HC Deb 12 April 1961 vol 638 cc353-8
Mr. Renton

I beg to move, in page 13, line 5, to leave out from beginning to first "any" in line 6 and to insert: If it appears to the Secretary of State that the provision made in". I suggest, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that this Amendment could be taken with that in page 13, line 9.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that that would be for the convenience of the House.

Mr. Renton

The effect of these two Amendments combined is to restrict the exercise of the power to give directions to managers of approved schools to cases where it appears to the Secretary of State that the provision made in the school with respect to the subject matter of the direction is inadequate or unsuitable, and not merely irrespective of the inadequacy or unsuitability of the provision made.

In his Second Reading speech my right hon. Friend said of the power he was taking: I intend … as far as possible on persuasion, but I should like to have this power in reserve."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1961; Vol. 630, c. 572.] The intention is to use the power only in exceptional cases where at an approved school the standard in one or more of the matters referred to in the Clause is clearly unsatisfactory. The County Councils Association has suggested to us that this intention should appear on the face of the Clause. We accept that suggestion, and this is our proposed way of doing it.

If the Amendments are made, the first subsection of the Clause will read as follows—and it might be helpful to hon. Members to follow the position made by the Amendments: If it appears to the Secretary of State that the provision made in any approved school with regard to any matter relating to"— and then it sets out the matters: is inadequate or unsuitable, he may give to the managers such directions as he thinks necessary for securing that proper provision is made with respect thereto.

Mr. MacColl

In general, I am against this proposal because, in general, we think that the Bill is very weak on the whole subject of the administration of approved schools. As we said in Standing Committee, we feel that the Government have completely failed to grasp the important questions about approved schools and to do something about them.

An Amendment by which we sought to extend the powers of the Secretary of State was defeated in the Committee. We had another shot, in the form of a new Clause, at an alternative way of dealing with some of the particular difficulties of the self-perpetuating voluntary approved school. That new Clause has not been called, and we have not therefore been able to develop our views on it. We are now faced with an Amendment the general effect of which is either, as the hon. and learned Gentleman rather suggested, that it does not mean anything at all, or that it limits the width of the Secretary of State's discretion.

We feel that the relationship between the Secretary of State and the approved schools is too tenuous. That has been demonstrated by some of the difficulties which have arisen in approved schools. We are anxious to see a much closer connection between the Secretary of State and the approved schools. We are therefore not in favour of anything which, in form at any rate, appears to restrict and narrow his discretion.

I can understand that the local authorities may be uneasy about this power. I should like to see local authorities given more power and a bigger place in the approved school system. However, that is something that we cannot discuss. We are very much limited in what we can discuss, but the fact that the hon. and learned Gentleman has tabled this Amendment gives me the opportunity to say what we feel about it. We regard the whole of this part of the Bill dealing with the management of approved schools as most inadequate.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I beg to move, in page 13, line 6, after "school" to insert: other than an approved school provided wholly or partly by a local authority". The object of the Amendment is to exclude from the ambit of the Clause approved schools provided by local authorities. I appreciate that my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State has gone a long way to meet the representations made by local authorities on this matter. I acknowledge that fully. I suggest, however, that these schools might be withdrawn altogether from Government control. It is a good Home Office principle, and certainly a good Conservative principle, to devolve power as far as possible to local authorities, but the Clause still leaves the Home Secretary with power to give directions to a local authority school, although, I admit, only in certain circumstances. It seems to me that there is no need to tie such local authority schools to the rules which apply to a school run by a voluntary organisation. The Home Secretary has power to withdraw a certificate of approval if he wishes. If he does, the Exchequer grant stops.

The relationship between the Government and local authorities was very well set out in the First Report of the Local Government Manpower Committee of 1950, Cmnd. 7870. It referred to the need to recognise that local authorities are responsible bodies and are competent to discharge their own functions, and that they exercise their responsibilities in their own right and not as agents of Government Departments. It is, therefore, unnecessary nowadays for the Home Office to control local authorities, even if mistakes are sometimes made. If they are, that is a matter for the local electorate. We should trust them and the local councillors.

Mr. Renton

I grant to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) that it is unusual for a Minister to have power to give directions to local authorities on matters of administrative detail. However, approved schools, being part of the system of treatment of offenders for which the Home Office has a central responsibility to Parliament concerning England and Wales, are in a special position. Much of the general system of treatment of offenders is under the direct control of the Home Secretary through the Prison Commissioners—prisons, borstals and detention centres. But local authorities and voluntary bodies play a valuable part in the treatment of young offenders, especially through the approved school system. Where they do so it is surely essential in a matter of this kind that the Government should have in reserve the power to rectify weaknesses in the system wherever they occur, whether in local authority schools or others.

The power conferred by the Clause as amended by the Government, admittedly in a way that the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) does not like, will be restricted to circumstances in which a weakness has manifested itself. We consider that, unless it is accepted that approved schools run by local authorities are always certain to be run without fault, it would be wrong to differentiate between local authority schools and others by exempting the local authority ones from the operation of the Clause. That is why I could not advise the House to accept my hon. Friend's Amendment. I hope that, with that explanation, my hon. Friend may feel it in his heart not to press the Amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Miss Bacon

I have a good deal of sympathy with the Amendment. The Under-Secretary of State has just said that approved schools are in a special position and that it is wrong to differentiate between local authority and other schools. It is true that approved schools are in a special position, a position which many of us on this side of the House do not like. We should like to see great alterations.

The Under-Secretary seems to put all the approved schools together and he says that it is wrong to differentiate. This is not just a matter of detail of what happens in the schools. There arises the question of the whole control of the schools. A local authority approved school is run by that authority. Most of the managers are members of the local authority and are answerable to an electorate, whereas the voluntary approved schools are not in that position.

Most of the approved schools are not local authority schools, nor are they run by a voluntary organisation. Fifty-one of the 118 approved schools are run by self-appointed local committees. To say that they should be in exactly the same position as schools run by properly elected local authorities is ludicrous. As my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) has said, we should be out of order in pursuing the matter since our new Clause which would have opened the whole question of the control of approved schools has not been called. We feel considerable sympathy, however, with the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) in his Amendment.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

In view of what my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary has said, although I am not completely satisfied in the matter, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 13, line 9, at end insert: is inadequate or unsuitable, he may give to the managers such directions as he thinks necessary for securing that proper provision is made with respect thereto".—[Mr. Renton.]