers or governors of auxiliary schools in running the schools. This Sub-section was designed to deal with such a case as that which came within my own knowledge. A body of voluntary managers decided that they did not want to run their school any longer. Under the existing law they had to give 18 months' notice of their intention to discontinue. They gave the notice, and at the end of six months got tired of waiting for the notice to expire. They wrote to the local education authority and said, "We propose to close the school on a certain day." The authority, which was engaged in finding alternative provision, was faced with the fact that if the school was closed there would be children in the streets with nowhere to go for education. What Subsection (3) says is that in future, if, during the period when the notice is running out, the managers get tired of waiting for its expiration, the local education authority can carry on the school in the building in which it has always been carried on, thus enabling them to continue to educate the children while making arrangements for the erection of a suitable new school. It was designed to deal with a practical difficulty which has arisen in administration. It is the only way in which one can be fair to the children whose education is at stake.
When we come to the point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. M. Hughes), I do not think that there is the danger of things happening that he fears. The managers for some reason or other want to discontinue the school. If any money has been spent by the local education authority or the Board of Education on the school, the managers, (before they can serve a notice, have to satisfy the Minister that they have repaid the unexhausted value of the improvements that have been effected in the school.
§ Mr. Ede
Presumably in cash. If they cannot find the cash they cannot give the notice, and the school must continue. Therefore, I do not think the dangers that my hon. and learned Friend foresaw really arise. This is a case where the managers want to discontinue the school because, for some reason or other, they are no longer anxious to carry it on. In future this is less likely to happen than it has been in the past. In the main, 1027 I think, where an aided school is unable to carry on they will ask, not that the school shall be discontinued, but that it should be transferred from aided to controlled status. Where a school is of controlled status I should have thought it was very unlikely that there would be any desire on the part of the managers to discontinue. If they do desire to continue a controlled school, they may be faced with a heavy financial liability and will be unable during the next 30 or 40 years to contemplate serving the notice.
§ Mr. Ivor Thomas
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. M. Hughes) has all the capacity of his profession for making the worse appear the better reason, allied to which he has all the eloquence of a Non-Conformist preacher, and at times I was almost persuaded that he was right. Surely the answer to him is very simple. If the managers are unable to find the money that is required, the Minister will not grant leave. Therefore, the question does not arise. Nevertheless I think that a few additional words are needed on the Clause. My hon. and learned Friend has given the impression that large sums of public money have been spent on the construction of denominational schools. Someone ought to point out, and it cannot be done too often, that the Church for 12 centuries provided almost the only form of education in this country.
§ Mr. Thomas
If these buildings had not been made available for the use of the children of the country generally the public funds would have had to bear an expenditure of many more million pounds than has actually been the case.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
The Minister has said that if the managers desire to close a school, and if there is some outstanding debt which they cannot meet, they will not be able to give notice. I presume that if they want to close the school there is some good reason, and if, because there is an outstanding debt, they cannot give notice, what is the position of the school and the children?
§ Sir J. Shute
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. M. Hughes) has mentioned the city I 1028 represent, and I only desire to say that he chose a bad example of a school which was making money out of public funds. Every penny to build the schools in the Scotland Road district was found by the poor people who lived in the locality.
§ Mr. Ede
I am almost tempted to rush into the defence of the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. M. Hughes), but I will only answer the point put by the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee). The school is being discontinued and is presumably required by the local education authority for the education of the children in the area. If it is discontinued, the authority will have to replace it. It is only fair, therefore, that, if it is to be replaced in that way, the managers, who have received public money to bring the school, of which they are getting tired, up to date, should refund to the public the unexhausted value of the improvements which have been affected in their school at the cost of the public. Only in that way can we secure that local authorities will be willing to spend some of this money. Clearly they cannot be expected to put a school into good condition as a controlled school and then allow the managers to say, "Now we have a fine building we will cease to maintain the school as a school inside the State system and will run it as a private school outside the State system, charging fees in a building which has been built at the expense of the State or of the municipality." It is against that that we have to protect the public and it seems to me that this arrangement is completely fair to both sides.
§ Mr. McEntee
I agree with what my hon. Friend has said, but the reason why the managers desire to close may be a financial one. They may owe money, and be in such a bad financial position as to be unable to carry on. What would be their position? They might say: "If you won't allow us to give the two years' notice, we shall be unable to carry on and we cannot pay our teachers' fees."
§ Mr. Ede
In the case I was putting, the whole of the expenses of maintaining the school, both its running costs and the costs of keeping the building in repair, would fall upon the local education authority. There is no question, therefore, after accepting controlled status, of their getting into a financial position in which they could not carry on the school.
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes
What is the provision of the Bill which secures that on the default of the managers or governors, the aided school automatically becomes a controlled school?
§ Mr. Denville (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
Is the Minister perfectly satisfied that, if a school be unable to pay its way through no fault of its own, there will, under this Clause, be no pressure of an intimidating nature to get the school into a position in which it cannot be run? It might be that the school would be forced into that position but it would not seek to close of its own volition. Is there any machinery by which that could be prevented?
§ Mr. Ede
This is not the Clause under which that would be done, but is one where managers of their own volition want to discontinue a school. I am bound to say that I think it is very unlikely in the future to arise, because managers in the main will be asking to be transferred from aided to controlled status. The obligation on them to do that is to be found in Clause 14 (4), under which, if they cannot meet their obligations, the duty is placed on them to apply—
§ Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.