HC Deb 28 March 1944 vol 398 cc1319-27
Mr. Ede

I beg to move, in page 54, line 43, to leave out paragraph (a).

It would probably be to the advantage of the Committee if we took this and the next two Amendments on the Order Paper together, as they are bound up with one another. The purpose of these Amendments is to make arrangements whereby the proprietor of any non-maintained school can secure the benefits of medical inspection and treatment and thus ensure that the young people of the nation shall get the advantage of the school medical service; and arrangements are also made for the way in which the refunding of the cost can be made to the local education authority.

Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)

Will the Parliamentary Secretary explain why it is proposed to amend the Clause by leaving out this paragraph when the putting in of something else later on might do very much the same thing?

Mr. Ede

I was assured that it was better drafting to do it the way we propose.

Dr. Guest

The hon. Member did not mention that fact and that is why I asked the question.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

The question of better drafting brings me to my feet. As the Clause stands, there is a general provision that the local education authority may give (a) medical inspection, (b) milk and meals and (c) clothing, to schools that are not maintained by the local education authority. It is now desired, according to the Amendment, to extend this to a further range of institutions. It is now desired to extend medical inspection and treatment to include schools or other educational establishments. As a matter of pure drafting it would be far better to provide that (a), (b) and (c) should go to schools, and then to provide for the further educational establishments, than by adopting this elaborate way of excluding paragraph (a) and then, in the third Amendment of which the Parliamentary Secretary spoke, repeating all the words and conditions under which (a), (b) and (c) could be given. It is a most clumsy way of achieving a simple end.

Dr. Guest

Having got the elucidation that this is only a question of drafting, I would like to proceed to the actual substitution. Would the Parliamentary Secretary say what steps, if any, the Board proposes to take to see that some of the elementary schools unfortunate enough to be outside the system get the benefit of medical inspection and treatment? There is no doubt that some of the small private schools badly need the medical inspection and treatment which they do not get at the present time. Public schools which do not have a medical inspection and treatment at the present time also badly need it. What steps do the Board intend to take to secure that the system is more generous, because it would be very much to the benefit of the pupils concerned?

Mr. Ede

My hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) will recall that in this Bill we have, for the first time, the power to inspect the kind of schools he mentioned. If we found that a school was being used, as it sometimes is, in order to object to such things as medical inspection and treatment—I am now talking of some of the worst types of private schools—that might be one of the items on which a report would be made by the Board. We should expect that proprietor of the school, within the limit of six months allowed after the inspection, to make such arrangements as were necessary in order to secure the benefits of medical inspection for the pupils attending his school. Similarly, if meals were not provided in cases where they should be, the same kind of machinery would be brought into operation. I should make it clear that, in saying that, I do not want it to be thought that we imagine that every private school is deficient in that way. Those in which provision is not but ought to be made are a very small minority of the whole. They exist, and the children there ought to be protected.

I am advised, in answer to the criticism of my hon. and learned Friend on draft- ing—I admit that he is a far greater legal expert than I am—that the effect of these Amendments is to bring in a number of additional people, especially at, as I hinted, the works school stage, when that particular form of young people's college comes into existence. It is clearly desirable in such a case, although it may be that the educational side of the establishment is everything that is wished, that the record of the young person should, if possible, still be within the ambit of the school medical service. The Amendment that we have moved helps in that respect.

Dr. Guest

Would it be possible for a school to refuse to have medical inspection of its pupils?

Mr. Ede

If it did, that might very well be a ground, under the private schools Clause, for bringing it in front of the tribunal with a view to having the school closed.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

I am not satisfied with the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary. In Sub-section (2) of Clause 73 the conditions are already laid down as follow: A local education authority may, with the consent of the proprietor of any school in their area which is not a school maintained by the authority, and upon such financial and other terms, if any. We find all those prerequisites included in the Amendment which the Parliamentary Secretary is to move, and that is why I object to the form of drafting.

Mr. Ede

May I say that on that point I will consult the draftsmen as to whether there is any repetition in the Bill. I am as anxious as my hon. and learned Friend is to avoid any tautology in the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 54, line 46, leave out "such pupils," and insert "pupils in attendance at the school."

