HC Deb 08 July 1959 vol 608 cc1497-522

10.0 p.m.

Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Grant-Aided Secondary Schools (Scotland) Grant Regulations, 1959 (SX, 1959, No. 833), dated 7th May. 1959, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th May, be annulled. We have tabled this Prayer because we believe that these Regulations raise two substantial points of principle, which I propose to indicate to the Minister right away, on which we disagree fundamentally with the Government and the party opposite. The first refers to local government policy and the second to educational policy.

These Regulations are one of the many sets of regulations which have arisen out of the present Government's local government legislation and of the replacement of the percentage grant system for education by the present general grant. The Government's case for making this very substantial change was that Scottish local authorities should have much more freedom than they have been given in the past to decide their own pattern of expenditure. This case was argued wearily over many months in Committee upstairs.

What has happened in these Regulations illustrates the way in which the Government have carried out their principles of local government freedom. A number of local authorities made contributions to independent schools in their own areas, for which they received a percentage grant. When the general grant was introduced, I believe that all of those authorities—the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—certainly many of them, stated that they would exercise the freedom which the Government had generously given to them. They said that in view of the general grant procedure and the lack of a percentage grant, they would no longer make these contributions.

Instead of saying, "This is the freedom which we gave you; it is your free choice; you must face your own electors over it at your own elections", the Government have behaved differently. They have introduced the present Regulations. In fact, they say to these authorities, "Since you have exercised your freedom to stop these grants, we will take over the paying of these grants directly and we will deduct this sum at source from the money which you otherwise would have received by way of general grant." That is an absolute mockery of the kind of freedom which was the main premise on which the Government introduced the Bill.

I recently read in a book by D. H. Lawrence that in his view there was no such thing as freedom. There was only the freedom to choose one's own particular kind of tyranny. Those words seem to be the Government's definition of freedom, as far as it is imposed on the local authorities of Scotland. That is the first of the points of principle on which we are opposed to the issues raised by the Regulations.

I come to the issues of educational policy which are raised and which I think are very important. We in Scotland are proud of our educational traditions, particularly of the equality of opportunity which is given to our children and also the general sense of social equality which is part of that and which grew up in Scottish schools over many generations. We are fond of saying that we have no great public school tradition in the English way. In fact, we have so little of a public school tradition that the parents of most hon. Members opposite who represent Scottish constituencies were compelled to send them-south of the Border for their education.

Of course, we have our own national hypocrisies in Scotland. The system of direct grant-aided schools which come under these Regulations illuminates to me some of the least desirable features of our national tradition. They illuminate a capacity which we sometimes have in Scotland, unfortunately, for a mean form of humbug. The direct grant system of education and the fee-paying schools in Scotland are examples of what might be called bargain basement snobbery.

At least the people who send their children to Eton or Harrow, or to the very few Scottish schools which operate in that completely independent tradition, pay for the whole of their children's education, but those Scottish parents who send their children to the direct-grant schools—Hutcheson's Grammar Schools, in Glasgow, the Robert Gordon College, in Aberdeen, or the George Herriot's School, in Edinburgh, or any of the 15 contained in the list—are not paying for their children's education. They are subsidised to the extent of two-thirds of the cost of education by the general body of taxpayers.

We are all familiar with parents who say, with perfect sincerity, "I am prepared to make sacrifices to pay for my child's education." The sacrifices are very often perfectly genuine. People suffer considerable personal hardship to do this, but the ends that they seek, although some of them may not know it, are really quite bogus, because what they are doing is not to buy private education for their children. They are not paying for their children's education, as they like to say to their friends and neighbours. They are simply contributing to an educational club for juveniles where they can be sure that their children are, on the whole, segregated with the children of other parents of a somewhat similar income group. That is the result of this kind of petty snobbery which we have in our educational system in Scotland.

It is argued frequently, in answer to this, that these parents, who are, by and large, the better off parents in Scotland, are entitled to this kind of subsidy along with other people because they pay perhaps more than their share in taxes out of which these grants come. But this is quite a false position, although people do not generally realise it. In other educational debates I have referred to that study of costs of education by Mr. John Vaisey, which was quoted with great approbation in a recent debate by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George), whose imprimateur may be of a little more recommendation to the Minister than my own.

Mr. Vaisey proved conclusively that the parent who comes from a middle income family receives educational help in respect of his child 66 per cent. greater than the financial help that the working-class parent receives in respect of his child. These figures, incidentally, are for England and Wales where there is a considerable private sector in education. In Scotland, where we do not have a private sector, but only this subsidised sector, I would suggest that the proportions are even more strikingly great.

The middle-class parent in Scotland probably gets more than two-thirds more than his fellow citizen in the lower income group. This is because the children from better-off homes, on the whole, take better advantage of higher forms of education which are much more expensive forms of education. But the fact remains that the better-off children get a much bigger proportionate share of the national help that we give to education. So this argument that the parents who send their children to these fee-paying schools are entitled to their subsidy from their fellow taxpayers does not bear much examination.

