HC Deb 24 July 1964 vol 699 cc909-30

1.28 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 17, at the end to insert: (4) The Secretary of State shall give an account of the occasions during the year on which his approval has been given under this section in the annual report prepared in accordance with section 5 of the Education Act, 1944. I think that we can be hopeful that this Amendment will be accepted, because the principle that the Secretary of State should account for what he does in an Annual Report to Parliament is clearly recognised in the Education Act, 1944. It is also clear that this Amendment is necessary, because Section 5 says that the Minister shall give … an account of the exercise and performance of the powers and duties conferred and imposed upon him by this Act … The presentation of an Annual Report is already accepted in principle in the Act, and, as this Bill amends the Act, we should make it clear beyond doubt that that report shall also include the action the Minister takes under this Measure.

Section 5 also refers to the Central Advisory Councils for Education, but we should recognise that, by a stratagem, the function of these advisory councils has been drastically changed over the last few years. They are no longer bodies, as it were, reporting generally on the discharge by the right hon. Gentleman of his responsibilities under the Act; they have become bodies dealing ad hoc with particular educational questions as they arise. This makes it particularly important that we should accept this Amendment.

1.30 p.m.

I think there is a good deal to be said for the original intention of the 1944 Act, that we should expect from the advisory councils a current report on the developing shape of education. We no longer get these reports. We have to rely upon the Annual Report, and because of this we should make it clear that, as far as the Bill is concerned, statutory provision should be made for a report to be made available of the action that the right hon. Gentleman takes under the Bill.

The right hon. Gentleman has said—and, of course, we accept his declaration of intention—that under Clause 1 he will allow experimental action. He is also Secretary of State for Science. He has heard me say on many occasions—and I am certain that he agrees—that one must not only have experiments; the results of these experiments must be known where relevant. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will concede that if the use that is to be made of this Bill is to include the provision of experimental bridges across the 11 -plus gulf, it is important that we should have a report of the experiments which take place and, so far as possible, the results of those experiments.

For these reasons, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to accept this Amendment. I have said before in Standing Committee that I recognise the difficulties of amending the Bill at this stage, but I should have thought this Amendment would have been welcomed, and that, being welcome, it would be far better to ensure that that provision was written into the Bill.

Mr. James Boyden (Bishop Auckland)

This Amendment would give the Secretary of State an opportunity to do what I think must be done, and that is to produce much more publicity for education generally as well as a great deal more explanation on points that need explaining.

We have a useful precedent coming up in the sense that the Henniker Heaton Report, which the Government accept makes great point of the need for a sustained public relations campaign in the development of day release. This appears in Recommendation 3 on page 30. The Report goes in some detail into the ways in which better public relations can be produced. It suggests, among other things, an Annual Report of the work in the campaign for day release and an Annual Report to the National Advisory Council on Education for Industry and Commerce.

I have been interested for some years in what one might call the public image of local authorities. Some three years ago I carried out a fairly extensive survey of what the publicity and public relations of local authorities looked like. Unfortunately, there has been very little advance in this field since the 1940s, when a small effort was made to improve the public image of local authorities. This is much more important than people tend to think. There was a book exhibition of public guides, at which John Betjeman said that it was extraordinary how public authorities were prepared to spend a lot of money on the print, photographs and covers of their guides and practically nothing on the words.

This Amendment would provide a means by which the Ministry of Education could give a lead by elaborating the successes and the lines of development in this experimental field of secondary reorganisation. I should like to give one or two examples where guidance is needed and where very little is given. The London County Council sets a very good example. I am sure hon. Members will have seen the survey of London's comprehensive schools. It is excellent in content, from the point of view of creating good public relations and allowing people to see what is going on. There are many activities on which the public are not well-informed and which could be developed if the Secretary of State accepted this Amendment, including in his Annual Report a chapter devoted to general publicity about secondary reorganisation on comprehensive lines.

I believe that the annual reports of the Minister have somewhat deteriorated. From time to time there have been attempts to focus on a particular educational theme in the Report, but this is not done every year and sometimes the Annual Reports have been as dull as a company prospectus.

There are particular matters on which advice is needed—for example, the rôle of the parents in supporting their children going from the 11-plus stage to the secondary schools. There are many things which parents do not understand and which cause friction with the children. There is a good deal of doubt and misconception about comprehensive education, not on political grounds at all although often opposition to it is worked up on political grounds.