In page 55, line 6, at the end, insert: and may, with the consent of the proprietor of any school or other educational establishment in their area which is not maintained by the authority and upon such financial and other terms, if any, as may be determined by agreement between the authority and the proprietor of the school or establishment make arrangements for securing the medical inspection of, and the provision of medical treatment for, pupils (being junior pupils or senior pupils) in attendance at the school or establishment."—[Mr. Ede.]

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

I beg to move, in page 55, line 13, at the end, to add: and that the benefit of any arrangements so made shall be available to the pupil at the same cost as that for which the arrangement provides that it shall be provided by the authority, and that it shall be a term of any arrangement that the proprietor inform the parent of the pupil or other person responsible for paying the fees in respect of the pupil of the nature and cost of any such benefit. This is an Amendment designed to secure that the advantages which we are extending to the schools outside the national scheme shall be extended to them fairly. I find myself here in a very serious dilemma. I do not agree with these schools outside the national scheme, I do not agree with these independent, fee-drawing, profit-making institutions, but parents, far various reasons, as we have heard to-day, will send their children to them. They believe, somehow or other, that, because they are paying for sending their children to some school, they are necessarily getting something better than if they were using the system of education provided by the State. In other words they get a "snob value." Either they are better or they are not. If they are better then they ought to be open to everybody. If they are worse, the parents only send the children to them because they know they get a snob value out of them. Parents are foolish enough to do that, but what about the children? It is not the children's fault if they go to these schools, and we owe a duty to the children whose parents are foolish enough to send them to schools which are not so good, and for which the provision is not so excellent as the State makes. So we find, quite rightly, in the Clause we are now considering, provisions for extending to these little snob schools some of the advantages which the State provides.

Mr. Cove

The hon. and learned Member will have a lot of parsons ragging him if he is not careful.

Mr. Hughes

In this Clause we are providing—

Mr. Butler

On a point of Order. The Committee has decided to accept a series of Clauses involving these independent schools. While I am sure we want to hear the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for this particular Amendment, we did decide the other day the whole question of these schools, and I am anxious to make some progress, otherwise it means sitting late.

The Temporary Chairman

I do not want to stop progress, but the fact remains that the speech of the hon. and learned Member is quite in Order.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

I am obliged, Sir Lambert. If the right hon. Gentleman does not appreciate the importance of this Amendment, he is quite entitled to leave the Chamber. As I said, we are concerned with the condition of the children wherever their parents may send them and, therefore, quite properly, here is a Clause which says that the advantages of health inspection, the advantages of feeding in the schools, the advantages if need be, of clothing, shall be extended to these independent schools by arrangement and at cost price. That is an enormous advantage. A small independent school could not possibly hope to provide for the medical inspection, or the feeding of its children, at anything like the price at which a local authority providing for a large area is able to recruit efficient medical inspection, and is able to provide meals on a large scale. The Clause says that if they make arrangements they shall get them at cost price. I take no objection to that, much as I loathe these independent schools, for I have more regard for the children. Let them have these advantages at cost price, but there is another side to it which is not provided in the Clause at all. I am not prepared to let these independent schools have the meals at cost price and sell them at a profit. There is nothing in this Clause which would prevent them getting all these advantages and selling them at a profit. Let me bring it down to one simple little example. The little snob day school—

Sir Granville Gibson (Pudsey and Otley)

Where are they, in Wales?

Viscountess Astor

Where are they?

Captain Cobb

Would the hon. and learned Member describe as "a snob" any client who bought legal advice from him?

Viscountess Astor

Does the hon. and learned Member charge for his services?

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

I have described as "snobs" a great many people on that side of the House, but "snob" in that meaning I certainly am not.

Mr. Colegate

Has a K.C. got a snob value?

Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)

The hon. and learned Member is bound to be right when he is irritating hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

King's Counsel have a real value, and not a snob value. Let me give one simple example, the small paying private schools. They exist not only in Wales, in fact there are not so many in Wales, but there are plenty of them about. One of the difficulties these small schools find themselves up against is that they are expected to take the children in the morning, look after them all day, and then send them back in the evening. That is one of the things they hold forth to the parents. These small schools, which are to be found in the suburbs of London, with 20 to 25 pupils, under modern conditions in order to provide anything like a decent midday meal for these children will find it costs anything from 2s. to 3s. Under this Clause they can go to the local education authority and say, "We will make an arrangement with you to get your midday meals," and the local education authority has facilities in the way of cooking centres and for carrying the food hot to the different schools. It has been done already. What is the cost under the State system of that? You can provide a first-class meal for the children for anything between 7d. and 10d. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, fourpence."] Anything you like, but the figures I have seen are between 7d. and 10d., and the meal is better than could be provided by the school with 25 pupils for half a crown. So along comes the private school and says to the local education authority: "I would be very glad to partake of these facilities," and the Clause says, "Oh, yes, if there is an arrangement you shall get them at cost price." So the private school gets at cost price a 7d. midday meal and sells it to the parents at 2s. 6d. Is that right?