My fundamental belief is that in schools it is much better if we mix up the children of the labourer, the clerk and the laird. This is the old Scottish village school tradition. I see the hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Leburn) behind the Minister, and I think he will agree with me. In the Scottish village school was the historic foundation stone of our educational system. We had this mixing of people from different sorts of background and different sorts of wealth. It is very important, if we want to build up a healthy community, to allow children during their impressionable years to live together in a common school community.

I mentioned earlier some of the less desirable national traditions of the Scots. One is the habit of quoting Burns, and I will now indulge in that less desirable habit and mention the hackneyed quotation: The rank is but the guinea's stamp; The man's the gowd for a' that. That is the kind of basic lesson which children ought to be getting all the time, not consciously, but by living together in the same school. If we want to have the kind of society which I should like to see in this country, a society with a real atmosphere of social equality and a feeling of equal worth as between one citizen and another, we have got to start doing it in our schools.

Of course, there will always be educational inequalities. I am not arguing about that for a moment. There will always be good and bad parents. Outside the school, the good parent will give the child educational help—take him on holidays, give him music, buy books for him, and the rest—but we must take care that in our education policy we do not visit the sins of the parents too much on the children. Children who do not have the good fortune to have parents willing to make sacrifices for these things ought not to be separated from the more fortunate. We should seek as our aim—maybe a long-term aim—schools where children of all kinds of background will be able to rub shoulders together.

Education, in the long run, is much too important a thing for the nation than to be a commodity which is bought and sold. We live in a free society, with very great personal economic inequalities. We on this side of the House take the view that to try to abolish educational freedom of choice altogether would mean a form of tyranny which would far more than cancel the advantages for which I have been asking, so we have to recognise freedom of choice. I do not think freedom of choice can be remotely argued to consist of the freedom of the parent to buy his own child's education by a process of being subsidised by a fellow taxpayer—very often less well off than the parent buying that education for his child.

If I may put it in personal and local terms, at the moment the jute worker in Dundee would be subsidising the education of a Member of Parliament's child if he sent his child to a fee-paying school. That is the situation at present and it does not seem to be linked up with the basic principle of freedom of choice. We believe we should aim to bring about a situation in which parents should have freedom either to pay wholly for their children's education, or to accept the kind of education provided by the State for the great majority of children. We cannot, of course, make big educational changes suddenly. In carrying through any reforms we must have regard to the children. We do not want a sudden dislocation for the children in the class-rooms, but we believe we ought to seek gradually to reduce the number of direct-grant schools under these Regulations.

We ought to consult the local authorities so that as soon as they are in a position to provide adequately for the secondary education of their children a direct-grant school should be given the choice either of becoming a wholly and genuinely independent school in which the parents pay for all their children's education, or a normal part of the public school system of the country. This seems to us to be a much more defensible principle these days, but, of course, these Regulations, far from gradually reducing the number of direct-grant schools, actually increase the number very substantially indeed.

If I may say so, they do so in a somewhat sinister way. If we look at the Regulations which are being superseded we discover that in the 1948 Regulations there was a schedule of a list of schools which are to receive direct grants. So the House of Commons in 1948, under the stewardship of some of my colleagues in the House tonight, was given full opportunity to know exactly what measure of educational aid the Government of the day then proposed.

This schedule has mysteriously disappeared from the present Regulations. There is no indication in these Regulations of the number of schools that will get grants. Indeed, in all modesty, I think that unless there had been some effort, by means of Questions to the Minister, to find out what lay behind them one might easily have been misled by the Regulations. One might have thought that they were simply adjusting the existing Regulations to take account of the new general grant procedure, but, in fact, it is quite different.

Far from seeking to reduce the number of grant-aided schools, the Regulations very nearly double them. They add 14 new grant-aided schools to the list. Some of these schools are in a very striking financial position. I do not know whether parents who send their children to John Watson's School, in Edinburgh, think that they are paying for their children's education, but they received last year, according to the figures which the Minister gave me recently, £18,814 of public funds for sending their children to school as against £13,754 which they paid in fees. They were being very heavily subsidised. The parents of the children who go to the St. Albyn's School for Girls, in Aberdeen, paid over £20,000 in fees last year, but they were subsidised from public funds to the extent of £15,000.

The Government, apparently, are taking over all these 14 schools and are adding them to the direct grant list. They are doing so in Regulations which, quite contrary to the previous Regulations, give no indication to the House of Commons or to those concerned with education what the Government are seeking to do.

In conclusion, we are profoundly opposed to the educational principles in these Regulations. We are profoundly opposed to the method which the Government are using to bring them in. They are a typical piece of Tory educational policy. They do not merely perpetuate a system of educational privilege, but go quite a long way towards extending it very seriously.

Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)

I beg to second the Motion.

10.18 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) has very properly taken the opportunity to obtain an explanation of the grant Regulations which have been introduced. At the same time he has, not unnaturally, taken the opportunity to expound—and expound very well—his party's philosophy on this subject. I think the best service I can do the House is first to say exactly what the Regulations do. In the course of doing so, I will show the hon. Gentleman that things are not perhaps as bad as he thinks and that he has a certain number of misconceptions.