From a report of this description the Secretary of State for Education could give a great deal of information of what comprehensive education, often in large schools, can offer. London schools often have a registrar to relieve the heads and teachers of most of the clerical work. Although local authorities are conscious of this need, I believe that more publicity on what the comprehensive schools are doing will be extremely useful as a guide to teachers on how to use a clerical service and to local authorities on how to develop it.

There are great things about sixth forms in comprehensive schools—a wide range, a greater proliferation—[Interruption.]—Did the right hon. Gentleman wish to interrupt me?

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Quintin Hogg)

I was only reflecting that whatever else could be put into the Annual Report by this Amendment, there could be nothing about sixth forms in comprehensive schools.

Mr. Boyden

I thought that the idea of the Bill was to encourage experimentation, and this is one of the experiments which could be developed.

Mr. Hogg

The purpose is to encourage experiments in the age of transfer over a wider range than those permitted in the principal Act—I was not intending to interrupt the hon. Gentleman; I was only reflecting to myself—but clearly that could not be included in this Amendment by any stretch of the imagination.

Mr. Boyden

If sixth forms are not in issue, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that there is scope in out-of-school activities—a need for resilience of the staff which could be elaborated and could be a guide to local authorities.

My main point is this. Just as I suggest that, on the whole, local authorities, including local education authorities, are deficient: in their public relations aspects, the same applies to the Ministry of Education. The acceptance of this Amendment would lay more emphasis on reports and would be of great assistance to the parents and to the local education authorities.

Whether the right hon. Gentleman accepts this or not, whether or not he is seized of this problem, I am certain that the day will come when the need for good public relations will be recognised. The rising political interest in education has to be settled at the hustings, but I am not talking about that. I am talking about the broad general necessity to see that education receives good publicity and creates good public relations in its own cause. A certain amount of this is technical, and it is on this point that I hope the Ministry of Education will take a greater lead than it has done in the past. The lead of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in this field is practically non-existent. As I say, between 1946 and 1948 there was a move in this direction. I hope that the Ministry of Education will now use this opportunity for doing what I have suggested.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Christopher Chataway)

The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden), with his customary enthusiasm and ingenuity, has managed to range fairly wide on this Amendment. I agree with him about the importance of public relations in further education. Indeed, in the Department we have done a good deal of work on the subject recently, work which we might on some occasion find an opportunity to debate, but I fear that I should not be allowed to describe it in detail on this occasion.

I have no quarrel with the purpose of the Amendment. The desirability of publishing details about approvals given under the Bill to proposals for schools with an unorthodox age range was well argued by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and his hon. Friend, and we entirely accept that it would be right for the Secretary of State to publish these details. The Annual Report is governed, as the hon. Gentleman said, by Section 5 of the Education Act, 1944. He pointed to the fact that Section 5 makes reference to the central advisory councils, but he will also notice that it is cast in very general terms and simply requires the Report to give an account of the exercise and performance of the Secretary of State's powers and duties under the 1944 Act, and, therefore, also under any subsequent Act which is to be construed with it.

We include in the Annual Report total figures of proposals both for new schools and for closures under Section 13 procedure, and we propose to collect and include similar figures for proposals under this Bill. Therefore, the object of the Amendment is quite acceptable to my right hon. and learned Friend, and he authorises me to give an undertaking that he will publish information about approvals. Indeed, it is clear from Clause 5(4) that he is, in effect, required by it and by Section 5 of the 1944 Act to publish details.

As to the actual Amendment, I suggest that it would be as well that it should not be accepted, because it would be the only occasion when a particular matter was specified to be included in the Annual Report and it might be agreed that this would be an undesirable precedent. The Amendment as drafted is also technically faulty in a way that I probably need not detain the House by describing. In view of the assurance that I have given, I hope that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North will be prepared to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Willey

If I had reason to believe that among the few hon. Members who seem to be on the premises I had more hon. Friends than the Joint Under-Secretary apparently has, I should press this Amendment to a Division, but I do not believe that to be the case. I would press it to a Division, not because of any difference in substance between us, but because I should have thought that, apart from any point about draftsmanship, it would have been better to accept the Amendment.

I congratulate the Joint Under-Secretary on making the one gesture to us on this otherwise thoroughly welcome Bill by saying that there is no quarrel about the purpose of the Amendment. He has said that the purpose is acceptable, although the Amendment is unnecessary, and also that unless the Amendment itself were amended it might not achieve its purpose.

