HC Deb 20 March 1946 vol 420 cc1965-72
Miss Wilkinson

I beg to move, in page 3, line 45, after "school," to insert: for pupils who are attending the school or whose parents desire them to attend the school This Amendment covers the point raised by another Amendment which was moved during the Committee stage. It merely reproduces words in Section 109 of the main Act. The justification for the inclusion of these words is that Section 109 is intended to deal, among other things, with blitzed schools where pupils have been dispersed and can now be re assembled if temporary accommodation is provided. Section 114 (7) of the main Act treats such temporarily suspended schools as if they were in existence but, until the pupils are reassembled, it is difficult to maintain that there are pupils who are actually in attendance. This is one of those matters where people are being rather finicky, but, as they feel anxious about this point, I always believe in doing the best I can.

Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland)

I am anxious about this Amendment because it will carry an obligation in my neighbourhood, particularly in respect of many deficiencies arising out of the blitz. I cannot understand how the local authorities will be able to do their duty to parents in the congested areas. I am re to the actual facts of the situation. There are six schools in my area and they were all blitzed. The children are scattered in other schools. They are in a congested area. The traffic problem is very great. In fact, one child lost her life when crossing the road. The parents are therefore very perturbed, and so am I. I am sick and tired of trying to get the-authority to make some alteration, but when parents are not able to get their children properly educated and there is danger to life and limb, it is essential that somebody should move in the matter. The Minister ought to have greater authority. I know that the authorities in Liverpool—I take it that that means the school managers as well as the local education authority—should make representations to the Minister, if they are agreed on the matter. On the other hand, if they do not agree and do not move, what action must parents take to move the authorities and induce them to give the attention which is necessary for the children? Liverpool was well blitzed. For five years the children have been tolerating all the evils of the day, in that climate too, and not well wrapped up because they were not able to get the clothing. There should be an end put to this position.

This is the first speech I have made in this Parliament. It is well worth while. I hope the Minister will pay some atten- tion to this matter. I do not intend to be so easy going in the future as I have been in the last month or two. If possible, the Minister should give us an assurance that will send a hopeful message from the House of Commons to the children of Liverpool. I have taken part in Debates on all the Education Bills for many years. I played a certain part in regard to the 1944 Measure. The ex-Minister of Education, who is sitting on the opposite Front Bench and was the pioneer of that Measure, will be able to say that we really dealt with the subject. An agreement was come to, known as the special provision for the City of Liverpool. I will not go into the merits or demerits of it, but I will say that many differences of opinion ceased to exist. For the first time we were able to come to a unanimous agreement, and that was rather uncommon in Liverpool. We do not want those happy relations to be broken up. There fore, I ask the Minister whether the new arrangements under the Bill will affect that agreement. In my opinion they will not, but my opinion does not always count for anything. Therefore, I ask the Minister to give an answer which will allow the people of Liverpool to rest securely in their homes.

Mr. R. A. Butler

On this purely technical Amendment, the Minister is, I understand, being asked to give a message to the children of Liverpool and to resolve religious problems connected with the settlement in Liverpool. I hope that the hon. Member who made that request will get a suitable reply. My personal view coincides with his; he has nothing to fear from the Bill in regard to that settlement. Perhaps I might also ask the Minister to include in her reply on this purely technical Amendment a message to the children of Saffron Walden. Although they wrap up well and are particularly hardy, they have a very varied educational provision provided for them by a singularly enlightened authority. I hope that the right hon. Lady will not disappoint me.

Mr. Hardman

My right hon. Friend has been asked to give a word of inspiration to the children of Liverpool and of Saffron Walden. I am happy to be able to do so, and to extend it to the whole of the country. It is the purpose of the Bill to give that inspiration. In reply to the first and rather rhetorical question of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan), about what action parents should take to get the local education authority to move, per haps a recent experience of mine has shown that parents can take very direct action indeed. I am glad that they have such an interest in the education of their children.

Mr. Logan

Is the Minister suggesting that the parents of Liverpool should take such action?

Mr. Hardman

I do not suggest that they should take any action merely in imitation of action that has been taken in the past, but I repeat that parents are very well aware what action they can adopt to induce local education authorities to take notice. In regard to temporary accommodation for blitzed areas, it is in the power of the Ministry to see that local authorities do their duty. I think the final point to which the hon. Member referred can have a categorical answer. It is that no alteration has been made in the agreement between the Ministry and the Churches. That agreement stands. I hope that that message will go out not only to all the children but to all the parents.

Amendment agreed to.

Miss Wilkinson

I beg to move, in page 4, line 4, to leave out from "Minister," to the end of the Clause, and to insert: there has been a sufficient opportunity for permanent accommodation to be provided for such pupils in accordance with the development plan for the area. The Amendment is intended to meet a large number of doubts and fears that have been expressed about the duration of the temporary accommodation and whether there is any guarantee that permanent buildings will really take their place. The Amendment is to make the position quite clear. As a Ministry, we attach great importance to the fact that, under Section 109 of the Act, temporary accommodation shall last only until such time as permanent accommodation can be provided. I am anxious that there should be no loophole for anybody to maintain that once temporary accommodation is provided it will go on indefinitely.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. R. A. Butler

This Amendment does reassure one, although we shall have to use this temporary accommodation for some years. The right hon. Lady, I think, did a service when she last spoke on this subject by describing some of the temporary buildings to be provided as very satisfactory for an interim period, as they will have to be used to make the raising of the school leaving age a reality, and by drawing attention to the fact that these are not merely huts and that it will be possible to use some of the temporary accommodation for some years ahead in order to case a very difficult situation.

