HC Deb 27 February 1948 vol 447 cc2325-64

Order for Second Reading read.

1.50 p.m.

The Minister of Education (Mr. Tomlinson)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

In moving the Second Reading of the Bill which later became the Act of 1946, my predecessor described it as a very modest Measure which, with perhaps one or two exceptions, was solely concerned with effecting various adjustments to the Education Act, 1944. The same description might apply to the present Bill.

I have discovered that one of the advantages of presenting a Bill to the House two or three weeks before it is debated on the Floor of the House on Second Reading, is that one finds during that period—very often through that section of the Press which is interested—all the hidden motives which lie behind the mind of the Minister in producing a Bill at all. The fact that they are very far from the truth, or, at any rate, from the inclinations of the Minister, gives him an opportunity of seeing how the proposals that are made can be interpreted, either rightly or wrongly.

Further experience of the operation of the 1944 Act has shown the need for some small adjustments—some to enable us more effectively to interpret the underlying purposes of that Act, and some to lubricate its day-to-day administration. I do not know whether, in 1950, we shall need another amending Measure such as we put forward in 1946, and as we are now doing in 1948, but I think the House will agree that it is in accordance with the traditions of a progressive Department that its administration should be kept constantly under review, and adjusted from time to time in the light of experience. I will not weary the House by going through every Clause in the Bill. Several of them are designed to do a useful job in a modest and effective way, and I do not think I need dwell on them at length.

Clause 5, for instance, consolidates the provisions of the 1944 and 1946 Acts about the supplying of clothing by local education authorities, and also makes a few amendments. The very fact that it is bringing together all the powers of the local authorities with regard to clothing is, in itself, worth doing, for it enables the individual responsible for that administration to see at a glance what he can and what he cannot do. Another example is Clause 6, which embodies a very ingenious and, I think, sound scheme for dealing with cases where it is impossible to allot to any individual local education authority financial responsibility for the education of a child.

I will now deal with the Clauses which are either of substantive importance, or which may give rise to questions in some quarters. The first two Clauses of the Bill concern the administration of charitable trusts. At present, by virtue of the Board of Education Act, 1899, and Orders in Council made therein, I, as Minister of Education, exercise Charitable Trusts Acts jurisdiction over endowments which are determined as solely educational. In the case of endowments which are in no way educational, and also in the case of endowments which are partly educational and partly non-educational, that jurisdiction is at present exercised by the Charity Commissioners.

The purpose of Clause 1 (1) of the present Bill is to provide machinery whereby, under Order in Council, jurisdiction over endowments which are not solely educational can be transferred from the Charily Commissioners to the Minister of Education. Instances of the mixed type of endowments—those which are partly educational and partly non-educational—are, for instance, endowments for youth welfare, community centres, libraries, museums and technical colleges which carry on research as well as education, and some other institutions normally assisted by local education authorities and grant-aided by my Department.

The recently constituted Foundation for Educational Research is another example which would probably come into this category of a mixed trust. My Department does not give grant aid to an organisation providing for youth welfare, physical training, recreation, and so on, unless the organisation is properly constituted as a charitable trust. It seems desirable that such a foundation should be wholly within the purview of my Department for all purposes, and not partly under my Department and partly under the Charity Commissioners. This Clause would enable this mixed type of endowment to be brought wholly under my wing, and I understand that this proposition is quite acceptable to the Charity Commissioners.

Clause 2, which deals with the same subject, is designed to extend my powers under the Endowed Schools Acts so that endowments which have ceased to serve any effective purpose, by reason of the passage of the Education Act, 1944, may be put to good use. In 1869, when the first Endowed Schools Act was passed, the State and the local authorities were only then about to enter seriously into the field of education, and that only for the purpose of ensuring an adequate system of elementary education for the younger children of the working classes. No attempt was then made to deal with adult education. Education has now a much wider meaning, and the national policy, as stated in the first sentence of the 1944 Act, is to provide a varied and comprehensive educational service in every area.

Many endowments, which were founded mainly to provide scholarships, maintenance allowances, and such things in secondary schools, have ceased to be effective because we have abolished fees in maintained schools and given local education authorities wide powers to provide scholarships and other benefits. At the present moment, I have applications from the trustees of well over 600 endowments asking for new schemes. At present, my powers under the Endowed Schools Acts extend only to endowments which satisfy two conditions: first, that they were founded before 1869—apart from certain types of endowments which are specifically excluded—and, secondly, that they are endowments for the education of boys and girls at school, or endowments for exhibitions.

Under my present powers, I cannot make a new scheme for endowments founded since 1819, except with the consent of the governors of the trust. Another reason why new schemes are needed for many endowments is that, as a result of the change in the value of our money, some scholarship funds are not in a position adequately to provide for the education of students who obtain awards I think the House will agree that it is desirable that we should be able to interpret the wishes of those who founded those charities long ago in a way which will benefit future generations, as they have benefited past generations.

To deal with my immediate problems, I am seeking to make three changes in the law: first, to extend the Endowed Schools Acts to cover the education of adults, as well as boys and girls; secondly, to extend the Acts to endowments given at any time, whether before or after 1869; thirdly, to require the consent of the governors of an endowment to a scheme only if the endowment was founded within the last 50 years. I am not wedded to the actual wording of the Clause, and I think there is certainly room for improvement in it. For instance, I understand that Subsection (2) gives us power to make new schemes for university endowments. I can assure the House with my hand on my heart that nothing has been or is further from my intention than to tamper with university endowments, and I propose at a later stage to put down Amendments to cover this and certain other points.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

Would that refer also to endowments for public schools?

Mr. Tomlinson

Public schools are already excluded under the Act to which I have referred. They are among the exceptions. Universities will be excluded by being placed in the list of exclusions in the appropriate Schedule.

Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)

When the right hon. Gentleman says "universities," I presume he means also any college in a university?

Mr. Tomlinson

Yes, in the case of an endowment of that kind. I am sure that the old law of charity trusts, in all its ramifications, will have to be reviewed before long. Meanwhile, I am seeking powers for the limited purpose which I have described, and I think every Member of the House, knowing something of local endowments and local schemes, will realise the necessity for it.

Welsh Members will probably have noted Subsection (5) of Clause 2 which repeals the Welsh Intermediate Education Act, 1889. I should explain that this Act is being repealed not because it has been unsatisfactory in its operation, but for the contrary reason, that its objects have long ago been successfully accomplished. The purpose of the Act was to provide machinery for filling in the large gaps which then existed in the secondary school provision of Wales and Monmouthshire. Generally speaking, this purpose has been fulfilled, and in the course of time many of the provisions of the Welsh Act have been superseded by other statutes and have been repealed. I should like to emphasise, however, that the schemes made under the Act will remain in force, and the fund's schools and institutions—for instance, the Central Welsh Board—which were established under such schemes, will not suffer in any way as a result of the repeal of the Act.

The purpose of Clause 3 is quite simple, and it has none of the sinister implications which I see have been attributed to it in some quarters. The 1944 Act lays down that primary schools are for junior pupils and secondary schools for senior pupils, and the line of division between these two categories is at the age of 12. Everyone knows that, in general, the age of 11-plus is the normal time for transfer from primary to secondary schools in this country. We therefore need to bring the law into line with our current general practice. As a matter or fact, most of the transfers at the moment probably take place at the age of 11-plus, but before the actual age of 12 has been reached. Under the law as it stands, that is illegal. There is a small minority of cases in which a pupil's abilities justify his promotion from the primary to the secondary stage rather earlier than the majority, but those cases are few.

Mr. Ralph Morley (Southampton)

If 11 is the usual transfer age, why bring it down to 10?