The purpose of the Regulations is twofold. First, they are to enable the Secretary of State to continue to pay grants to the fifteen voluntary schools which, before the introduction of the general grant, received grant from the Education (Scotland) Fund under the Miscellaneous Grant Regulations, 1948. Secondly, they are to enable him to pay grants to the fourteen secondary schools to which the hon. Gentleman referred which formerly received contributions under Section 25 (1) of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1946, through the education authorities of the areas in which the schools are situated.

The hon. Member is mistaken in thinking that education authorities contributed towards that payment. They were the people who decided to make the payment, but the payment was 100 per cent. reimbursed. They received a 100 per cent. percentage grant, as it were, and not merely the percentage grant which they received on their ordinary expenditure.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

I am grateful for the correction, but it does not interfere with the principle of local authority freedom. Local authorities could decide to do it or not to do it.

Mr. Macpherson

Certainly, they could decide to do it or not to do it. All I am saying is what the situation was. Those contributions were repaid in full to the education authorities from the Education (Scotland) Fund.

As hon. Members know, what happened in that case was that the Education (Scotland) Fund was reduced by the amounts that were paid out in that way, and so all local authorities were in that way sharing in the contributions that were made. With the abolition of the Fund these contributions could no longer be refunded from the Fund to the Education authorities concerned. That being so, they not unnaturally decided to discontinue their contributions.

I should make it clear at this point that the contributions they made were of two kinds. First, there were the contributions to the fourteen secondary schools. Secondly, they made contributions also to ten of the fifteen voluntary secondary schools in addition to the direct grants that were made. These, however, were much smaller.

It would have been odd if, as an indirect result of the abolition of the Education (Scotland) Fund, these fourteen secondary schools had lost their grants altogether. It would undoubtedly have created serious financial difficulties for those schools. It would have endangered the educational facilities which they provided. We therefore decided to give them a measure of assistance from public funds of about the same level as they had received through the education authorities. That assistance is carried directly on the Education (Scotland) Vote and it is not deducted from the general grant. The hon. Member was not quite right about that. The amount that is paid now is carried directly on the Vote and is not deducted from the general grant. In other words, they become direct grant schools in the same way as the other direct grant schools.

Mr. McInnes

Surely, such a procedure is against the desire of the local authorities in question.

Mr. Macpherson

Curiously enough, that is not so. We received representations, among others, from Glasgow to the effect that the contributions should not be reduced.

The grants that were paid to the direct grant schools in addition to their direct grant—that is, grants paid under Section 25 (1)—are being reduced progressively over three years. In other words, in the future they will have only their direct grant and over three years, by progressive stages, the additional grant that was paid through education authorities in addition to the direct grant which they got from the Education (Scotland) Fund will be reduced. I do not think that the hon. Member for Dundee, East was aware of that. Glasgow Corporation has made representations against the reduction.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

I was not aware of that. We are, however, dealing with money which is being spent upon one form or another of Scottish education. Clearly, if this money is to be paid by the Government directly to these schools, it is money that will be unavailable to go into the general grant for general education expenditure.

Mr. Macpherson

That is a rather metaphysical argument. It is not necessarily the way in which we approach these matters. The point which I was dealing with was the one raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) to the effect that, because the local authorities had declined to continue to pay the grants themselves instead of, as in the past, having them reimbursed 100 per cent., the Government should have stopped them altogether. All the evidence is that that is not in accordance with what we know of the wishes of the authorities concerned.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

The amount of money which goes to Scotland to be spent on education is a fixed amount in relation to the amount which is available in England and Wales. Are we to take it that the money we spend on these schools is additional to that amount, or does it come out of the amount which would otherwise be available?

Mr. Macpherson

The hon. Gentleman's first premise is not correct. As he knows from the debates we had at the time of the Local Government Bill, we departed from the fixed ratio between education expenditure in Scotland and the education expenditure in England.

Mr. Lawson

Is this additional? Is the money available in Scotland clearly additional to the money which would otherwise be available? For example, in Edinburgh is the amount spent on education work and based on grant taken into account in computing the money available?

Mr. Macpherson

I think the only way I can answer that is by saying that, considering this on a per pupil basis, the grants which are being paid are less per pupil for direct grant schools than they are for the education authority schools, the public schools; so that if the independent schools and the direct grant schools which receive aid were to cease to receive aid the cost to public funds as a whole would be greater.

I will now refer in greater detail to the Regulations themselves. The Miscellaneous Grant Regulations provided for payments of grants from the Education (Scotland) Fund to the secondary schools named in the Schedule to the Regulations. The hon. Gentleman has asked me why it is that there is not now a Schedule attached to the Regulations. He suggests that we have gone about this in a mysterious way and that we ought to have published a Schedule. One reason, at any rate, for the change is that it was not possible to say in advance how many of the Section 25 (1) schools would receive grant.

