HC Deb 29 October 1956 vol 558 cc1134-7

Amendment made : In page 4, line 25, after "under," insert "paragraph (a) of."—[Mr. Henderson Stewart.]

Miss Herbison

I beg to move, in page 4, line 34, at the end to add : Where the person is not in gainful employment the education authority shall pay the whole of the expenses necessarily incurred by that person in respect of such attendance. In moving the Second Reading of the Bill, the Joint Under-Secretary of State pointed out that the provision of Clause 5 (3) applied not only to students going, perhaps, from school to a central institution for the purposes of examination, but that it might apply to teachers and other people who were already working. Because of that we have put down this Amendment which covers only those not in gainful employment.

It has always seemed to me that the student who lives in the country suffers many disadvantages. Over the years, some of these disadvantages have been wiped away by legislation. The pupil who now has to travel from a village to a central secondary school automatically and without a means test has his or her travelling expenses paid. That is one of the many improvements that have been made over the years.

If a student lives in the district where the central institution is located, that student is easily able to attend to take the examination, and, possibly, can get home for whatever meal is needed during the day. But if a student has to travel from a rural area to a central institution in a town some distance away in order to take an examination he or she might be involved in quite a bit of expense. Therefore, it seems to us that it should be mandatory upon the education authority to pay the legitimate expenses incurred by such a pupil.

I do not know whether the Amendment as worded is in correct form, but I cannot visualise the Joint Under-Secretary saying that it is an Amendment which for any reason at all the Government cannot accept. I hope that this is the second Amendment that the Government are going to accept today.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I am in entire agreement with the object which the hon. Lady has in mind. I recognise that in the case of students coming from far away or of somebody attending in Edinburgh from the North of Scotland steps should be taken to pay their expenses. I do not dispute that at all, but, again, there is the difficulty of translating one's objectives. With respect, I do not think the hon. Lady's Amendment is the right one.

May I remind the Committee where we stand in this matter? The Clause with which we are dealing amends Section 45 of the 1946 Act. It widens the powers of education authorities regarding the provision of transport and the payment of travelling expenses. I think that a good thing to do. The new subsection (3) is added in order to give the authorities the power, in their discretion, to pay the whole or part of the expenses incurred by a person who is required to attend an educational institution for the purposes of an examination or an interview.

As I understand it, what the hon. Lady wants is for the education authority to be obliged to pay the whole of the expenses when such a person is not in gainful occupation. If the Amendment were accepted it would mean that a person in gainful employment, whether living in Edinburgh or Caithness, would have to have the whole of his or her expenses paid. It is ridiculous to suggest that someone living in Edinburgh who has to attend St. Andrew's House should have his bus fare paid. That does not make sense.

The other reason why we cannot accept the Amendment is that in most instances —and I am sure the hon. Lady will appreciate this—the educational institution to which the candidate goes for an interview is not under the control of the local authority. It would surely be wrong to oblige an authority to meet expenditure over which it has no control.

In the 1945 debate, Tom Johnston and the late Mr. Joseph Westwood and others pleaded over and over again with the House and the Committee to recognise the responsibility of local authorities. We give local authorities the power to act reasonably, wisely and sensibly. That is what the Bill does. To compel them to do certain things is not the proper way of treating local authorities. The Bill gives them the broad hint that we expect them to pay reasonable expenses. I think that we must leave the discretion to the local authority. For that reason, and because what the Amendment proposes is not in keeping with the traditions of this House, I respectfully suggest that the Committee should reject the Amendment.

Miss Herbison

Again I do not feel that the Joint Under-Secretary has made out a case for rejecting the Amendment. He began with the usual phrase that he was in sympathy with what the Amendment proposed. Sympathy does not take us far enough, and certainly does not help a student who has been refused such a grant by an education authority.

Indeed, the later remarks of the Joint Under-Secretary were almost a pointer to some education authorities not to accept any such responsibility. He said in effect that local education authorities had no control over, say, Edinburgh or Glasgow University. Students who attend Glasgow or Edinburgh University, or one of our technical colleges, are covered because local authorities are under an obligation, because of regulations made here, to pay the fees of those students and, if necessary, to pay for their books, their travelling expenses, their meals and a maintenance grant over and above those expenses.

If one were to follow the argument of the Joint Under-Secretary to its logical conclusion, one could say that local education authorities could choose to wash their hands of all students immediately the students left the institutions over which those authorities had control. Since with bursaries and grants there are regulations providing for a minimum amount to be paid and since those regulations are mandatory on education authorities, we are not asking very much in this Amendment when we ask that local education authorities should pay reasonable expenses for the students. This red herring about students in Edinburgh wanting bus fares paid to Edinburgh Corporation is nonsense. Since the Joint Under-Secretary is sympathetic towards the Amendment, I ask him to reconsider it and possibly tell us tomorrow that he thinks it is just and sensible and that he is prepared to accept it.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I should like to be able to meet the hon. Lady on this issue, but she should recognise that this is a new and beneficial provision. Now, for the first time, a local education authority has the power, if it chooses, to grant a student travelling expenses. That is new and good law and the Government and, I believe, the Opposition believe that education authorities will use this new power to meet the whole of the expenses where that is necessary to avoid hardship to students. In those circumstances, there is no need for the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

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