Mr. Tomlinson

I want to cover the exceptional case where a youngster of outstanding ability should be transferred at that age. There is no intention, as has been intimated in some sections of the educational Press, of using this Amendment to relieve the situation lower down. The only reason for introducing it, and the whole object of the Clause, is to legalise existing practice and not to alter it. It may be that in fixing the lower limit at the age of 10 we have gone rather further than is necessary to accomplish our purpose. I should be quite prepared to consider whether we can make an adjustment so as to avoid making it possible for children to be promoted before the age of say, 10 years 6 months, or 10 years 8 months. There is no intention of changing the present practice; this is simply regularising the practice which now obtains.

Clause 4 relates to the subject dealt with in the previous Clause. Together with Clause 3, it will meet the argument which has already been advanced that the managers of a voluntary primary school can defy the authority and retain their pupils up to the age of 12 beyond the present normal age for transfer to secondary schools at 11-plus. In other words, under the present Act, if the managers of a school wished to be awkward, they could defy the authority by refusing to allow their children to be moved at all until they have passed the age of 12. Anybody who has had any administrative experience at all knows that the law cannot be allowed to remain in that position. Subsection (2) has as its main object the restoration to local education authorities of the power which they had under the Act of 1921, to prevent capricious transfers of children from one school to another in the middle of the term. I think this part of the Clause may have to be looked at again, because it goes a good deal further than our present regulations which define the circumstances in which a child may not be refused admission to a school at the beginning of the term. However, it is apparent that some alteration is needed there, for the simple reason that, according to the law, one can exclude a child from school and then summons the parents for not sending him to the school. In Committee that point can be covered and cleared up.

I am sure the House will welcome Subsection (3). This abolishes the present regulations relating to the procedure for registering pupils and withdrawing them from school. The present system requires the use of many thousands of forms—60,000 a year in London alone—and this Subsection provides further evidence of the constant efforts we make to reduce red tape. To abolish at one stroke the need for 60,000 forms in London alone, and to abolish a correspondingly larger number in the rest of the country, is evidence of the fact that we are prepared to abolish this form-filling when possible, and that we do not insist on form-filling for its own sake.

I now come to Clause 7. As the House will remember, under Section 10 (2) of the 1944 Act, I have power to modify the requirements of the building regulations in regard to individual existing schools where, for some good reason connected with "the nature of the site," or "any existing buildings thereon," or "other special circumstances affecting the school premises," it would be unreasonable to require conformity with the regulations. When the 1944 Act was passed, it was not foreseen that it would not be possible, for various reasons, to make all new schools conform with the building regulations. This Clause has two purposes. The first is to remove the requirement under the existing Section 10 (2) of the 1944 Act that I should draw up what I might call an alternative set of building regulations for each individual school which cannot comply with the general regulations, and secondly, to enable me to authorise the provision of new schools in circumstances where it is impracticable for some good reason, other than financial, to meet the full rigour of the building regulations.

Perhaps it will be convenient for me to deal first with Subsection (2) of this Clause, which applies to new schools. In the present circumstances, while we are faced with an acute shortage of labour and material, it is obviously sound policy to make such use as we can of existing buildings. Thus, in the case of special schools for handicapped pupils, we are combing the country for large houses which can be adapted and used for this purpose. None of these houses will comply with the strict letter of the building regulations and we must, therefore, make it legally possible to do what everybody would agree is sensible and necessary. I should like to give a definite assurance that the intention of this Clause is not to enable me, or any future Minister, to waive the building regulations in a general way.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

Can we have some kind of guarantee? My right hon. Friend is the Minister now, but we do not know what may happen in the future, and we would like some protection. Cannot there be a period of time set down over which this would apply?

Mr. Tomlinson

I have not said the last word on this Clause. I can understand my hon. Friend's desire to get this protection, but I was going to say something about it. The difficulty in complying with the full requirements of the building regulations must be due either to the shortage of adequate sites or shortages of labour or materials, before the Minister can use his discretion under this Clause.

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)

Not shortage of money?

Mr. Tomlinson

As in the case of the existing powers which I have under Section 10 (2) of the 1944 Act, there is nothing in this Clause which would enable me to relax the building regulations in order to enable the managers of a school to get away with less than the building regulations required, solely on financial grounds. I hope the present shortage of materials and labour will be temporary, but the difficulty of finding an adequate number of adequate sites is likely to be permanent in a good many areas. I think, therefore, that we must be realistic and acknowledge that the powers provided for in this Clause are necessary. I am prepared to see whether the drafting can be tightened up so as to limit the Minister's discretion to the absolutely unavoidable cases, where, for practical reasons, the building regulations cannot be fully met.

Returning to Subsection (1) of this Clause, I do not think there is much that need be said. It would clearly be administratively almost impossible to draw up for each case a schedule of points in which existing schools might be allowed to depart from the building regulations and, further than that, it would also be undesirable, in my submission, in that it would tend to establish a substandard set of regulations alongside the statutory regulations. Furthermore, having gone to the trouble of introducing in one Clause the powers which enable me to destroy, as it were, or to render unnecessary the filling of forms, I do not see why I should impose upon myself the necessity of filling up another series of very important forms setting out in every detail where a particular school is not up to the regulations.

Turning to Clause 8, under the existing law once an authority have reported a child as ineducable, there is no power for them to revise their report. In other words, once a child has been declared ineducable, it remains so for the rest of its life, even though the authority may have been misinformed and have wrongly reported the child, or the child improves and subsequently becomes educable. This Clause gives the authority that power. I have had some pathetic cases referred to me where the existing law is obviously frustrating those who are seeking to do their best for the children concerned. I may admit to the House that I have gone outside the law in order to attempt to help those children. I am sure every one will welcome this adjustment.

I will pass to Clause 10. Under Section 90 of the 1944 Act, an authority can acquire land compulsorily for the purpose of passing it over to a maintained or assisted school or institution, provided that in passing it over they are subject to the recouping of expenditure, but they have no power to do the less drastic thing of purchasing land by agreement to pass over to some such body in the same way. Subsection (1) gives them that power. Subsection (2), following a similar provision in Section go of the 1944 Act, requires the managers or governors of a voluntary school to recoup the expenditure if it is their duty under the Education Act to provide the land.

I now turn to Clause 9. The present Section 95 of the 1944 Act requires an authority either to prove the age of a child brought before the court for school attendance purposes, or to satisfy the court that they have used every effort to obtain evidence as to age, but have failed. This requirement is apt to be very burdensome to authorities and in most cases—the majority of cases—is quite unnecessary, as it is obvious to everybody that the child is of compulsory school age. This Clause puts the burden on the parent, who disputes that the child is of compulsory school age, to prove that fact—putting the onus on the parent to prove the child is not of compulsory age when the authority says that he is. There is just one other matter to which I would refer. Every Clause of this Bill, in my judgment, is of real importance, as I think hon. Members will realise if they go through the respective changes that are contemplated both in the Clauses and in the Schedule.

There is just one point in the First Schedule to which I would like to call attention, and that is the Amendment to Section 40 of the 1944 Act. I would like particularly to mention this point, which is of great importance in the administration of the law on school attendance. As the law now stands, an obstinate parent can flout a school attendance order by allowing himself to be repeatedly fined by a magistrate, while the child remains out of school. The situation is comparable with that where the owner of a dog, which has been ordered to be destroyed, retains his canine friend by paying a daily fine. This new Section enables the child to be brought before a juvenile court, in a case where his parent is disobeying a school attendance order, and removed from the control of his parents. In my judgment, that it is a very necessary and very desirable thing, for a child who is being kept out of school by the whim of the parent, is entitled to the protection of the law in order to see it gets its schooling.

If there are other matters in the Bill to which I have not referred, and on which Members are suspicious and where they question the desire or the purpose of the Minister in seeking improvements, I am quite sure that, in replying to the Debate, the Parliamentary Secretary will attempt to set those suspicions at rest.

2.20 p.m.

