HC Deb 23 March 1944 vol 398 cc1167-73
Mr. Ede

I beg to move, in page 42, line 42, to leave out "may" and to insert "shall."

This ensures that it shall be the duty of a local education authority to make arrangements for transport as they consider necessary. There is a further requirement in the Clause but this quite definitely, and without any doubt, makes it the duty of a local education authority to make arrangements for the transport of pupils.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

On behalf of my hon. Friends and myself I am glad the Minister has accepted what was originally our Amendment but, in order to clear the matter up, may I ask whether he means that, in cases where the Minister does not direct and where the local authority does not propose, there are means under the Clause which would force local education authorities to provide the necessary transport? I ask because there are cases where transport actually passes the doors of houses and the school to which children are going and yet, because they are denominational children, transport facilities are not provided by the local authorities. I understand that the Amendment provides that the Minister shall direct, and that the local education authority shall carry out the direction, but where there is no direction or suggestion to the local education authority what is the remedy for a person who considers that he has a claim?

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

May I ask a question on terminology? We are often told that "may" is equivalent to "shall". In the Clause we have just taken out of the Bill the word "may" appears in line 34.

The Deputy-Chairman

I do not think the hon. Member can refer to a previous Clause. in any other Bill. I am not arguing the principle of the Clause. Does the word "may" in line 34 lay an obligation on the local authority? If the hon. Gentleman will answer that question he will satisfy my conscience completely.

Mr. Ede

I have also been told in my time that the word "may" in certain Clauses is a polite way of saying "shall". [An HON. MEMBER: "Have you believed it?"] It all depends who told me. With regard to this Clause, we desired that there should be no doubt at all, and therefore we propose to insert the word "shall".

Mr. Nicholson

I hope the hon. Gentleman realises that making this concession implies that there is a good deal' less obligation where the word "may" is used.

Mr. McEntee

I had an Amendment to Clause 49, but it was intimated to me that the word that I desired to insert, in connection with school clothing, was not necessary. I am learning too late I ought to have sought an opportunity of moving my Amendment. I was led to believe that the word "may" meant "shall".

Mr. Ede

Whatever the word "may" means in Clause 49, we are determined that this particular word shall be "shall", so that there shall be no doubt about it. With regard to the point put by the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson), I have had the same difficulty put to me on previous occasions, but I am assured that by putting in "shall" here we do not weaken the use of the word "may" in other parts of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) appears to be asking me a question with regard to the next two Amendments on the Paper, which I anticipate will be called, and I propose to deal with his point there. If we take the discussion on all the Amendments together it may possibly save time.

The Deputy-Chairman

Are we going to discuss all the Amendments now?

Hon. Members


Mr. Ede

I notice that the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Harmon) has put his name to both though, as I understand it, they cancel one another out. He does it in the first place in connection with certain hon. Members, and in the second place as a representative of the Birmingham Corporation. The position which we desire to establish by this Clause, and which we understand is established, is this. The duty is placed on local education authorities to make arrangements for the provision of transport. If, in fact, they do not and there is a parent, or group of parents, who feel that their children ought to be transported to a particular school, they can make representations to the Minister, who will consider their case and then issue such directions as he thinks fit. That is a rather better way of doing it than the hon. Member for Ipswich suggested, that if the Minister directed there might be some appeal. Our view of the way the Clause will work is that when the authority reaches its decision, and any parents or representatives of parents feel that they have a grievance, they can appeal to the Minister, who will hear their case, and hear what the local education authority has to say in reply, and, on that, issue his directions. We believe that in that way one or two of the difficulties that we have encountered in the earlier stages of the Bill may be to some extent removed, if this machinery can be worked. I hope my hon. Friends will feel that the Government have endeavoured very sincerely to meet the difficulties with which they were confronted.

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

I thank the Minister for changing the word "may" to "shall," because it puts a direct obligation on local authorities instead of leaving it to their discretion. This now applies not merely to groups of children but to individuals, and will greatly help country districts such as those in my part of the country, where little children have to walk four and a half miles each way to school in a hilly district. If this Amendment had not been made a local authority might have said, "The difficulties are too great and we cannot do anything." Now they must face up to the situation, and if they do not provide transport there is an appeal to the Minister, who will consider the circumstances and give directions to the local authority accordingly.

Sir G. Schuster

I should be grateful if the Minister would give us some indication of the purpose for which these powers are to be used. I take it that they may be used effectively to minimise the grievances of parents in single-school areas, but I should be glad to have a statement from my right hon. Friend on the matter.

Mr. Harvey

I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned that point, because Obviously these powers, extended as they have been by the Amendment, will not only help the individual child who is faced with difficulties of distance, apart from any other difficulty but will help those who do not wish to send their children to a neighbouring council school, but to a school of some religious denomination. It will equally help the children of parents in a single-school area where the school is denominational, who desire to send them to a council school. It will alleviate the position in single-school areas for both kinds of parents. I hope we shall have a clear exposition on that point, because it will give great satisfaction to many who feel that the position at present is a difficult one.

