HC Deb 27 July 1944 vol 402 cc922-8

Lords Amendment: In page 6, line 8, leave out "auxiliary" and insert "voluntary."

Mr. Butler

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

It has been thought that "voluntary" is a more suitable word to use throughout the Bill in place of the word "auxiliary" in reference to schools. This decision will involve a great many consequential Amendments, which I think we may take in our stride.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

I should like to say a word or two on this Amendment. The President has sent out some notes on this matter and I have tried to study them and to find out what is the difference between "auxiliary" and "voluntary." I also came across the word "pejorative." I did not know the meaning of it and so I consulted a dictionary. I am satisfied that the change proposed will be helpful, and though I have no feeling for the Lords at all, and think the House of Lords ought to be non-existent, as a little sop to them I shall take no objection to this Amendment which they have proposed.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I am sorry that the President has not given us a little more light on this matter, because during the discussion in another place the Minister in charge of the Bill there, when first this Amendment was moved to substitute another word for the word in the Bill, said the word "auxiliary" had been before the country far many months, that no objection had been taken to it and that there was no reason for making the change. It was obvious that there was a considerable difference of opinion over the word that should be substituted for it. The phrase "non-county" school was suggested, and also the word "managerial" and the word "founded." I think there is objection to the word "founded" in that it might be said there is good reason to think that in certain cases where there are groups of schools of the same foundation they might be called "confounded" schools. We must agree that we want no names for these schools that would cast any slur upon them, no name which should not be honourable; I am not sure, however, that the word "voluntary" is the most suitable word, because although in 1870 when that word was, I believe, first used in an Act of Parliament, it did express the nature of a great number of the schools then in existence, the schools now are less voluntary in a financial sense than they were in 1870. Their character has altered to that extent. We want to secure the utmost good will towards their progress and development, but I think it is a pity that a word should be chosen to designate them which is felt by many to be untruthful. I am sorry, therefore, that the President should not have taken the view which his representative in another place took when the word "auxiliary" was first called into question. It would be interesting to hear why the Government have altered their mind.

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)

I shall not detain the House very long although we could have a long discussion upon the point which my hon. Friend has opened up, and I will only say that I am glad the Government have accepted the Amendment and I hope this House will agree to that.

Mr. Speaker

There are only three Amendments dealing with the word "auxiliary" on this Clause, but later we shall get a whole series of them and I propose, if the House agrees, to put these consequential Amendments in batches.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords' Amendments to page 6, line 20, agreed to.

Lords Amendment:

In page 6, line 35, leave out Subsection (7), and insert new Clause A: (Requirements as to school premises). (1) The Minister shall make regulations prescribing the standards to which the premises of schools maintained by local education authorities are to conform, and such regulations may prescribe different standards for such descriptions of schools as may be specified in the regulations. (2) Subject as hereinafter provided, it shall be the duty of a local education authority to secure that the premises of every school maintained by them conform to the standards prescribed for schools of the description to which the school belongs: Provided that if the Minister is satisfied with respect to any school that having regard to the nature of the site or to any existing buildings thereon or to other special circumstances affecting the school it would be unreasonable in that case to require conformity with the requirements of the regulations in any particular respect, he may direct that the school premises shall be deemed to conform to the prescribed standards if in lieu of conforming to the requirements of the regulations in that respect they conform to such other requirements as may be specified in the direction. Lords Amendment read a Second time.

Mr. Butler

Before I actually move that we agree with this Amendment, I should like your permission, Mr. Speaker, to suggest a small manuscript Amendment, as I understand it is necessary to give notice of any Amendment now before moving "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment." I have the Amendment with me here, and I suggest that we should, in Clause 9, page 6, line 35—in the new Clause, line 13—after the word "school," insert the word "premises." My reason, Mr. Speaker, for suggesting the insertion of the word "premises" after the word "school" in the proviso in line 13 of the new Clause will become apparent in a moment.

