HC Deb 09 March 1944 vol 397 cc2232-41
Sir Adam Maitland (Faversham)

I beg to move in page 13, line 24, at the end, to insert: Provided that an order to transfer a school to a new site shall not be made until after public notice of the proposed transfer has been given in the prescribed manner and the Minister has given consideration to any objections thereto which may be submitted to him by the council of any county district or managers or governors of any auxiliary school affected by the proposal or by any local education authority concerned within three months after the first publication of the notice. In moving this Amendment, I hope that the remedy it proposes will not be regarded as a reason for the summary rejection of the plan. On the contrary, it might be regarded as reasonable enough for its prompt acceptance. It violates no principle, but seems to be a matter of common sense. The purpose of the Amendment is to provide in cases of transfers of schools to new sites that the local education authority and any county district affected shall be able to make such representations as they think fit. I will not go into detail. I have stated the purpose of the Amendment, and I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to accept it.

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

Clause 15 deals with two groups of schools—those which are transferred from one site to another because the site is inadequate, or because the population may have been moved, and those schools which are substituted for others where one or two schools have found that the population moved away so far that it is necessary to establish a new school and deal with the children in the new school. The first group of schools, to which this Amendment relates, covers such cases as I imagine all of us know, of schools, perhaps 70, 80 or 100 years old, adjoining a churchyard with very often no possibility of the site being expanded. In these cases the buildings make the lighting problem very difficult, and it is exceedingly desirable that, where we are able to have an adequate site or buildings, such a school should be transferred to some other place within reasonable distance of its present site. This is the kind of case which, in the main, will be dealt with by the first Sub-section, to which this Amendment refers. It really does not appear necessary that, in such a case, the whole paraphernalia of serving notices should be gone through, because it involves very considerable delay. We were criticised, on Clause 12, because of requiring notices in certain cases. I hope it will be felt that it is not necessary to give notice in the kind of case to which I have alluded. There is another kind of case where, in existing county districts, a new housing estate has altered the centre of gravity of the population of the parish, and made it desirable that a school formerly serving, perhaps, the older part of the town which has ceased to be residential, should be moved nearer to the housing estate.

I can give the Committee, as an illustration, the story of what happened in the first school to which I went. It was a very old Church school. It had originally been a stable, in which a famous racehorse was stabled in the 18th century. When the building was no longer fit for housing bloodstock, it was turned into an infants' school.

Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)

True blood stock.

Mr. Ede

Yes, true bloodstock. The building was on a very restricted site; it was insanitary and badly lighted. In time, the Church authorities were unable to maintain it, and it became a council school. A new housing estate was erected about half a mile away, and the result was that the major part of the children attending the school went to live on this housing estate. A site existed near the housing estate, and it was decided to transfer the school from its existing site to that other one. That exemplifies the things which may cause transfer under Clause 15 (1), but I venture to suggest that it is not the kind of case in which we want to go through the procedure of notices. I hope that, if we give an as- surance that the Minister is to be satisfied that it is expedient to transfer these schools and that it is the kind of case with which he intends to deal, and that, hi anything involving wider transfers, involving new districts and populations, Sub-section (2) will be used, the hon. Member will not feel it necessary to press the Amendment.

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

I am really disappointed with the reply, because the Clause, as drafted, is much too wide. We all agree that there are instances of old schools, either near a churchyard or in the middle of a village, where it is quite impossible to adapt the schools to modern requirements, and therefore a new school will have to be built to meet the needs of the neighbourhood. But this deals with transfers. There ought to be some limitation on that, quite clearly, and it is not enough to leave it to the Minister to decide whether it is expedient or not. We want to ensure that advantage will not be taken of this to impose upon a neighbourhood the same kind of atmosphere, to use a general term, that applied to the old school. What really ought to happen is that an old school should come down completely and a new school should be provided, which would be, of course, a county school. I suggest that certain limitations are necessary here.

With regard to the second point raised by the hon. Gentleman, suppose there is a change of population. Suppose you have a case in which there is a considerable amount of town and country planning provided for in the proposals. Is that new population to be saddled with an old school put on a new site? The new population ought to have a new school divorced from anything in the past. Why should a new population coming in be saddled with what took place 100 years before? The Amendment down in my name not having been called, may I say that the objections we have to the Clause as framed would be met by the Amendment of my hon. Friend. Before we agree to transfers, and say that these schools shall be continued in new schools or buildings, at least, the education authority ought to be consulted and its views obtained. They may want to say that a school shall be a new school, but they may be over-ridden by the right hon. Gentleman's successor. I think it is generally accepted that old schools should now be transferred to new ones, set up at the public expense. We want these safeguards, and I must express my deep disappointment that my Amendment has not been selected.