Mr. Linstead (Putney)

I think we were all pleased that the Minister has indicated that it is his wish and the practice of his Department to keep the administration of the principal Act perpetually under review, and that he is not afraid to come to the House with an amending Bill to correct any deficiences in that Act which are shown by experience of working it. It must have occurred to some of us that the precedent that the right hon. Gentleman has established might be communicated to the Minister of Health, so that from time to time a National Health Service (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill could be introduced. There are few Ministers who come to this House and admit to certain weaknesses in the drafting of their Bills who are more likely to be excused than the right hon. Gentleman. I think the House is not unreasonably entitled, when a Bill is presented to it for Second Reading, to expect it to be in a good, workmanlike, Parliamentary form.

Mr. Tomlinson

I should not like it to be thought that this Bill is not in a good workmanlike, Parliamentary form.

Mr. Linstead

That was what I was suggesting, having heard the Minister confess that he was hoping to see various changes made at later stages. It is important, especially now that we have such an enormous amount of legislation put before us, that the House should establish the principle—I am not particularly referring to this Bill—that Bills should be ab initio in a satisfactory form, and that it is undesirable for it to be supposed that any text will do for Second Reading because at subsequent stages it can be put into better shape.

With regard to this Bill, I notice that in Clause 1 the Minister is taking powers to extend the borderline of educational trusts to include charities which are not solely educational. One can see at one end of the scale a trust which is wholly educational, and at the other end of the scale a trust which is wholly charitable. The Minister is now gradually to move along that scale, and reading Clause 1, one wonders where the Minister will stop. It seems to me that the limiting words, which are: the same or associated powers … already vested in or exercisable by the Minister, will be altered every time the Minister moves from the educational end to the charitable end of the scale, and that by these words he may gradually acquire to himself powers to take over—I do not say for a moment that he wants to do so—almost any charitable trust. I ask, therefore, whether there ought not to be some oversight of the Minister in the exercise of these powers, and whether it is wise that the Charity Commissioners should entirely lose their jurisdiction, as, apparently, they will, and hand it over completely to the Minister.

With regard to Clause 2, the Minister said that he proposes to use these powers only in cases where trusts have ceased to fulfil any useful purpose because of the operation of the principal Act. That, in a statement by the Minister, is one thing; but he will be the first to admit that it is very far from what the Bill itself has to say. In the Bill, the Minister is, apparently, taking power to alter or add to existing trusts, and to make new trusts in respect of endowments for any educational purposes. I am sure the House as a whole was glad to hear from the Minister that he looks favourably upon some limitation upon the extraordinarily wide powers he is proposing to take by the Clause. It would be helpful to the House if, in his reply to the Debate, the Parliamentary Secretary would tell us by what means these powers are exercised. Apparently, they are not exercised by statutory instrument. One wonders—one does not know—whether there is any control in this House over the exercise of the powers, or, indeed, any way at all of bringing them to the light of day. It certainly looks as though the Minister can use his unfettered discretion without any publicity.

In the same Clause there is a very complicated provision—Subsection (3)—dealing with the consent of trustees. I gather that some 600—anyway, hundreds—of trustees have already come to the Minister and asked him to vary their trusts. There are presumably trustees who have not come to the Minister and asked him to vary the trusts. The Minister, however, is now proposing to take powers to vary those trusts, and if they are "modern trusts" he may do so without the consent of the trustees. That seems to me a strong power to take, and I wonder if the Parliamentary Secretary could not give us a rather clearer indication of the circumstances in which the Minister will virtually break up a trust against the wishes of the existing trustees.

With regard to Clause 3 and Clause 4 (1), which run together, I feel that this is a reasonable amendment of the law, but I hope that it will be found possible to bring to the attention of parents the effect of this change. It means in practice that a child that is taken away from school because his parents move, cannot go to a school in the district to which the family moves until the beginning of the next term. That is a factor which may influence parents, if they know it, in timing their removals.

Mr. Tomlinson

I am sorry. That is an instance in which, I admit, the Bill may not be in good, workmanlike form. I have intimated that the Clause shall not apply in certain directions. An Amendment will be necessary.

Mr. Linstead

It is useful to have that assurance from the Minister. I am sorry if I misunderstood anything he may have said in moving the Second Reading. It is, of course, in Clause 2 that many of the powers with regard to university endowments are raised. We were all glad to hear the Minister say that he had no intention of tampering with university endowments. I take it that that will be put beyond question in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman did say that he made that statement with his hand on his heart. I could not help noticing that his hand, at that time, was very far from his heart and was well in the air. Nevertheless, we are bound to accept his assurance that his hand was, metaphorically, where he told us it was.

With regard to Clause 3 and the age of 10. I realise the force of the remonstrances which came from below the Gangway about this age. Nevertheless, there is the exceptional child. I have personal knowledge of one boy who has spent two years as the top boy at his primary school, and it has not been to his benefit to remain stuck in that position. If there are only a few such boys a year in the whole country it might be wise for special power to exist to move them up to a secondary school, even two years in advance of their time. I am glad to learn that, even if there is to be some advance on the age of ten it is likely to be only a matter of months. The exceptional case does exist, and there should be provision for dealing with it.

Clause 5, which deals with clothing, is a most valuable consolidation. It would be interesting if at some time the Minister's Department published a general survey on how the administration of the clothing provisions in the Education Act are working. There must be some useful sociological information being collected. It would be of interest to know, for example, whether there is any practical value in making a differentiation between the right of property and the right of user; in other words, whether clothes which actually belong to the boy and to his family are better looked after than clothes which are merely loaned for the purpose of the boy's school life. Such information must be in the possession of the Department, and it would be of value were it made public.

The distinction which it is sought to draw in Clause 7 between the old words and the new words is extremely difficult to understand. The Minister indicated that he did not want to be in the position of having to put his name to a long specification of detailed works which were permitted in a particular school, and said that the effect of doing so would be, in a sense, to make a series of substandard regulations. He is surely much less likely to make a series of substandard regulations if he approves a separate specification for each school than if, as he will apparently do now, he gives his approval in such manner as appears to him to be requisite for securing conformity… In other words, by being more precise in respect of each school I should have thought he would be in less danger of laying down sub-standard regulations than with the more general phrase which he is now using.

The only remaining comment I have to offer is on the question of drafting. Had it been only a matter affecting the Minister personally we might have marked his report, "English Composition: could do better if he tried." But there is a matter of general policy affecting the House as a whole, and I hope that in future we can rely upon completely drafted Bills being presented to us for Second Reading. With those comments, I warmly commend the Bill to the House.

2.34 p.m.

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)

We are debating this Bill under stress of Parliamentary time, and as I know that many hon. Members wish to speak I will confine myself to one or two points. I am glad the Minister has shown himself to be adaptable and willing to listen to arguments and consider Amendments in Committee. I thought that an excellent approach. It is an advantage, too, that he is anxious not to do anything with regard to building regulations which will perpetually lower standards. My only comment is that, having been in this House so many years and heard education Debates over and over again, I must plead: For Heaven's sake get on with some schools. The "black list" of Trevelyan still exists. The physical condition of hundreds of thousands of school children in this country is simply abominable.

My main comment arises on Clause 3, with regard to the lowering of the secondary school age to 10. On that I thought I detected that the Minister was not so pliable as on the other Clauses. He seemed to have made up his mind. Many of us are very disturbed about this, and in my opinion it will have a very detrimental effect upon the junior schools. Kiddies will go to the junior school, but how long will they be there? Two years? Two and a half years? All the time they are there they will be subject to examination pressure to get into a secondary school.

Mr. Tomlinson

indicated dissent.

Mr. Cove

The Minister shakes his head, but I think this will give local authorities the opportunity to transfer these children at the age of 10, when the pressure comes following the increase in the number of kiddies in junior schools. I can see a letting up in order to relieve the pressure in the junior schools—particularly owing to the increase of the junior school population—and a great many kiddies will have a truncated period there. We shall have to debate this rather sternly in Committee if we get the opportunity. I am dead against examination pressure in the junior schools, because of the bad effect it will have on the children. This is a vital educational principle, and I hope that in Committee the Minister will be as amenable on this point as he has shown himself to be on others.