I re-emphasise what has been said. I think that the case for the Amendment is clearly made. This is a field in which we ought to look to the Report for information. There is a great deal of information about development in Anglesey, London, Leicestershire and the areas of other authorities which ought to have been contained in the Report. It is a great pity that we have not had authoritative current statements about the developments in secondary education. I would not for a moment, however, quarrel with the Joint Under-Secretary about the intentions of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am sure that we can look forward to these appearing in the subsequent Reports after the Bill becomes law. For these reasons, I do not wish to press the Amendment to a Division. Apart from recognising the realities of the political situation at the moment, I accept the hon. Gentleman's assurance on behalf of his right hon. and learned Friend and beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. Chataway

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill introduces two modest reforms. It enables payment of maintenance grants to be made to handicapped children in special schools who are over the normal school leaving age but who have up to now been prevented by an anomaly from receiving these benefits. This is a provision which has been widely welcomed in all parts of the House.

The second effect of the Bill is to enable experiments to be made by local education authorities with schools of an unorthodox age range. Inevitably, the passage of the Bill through the House and Committee has provoked some discussion about the 11 plus, selective schools and secondary organisation. My right hon. and learned Friend has made it clear that he looks upon the Bill as a means of providing more information about the best way to organise secondary education. We on this side do not believe that any one best solution has as yet been revealed to us. We are prepared to encourage sensible variety and sane experiment. My right hon. and learned Friend believes that the wish of the West Riding to experiment with the age of transfer is a reasonable one. We accept that there may be something of general value to be learned from an experiment of this sort.

If I may attempt a graceful compliment across the Floor of the House, I would say that hon. Members opposite in the general welcome that they have given to the Measure have at least implied a less blinkered and dogmatic attitude than usual in these matters. Clearly, as some at least on the other side of the House must realise, there is no point in having an experiment unless one is prepared to learn from it. It has hitherto been the policy of the Labour Party to impose the comprehensive principle upon all local education authorities—that is, to force upon local education authorities the abolition of all selective schools and, despite the Newsom Committee, the abolition of all secondary modern schools in favour of some comprehensive system at a time when there is little or no evidence to go on in relation to some of those systems. That is particularly true, of course, of sixth form colleges and two-tier systems of comprehensive education, which would be the only alternative for most local education authorities if they were forced immediately to do away with all selective schools.

If the Bill is to be of value, an attitude is required from the Government that is a good deal more "science based", to use a currently fashionable bit of jargon, than that. One has to proceed on the basis of evidence and not on the basis of dogma or intuition. It is because we are anxious that the old tripartite dogma should not be replaced by a new one—equally rigid and inadequately tested—that we look forward to valuable experiment under the Bill.

We do not say to local education authorities, "We know what the answer on secondary organisation is. Here it is. You must abide by it. Scrap what you have got and reorganise immediately." If that were our attitude there would be no point in the Bill. If one were confident of knowing all the end answers, one would not embark on further experiment. If one did not believe in the necessity of proving new ideas before insisting upon their universal adoption, one would not bother with experiment at all.

The Bill, then, is consistent with the pragmatic attitude that the Government have adopted towards the very real problems of selection and secondary school organisation. It is not envisaged, as my right hon. and learned Friend has made clear, that any wholesale change in the age of transfer will result from the Bill and certainly it would be wrong to contemplate any such development in advance of the report of the Plowden Committee. But it is generally agreed that useful knowledge may flow from limited experiment as a result of this Measure and I hope that the House will now give the Bill its Third Reading.

1.52 p.m.

Mr. Willey

I take this last opportunity of saying that we welcome this Bill. Having done so, I must be critical of the present Administration. I think that we can, however, be comforted by the fact that the responsibility of the Administration is likely to be only temporary.

The Bill deals with two separate issues in education. First, it puts right an anomaly. In Standing Committee we sought to place direct responsibility on the Secretary of State for the maintenance allowances for children attending special schools. We did not succeed and so the maintenance allowances will be those which are generally determined. The action taken by the Government during their period of office on this matter presents a thoroughly depressing picture. We therefore have no great confidence that adequate allowances will be paid to children in special schools under this Bill.

A good deal has been said about the Weaver Working Party's Report. I pointed out earlier in this Bill that the Working Party was not set up enthusiastically by the Conservative Government to improve allowances but that the then Minister had made it clear that the total expenditure on maintenance allowances ought not to be increased and could possibly be diminished while still giving adequate help where needed.

There was a good deal of talk—I do not know where it came from—which gave the impression that the Government had once accepted the Weaver Report. On the contrary, they rejected it. In Circular No. 327 the Government said that they would not be justified in accepting the recommendations. It was at the time of one of the economic crises we have had during the Government's term. That is why we have concentrated a good deal of attention on the question of maintenance allowances.