Amendment agreed to.

FIRST SCHEDULE (Maintenance 'of Voluntary Schools),

Amendment made: In page 8, line 6, leave out "in substitution for," and insert instead of."— [Miss Wilkinson.']

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

I beg to move, in page 8, line 42, at the end, to insert: Provided that nothing in this sub-paragraph shall prevent the managers or governors from making a transfer of the school premises to the authority under the provisions of the Second Schedule to the Principal Act or serving on the Minister and on the local education authority under Section fourteen of the Principal Act a notice of their intention to discontinue the school. Before discussing this Amendment may I shortly express the appreciation of my denomination for the regard given to us in the Committee stage by the Minister? May I also express our appreciation to my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) who, in the absence of anyone of my denomination, was good enough to move the Amendments which we put down. We appreciate, too, that the Minister accepted most of them. In moving this Amendment, I do so not out of any churlishness but simply because we realise that Ministers come and go, and we cannot always expect to have people as appreciative of our difficulties as both the right hon. Lady and her predecessor have been. If we cannot get her to accept this Amendment, we should like to have it on record that representations were made and that we have received some assurance.

By this Amendment, we wish to get an assurance from the Minister with regard to what will happen when the governors of either an aided or special agreement school find that they are unable to fulfil their obligations and have, under the Act, themselves to apply to the Minister for an Order to revoke the Order made in respect of the aided or special agreement school. So far as we understand it, the school would then become a controlled school. But a controlled school has not a status, which, as the Minister and the House know, we can accept. Therefore, we are left with the peculiar situation that we have to apply for an Order to revoke an Order, and yet no provision is apparently made as to what is to happen with regard to the expenditure which has been incurred in connection with the capital cost of the school

Therefore, we wish to suggest to the Minister that she should consider accepting our Amendment, the effect of which, in our opinion, would be that in the event of this unfortunate situation arising, the school would go over to the county council as a county school. In that case, we would suggest that the capital cost incurred by the governors should be reimbursed by the local education authority. I think that is a reasonable suggestion to make. In the event of it being decided by the governors that they would wish to go on as a voluntary school, though not aided, I suppose there would have to be some arrangement whereby compensation was paid to the local authority for any capital cost which they had incurred. To understand that on the Committee stage of the Bill, the Minister of Education gave some sort of assurance. She told the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden: I agreed that the Subsection ought not to affect the right of the managers and governors to transfer or close a school, and I do not think there is any danger of that; but if the right hon. Gentleman thinks there is any such danger, I will gladly look into this matter between now and the Report stage." — [OFFICAL Report, Standing Committee B, 21st February. 1946; c. 35.] If the Minister cannot accept our Amendment, I hope that she will give some categorical assurance when replying to this Amendment.

Squadron-Leader Hollis (Devizes)

I beg to second the Amendment.

As the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) has said, consideration of this Bill has been very happily free from any animosity, and I do not wish to introduce it now. This Amendment is designed to clear up any possible ambiguity that there may be in the meaning of the word "transfer." There is no intention of the present Minister transforming an aided or special agreement school into a controlled school, but at the same time there seems to be a certain amount of legal opinion that that may be possible under this Bill. Therefore, all that we are asking is that this Amendment should be inserted to guard against this possibility.

Mr. Hardman

This is a case of keeping the pot on the boil, and maintaining interest in a subject on which, I think, we can give every assurance. It is true that Ministers come and go, but as the position is, I think that an assurance ought to satisfy the two hon. Members who haw proposed and seconded this Amendment. I am suggesting that this Amendment should be rejected as it was rejected in Committee. During the Committee stage discussions, the right hon. Lady pointed out that the Amendment was unnecessary. We have had further discussions on the whole matter with members of the denomination of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), and we are still of the opinion that the Amendment is unnecessary.

I will give a categorical assurance in detailed terms. The reasons why we consider it is unnecessary are as follow. First, the power of the managers or governors of an aided or special agreement school to give notice of their intention to close their school under Section 14 (1) of the main Act, and their power to transfer their school under the Second Schedule of the main Act are not qualified in any way. The second reason is that the pro visions of Section 15 of the main Act as to the conversion of aided or special agreement schools into a controlled school under Subsection (4) only apply if it is intended that the school shall continue to be carried on as a voluntary school of one sort or another. I feel that this is a rather detailed point and that, therefore, a detailed reason ought to be given why we consider the Amendment is unnecessary. Therefore, I suggest that the Amendment be rejected.

Mr. Stokes

In view of the assurance which has been given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hardman

I beg to move, in page 9, line 27, to leave out from the first "to," to the second "to," and to insert: "the trustees of the school."

This Amendment and the following Amendment have been put down to meet a reasonable request. We have to make it clear that if there are already trustees of a school any additional site should be conveyed to those trustees. If there is a body having control of a site any addition to that site ought to be vested in the same control. It would be a curious anomaly if there were two bodies controlling two parts of the same site. We suggest in this simple Amendment words to meet a reasonable request to make it clear that any additional site will be conveyed to the trustees. If there is any question of dispute or doubt then the Minister is given power to determine the dispute or doubt.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made:

In page 9, line 28, at the end, insert: If any doubt or dispute arises as to the persons to whom a local education authority are required to make a conveyance under this paragraph, the conveyance shall be made to such persons as the Minister thinks proper." — [Mr. Hardman.]