2.37 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)

This Bill does not seem to me to be the last word in draftsmanship. I thought that the Bill was one which would relax the somewhat stiff regulations which had been put into practice since the 1944 Act. Of course, an Act reforming the whole law of education was bound, in some cases, to be—I was going to say "found out"; but apparently my right hon. Friend is doing some illegal things at present, and this Bill is introduced primarily to clear them up. On Second Reading, it is very hard to discern any principles in a Bill, which is called miscellaneous. Therefore, all my comments are on Committee points.

I simply do not understand the mixed trust Clause at all, and I share the doubts of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead) in that regard. We are living in an absolute dream world in our approach to building regulations for education at the moment, when we consider the increased cost of one single school since 1939, and the conditions of junior schools, or read the report of the Advisory Council—a most moderate report—in which it is said that it will take 50 years to put the junior schools into anything like reasonable conditions. I share the view of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) about the schools; but if we get some schools which are a little below the standards set up under the 1944 Act, I am all for having them. The London County Council have already considered lowering standards in one or two respects.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

The London County Council found themselves in considerable difficulty with the present standards and would be anxious to reduce them in certain ways.

Mr. Lindsay

I am grateful to the hon. Member. I know that the L.C.C. are faced with one of the worst problems in the country. It is clear that in other communities we may have to put up with inferior standards. In this case, the best is so often the enemy of the good. We have to be far more realist in matters concerning building regulations. Another matter which I do not understand is connected with the clothing regulations. Am I to understand that we shall now be able to give equipment for games and so on? If so, the youth clubs will welcome it. It is difficult for them to get coupons at present except from the family coupon pool. I hope that these provisions will give relief to youth clubs in this respect.

With regard to the power of local education authorities to transfer pupils to secondary schools before the age of 12, am I to understand that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to make the age 10 years and six months, or 10 years and eight months? That is roughly what is happening now. We cannot lay down an absolute rule about this matter. What an irony it is. Only four years ago we were passing the wonderful Education Act, 1944. How many hon. Members said then that examinations at 11-plus would now be a thing of the past? The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) will remember that many speakers joined with him in welcoming the abolition of the practice by which, at the age of 11, a child's whole future is settled. The hon. Member for Aberavon now says that if we make this age 10 years, there will be preparations for examinations starting at the ages of eight or nine, and it will mean that we shall have no junior school left. He is right. That is the fact. Until we get new buildings it is bound to be the fact.

Let us not fool ourselves. Only 60 per cent. of the schools in this country are re-organised for secondary education. The sooner we recognise that fact the better. We have to do a great deal of rebuilding in order to make what are known as secondary schools faintly resemble schools that come up to the standard. As it is, too often the difference between the primary and the secondary school is little more than a change in nomenclature. I do not mind if the right hon. Gentleman has to go down to a little lower standard. We shall welcome some modification in the Committee stage and a clarification of one or two points, particularly with regard to the mixed trusts.

In Scotland we have had a great deal of experience of what it means to give up a trust which always took children from one locality. This was a very local and very much respected trust. Suddenly we found that the trust was being converted for all kinds of other purposes. It may be, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that he has 600 applications. When the Parliamentary Secretary replies I hope he will give us a little more information of the kind of trust that is to be modified and that we may have some modification of the Minister's powers in connection with trusts. On every other ground I welcome the Bill.

2.45 p.m.

Mr. Corlett (York)

I find it difficult to understand how there can be much objection to the Bill, which proposes solutions for administrative difficulties that have arisen in the administration of the Education Act. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) did not expect, when he initiated that Measure, that there would not be administrative difficulties. The method on this occasion is a lesson for the doctors. We pass an Act and let it operate, and then we bring in an amending Act to put right matters that still need adjustment. We are working an Act with which we disagreed in some respects, and now, having put it into operation, we are finding solutions for the difficulties which have arisen.

I therefore congratulate the Minister upon bringing in the Bill. The difficulties were inevitable, and it is inevitable, too, that we should quarrel over their solution. I see the difficulties raised about the solution for educational endowments, but I am sure that the local authorities will be delighted with the very simple solution now proposed and the effective way of dealing with the trouble. I am sure they will also be delighted with the solution proposed for the problem of financial responsibility for other-area children. That question has been a bugbear to the local authorities for many years. Local authorities have wasted a terrific amount of time and energy trying to place financial responsibility, which is now to be put upon all local authorities. That seems to be an admirable solution.

In my constituency we have a direct grant school which has just changed its status to aided. There are boys who are boarders there, and one is from Caithness in Scotland. Since the school has changed its status, that Scottish authority has absolutely refused to pay the fees towards the cost of that boy. The expense has, therefore, fallen upon my city. Under the Bill, it will spread over the whole community, and that is welcome. But I hope the Minister will not let Scotland get away with it and that there will be reciprocity so that they will have to pay for the boarder for whom we are paying at the moment.

I agree that our attitude towards building regulations must be realist and that we must face the facts. I agree that with regard to sites there must be variation. I also agree that authorities will be compelled, by shortage of labour and materials and their cost, to set up new schools in existing buildings. Building regulations will have to be waived in such cases; but I should have thought that the Minister had ample powers under Section 10 (2) of the principal Act to control building regulation. I am not sure that he needs further powers. We have great pride and confidence in the Minister, but he will not be in that office for all time. He may now secure powers that we should not want to put into other hands. It may well be that, as he sees development plans, and has to make so many individual variations, he desires wider powers which would prevent him having to make a specific set of requirements for every school. But as the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay) has said, we must avoid their becoming sub-standard. I would like him, therefore, to give an assurance that his power will apply only to new school accommodation in existing buildings. There should be some limitation of his powers in time and scope. The scope should be, as I have said, that new buildings should mean only new schools when they are being set up in existing buildings. The time limit should be 30th April, 1955, to be reviewed by Parliament; then we should not go any further.

The Clause which gives me particular concern, however, is that which deals with the transfer from primary to secondary schools. We know that the need for a new definition is there. Under the original Act, the age of transfer was to be 12 years. No child was to be transferred from a primary school to a secondary school until he was 12 years old. No child could be retained in a primary school after reaching that age and no child could be transferred before that age. Each child had to be transferred on its twelfth birthday. This meant there would be a succession of children coming into the secondary school on their birthday. This was of course administratively quite unworkable, because no head teacher would be able to organise classification or curriculum. A remedy had to be found, and the authorities found it by breaking the law. All education authorities have been breaking the law ever since the Act came in, acting illegally and irregularly but very sensibly. Instead of taking notice of the age 12, they took 11 plus; but it is no secret that has now been challenged. Parents and bodies of managers are prepared to challenge the right of authorities to remove the children before they reach the age of 12 or to keep them in a primary school after the age of 12. We might soon be faced with cases in the courts.

But the Minister has gone much too far in substituting the age 10. I can understand his reasons. Rural schools often have the case of a bright child who it would seem really ought to go into the senior department. The problem too creates an administrative headache in overcrowded districts where the authorities have waiting lists for the infant schools, crowded infant classes and crowded junior classes and yet have accommodation to spare in the senior sections. They have tried all kinds of methods, including promoting children half-yearly, for it is always a difficulty to know how to get children through the overcrowded classrooms into the uncrowded ones.

Further, the senior schools have been complaining that they do not have their children long enough. When the school-leaving age was 14, the child was sometimes in the senior school for just over two years, and while it is 15, the child is there sometimes for only three years. The authorities complain that they cannot give the children a four year course. However, the Minister must hesitate a long time before putting this figure 10 into the Act. We had fears that he intended to promote the average child at 10 and only to retain in the primary department the below average child. That would have been unthinkable, just as it can be unforgivable to promote the bright child. The House should face up to this problem of promoting the bright child. A bright child of 10 may be intellectually ready for promotion, but is he emotionally ready for promotion? Ten is a very doubtful age. A child of that age has in front of him seven or eight years of school life. He will have new experiences, new teachers, new subjects and new friends.