This new Clause is to take the place of Sub-section (7) of the old Clause 9. It deals with the question of the building Regulations and is described as requirements as to school premises. We found that the old Sub-section (7) was too narrow as it stood. It required all maintained schools, existing as well as future, to conform to some absolutely rigid standards. On examining the Bill in another place we found we were in the position where there was a school which had a hall which was perfectly suitable, though it was two or three feet short of the standards laid down in the regulation. We, therefore, felt it necessary to have some more elasticity in the Clause. Otherwise we might have been landed into making alterations unnecessarily to a perfectly good school. We have suggested, therefore, that the Clause be redrafted in this manner, but I should like to give an assurance that there is nothing in this Clause which indicates that the Government propose to lower their building standards whatsoever. We have simply included the proviso for the purpose of making it possible for the Minister to make an exception when there are special circumstances.

The reason for my suggesting the small manuscript Amendment, which I have had to put in early before listening to the Debate, under our Rules of Order, is that, on considering the proviso carefully, it seemed to me that the words "or to other special circumstances affecting the school" in the proviso might lead hon. Members to think that there might be imported into the Minister's consideration of the matter some question as to the character of the school, whether it was a voluntary school or a county school, or same question quite apart from those of school premises. If we insert the word "premises" after the word "school," that limits very much the discretion of the Minister and makes him apply his mind solely to circumstances affecting the premises. Other circumstances could not be taken into consideration. Thus by these Amendments we should be able to insist on definite building standards while at the same time securing the necessary elasticity.

Amendment made in Lords Amendment: In line 13, after "school," insert "premises."—[Mr. Butler.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment, as amended."

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes (Carmarthen)

I do not think anybody in the House will object to our giving to the Minister power to modify the stringency of the Regulations, given a proper case, nor will the House object to the Minister having power to make an addition to the building Regulations for different kinds of schools. I imagine that the Regulations for primary schools will be different from those for secondary schools, but I would like an assurance that the addition to this Clause does not enable the Minister, or any of his successors, to make special Regulations for aided schools as compared with controlled schools or council schools. In other words, we do not want to find ourselves in a position of accepting, with regard to same types of schools, a lower standard than for other types. If there is no danger of that kind of thing, then I welcome the addition.

Sir Adam Maitland (Faversham)

I support the addition proposed by my right hon. Friend, but I would like to point out that the education authorities connected with the municipal corporations were rather afraid that the words "or to other special circumstances affecting the school" might give the Minister power to give directions on grounds of financial resources, and the Minister, having regard to the financial resources, might make a direction that the building need not comply with the building standards. I understand that appears to be a very general interpretation of the Minis- ter's intention with regard to the manuscript Amendment, so that if he can give us an assurance on this point I think it would be a great comfort to the local education authorities.

Sir P. Hannon

I think it would be of great satisfaction to local authorities if it were made clear by the Minister that exceptional power would not be placed in his hands, and perhaps he will assure the House that the power will not be exercised improperly.

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

The House will find, by reference to the original Sub-section (7) which we are deleting, that it was very narrowly drawn and might, on a strict interpretation, have involved us in applying the same standard of requirements to secondary schools as to nursery schools. Quite obviously that would have been absurd, and it is desirable that we should have power to prescribe appropriate Regulations for secondary, primary, infant and nursery schools, and that is what we understand by the phrase "description of school." It does not refer to the denominational or undenominational character of the school, and I hope that explanation meets the points raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. M. Hughes). I think by inserting the word "premises" we have made it clear that the special circumstances are to have relation to an existing building. There are many existing schools that are of quite a high standard for the present time, but which might just fail to conform with the new Regulations, and it would really be absurd if we were, for instance, to insist on some elaborate and expensive reconstruction taking place in a school hall that was some 10 or 12 square feet short of the actual requirements. We should probably ruin the architecture of the hall and we might involve ourselves in a great many difficulties. The word has been inserted to ensure that it shall be the special circumstances of the school premises and not of the school managers or governors that will be the determining factor when we have to deal with the matter. I am pleased to give my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland) and my hon. Friend for the Moseley Division of Birmingham (Sir P. Hannon) the assurances they asked for. Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment, as amended," put, and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments to page to, line 37, agreed to.