I admit that by the time the Regulations were promulgated all schools which will receive the grants had made preliminary applications for them, but it still remained to be seen whether they would be willing to conform to the rules with which they have to conform if they are to receive the grant. As it happens, they have all agreed to comply with the rules and they will receive grant, but at the time there did at least remain a chance that on one ground or another the schools which were applying then would have been excluded from the list.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

I think these Regulations relate also to experimental schools. There are one or two experimental schools which are carrying on along lines not normal in education, and are rather enterprising. Do they get the grant in the same way through this system?

Mr. Macpherson

It is open to schools to apply for grant, but they must conform to the rules, one of which is that they should provide a full course of senior secondary education. All the fourteen schools are well-known schools of considerable repute, and although they are, perhaps, not quite such longstanding schools as some of the direct grant schools, they are nevertheless schools which are well established in their own line and I would not describe any of them, I think, as experimental schools.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

Is not the hon. Gentleman making a very serious and damaging admission? Surely it would have been possible to have completed these negotiations with these schools before tabling these Regulations so that the House of Commons could have been given the list, as it was the last time? The existing Regulations which are being cancelled have lasted for eleven years. One does not know how long the new Regulations will have to last. Under the Regulations it will be possible for the Secretary of State at any time to add other schools to the list without anybody knowing anything about that at all. Under the old list if schools were added new Regulations had to be tabled.

Mr. Macpherson

I have given one reason why we adopted this course. The hon. Member knows the procedure that must be adopted in these cases. He knows that the Regulations must be published in draft, that a period must be allowed to elapse before they are considered and that they then have to be laid before the House. As he will see from the Regulations, the point is that if these schools were to receive grant on the coming into operation of the general grant, it was necessary for the Regulations to be laid before the financial year of the local authorities started. They were therefore laid on 14th May, and it would not have been possible to complete the list and attach it to the Regulations by that date.

The hon. Member also referred to the question of social equality and indicated that sending children to these schools was a matter of snobbery. It is certainly not only a matter of snobbery. The results of the schools which receive grant in this way show that it is not so. These schools have a great reputation. They are doing a good job. They have a fine tradition. The schools are there and we see no reason why they should be deprived of the grant merely because a change was being made in the method of financing local authorities. That would have been a purely fortuitous matter and there was no reason whatever—

Mr. G. M. Thomson

I must put my position right. I am, of course, not against these schools getting Government grant. I am in favour of their getting 100 per cent. grant. What I am against is the selection of pupils on the basis of the ability of parents to pay the fees. I fully admit that many of these schools are very good schools. The good education which they provide should be available to children on the basis of ability and not the parental income.

Mr. Macpherson

Many of these schools are old-established and their traditions of fee-paying are very old. As the hon. Member knows, one of them celebrates its 300th anniversary this year. This is part of the Scottish tradition. It is not a matter of national hypocrisy at all. It is a matter of the kind of diversity which we now have in the country.

It is not unusual for the State to assist voluntary effort. It is done in many spheres. It is done, for example, in the central institutions and in youth clubs, where voluntary effort is also aided by the Government without the Government insisting upon the local authorities or the Government themselves assuming control. Therefore, I do not think that we need cavil at these Regulations on that score.

The fact is that these Regulations really make no change in the existing situation. The money is forthcoming in the same way. The only way in which we felt we had to make a change was in the progressive reduction of additional contributions made under Section 25 (1) in addition to the direct grant to these ten schools. We felt that we had to reduce them over a period of three years. I hope that I have given sufficient explanation of the purpose and purport of these Regulations to enable the House to agree to allow them to go through.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

We argued against the introduction of the general grant principle. We argued that education was bound to suffer. We had argued over a long period that the principle of proportionate payment of the cost of education was one which it was very important to preserve. The Government, of course, swept this aside on the basis of the freedom that was to be given to the local authorities.

One of my great objections to the Regulations which we are now discussing is that what was denied to the local authorities—and there is no question but that the local authorities wish to retain the proportionate system of payment for education and some of the other services—is being given to these particular schools. These schools are to operate on the basis of an agreed proportion of their costs being met out of public funds.

The proportion laid down in the Regulations is 60 per cent. That is the position under which those schools are to operate. We may try to disguise it in many ways, but the fact remains that these privileged schools will operate under a practice that has been denied to the ordinary schools. Whereas the local authorities are compelled to treat education on the basis of the single all-in grant, those schools are not. Their costs are measured, and they will be paid this 60 per cent.

Mr. N. Macpherson

The hon. Gentleman is not correct in saying that. If he will look at Regulation 4 he will see it says that they are to be paid the lesser of the following sums—

  1. (a) a sum equal to 60 per cent. of the said approved expenditure, or
  2. 1510
  3. (b) the sum whereby the said approved expenditure exceeds the income of the Managers …"
In very many cases it will be very much less than 60 per cent.

Mr. Lawson

In many cases it will not. The fact is that the power is there to pay this 60 per cent. Schools which happen to have a substantial income will not be paid the 60 per cent., but in the case of schools which have not a sufficiency of income it will be paid.