I agree with the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) that there might sometimes be a determination to push this child too rapidly through matriculation at 14 plus, and then perhaps intense specialisation for open, major and State scholarships. Over-specialisation can easily become a curse in secondary education. That might be the child's future if he is promoted at 10, and it will be completely unforgivable. The public schools do not transfer until 13 or 14. Does any one, least of all the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden, suggest that a child's aptitude and ability can be determined at 10? In Scotland the transfer is at 12. Our schools have been transferring at 11 plus, and there has been continuous agitation to raise that age; yet to our horror we now find 10 suggested. The Minister should find an easier way out than this.

I know an authority which transfers its children who reach their eleventh birthday on 31st July of the year of entry. Therefore, they have a no-man's-land. They have elbow room and elasticity for children in primary and secondary schools. They promote at an age varying from 11 years to 11 years 11 months, the average age of promotion being 11 years six months. Most authorities, I think, fix the age of transfer at 11 on 31st December of the year of entry, and so get a no-man's-land from 10 years 11 months to 11 years eight months, with an average age of 11 years two months. The Minister ought to consider putting something in the Bill to legalise the existing method, and we should then all be satisfied. We do want assurances from him that he will vary the building regulations only in regard to existing schools and to new schools which may be in existing buildings and will take out of this Bill that fearful "age 10."

2.56 p.m.

Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)

The object of the Bill is quite clear to us all. It is to make certain amendments which have been discovered to be necessary by the administration of the 1944 Act. In so far as that is the object, we welcome the Bill. During this short Debate, I have been very much struck by the fact that the Minister and the Government have not given this Bill more consideration in detail before bringing it to the House. The Minister has said that it is his intention now to revise at least three of the Clauses in the light of the preliminary discussions there have been, even at this stage of the proceedings. In that case, it would have been wiser if some of those considerations had been clearer to him and his advisers before the Bill was brought here.

Clause 1 is not satisfactory. That is another Clause which the Minister should reconsider before the Committee stage. While the objects of the Clause are clear, the method of using simply an Order in Council is unsatisfactory. It leaves the Minister of Education too much power in judging what powers conferred by the Charitable Trusts Acts, 1853 and 1939, shall be transferred to his jurisdiction. I should like to see some authority other than the Minister brought into the matter. We see in Subsection (3) that an Order in Council made under that provision may be varied or revoked by a subsequent Order in Council. In Subsection (2) we see that the Minister can do exactly as he likes. This Clause might be drafted quite shortly as, "Clause 1.—The Minister of Education can do exactly as he likes about the Charity Commissioners and the Charitable Trusts Acts, 1853 and 1939." It is not worth coming to the House with legislation of this sort. It means that this is not worth our consideration. The matter is left exclusively to the jurisdiction of the Minister. He has the only motive power to modify an Order in Council and it depends on the exercise of his discretion what is done with the Charity Commissioners. If a thing is wrong, it can be put back the other way by another Order in Council.

When debating these matters we are always faced with the difficulty that the Minister is of a benign and genial disposition and able to get away with almost anything. No doubt we would be perfectly happy were the right hon. Gentleman always to remain in power, but unfortunately it is not the habit of Ministers of Education to remain in situ for ever. In fact, there are usually more changes in that office than in any other. I therefore ask the Minister quite seriously to consider whether he can broaden this Clause in order to make the Order in Council not dependent solely upon his whim—this is a perfectly serious drafting point—and to bring in some other authority, perhaps the Lord Chancellor, in order to render this discretion, in the case of transference from the Charity Commissioners to the Minister, a little less dictatorial than is apparent from the terms of this Clause.

The Minister has already acknowledged that Clause 2 is far too broad. Hon. Members on this side of the House have had endless approaches from establishments ranging from universities downwards, or, if it is preferred to put it another way, from the universities upward to the most modest endowments of the smaller schools, asking where the powers in Clause 2 will end. From the language of this Clause, it is seen that the maximum powers are under the Endowed Schools Acts, 1869 to 1908, which are explained in the following parenthesis: which confer powers as respects educational endowments by schemes made thereunder to alter or add to existing trusts and to make new trusts and to consolidate or divide endowments. If those powers are really as broad as that, and if the powers taken by this Minister are as wide as they are in Clause 2, there is no doubt that there is in the minds of educational establishments up and down the country the feeling that the settlement made about endowments in the 1944 Act is in some sense to be broken. I do not believe that is the Minister's intention, but the drafting gives the impression that he can transfer one type of school into another type; that he can transfer the most revered of university colleges into an establishment for girls' education, which would be insulting to the university college and no less unsatisfactory to the girls' school. If that be not the intention of the Minister, he should not have come to the House with a Clause so drafted because, from top to bottom of the educational system of this country, there has been grave anxiety. Let me take it, then, that, as he said in his opening remarks, the Minister intends to bring forward some revision of this point.

Then we come to Clause 3. This backs up what I said earlier, that this Bill ought to have been considered in more detail before it was brought here. Here we find in the mind of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Corlett), a person learned in the art of educational administration, serious anxiety as to whether this does not mean that transfers shall take place between primary and secondary education at the age of 10. From my knowledge of educational administration, I do not believe that the Minister wants this Clause for that purpose or that there is any sinister intention in moving this Clause. I believe the reason is that there have been serious hold-ups in the administration of the Act by certain people of legal disposition who have attempted to quibble at the original terms of Section 8 (1) of the principal Act, and have attempted to hold back in those schools—quite likely voluntary schools—children over the age of 11, thereby holding up reorganisation.

Even I, in the wilderness, am able to have some knowledge of some of the difficulties of the Minister in his reorganisation proposals, and I believe I have some knowledge of the causes which have made him introduce this Clause. If that be the reason, pray let him disabuse the mind of the hon. Member for York by telling him that it is not his intention that there shall be any change in the ordinary age of maturity in the passage from primary to secondary education.

Mr. Tomlinson

indicated assent.

Mr. Butler

I do not think that could be achieved solely by altering the age from 10 to 10 years 6 months. He will have to look into this again, and so draft the Clause that he does not excite apprehensions which need not be excited while, at the same time, achieving a rod with which he can beat those who are attempting to retain children in their own establishment, thus preventing reorganisation. I sympathise in the view with the hon. Member for York that 10 is not necessarily the right age to choose at which to transfer children from primary to secondary education. I am not absolutely clear why we chose the age of 11 originally but it has been sacrosanct since the time of Hadow and has never been altered. Now that we have that age, it is difficult to change it, so do not let us confuse it by anything in this Bill. The Minister may also intend to think again about Clause 4. If so, I should be interested to hear what he has to say.

The one Clause which seems to have escaped the need for redrafting, so far, is Clause 5, on clothing. That is not surprising because, in the 1944 Act the clothing provisions were extremely complicated. They were, in fact, exactly like the average changing room in a school. A plimsol was to be found at this end of the Act, a vest at the other end of the Act, a jersey in the middle of the Act, and various items of clothing strewn all over the floor. The advantage of this Clause is that it brings all the clothing together, and hangs it on one peg. This is a considerable improvement and something which is hardly seen even in the best regulated schools. So far we have not been able to find anything untidy in this Clause.

Many authorities welcome Clause 6 because they find it very necessary for administration, and on their behalf, in answer to many representations I have had, I wish to thank the Minister. Concerning the important Clause 7, which deals with building standards, as far as I see it, the amendment of the principal Act in Subsection (1) is a very small one. It simply removes the necessity for the Minister to introduce such other requirements as may be specified in his direction, but I want to ask him, prior to our considering this in Committee, whether he does not think that the language which he is inserting in Clause 7, namely: 'he may give a direction modifying the obligation imposed by this Subsection as respects the school in such manner as appears to him to be requisite for securing conformity to the requirements of the regulations so far as conformity thereto can be reasonably required,' does not imply that the Minister has also to lay down certain standards, otherwise he could give no direction. I want him to look into that wording, because it is of no use jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Let me repeat the wording: He may give a direction modifying the obligation … in such manner as appears to him to be requisite. I fail to see, unless I am so informed by the Minister, how he can give a direction … as appears … to be requisite for securing conformity. with something else, without laying down some standard of some sort. It may be legal language, but it would be interesting to me to understand how that differs in detail from the previous necessary detail.