Sir G. Gibson

If the parent is willing to pay it, what does it matter?

Mr. Welwyn Hughes

The hon. Member says that if the parent is willing to pay he sees no objection. But it should go into the pocket of the local authority and not into the pockets of private schools. The Committee have decided that these schools shall exist, and, if this Clause is passed the Committee will decide that these facilities shall be extended to the independent schools at cost price. Very well, let the children have them, but I ask that these facilities shall not be passed over to the private schools in order that they shall make a profit.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I think my hon. and learned Friend, in his indignation against what he feels is the wrong type of independent school, is in danger of forgetting that, after all, this arrangement is in the national interest, because the health of the children, wherever they are, ought to be safeguarded. It is not a question of benefiting the individual school, but of safeguarding the health of the children and giving them everywhere the same physical advantages. If the danger that he foresees is really held to be there by the Board of Education, I think some such words as he suggested might be inserted, but I believe that the whole thing depends on the arrangement to be made with the local education authority, and I believe that arrangement will safeguard the children and their parents from any such monstrous exploitation as my hon. and learned Friend has conjured up in his vivid imagination. I hope we may have an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that the danger is amply safeguarded against by the fact that the local education authority will have to make the arrangements. They may foresee any risk of this kind and provide that the cost shall be a just cost.

Mr. Ede

I am sure the Committee will not expect me to reply to that part of the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Moelwyn Hughes) in which he dealt with the general character of the private and independent schools. I have already expressed my views on that on two or three occasions in the course of the discussions on the Bill, and I do not think I need repeat them now.

Mr. Kirkwood

Why not?

Mr. Ede

We had a long discussion on the particular Clause which dealt with that and I am sure it would not suit the Committee if I repeated again the arguments then used and sought to put a little light into the rather sombre picture painted by my hon. and learned Friend. With regard to the actual Amendment before us he will see that the Clause states that an agreement has to be entered into between the authority and the proprietor of the school. If there was any such exploitation of the authorities as has been suggested by him as being possible, I should imagine that when it was sought to continue the arrangement there would be something inserted into the agreement to prevent it. We are anxious that no such exploitation should take place, and we will examine the words of the Clause to make certain that the provision is adequate. We share my hon. and learned Friend's view that these facilities should be passed on to the people at as near cost price as possible. I say, "near cost price," because in calculating the cost of meals, differences of a halfpenny occasionally arise which might mean that a profit of a penny or the loss of a similar sum might be made. I am sure my hon. and learned Friend has not in mind anything in the way of profiteering in such an arrangement as that.

Mr. Gallacher

I want to direct the Parliamentary Secretary's attention to the fact that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Moelwyn Hughes), who made the sort of speech I wish I could have made, suggested that there was a possibility that the local authority might sell meals at 7d. to the school, which would then charge the parents half-a-crown. When he made that suggestion a Tory Member behind said, "Why not?" If there are Tory representatives on some of these local authorities they, too, will say, "Why not?" I ask my hon. Friend to make sure that the Tory representatives do not get away with that sort of thing.

Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)

I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to bear in mind that a great many of these schools will charge parents so many guineas a week for excellent education, deportment and what not. If they throw in a meal they will be charging perhaps one, two or three guineas a week for what is worth 7s. 6d., and whereas they used to spend 2s. 6d. on providing food for one meal they will now spend 7d. but still make the same charge. If the Board have any safeguard against that I hope they will use it, but if not I hope they will accept an Amendment to this Clause.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), and I am glad of the assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary, particularly his reference to the fact that when an agreement comes up for review the local education authority might reconsider the matter. I would remind my hon. Friend that there is no such provision in the Clause, and I hope that when he takes it back for reconsideration he will have in mind what has been said about the need for constant review of the arrangements which are made. With that I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.