We have here the proportionate payment system which has been taken away from the ordinary schools, and this is something to which we should strongly object. This is something that the teachers themselves were wholly against and which the local authorities with, perhaps, the exception of Edinburgh, were all against. The local authorities wanted to retain this system, but they were denied the right to do so.

The Regulations propose to give something to certain privileged schools which is denied to the ordinary schools. That is something which is very objectionable indeed. The Minister tries to disguise the matter by saying "These schools already exist and we simply want to help them." We do not object to their existing, but we do not see why, if they receive privileged treatment, they should not pay for it themselves.

There is no doubt that the schools in question are able to attract the cream of the teachers in Scotland. I read the other week that the headmaster of the George Herriot's School had said that he had no problem at all in getting teachers. That is certainly not the experience of schools in Lanarkshire. The youngsters in Lanarkshire are very heavily handicapped owing to an insufficiency of teachers. What the Government are now proposing will not help the ordinary schools in Lanarkshire and in other parts of Scotland to find the teachers that they need.

I notice that Regulation 5 (4) states: …where the Managers desire to pay a larger salary to any teacher than that prescribed in the said Regulations, they shall submit a proposal to the Secretary of State as to the salary to be paid to the said teacher and shall pay to the said teacher such salary as the Secretary of State may approve. Does this mean that here we have one of the explanations why it is so easy, compared with ordinary schools, for these schools to get the teachers; that they are in a privileged position by paying more money than is the normal practice in Scottish schools? I deplore that kind of thing.

I return to my original point. We are opposed to Scottish schools being deprived of a system of making proportionate grants, which has been for the public good, and being brought under general terms and so-called general grants in the name of freedom. I hope that the Regulations will be withdrawn.

10.40 p.m.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

If the Joint Under-Secretary looks again at his speech when it appears in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow, and if he compares his answer with the interruptions from my hon. Friends—perhaps regrettable interruptions from his point of view—he will see how inadequate is his answer. He may have misunderstood one or two of the arguments, particularly the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow. Central (Mr. McInnes).

There are three points in this matter about which I am thoroughly dissatisfied, both in the context of the Regulations and the so-called explanation by the Minister. The first relates to the excuse—I can only describe it as that—that there was no time to present a proper list of schools. That seems very thin indeed. I cannot appreciate how the Joint Under-Secretary can advance that as an argument at all. Even could he sustain an argument that he has no reason, at this stage and on these Regulations, to produce a list of schools, how does he answer the fundamental point that we ought to be told when other schools are being added to the list? How can we object to new schools being added to the list. We do not know what schools are on the present list. The hon. Gentleman said himself that it was not complete, and that was why it could not be included in the Schedule. If it is not complete, why could not we have had the information in some other form so that we should not be made suspicious?

Mr. N. Macpherson

The hon. Gentleman could put down a Question at any time and get the full list.

Dr. Mabon

It would facilitate the Business of this House—may I also suggest that it would be a courtesy on his part—for the hon. Gentleman to supply the information when he sees that the matter is to be raised.

Here is a major reform in the system of local government and this is the first occasion when it can be discussed in Parliament. Did not the hon. Gentleman suppose that hon. Members might be concerned about the matter and want to know what schools were on the list? Could not he take the extraordinary step—extraordinary to him, but a matter of courtesy to anyone else—of informing us of what the list contained?

Mr. G. M. Thomson

As a matter of convention there is an Explanatory Note with the Regulations. That would have provided an opportunity to give the list, but no list was included in it. The normal covering letter was sent to the education authorities explaining the Regulations, but in that letter, of which I have a copy, no list was given.

Dr. Mabon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention.

Let us suppose that we may be placated, both hon. Members on this side of the House and hon. Members opposite who also must be irritated by this absence of information—it is like the absence of statistics in the Health Department and such similar matters which we experience from time to time under this Administration—what is to be the principle in the future? Are we not to know, unless we discover by assiduous questioning and by attempting to keep up with the draft Regulations? Cannot we rely on the Minister to let us know before he alters these things? It is a well-known fact that there are committees of hon. Members, and that some hon. Members have a profound interest in one subject as distinct from another. Cannot we at least be informed of the changes which are proposed? This represents a complete departure from the old system. On this basis the Government could add or subtract from the list without the House of Commons being aware of what it was doing in passing certain regulations at a certain time.

I am not satisfied with the Joint Under-Secretary's answer to what he called our metaphysical argument. When he looks at what he said and the actual facts of the matter he will see that he is being very unfair, and he will also find that many local authority people will be annoyed with him when they go into the matter after the debate is over. But he cannot deny that he has frozen the position of these schools. The former policy was for the locality to determine its educational policy. With that he may disagree or not; it does not matter. But he has frozen it centrally, so that the only way to deal with it is either upon an all-Scottish basis or no basis at all. He has robbed the locality of its ability to decide these matters, and by doing so he has placed the Government in a ridiculous position. The slogan attached to the Bill was "More Freedom for Local Authorities," but in this matter they have lost their freedom.