I am glad to welcome the power given to the Minister to abate the building regulations in new schools. That is a very useful thing. In general, I must say that I think the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Kenneth Lindsay) is right. The building regulations were extremely stiff under the 1944 Act, and it is important that the Minister should have powers to introduce common sense into the administration of that Act. I am glad, therefore, that he has these powers, but I would say also that he must not use those powers in such a way as to alter the general basis of the settlement we reached with the denominations, with the teachers and with all the other authorities and interests concerned. I do not think it is the intention of the Act to use powers in that direction. If that is the case, we may satisfy even such authorities as the L.C.C., who themselves made observations about the building regulations, whereby in an impossible situation, or on a difficult site, some form of abatement is allowed, in order that educational progress may continue.

I cannot add in any other way to the observations on this Bill. Clauses 9 and 10 are perfectly reasonable and the Schedule, as is usual with educational legislation, is quite incomprehensible to a layman. It may contain all sorts of horrors. As far as I can see, it does not. I have been through it as carefully as I could, but we must reserve for ourselves the right to examine these matters in Committee.

My conclusion is that the Minister is quite right to come to this House with this Bill, but I would ask him, if he can, to consolidate the legislation referring to education. There was a habit in the India Office whereby, whenever there was an Act—and the India Act, 1935, is an example—the legislation was reprinted, so that the whole Act could be read together. This is the second Bill to amend the 1944 Act. Would it not be possible for the Minister so to influence the Government and the printers that we could have the 1944 Act reprinted, with the Act of two years ago, and this Measure all put in together, so that we can read the whole of the provisions as one? If he can use his influence in that direction and do a little consolidation, we shall attempt to help him to make this Bill more apt than it is at present to implement the original Act. I wish him well in carrying out the proposals of the original Act which are so vital to the country at the present time, and which should be prosecuted with vigour, although there is the work of a generation to be done, and in this crisis we cannot expect everything to be done at once.

3.11 p.m.

Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)

I am glad to know that the hon. Members opposite are searching for untidinesses in this Bill. I welcome the Bill. On the whole I think it is necessary. There were many things that needed to be tidied up. In his speech my right hon. Friend dissipated some but not all of the anxieties I felt. I turn at once to Clause 3, about which we shall need a great many assurances and certainly some Amendments during the Committee stage. I have not really got a suspicious mind, but I can remember after the first world war, when I was a very young teacher, how we used to watch what we then rather inelegantly called "the bulge" passing through the various stages of the educational system, rather like a meal through a boa constrictor. One of the things we did in those days was sometimes to move a class from the junior school into a senior school or to put an infant class into the junior school.

We all know the difficulties which the system has at the moment. Overcrowding and the under-staffing situation are extremely difficult. I cannot help fearing that if we legislate for this age of 10, if it is put into an Act, at some time or other someone may take advantage of that age to lift whole classes, where there is overcrowding and difficulty about accommodation. I would not like to lay any local education authority open to that temptation. I never liked 11-plus even in the Hadow days. Even then I thought it was an age which was chosen because it was administratively easy; it cut the system up in three equal portions. I do not believe it is the right age. No one sends a child from a preparatory school to a public school at the age of 11. It is neither socially nor emotionally an age at which the change should be made, and to consider moving the age back to 10 is an extremely backward step.

I do not believe in these abnormally and precociously bright children. I think they are often children who have been pushed on too quickly through the junior school, and who would have been much better had they moved more slowly. To put the whole system into jeopardy for the sake of a few children who are supposed to be brighter than the normal child would be great unwisdom. I hope we shall do nothing of the kind, and that we shall lay down in Committee that 11-plus is the right age.

Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)

The hon. Lady does not forget cases like Macaulay and John Stuart Mill?

Mrs. Manning

We have not many Macaulays or John Stuart Mills at the present time, and they might have been better if they had been held back a little. I ask my right hon. Friend not to make this change for the sake of the few children. He must find some other way to deal with these ill-disposed people who want to keep children back in a voluntary school to the age of 12. I hope we can have some assurance on that before the Debate comes to an end.

I turn to the two Clauses in this Bill which interest me most, and which have not yet been touched upon by any other speaker. The question of building has been raised by several Members in connection with Clause 7. I take that Clause together with something the Minister said, which I was very happy to hear him say, and with Clause 8. Clause 8 gives to local education authorities power to withdraw a certificate which has been given in the case of a child who is supposed not to be able to profit by the ordinary education of a normal school, the child whom. we usually describe as the mentally defective. For many years during my teaching career, I had more to do with that kind of child than I had to do with the preternatural young John Stuart Mill and Macaulay type. For many years I was the headmistress of a school which had a large number of children of that sort.

I know that over and over again mistakes have been made about these children. Quite a wrong intelligence quota has been given them by some medical officers of health. I never thought that they were suitable persons to administer that kind of test. Once a wrong I.Q. has been given to a child the law says that it cannot be changed. That child is a mentally defective child, and he has to go through life as mentally defective. On one occasion I persuaded a very reasonable and sympathetic official of the Board of Education to come to my school and to tear up a whole lot of certificates and put them in the wastepaper basket. The position was as if they had never existed and nobody knew that these children had been certified under the Education Act. But there are not a lot of officials who are like that, and we do not get a lot of head teachers who can work on officials in that way. Therefore, I would very much sooner see this provision in the Act.

There is another class of child who very often is wrongly certified. I refer to the child who suffers from deafness or partial deafness. I have encountered a large number of children who suffer from partial deafness. Many people think that children are mentally defective simply because they cannot hear what is said to them. It may be that the cause of a child's deafness is removed or that he is given some hearing aid. Then we may find that he is a preternaturally sharp child and that, in keeping up with other children and contending with the strain of trying to hear, he really was beyond the average child. I am very glad that the Minister is making it possible for local authorities to scrap these certificates and give a child a fresh start as if he had never had his I.Q. taken.

The Minister, in dealing with building regulations, said that one of the reasons why he was anxious to have the right to vary the regulations was that he was searching the country for houses to which he could send children who were in need of residential education because of mental deficiency of one kind or another. If I were asked to say what is the most terrible problem facing this country at the moment in the domestic and educational sphere, I would say that it was the presence in the home of a child who is a low grade mental defective or even an imbecile or idiot. I do not think that a week goes by in which I do not get a letter from some parent who has a child of that kind in his home for whom the local education authority can find no place whatever. We should consider the position of the child itself. If it is merely a defective—a high grade or even a low grade defective—the position is sad enough, because it does not have ordinary normal contacts with other children. Children do not want to play with a child of that kind.

The position of the imbecile or idiot is different. Those children do not care; they do not know; they have no minds at all. But the position of the parent and of the rest of the children in the family in a situation like that is one of the most terrible and pathetic, especially in overcrowded homes. I have a case in mind of a young boy, aged 12, living in an overcrowded home and having to sleep with his other brothers and sisters. As the Minister says, he has combed the country to find houses to accommodate these children. Are we to let stiff building regulations hold up the placing of children of that kind? That would be both inhuman and unreasonable. I should be very glad, for that reason alone, to give the Minister some elasticity in the case of regulations.

Therefore, for many reasons—because of the foundations, the trusts, which the Minister hopes to be able to apply more reasonably than at present; because of the clothing Clause, which I welcome very much; and because of the Clause permitting the scrapping of these certificates in the case of children who have been proved to be wrongly certified—I welcome this Bill. I believe that it will make the position very much easier for administration in the future.

3.20 p.m.

Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)

I think there are two points on which everybody in every quarter of the House agrees. The first is that an amending Bill is required, and that the right hon. Gentleman is quite right in bringing it forward. The second is that the Bill which he has brought forward will require very close scrutiny on many points during the Committee stage.

I confess that I am shocked by the drafting of Clause 2. I give the right hon. Gentleman credit for completely innocent intentions, and, indeed, for good intentions, in this matter, but, nevertheless, this Clause is at present drawn so widely that it is really shocking. I believe that, if I gave examples of the things that could be done under this Clause, everyone would agree, but there are many other hon. Members who wish to speak, and I do not wish to delay the House unnecessarily. I want to put this point forward for the serious consideration of the Ministers concerned and of the Government. Educational endowments and charitable trusts in general are things which, if they are to be interfered with at all, should be interfered with with the very greatest care and with the greatest consideration for the pious benefactors who created those trusts.

I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman, as I expected, is in complete agreement with me on that subject. Not only should we act thus because it is clearly and obviously our duty, but also because we do not wish to discourage pious people in future from creating charitable trusts. Therefore, I think it will be a view which the whole House will share that, if these trusts are to be interfered with at all, they should be interfered with in a particularly cautious way.

What do we see here? In Clause 2, the Minister takes not only an almost unfettered discretion to interfere, but the powers which he takes to interfere are wildly in excess of anything that he proposes to do. My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) mentioned Subsection (1) of Clause 2, but a far more monstrous Subsection is the succeeding one, which defines the endowments with which the Minister can interfere as endowments "for any educational purposes". The things that the Minister could do under this Clause as it stands are really quite fantastic. I have not tested them all, but it has been suggested to me that Trinity College, Cambridge, could be converted into a girls' school and Balliol College, Oxford, could be turned into a mixed Borstal institution. I am not going to give any further examples; perhaps those will be sufficient.

It seems to me quite outrageous that the Bill should be put forward with such a provision. The right hon. Gentleman, in opening the Debate, quite rightly made it clear that he himself was going to propose Amendments to cut down the powers which he was taking under Clause 2 so as to make them moderate and sensible. I have no doubt he will, but I hope the Government will realise the quite unnecessary trouble to which they put the authorities of universities and colleges, and the trustees of every sort of educational endowment, when they embody in a Bill provisions which are quite monstrous in character, which are wildly beyond any powers that they propose to exercise, and which owe their inclusion in the Bill to mere carelessness and inadvertence.

3.25 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

It is quite obvious that, in spite of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss), the House is disposed to give this Bill a Second Reading this afternoon.

Mr. H. Strauss

Hear, hear.

Mr. Fletcher

It is equally clear, as has already been mentioned, that it is very difficult, in dealing with a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, to make an efficient Second Reading speech, although, in theory, one could deal with each Clause separately, and make a Second Reading speech on it. I do not propose to do that; I propose merely to refer to two Clauses. I would add that I do not think it is any reflection on the Act of the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) that it has been found necessary to introduce an amending Bill this year, in addition to the one introduced in 1946. It may even be necessary to do so again in the future. I do not think that is bad, because it enables this House to keep control over the administration of education in the country. It is commonly agreed that we have all too few opportunities for considering educational subjects in this House.

I want to underline what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Minister and by other hon. Members with regard to Clause 7, which gives the Minister powers of elasticity in prescribing modifications of the building regulations for particular schools. In supporting this Clause, I would say at once that I do not wish to see any widespread departure from the properly high standards imposed by the 1944 Act on the building of new schools. But we must be realists; our economic position today is not, unhappily, what in 1944 it might have been hoped it would be. As the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities quite rightly said, we are falling into the danger of letting the best become the enemy of the good. The object of having stiff and rigid building regulations was to prevent the more backward local authorities from neglecting the provision of proper amenities in their schools.

We have now fallen, or are in danger of falling, into the other extreme, and making it difficult, if not impossible, for progressive and active local authorities, like the London County Council, to provide, with due regard to economy and what is practicable, the schools which ought to be provided. I agree with the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden that these building regulations must be interpreted with common sense, which means much closer co-operation than has always obtained in the past between officials of the Ministry of Education and officials of local authorities.

I will give the House an indication of the costs involved in school building in London. Before the war, the figure per place for a junior school was £45. That was for building alone, apart altogether from the site costs. The figure today, in compliance with the present Ministry's building regulations, is £295 per place, which means that, for a junior school of some 310 or 320 pupils, the building costs are in the neighbourhood of £90,000, quite apart from site costs. Hon. Members should remember that the average cost of sites in London is about £10,000 an acre—in Central London it goes up to £60,000 an acre—which means that the site cost for a junior school, of even only two acres, is £20,000. That is on top of the building costs of £90,000 It is quite obvious that in a congested place like London—and I have no doubt that the same applies to other great cities—it is literally prohibitive for a local authority to provide a site with the ideal acreage to furnish the sort of playground facilities that are properly expected where the cost of land is not so expensive.

Hitherto the Minister has had no power to modify his own requirements. There has been no possibility of him meeting a local authority like the London County Council and giving it dispensation. This Clause provides, or I hope it provides, the necessary elasticity. It is intended to do so, but does it? On the Committee stage I hope that point will be considered, because as the Clause stands the Minister may give an undertaking that if a school is built it shall be deemed to comply with requirements, but the reasons on which a Minister may give such an undertaking are that it is impracticable, by reason of shortage of suitable sites, of materials or of labour … I would like to see all those words of limitation eliminated. I would like the Subsection to read in such a way that the Minister can act if he is satisfied that it is impracticable to comply. That would enable the Minister to act if he were satisfied for any reason that it was impracticable, which I think would be much more suitable. There may well be cases in which the determining factor is a financial reason rather than the shortage of any particular material. I would urge that the Minister be given the widest possible powers in this field. There is an adequate safeguard inasmuch as the Minister and the local authority would have to be in agreement before there could be any departure from the provision of the highest standards.

I think the House will be surprised to know that in accordance with the current regulations, the present cost of providing a nursery school to conform with the regulations, has been found to be as much as £1,000 per place in London. It is quite right that ideals should be laid down for the provision of buildings. It is right that where work, materials, labour and finance make it possible, schools should have separate rooms for medical treatment and women staff, separate rest rooms and separate rooms for as many facilities as possible. To insist on those amenities, however, defeats the primary object of education. Therefore, I hope that one result of this Bill will be that in the next few years the Minister and local authorities will concentrate on erecting schools as rapidly as possible, even though it may not be possible to provide all the ideal facilities in every school.

Under the present regulations the cost of a multilateral school in London—and London is committed to building a certain number of multilateral schools on an experimental basis—will be £750,000.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)

Would the hon. Gentleman explain what, in fact, is a multilateral school? We know about the Geneva multilateral trade agreements. Surely those international conventions have not now spread into the field of education?

Mr. Fletcher

The hon. Gentleman has obviously devoted more attention to matters of international trade than to education. If he had given as much attention to matters of education he would have been familiar with the conception of a multilateral school.

Mr. Assheton (City of London)

What does it mean?

Mr. Fletcher

It is a senior school of a character enabling a large number of children in the same school to enjoy different types of education. I will not allow myself to be sidetracked into a digression for the purpose of educating the hon. Member on what, to those who are familiar with educational problems, is a very elementary matter.

Mr. Assheton

Would the hon. Gentleman remember that the correct use of words is particularly important for those who speak in educational Debates?

Mr. Fletcher

I entirely agree with that. If I may say so, the City of London is more concerned with commercial matters than with educational matters, although I entirely agree that the City of London has quite a distinguished record in the sphere of education, and the achievements of the City of London school redound to the credit of the City Corporation and to those associated with it. Even so, I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman knew the meaning of the word "multilateral," which, though not a very elegant word, has by now come to have an accepted meaning to all who are familiar with this subject.

