HC Deb 25 July 1963 vol 681 cc1856-9

Lords Amendment: In page 48, line 1, leave out "in" and insert: if that area is within, or is contiguous with any part of,".

6.45 p.m.

Sir E. Boyle

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

It might be convenient to take with this Amendment the two following Amendments, in line 4, leave out from "London" to end of line 5 and insert: , or in some other local education authority's area which is contiguous with any part of Greater London, but belongs to the area of a local education authority other than the providing authority", and in line 11, leave out from first "the" to end of line and insert: authority to whose area the pupil belongs) shall apply notwithstanding that the last-mentioned". All the Amendments deal with the same point. They are Government Amendments tabled to give effect to an Amendment again moved by the noble Lords Lord Crook and Lord Shepherd in another place.

These are by far the most important Amendments on educational matters moved in another place, because their effect is to extend the scope of Clause 31(7) to traffic, if I may so put it, into Greater London from the areas of adjoining local authorities. People living in those areas will have the same access to schools in Greater London as people living inside Greater London in one borough grouping or another. The Amendments in lines 4 and 11 alter that part of Clause 31(7) which deals with the recoupment to the education authority of the cost of further education provided for students from outside its area so as to fit in with the widening of the scope of Clause 31(7) by the Amendment in line 1. One could say that the Amendments in lines 4 and 11 were simply consequential on that in line 1.

As I said on Second Reading, I should not wish the House to be under any misunderstanding about this. The offer of a place will depend on schools not being full and upon such other reasonable conditions as would normally be applied—for example, that the school offered a course suitable for the child in question. The Bill ensures that the local government boundaries do not in themselves constitute an obstacle.

Although this Amendment is of limited application, I believe that it is an improvement on the Bill as originally drafted. The general principle of excluding residence in a borough area from the reasons which must be taken into account in considering admissions to a school or technical college—the fact that we have free trade within the borough grouping—was, I think, warmly welcomed in this House and in another place even by some who were against the whole principle of the Bill. I am glad that that principle of free trade and borough boundaries not themselves constituting an obstacle met with no opposition from the local authorities.

I hope that this aspect of the Bill will be a precedent which will come gradually to apply more and more widely throughout the country, because I believe that the decision about admitting children to maintained schools or colleges made purely on the basis of administrative boundaries can be the most objectionable decision to parents of all the disputed decisions that authorities can make. I say that not as one who has children, let alone children in maintained schools, but as one who over recent years must have answered thousands of letters from hon. Members of all parties, including a great many letters on this subject.

A slight extension of the area in which this will not be legal is all to the good. I hope that the general principle of free trade which is applicable under the Bill within Greater London will tend to be applied by the Greater London authorities to pupils and students from outside. It is a very good thing that we should have laid this down quite clearly in the Bill.

I hope that all hon. Members will welcome these Amendments. It may seem ludicrous to say that in present circumstances, but I believe that they enshrine a principle which is not only valuable in the context of this Bill, but which will, I hope, point the way to a number of reforms in our education service in the years ahead.

Mr. Ede

I want to welcome the Amendment very warmly. Indeed, I believe that its wider application to the country as a whole would be a great blessing. A good deal of clerical work is performed in county and borough education offices merely to check up on the number of children who cross boundaries to attend school in neighbouring areas.

I recall the ludicrous position I encountered once when I was engaged in administration. The southern boundary fence of a school in Lingfield, Surrey, was actually the southern boundary of the county and nearly all the children at the school lived in East Sussex. A very careful check was kept on their attendance. A few miles away there was another school situated in East Sussex but mainly attended by Surrey children. At the end of each year we would find that one county or the other had been educating a few more children from its neighbour than vice versa.

It seems entirely ludicrous that we should virtually employ clerks to check up on that kind of thing when public convenience is being met by allowing children to attend schools nearest their homes. I hope that this administrative excrescence on educational expenditure may be increasingly removed if the principle now embedded in the Bill can be made more general.

Dr. Alan Glyn

I welcome this Amendment strongly. This subject has given a great deal of anxiety to parents in London, and I hope that a good deal of publicity will be given to this Amendment. Hon. Members on both sides have been worried about free trade between the boroughs. I hope my right hon. Friend will see that this new provision is widely known throughout London and so allay the worry and suspicion in the minds of the parents.

Mr. Mellish

As the right hon. Gentle man knows, I have a vested interest in this matter, since I have children attending voluntary schools. All parents in my position are probably more concerned than most over this problem. We support the Amendment, of course, but in the County of London this sort of provision has not been necessary in the past. Free trade has always been part and parcel of the education system there and our relations with Surrey and Kent have been very cordial. It is ironical that in this Bill we have to introduce safeguards to ensure that free trade shall be carried on.

I have attended a number of meetings at voluntary schools. Putting party politics aside, there has been great concern about diocesan plans for new schools because of the rearrangement of the areas. That has been the biggest worry of all. Many supporters not only of the Labour Party but also of the Conservative Party have described how they dreaded the future as it was proposed under the Bill. Now the right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated in doing what he can to allay those fears. If education means anything then it means the right of the parent to choose his child's school where practicable and that boundaries should not exist either in the parent's mind or in any other way.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to. [Special Entry.]