This is an important aspect of education. We have had the report on early school leaving and also the Crowther Report calling attention to the cost to the country of children leaving school too early. We later got an abnegation of responsibility by the Government. They repealed Circular No. 327 and said that under the block grant system this was now a matter for the local authorities. As the Secretary of State pointed out in Standing Committee, when I raised this matter a year ago I was told that over one-third of the local authorities were not even then paying the allowances recommended by the Weaver Working Party. Yet the Weaver Report came out in 1957. Seven years later, and notwithstanding the rise in the cost of living, one-third of the local authorities were not paying the allowances recommended.

This is an appalling position and an abnegation of responsibility by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Department—an abnegation confirmed in Standing Committee when he said that the figure had now been reduced to 14 local authorities not paying the recommended allowances. But this reduction was not brought about by his Department but, as he said, by a resolution by the Association of Education Committees. This really will not do. We had the same attitude by the Government towards student grants, and it was pressure in this House which finally compelled them to resort to legislation in order to standardise the grants.

I hope that the Government, even at this late stage, will pay serious attention to this. A circular would be helpful but even more helpful would be a realistic recognition of the importance of maintenance allowances and speedy effective action by the Government. I would be out of order if I referred to proposals which have been made and will be discussed at the General Election. Although the right hon. and learned Gentleman turned down our proposal in Standing Committee, I hope that he will pay serious regard to making these allowances adequate. We all welcome the removal of the anomaly by the Bill but we cannot but be disturbed by the fact that the Government have never given sufficient attention to maintenance allowances for children over school-leaving age.

On the second matter dealt with by the Bill, I was also disturbed by what the Joint Under-Secretary of State said just now when talking about experiments. He referred to the West Riding Education Authority. But that authority does not propose to experiment. It has made up its mind. It has decided to reorganise secondary education on comprehensive lines. Is the Secretary of State in favour of that or against it?

What is an entirely different problem—the Joint Under-Secretary seemed to confuse the two—is to decide upon the most effective means of implementing the reorganisation of secondary education on comprehensive lines. Of course, the West Riding, like other authorities, will review the result of its action, just as Leicestershire is reviewing the action it took. But what is not in doubt is the decision to reorganise on comprehensive lines. It has been taken by an overwhelming majority of the education authorities up and down Great Britain.

Such a reorganisation was opposed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessors and therefore we did not get any reference to it in the Annual Reports or in information from the Department. Everyone knows of that opposition. But nevertheless there has been a revolution against Curzon Street on this. It is significant that it was Her Majesty's Chief Inspector who conceded defeat at Folkestone. He is more closely in touch with what has been happening in schools and among education authorities.

This certainly is a vindication of the division of responsibility politically between Whitehall and the local education authorities. I thoroughly support that division and those who have any doubt about it should review the development of the reorganisation of secondary education over the past few years. Let us recognise—the hon. Member avoided it just now but I would recommend him to read the recent publication of the Bow Group of the Conservative Party—that secondary education must be reorganised on comprehensive lines.

I am wholeheartedly with the right hon. and learned gentleman that this does not mean uniformity. It is no good recognising the division of responsibility in education if one is calling for uniformity. It is no good not acknowledging that the circumstances in different education authorities' areas are different. This is not a question of imposing uniformity but of recognising that there is an urgent need to reorganise secondary education on comprehensive lines. It seems to me that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is doing himself a grave injustice. I have pointed out before that he can claim no credit for the Leicestershire experiment because he cowardly stood on one side and said, "I have not been asked about it; it is something beyond my cognisance", although I have pointed out frequently that the education Act in fact has been contravened.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman faces the dilemma that he says that the tripartite system has broken down. In fact, he emphasises this by saying, "I have known this for seven years", but he did not say that seven years ago.

Mr. Hogg

I could easily quote from my former tenure of office that I had said precisely that.

Mr. Willey

Why did not the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell that to Leicestershire? Why did he not say, "I sympathise with Leicestershire because I believe that the tripartite system has broken down"? That is just what he did not do. What he did was specifically to state that the local authority did not need to seek his approval, and that in fact it had neither sought nor received it. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had said clearly that the tripartite system had broken down, we might have had a very different development in secondary education over the last seven years. I cannot place personal responsibility beyond that on the right hon. and learned Gentleman's shoulders because he was such a short time at the Department.