Sir A. Maitland

I am sorry the Minister has not been able to accept the Amendment. The reasons he gave are not at all convincing. I am not concerned with the argument about giving notice in the case which I put forward. We are asking that where proposed transfers are to be made, the Minister should have the advantage of consultations with those people in any district who are able to advise him. I am very much obliged for the suggestion of my hon. Friend, but, of course, he knows perfectly well that, when this Bill has passed through the House and is on the Statute Book, an assurance of that kind is worth nothing whatever. If it is really useful that the local education people should be consulted before a school is transferred to another site, I think the question of time is of no particular or material moment, and I ask the Minister to look at this matter again. The question of the bureaucracy of Whitehall is involved. Where possible, I think it is useful that we should have the wholehearted co-operation of the people in the different localities, and I commend the Amendment in that regard as well as in others.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

I would like to support the view expressed by my hon. Friend opposite. This matter is regarded as of real consequence by local education authorities, and it raises the whole question of the extent to which local consultation will take place in regard to measures of this kind, particularly in the case of the transferred school. If, as I said the other day, the Minister were to be in charge of education perpetually, I do not think the question would arise, but new Governments come into existence, and new authorities come into existence in White-hall, and we would certainly like to feel that, before action is taken by the Minister, there should be the fullest consultation with local people in the service. I am sure the Minister himself would agree to the importance of local consultations on matters of this kind. He knows very well that when large new building operations take place, the case of the trans- ferred school may be of great importance locally, and I suggest that he might give way to that extent and accept the view that, before taking drastic action, he will consult the local people.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I hope that the Minister will be willing to reconsider his decision in view of what has been said on both sides of the Committee. The delay of three months is a matter of regret but it is a very small thing in the life of the school, and it is far more important that a decision shall be taken which is really receiving co-operation from the parents and children especially concerned. This Amendment gives an opportunity for the local authority, and all concerned, to make any representations they may desire before a decision of such importance is made. Therefore, I hope the Minister will reconsider his decision.

Mr. Ede

May I say that my right hon. Friend and I, having listened to the discussion, recognise there is a desire on the part of hon. Members that these transfers shall not be made, and the old school continued, against the wishes of the locality? However, I do not disguise from myself the fact that the tradition of the old school is very often most valuable, and it is the last thing, I am sure, that the Committee would desire to lose. It is not desired, I am sure, that traditions which have been built up should, of necessity, be severed, because in the general interests of education a school has been moved from one site to another a few hundred yards away. We recognise, however, that the Committee desire that this matter shall be reconsidered, and we will undertake to examine it further to see if there is any way in which we can meet the legitimate desire of the Committee before the next stage of the Bill.

Sir A. Maitland

May I thank my hon. Friend for that assurance, and, in the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Moelwyn Huģhes (Carmarthen)

I beg to move, in page 13, line 33, after "maintained," to insert: and that the school proposed to be maintained will at the time of substitution provide education for substantially the pupils for whom education was provided at the school or schools proposed to be discontinued. In view of the acceptance by the Government of the arguments put forward in support of the previous Amendment, and the promise that in the light of those arguments the matters touched upon in Subsection I will be reconsidered, I hope that this Amendment to Sub-section (2) will automatically follow. Although, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said, Subsection (1) was wide, yet the Committee will notice that in Sub-section (1) the Chancellor is limited to cases either of the impossibility of expansion, or of the movement of population or of action under the Town and Country Planning Act. In other words, Sub-section (1) does not operate unless one of those three conditions is satisfied, and we are dealing with what is a bona-fide transfer of a school. But in Sub-section (2) we are dealing not with transfers of schools at all. What does Sub-section (2) provide? It starts off with a reference to Sub-section (2) of Clause 12. I may remind the Committee that that is a Sub-section which provides for those who intend to establish an auxiliary school—they may not be concerned necessarily with one specific school—or for persons whom they represent. In other words, you can have a denominational body making proposals under Subsection (2) and, as it stands now, that body can apply to have a new auxiliary school, as a right, by giving up another auxiliary school, or another two auxiliary schools, anywhere at all. I direct the attention of the Committee to the exact words of the Sub-section: Where any proposals submitted to the Minister under Sub-section (2) of Section twelve of this Act include a claim that the school thereby proposed to be maintained by the local education authority as an auxiliary school should be maintained by them in substitution for another school at the time being maintained by a local education authority. Note that it does not say "the" local education authority. It is not a case of an application being made for an auxiliary school to be transferred from one place within the local education authority's area. This body can come with its application and say "Here is a school now maintained as an auxiliary school by a local authority anywhere. We now desire to set up an auxiliary school here, in another area altogether, and we will give up one for the benefit of getting the other." In other words, a denomination can give up a school in Hoxton and apply for one in Hammersmith. It can give up one in Plymouth, and throw in as a make-weight another little one from the country, and ask for an auxiliary school to be set up in Norwich. That is possible under the terms of this Sub-section. Indeed one is familiar with procedure of this kind in another branch of the law. Members of the Committee who are familiar with the licensing laws of this country will know that those who own licensed premises can go before the licensing justice and apply to have a licence transferred. They even sometimes go so far as to surrender two licences in order to get a good one elsewhere. It is indeed remarkable that bodies such as the Anglican Church should come to Parliament—I suppose this is in at their request—and ask that, in respect of their auxiliary schools, they shall be put in the same position as the "pubs" for this is what the Sub-section does, if it is not amended.