Mr. Cove

I am surprised to find a Nonconformist conscience seeking its escape through physical transport and afraid to face up to the realities of the school in a single-school area. There is no escape by transport from the problem of the single-school area. The Church will still remain in control. Are we to denude the Church school in a village by taking the children from place A to place B, and leave the Church school there? That is not a solution to the problem. The Nonconformists, particularly in England, have not faced the problem. They have been running away from it all the time. Transport will not provide the solution, and I am sorry to find that there are so many people who will take a bus in order to drive away their consciences.

Colonel Sir John Shute (Liverpool, Exchange)

I am advised that the substitution of the word "shall" for "may" will not achieve the desired object, because the Clause will then require local authorities to do one of two things, namely, to make such arrangements as they consider necessary or to make such arrangements as the Minister may direct. I am advised by lawyers that if they make such arrangements as they consider necessary, they will have discharged their duty and the Minister will have no call to deal with it in any way.

Mr. Ede

We have gone very carefully into this matter, because we know the importance which some of my hon. Friends attach to this Clause. We are advised that the machinery under it will work in the way that I suggested, and that placing the duty on the local authority does not relieve them from also carrying out any direction that the Minister may give. It is clear that this Clause may be used in a variety of ways, but I am too good a Nonconformist to intervene between my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove), who are also Nonconformists, as to the way in which this Clause could be used by persons of any particular faith or lack of faith.

Amendment agreed to.

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

Sir J. Lamb

Do I understand that the Amendment in my name was not called—in page 43, line 2, at the end, to add: and persons authorised by the local education authority to accompany them.

The Deputy-Chairman

We had a general agreement in the Committee that the next two Amendments should be discussed with the Minister's Amendment. The Amendment of the hon. Member was not selected.

Sir J. Lamb

I will, therefore, raise the point on this Motion. There is no mention of teachers in the Clause. It gives power for arrangements to be made for the transport of pupils, but there is doubt whether the authorities will be entitled to make arrangements for teachers to accompany the pupils. I hope the Minister will make it clear that there is no question of teachers not being included in the transport. If they are not arrangements should be made for them to be included, because in many cases they should be there for the safe custody of the children during their transport and to enable the teachers to attend school.

Mr. C. Davies

As the Clause has been amended, the local authority "shall" make arrangements for the provision of transport. The obligation is put upon them and it is not at their discretion. When we come to the end of the Clause, having arranged that the bus shall call for these little children of mine, four and a half miles away, the query is whether anybody is going to fetch them and pay reasonable expenses for their travelling. I can imagine a court, trying to interpret this Clause, getting into real difficulties. They find "shall" at one place in the Clause, and "may" at another place, and they cannot possibly give to one word the interpretation that they give to the other. Is it the intention of the Government that the local authority shall make arrangements for transport and shall also pay reasonable travelling expenses, or is the latter point to be left in their discretion? We ought to have that point cleared up.

Mr. Stokes

I support what the hon. and learned Member has just said, because we need to make it abundantly clear that the local authorities shall pay for the transport, where the Minister so directs.

Mr. Ede

I am advised that the interpretation of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) of the word "may" on page 43 is correct. I assumed that it was, but I took steps to have it checked. I have taken counsel's opinion before, and I have found it more expensive after I had paid the fee than before. Therefore, we shall at the next stage make the necessary Amendment, which I hope will satisfy also the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). If we can satisfy on this point both those Members, we shall have achieved something. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb), I would say that we are advised that the Clause and the powers of the Bill are sufficient to pay for teachers, guides and other persons who may have to accompany the children.

Sir J. Lamb

I am much obliged to the Minister.

Mr. McEntee

Does that mean that teachers will travel free?

Mr. Ede

There are occasions when children are collected to go to a certain school, especially a school for the physically defective, and in those cases it is highly desirable that someone should travel with them. These people are generally known as guides. On very rare occasions they may be teachers. There are also certain peripatetic teachers whose travelling expenses have to be paid. While I do not think they come under this Clause, there is no doubt that we must allow for the expenses of peripatetic teachers to be paid by the local authority.

Sir J. Lamb

While thanking the Minister for what he has said, may I point out that the words in the Amendment I put on the Paper would have included all persons and authorities?

Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)

In view of the fact that the Minister has just inserted two "shalls" in the Clause, I hope that, on the Report stage, he will carefully examine the whole thing. It will also be the duty of Members of the Committee to examine it to make sure that the necessary "shalls" shall also be put in in other cases.

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

Clause 54 ordered to stand part of the Bill.