When I was betrayed into that digression, I was about to illustrate the kind of thing which happens under the present system, as the result of insisting too greatly on the rigidity of some of these building regulations. In London, we were proposing as a pioneer venture for a local authority to build a residential school, and we found the regulations provided that in a residential school we had to provide one shower bath for every five boys. As we were going to have a school for 250 boys, that would have meant providing 50 shower baths, which, of course, is ridiculous. Eventually it was discovered that the regulation was intended to apply only if the number of the boys in the school was under 100.

In conclusion, let me refer to the enforcement of school attendance. The Minister made a reference to it. I was not quite clear about it, and I am not sure that he was, either. I gather it is proposed to amend Section 40 of the principal Act relating to the enforcement of school attendance. As I understand it, it is intended in future to enable a child of a recalcitrant parent, who has kept his child away from school and been fined, to be taken before a juvenile court. It seems to me that that may be a dangerous precedent. I do not know quite what is the Minister's intention. If it is intended that an order should be made in the case of such a child under the care and protection rules, does it mean that that child may be sent away from its home?

Does it mean that that child may be removed from the care of his parents, and sent somewhere else, merely because the parent has omitted to comply with the requirements of the law in regard to school attendance? I fear that there are a number of cases of failure to send a child to school, that are due not so much to wilful disregard of parental obligations in the sphere of education, but to perfectly legitimate reasons—for instance the difficulty of finding a suitable school within reasonable distance. I should have thought that if a parent is prepared on a number of occasions to submit to a fine rather than to comply with the Act it would be dangerous to give a juvenile court power to remove his child from his parental care. However, this is a Committee point, and I hope that it will be looked into during the Committee stage.

3.41 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Hardman)

This Bill deals with a great many technical points, but, as is usual in Debates on education, in this Debate a good many general principles have been introduced. I do not want to deal with any of those general principles, because I think it is my business to try to reply to some of the technical points that have been raised, especially those concerning Clauses 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7. I should like, however, in passing to say something about the matter which has just been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher). There is nothing sinister about our suggestion to take a child to a juvenile court. It is simply an effective way of being able to deal with a child for the benefit of the child. Magistrates know from experience in the courts that small fines may be imposed with unfailing regularity, but that children do not attend school. Can we devise some machinery by which a child can be brought to the juvenile court, and proper and adequate provision made for it? There is nothing sinister in the suggestion at all.

In regard to Clause 1, the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead) asked a rhetorical question, where the Minister would stop in dealing with charitable trusts. I think it is a fair question. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) suggested there might be some oversight, and that the Lord Chancellor might have it, and that in that way the Ministry of Education would appear less dictatorial, because there would thus be some outside person who could decide in borderline cases. Theoretically, we might, at the Ministry of Education, be too greedy, and attempt to filch by means of Orders in Council too many endowments from the Charity Commissioners; and so it is reasonable to suggest that some impartial person should be empowered to decide which endowments should be transferred. We are quite willing to examine the possibility of the Lord Chancellor's being that person. It has not been suggested to the Lord Chancellor that he should undertake this extra duty in addition to the burden of his many other duties, but it is a suggestion certainly worth considering. It ought to be possible to investigate impartially; and then, where there is a doubt, the Minister of Education would be removed from any suggestion of being too dictatorial.

At present these mixed trusts are under the jurisdiction of the Commissioners, but, for all other purposes, are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend. As has been pointed out, they affect youth welfare, community centres, libraries, museums, technical colleges, and the recently constituted Foundation for Educational Research. We feel that under Clause 1 we should have power to use these trusts, where they are redundant, for more up to date purposes.

On Clause 2, several hon. Members raised the question of university endowments. As my right hon. Friend said in his opening speech, we have unwittingly brought in university endowments. However, it is our intention to make these university endowments an exception, and it will simply mean adding another Section to the long list of exceptions which are found in the Endowed Schools Act, 1869. It will simply mean that the endowed schools remain as heretofore, and another exception will be the university endowments. At another stage of the Bill this matter will be considered. In the Clause we have proposed an elaborate system of inquiry which must be applied before approval can be given, and I suggest that these safeguards are adequate.

Sir A. Salter

The university endowments are not merely subject to the additional safeguards, but are absolutely excluded.

Mr. Hardman

Yes, university endowments are to be absolutely excluded, along with those independent schools which are already excluded.

The hon. Member for York (Mr. Corlett) and others have been rightly concerned about the proposals in Clause 3. It has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend that in the past local education authorities have been acting illegally. Frankly, the Minister and myself have been a little disturbed at the suggestion of 10 years of age, and we are prepared to look into the matter again. There is no lack of sincerity on the part of my right hon. Friend in this matter, because we realise the dangers only too well. In fact, children are normally transferred from primary to secondary schools at any age between 10-plus and 11-plus. We started framing this Clause with the innocent intention of bringing the law into line with the general practice.

Local authorities are to be given power to transfer pupils before the age of 12. The question is, how long before. There has been the further controversy whether the age can be fixed. It can be, and indeed has been, asked: are we unwittingly opening the door to an exodus from primary schools, where there is a tremendous pressure on accommodation, which is growing worse because of the increase in the birth-rate? Are we—as was suggested this afternoon—failing to safeguard the able junior against exploitation? Those are questions which we must seriously answer. At the same time—and here I am not prepared to agree with what the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) said—there are children who, at a very early age, we call the exceptionally brainy and intellectual children. Somehow or other we must safeguard them, because we have to safeguard the nation. Brainy children developing into brainy, intellectual adults make a great contribution to the life of the nation; and without them I beg to suggest, without rhetoric, and without a complete development being available to them, the nation will find itself in a very parlous condition in the decades which lie ahead.

In this dilemma, how can we safeguard the child against exploitation? How can we prevent this exodus from the primary schools to the secondary schools because of pressure of accommodation, and so on? At the same time, how can we maintain this outlet for the young brainy girl or boy? That is the dilemma? In reconsidering this matter, the Minister is prepared to suggest, not 10 as the age in the Clause, but 11. That is a matter which doubtless will come up again in Committee. In reply to the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden, I would reiterate what the Minister said in moving the Second Reading. Clause 4 (2) will have to be looked at again, and from the Ministry we shall put down an Amendment in Committee.

The hon. Member for York in referring to Clause 6, which deals with children not belonging to a particular area, cited the case of a child whose parents are moved to Scotland because of professional needs. We should not expect to recoup from the Scottish authorities. This would simply be one of the cases to be pooled and met by all the authorities. The new Clause, Clause 6, replaces Section 106 of the principal Act, but leaves unchanged the position of the normal 95 per cent. of the children. The 5 per cent. we propose to deal with as follows: We shall treat them as not belonging to any authority. The claiming authority will put in a statement of expenditure to the Minister, who will prescribe machinery whereby the expenditure on claims admitted by the Minister will be pooled.

I now come to Clause 7, which proposes that the Minister should have power to modify, within strict limits, the requirements of the building regulations for new schools. The Minister already has power to deal with existing schools. The modification proposed is, as I have said, within strict limits where there is a shortage of suitable sites, materials and labour. It is not possible, and I wish to reiterate this, for the Minister to modify simply to save expenditure to the promoters of a new school. There is no intention whatever to relax building standards or to allow financial considerations to be a reason for modification. We have found it difficult to find a form of words which is watertight enough to embody in the Clause, but we hope that during the Committee stage suggestions will be made to enable us to find a formula which will ensure that the modifications allowed are as strictly safeguarded as is possible.

Those were the main points raised in the Debate. The Bill does not propose any great changes in the principles to which the House agreed in passing the Act of 1944. I hope that the Bill is a sign of progress by the Ministry of Education in attempting to implement that Act. This is the second amending Bill and it is fair to say that it will be by no means the last. We hope that they indicate that progress is being made.

Mr. Cove

Will the hon. Gentleman say what it is proposed to do about the age of transference? I am not quite clear from what he said about it.

Mr. Hardman

I am sorry if I did not make it clear. What we want to do is to discuss whether the age of 11 is the right age to insert as a substitute for the age 10 which is at present in the Clause.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.