If the Labour Party were ever returned to power, as is likely to happen at the next General Election, or if the people of Scotland became—to use a real Scottish term—" scunnered "about this fee-paying system, as they may well be in these days when people are improving their social positions, hon. Members opposite will find themselves in a difficulty. In my constituency a fee-paying school has a very good reputation, but it is a well-known fact that the local high school, which is not fee-paying, has a better educational standard at the moment. If the people become scunnered hon. Members opposite will find it difficult to oppose a Labour Government on this issue if they propose to deal once and for all with the Scottish position. This action is a hostage to fortune, which the Conservative Party are giving to the Labour Party. Hon. Members opposite will be unable to resist our arguments if our philosophy should triumph at the polls.

10.47 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

The Joint Under-Secretary will not have been surprised that some of my hon. Friends took strong exception to these Regulations. He will have fresh in his memory the debates we had on the Bill which instituted the system of block grants, at which time we called attention to the disadvantage from which many local education authorities in Scotland would suffer in consequence of the change being made in the law. We were able to show that some of the famous educational authorities of Scotland—those which had made the best provision for the education of their children—would suffer a considerable disadvantage over the years.

The example most often quoted was that of Aberdeen, which had built a lot of schools in the post-war years and had been most progressive. We showed that because of the introduction of the block grant Aberdeen would get a grant towards the local fund by counting heads rather than the expenditure on a service which is said to be a joint service, and a partnership between the State and the local authorities. We were also able to show that, since so much of the education service of the City of Edinburgh is provided by schools other than schools managed by the City of Edinburgh, by the same token that city would enjoy a great financial advantage under a system which paid a grant merely according to a counting of heads.

Is there any guarantee that the City of Aberdeen will get 60 per cent. of the cost of managing the schools that are operated by Aberdeen local authority? There is no such guarantee. There is no grant which is a percentage of the expenditure on education, but we know that under these Regulations the schools in Aberdeen and elsewhere that are managed by persons other than the education authority—the so-called direct grant schools, to which the more privileged children go—are now to get a 60 per cent. grant. It would be very surprising if my hon. Friends who opposed the introduction of the block grant system had not come along tonight to criticise these Regulations.

There is no doubt that the parents of the children at these schools believe that they are buying advantages for their children. No one will deny that. Many hon. Members on the Government side would admit that and applaud the motives of the parents. What are the advantages, educational or social, or both? It is very likely that they buy certain educational advantages, for the children are probably taught in smaller classes than in local authority schools. I understand that they have less difficulty in recruiting teachers, and probably, for the amount of salary they can pay or the kind of accommodation they enjoy, appointments in such schools are more attractive than in local authority schools. If that is so, and better teachers are recruited, there will be some educational advantage to the children.

I rather gathered from the Under Secretary that the contribution from the central Government per child at those schools was less than at education authority schools generally. I accept that. I am a little surprised, and wonder whether the reason is that the education authorities have had to provide many new additional schools in recent years that will put a great burden on the education authorities. But if I take any secondary school in the list for grant aid under these Regulations, and compare it with any senior secondary school in my constituency—Hamilton Academy, Larkhall Academy, or Dalziel High School, Motherwell, or Wishaw Academy—will the Joint Under Secretary of State tell me that the cost of providing education in these schools is less than the cost of education in the schools that are to be assisted in these Regulations? If he could, I should be very surprised.

Even in these schools that I have mentioned in the County of Lanark, and in my constituency, at Hamilton and Larkhall, I know well that during the period when Hamilton Academy was a fee-paying school under the education authority, the accommodation provided for the children there was vastly superior to that provided for the children at Larkhall Academy, which was not a fee-paying school. Hamilton Academy was able to go ahead and get additional playing fields, football pitches and hockey grounds, and so on, at a time when Larkhall Academy had not a single playing field or football pitch.

At that time I made inquiries and I found that those sacrificing parents who were buying education for their children at Hamilton Academy were receiving more from public funds for the education of their children than were parents whose children were at Larkhall Academy. Those are two schools of an education authority, and if there is that distinction between two schools run by an education authority, then in respect of the cost of education and such facilities as playing fields we shall probably find that the balance of advantage lies heavily in favour of the direct-grant schools.

Mr. N. Macpherson

The hon. Member appreciates that the contributions which are made to a direct-grant school are made only on its maintenance expenditure and not on its capital expediture, such as classrooms and playing fields.

Mr. Fraser

The hon. Member compared the cost per pupil in those schools with the cost per pupil in education authority schools. Did he include the cost of those other facilities for education authority schools, or was he able to separate them?

Mr. Macpherson

They are separate, I think.

Mr. Fraser

I accept that from the hon. Member.