The Amendment which I move seeks to provide that this bargaining, this substitution—it is not transfer—should be limited to cases where the substitution is for the benefit substantially of the school population concerned and that the new school proposed to be maintained should, at the time of substitution, provide education for a substantial number of the pupils for whom education was provided at the school or schools proposed to be discontinued. That is a very reasonable limitation. The Committee, I hope, will be convinced that the extensive width of this Sub-section cannot possibly be justified. There must be some limitation. It maybe that my hon. Friend will suggest some other method; I shall not quarrel about its exact form, but some limitation upon, the system set up in this Sub-section is clearly called for.

Professor Gruffydd (University of Wales)

I wish to support this Amendment in a very few words. There happens to be in the Education Act of 1870 a definition of the word "school," and I suppose that definition is still recognised in this country. First comes the definition of a school house, which is that it includes all the premises and playground in which the school meets. The school itself, is quite clearly not the building but the entity of the teachers and the pupils who meet in that particular building.

Mr. Coleģate (The Wrekin)

Is not that definition now replaced by the definition in the new Bill?

Professor Gruffydd

I think that does not affect the argument because, however the term "school" may be defined in the new Bill, this will be the definition that will always obtain among educationalists—that the school is something distinct from the school house. It seems to me justifiable that any body of men, whatever interests they have, should enjoy the right to transfer premises which were recognised previously by the Government as a school house to a place either near to or at some distance away from where they were, but not to build new premises for a different kind of school from what they had before.

I am not going to say any more about this except that a demand of that kind is perfectly legitimate, but I do not think it is legitimate for a denomination, which has a large population of its own people in one part of the town, when it goes to another part—say to a building estate where there is no population belonging to its denomination or, at least a very small one—to have the right to say "Well, we are going to transfer our school." They must first prove quite clearly not only that they want to transfer the schools but that the children themselves—the corpus, the body of the schoolchildren—has been transferred.

Mr. Ede

I do not think there is very much between the Government and the hon. Members who have spoken on this Amendment. We do accept the proposition that the substitute schools shall be the brotherhood of children and teachers, rather than the buildings. But may I point out one difficulty in the way of accepting this Amendment in the form in which it is put. It may be that if we have a slum clearance, which takes the children from one, or two, or three schools, and moves them out to a district, there may be other children there who would legitimately desire to attend the same type of school.

I am sure Members would not desire that we should erect two schools, one to deal with the re-housed population connected with the two old schools, and another one to deal with such other people as we might want to bring in. We deal with this last point in Clause 96, the grant Clause. In such a case, let us assume that it was proved, with regard to the first two schools, that there were 150 children from each who had gone out—that would give us a total of 300 from the substituted schools—and that there were 200 other children who ought legitimately to be accommodated in a school. The school would be for 500, but the Minister would only pay grant in respect of the 300 who had been housed in the schools for which substitution was made. In that way I think we should be able to deal with the substituted schools and the part of the school which is, in effect, a new school. If hon. Members will examine the powers we take under Clause 96, they will find that we shall be able to limit the use of this particular machinery to the children who actually come from the substituted schools. I admit the matter is rather complicated but if, when hon. Members come to examine Clause 96, they come to the conclusion that the wording is not sufficiently strict to carry out what they and we desire, we shall be prepared to see whether we can make the position absolutely safe.

We do desire that the brotherhood of the school—and I prefer to use the word "brotherhood," rather than the Latin word which was used by my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd)—shall continue. One of the things which is most necessary in these new estates is to have some institution around which a new population can centre and bring into that area a feeling of corporate life. A school is often one of the best means of insuring that that can be done. On the assurance I have given—that if Clause 96 does not deal effectively with this matter, we will examine it further—I hope the Amendment will not be pressed.

Mr. C. Davies

I think we are all agreed in spirit. May I make a suggestion? The Minister is to consider the first Amendment which was proposed to-day. Will he also consider whether some part of this Amendment could also be reintroduced on the Report stage? Will he give due weight to the word "substantial," which, I think, meets the arguments which have been put forward?

Mr. Ede

We will consider the whole of the discussion which has taken place so far and any arguments which may be addressed to us between now and the time when we get to Clause 96.

Mr. Moelwyn Huģhes

I would like to express my gratitude to the Minister for meeting us in this way. I am sure that we shall be able to arrive at complete agreement as to the form of words which will secure the objective which his Department, and those who have supported this Amendment, wish to secure. I, therefore, ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.