I feel that the dual system of education in Scotland should be brought to an end as soon as possible. I have no doubt that the advantages which parents seek to purchase in the main are social advantages and economic advantages in later years. There is no doubt about that. That is much more important to parents than any educational advantages of which they are aware.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State knows that to some of those schools parents are able to send children who have failed to gain admission to a senior secondary school managed by the local authority. I do not say that the number of such pupils is large, but this position obtains. Parents who would be content to have their child educated at a senior secondary school managed by the local education authority have found that the child has been promoted to a junior secondary school, but they have made up their minds that he would have a senior secondary education.

When the child could not gain admission to a senior secondary school—because, under the Education Acts, he did not have the aptitude or ability to profit from a senior secondary education—the parent was able to apply for the child's enrolment to one of these schools and obtain admission for him on the payment of the appropriate fee. The child was thus able to obtain senior secondary education, towards the cost of which, under these Regulations, the Secretary of State would make a grant of 60 per cent. That seems to me to be wrong.

I join my hon. Friends in saying that if parents are willing to purchase this exceptional education for their children, well and good, but let them purchase it and let them be under no illusion that they are buying this extra education for their children. Let us ensure that they are not at the same time requiring the general taxpayer to pay 50 to 60 per cent. of the cost.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State said that education authorities were willing that these schools should be direct-grant schools. I have no doubt about that. Had they not become direct-grant schools, the probability is that they would have reverted to the education authority, and the authority would have been required to provide the education in those schools. If any one of those schools, which was not previously a direct-grant school and is now becoming a direct-grant school, had. instead, reverted to the education authority, the whole cost of running it would have fallen on the education authority without that authority receiving a single penny for the cost of running it, The Under-Secretary will not deny that. That is the fact.

If we take the list of additional schools, which he was not able to put into a schedule, and we look at the cost, plus the other charges that arise on the school—that is to say, the contribution made by the parents in the form of fees and other gifts to benefactions which the school managers enjoy—we find that the whole of the cost of maintaining this school would then be passed to the education authority to be met out of the rates, completely without recompense. By transferring them and by the education authority favouring them being included in a direct-grant school, they continue to be relieved of any financial burden.

Some of the education authorities might be willing to transfer some of the schools that they have been managing for a long time, under a new arrangement, so that they too might become direct-grant schools and so relieve the education authority of a considerable financial burden.

The Under-Secretary's defence of not having a schedule was very weak. In 1948, when we got the formal Regulations which are now being replaced—and I have a copy of those earlier Regulations with me—the then Secretary of State listed the secondary schools to be grant-aided. It made it easy for any hon. Member to object to any one of the schools that was going to be so grant-aided. The Under-Secretary will agree with that. It gave Parliament some control over what the Secretary of State was doing. But under the Regulations that we are considering now the Secretary of State is not affording Parliament any control.

The Under-Secretary says that one can, by putting down a Parliamentary Question, get the complete list at any time. But under the former Regulations, if the Secretary of State wanted to add another school he had to introduce new regulations. He had to get the approval of Parliament for the addition of another school. That is surely a good thing. Why should the Under-Secretary expect us to be satisfied? I am surprised at hon. Members opposite being satisfied. Hon. Members opposite in the past have made a lot of criticism about delegated legislation in giving too much power to the Secretary of State, but here we have regulations tonight that apparently give the Secretary of State power to grant aid any secondary school not managed by the education authority that he cares to grant aid. He can add to the list at any time. He does not have to inform Parliament at all. Formerly he did have to inform Parliament.

It is a long time since the Act was passed establishing the block grant and making this kind of thing inevitable. He could have his discussions and his consultations. He could have made up a list for our approval. If a school which wanted to come into the list did not come in timeously, and were left out of the list, one could have applied later on and it could have been included in the regulations for the next year. Why could such a school not have been included in the next year?

If hon. Members opposite were tonight to do the job which they used to do when they sat on this side of the House, they too would be asking the Under-Secretary to take these Regulations back and bring forward regulations in the traditional form, to prepare regulations with a schedule listing the senior secondary schools that have to be grant aided under these Regulations. Then we would know what we were doing and would be able to ask questions about any one of the schools for which we were asked by the Regulations to approve for direct grant.

The Joint Under-Secretary may not feel he has the power to take these Regulations back. I think he realises—as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Mabon) suggested to him—that in the form in which these Regulations have been introduced this time he seems to be making a gift to a future Secretary of State of another party who is not so very keen on perpetuating this dual system of education in Scotland. Just as he will not need any fresh regulations to add to the list, so the Secretary of State of another party would not require any regulations to make subtractions from the list. He would not require to inform Parliament that he was making any subtractions from the list, so hon. Members would learn of subtractions only after the event when it would be too late for them to take any action about it.

I wonder whether the Joint Under-Secretary will turn the possibility over in his mind. Would he not think it better for the present Secretary of State, or any successor who wishes to add to the list, to inform Parliament what he is doing by having fresh Regulations and, at the same time, require any Secretary of State who wanted to reduce the list to inform Parliament in the form of new Regulations that he had decided to reduce the category of schools to be grant-aided, or take from the schedule any which he thought for one reason or another should not be assisted under the Regulations?

The hon. Gentleman might well say that under these Regulations the Secretary of State is not obliged to give a grant to any of these schools, but at some time or other he may wish to modify the Regulations by which he would have schools added to or subtracted from the list. It would be far better to do that by fresh Regulations than clandestinely by the Secretary of State waiting for an hon. Member on one side or the other to put down a Question. I would far rather the hon. Gentleman withdrew these Regulations and the Government proceeded on the same lines as in 1948.

11.9 p.m.

Mr. N. Macpherson

If I may, I will answer one or two points put to me. The plea made by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) is, I think, entirely reasonable. We certainly have no intention whatever of keeping anything from the House. I think I am right in saying that until quite recently it was the practice to put a schedule in the annual Report on Education giving details of the direct-grant schools. I believe that that is not in this year's Report. I am bound to say that I did not notice that until this debate came up, but I have no objection to saying that in future, so far as I am able to give the undertaking, a full list will be included in the Report.

I cannot conceive of any circumstances in which a school could be removed from the grant list without it coming to the attention of this House. I am quite certain that the hon. Member representing the area in which the school was situated would hear about it.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

After the event.

Mr. Macpherson

No, because he would hear about the proposal to do it. It is most unlikely that the grant would suddenly be cut off. That is not the way things are done.

If it were intended to add schools to the list we would be prepared to follow the practice which, I understand, is adopted in England, that when a school is to be added to the list a Question is arranged and the House is informed in that way. That would give immediate information of any new schools that were to be added to the list. We have no present intention of adding other schools to the list, but whenever schools are to be added, we can make certain that the House is informed. We would certainly not close our minds to a school being added to the list if that seemed appropriate.

The hon. Member for Hamilton said that some authorities would suffer as a result of the introduction of general grant. He will, however, be equally aware that inasmuch as the general grant shows an increase over the general level of comparable grants paid before, there will be more authorities that will assuredly gain. Therefore, what is one authority's loss may be another authority's gain.

As I have said before, it is not as if the Regulations were adding to the expenditure. We are not completely maintaining the present position because—there was no alternative to this—there are some schools which, over a period of three years, will find the total of their assistance reduced.

The Opposition would be quite wrong to oppose the Regulations, which merely maintain the situation so far as it is possible to maintain it in changed circumstances of the mechanics of grant to local authorities. That is all that the Regulations do. For that reason, I hope that the House will now agree to accept them.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Will the Joint Under-Secretary reply to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) referring to Regulation 5 (4), the proviso to which states that where the said Regulations do not apply to the salary of any teacher or where the Managers desire to pay a larger salary to any teacher than that prescribed in the said Regulations, they shall submit a proposal to the Secretary of State"? That was not in the previous Regulations. What lies behind this? Does it mean that these schools will make offers of higher salaries and be able to attract the cream of teachers and so leave Glasgow, Motherwell and the other places which desperately need teachers even more short of them? Glasgow can do with 800 more teachers. If that is the effect of the Regulations, we shall be extremely annoyed and, perhaps, even yet, take different action on the Regulations. Will the Joint Under-Secretary explain that?

Mr. Macpherson

Certainly. The present position is that in 10 of the existing grant-aided secondary schools, certain teachers in posts of responsibility—that is, head teachers, deputy-heads and some principal teachers—receive, under the existing proviso, special allowances in addition to their salaries under the Regulations. This is a long-standing practice. Side by side with that, however, it must be remembered that for education authority schools, Regulation 31 of the Teachers' Salaries (Scotland) Regulations allows the Secretary of State to approve special salaries for teachers with special attributes required for particular posts.

Among such posts are head teachers, deputy head teachers, and principal teachers in secondary schools. It is true that under this proviso there are some teachers in certain schools which receive this special payment in excess of the grant Regulations. The main thing is that it is not possible to get a grant at all unless the teachers are paid at least the level of the standard salaries.

This proviso allows for special salaries to be paid in special circumstances, but one of the conditions for receiving direct grant is that teachers will, as a rule, be paid the regular standard negotiated salaries. I hope that that will satisfy the point which the hon. Member has made.

Mr. Lawson

The Education Act states that where the managers desire to pay a larger salary to any teacher than that specified in the Regulations, that is possible. It seems to me that this is giving power to managers to pay more to all teachers. No special categories are mentioned, and what we are concerned about is that if there is being given to the managers of those schools the power to pay as a general rule, if they wish it, higher salaries than ordinarily, then there should be some statement from the Secretary of State.

Mr. Macpherson

Yes, but if the hon. Gentleman will read on, he will see it stated in the Regulations that they—that is, the managers— … shall submit a proposal to the Secretary of State as to the salary to be paid to the said teacher and shall pay to the said teacher such salary as the Secretary of State may approve.

Mr. T. Fraser

Could we be told if it is the principle that a number of pupils who go to the secondary schools are those who have failed to gain admission to a senior secondary school?

Mr. Macpherson

I should not like to answer that "off the cuff". I should not like to say "Yes" or "No" to that.

Question put and negatived.