I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman recognises now that the tripartite system has broken down. The tripartite system, for all practical purposes, is the bi-partite system, the division of secondary education between grammar and secondary schools. This is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says has broken down. If it has broken down, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman going to say, "I am going to look at the broken down system and not accept any responsibility, and merely observe that it has broken down"? That seems to be the position, and it is fortunate that the initiative has been taken by the education authorities and that they are tackling the problem. It is a very serious reflection on Conservative Ministers of Education that they have known for seven years that the system has broken down, have tendered no advice about it, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman has now gone little further than the White Paper of 1958.

He throws one or two red herrings about the voluntary schools, but the voluntary schools came forward and said to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, "We want to take advantage of this Bill". That is why it was amended in another place. Again, what a reflection on the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he is not only completely out of touch with feeling in the local education committees but is out of touch with the voluntary bodies, the denominational schools, because they have said, "We are interested in the Bill; we want to experiment, too. We recognise that there has to be reorganisation of secondary education: why did not you think of us"? This was the cardinal point which came out of this overlooking of the denominational schools. "Why are you so prejudiced against experiments", that is really what they are saying, "as to assume that we would not wish to take part".

This is very important because the right hon. and learned Gentleman, when he addressed the Association of Education Committees that called the denominational schools on aid as a fact which might make more difficult the provision of reorganisation on comprehensive lines. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman, at this very late stage, to recognise now the consequences and the great embarrassment on his shoulders by the actions of successive Conservative Ministers of Education and not only to accept this Bill as a matter of experiment, but to appreciate that the authorities are not experimenting in the reorganisation of secondary education on comprehensive lines but only on the means of implementing reorganisation. West Riding needs no experiment but to be convinced of the need of that reorganisation. It was prepared to go ahead regardless of the Bill.

We know that the Government were faced with a dilemma. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows quite well that this revolt against Curzon Street had reached such proportions that it had to be recognised. I hope that he will not try to contain it by talking about experiments. The principle has to be conceded and then there will be experiments, as there always have been in British education, to make effective the changes in secondary education.

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not try to contain this change which is taking place in secondary education but will welcome it and give constructive help to authorities to do what he must know, regardless of the back benchers behind him, will be effected in the next few years.

2.7 p.m.

Mr. Boyden

I was amused at the Parliamentary Secretary trying to make out that the Labour Party was a kind of bogey-man with comprehensive education. I hope this will not be the tactics of the Conservative Party in the election, because it must damage the cause of secondary education and I would have thought that a great amount of development of comprehensive education is quite outside the field of politics and entirely within the field of education.

If we look at the L.C.C.'s record in comprehensive schools over the last few years we find there all the virtues that can be argued for any other secondary scheme. The L.C.C. offers a wide range of parental choice of schools; there is a very wide range of courses in the school to give "pupils choice". We get these schools making every attempt to meet all the needs that can be met, and what I think is quite remarkable is that the voluntary bodies, having been a little apprehensive in earlier days, are now entering into the same kind of activities as the L.C.C. and are setting up their own comprehensive schools.

I hope that this matter will be considered on education grounds and not with an unnecessary intrusion of politics into it.

This brings me to a point which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) and myself when the Bill was discussed on Second Reading. I hope that the Secretary of State will not approve any new schools under Clause 1 which are not developments of a purely educational nature. The case the A.E.C. advances on altering the age structure to encourage more men teachers would be quite disastrous. We want more men teachers but we can only get them by facing the problems squarely and not by considering purely administrative conveniences in this Bill. In the same way there could be a danger of patchwork secondary education growing up which might make it very difficult for parents moving around the country to get satisfactory continuing education for their children. I hope that Clause 1 will be used entirely for education reasons.

Some of the things which have not been said so far about secondary reorganisation and for which the Bill gives an opportunity are the sort of things where handicapped and backward children could be given much greater scope in a comprehensive system. Once again the London County Council has set a magnificent example in the way in which in some of its comprehensive schools it has been able to develop the capacities and talents of backward children in the same way as developing the capacities of the fliers. Everybody would agree that even where a grammar school has not been absorbed into the comprehensive school in London, where much of the grammar school element has been lacking, the fliers have had their opportunity and in the parallel way so have the backward children.

In some L.C.C. comprehensive schools there are special departments for the backward child which have stressed the social development of the child and where the results have been obvious in the presentation of the work, the personal appearance of the pupils and the atmosphere of the classes. There have been some remarkable examples of where backward children have suddenly developed and developed extremely well with their academic subjects while others have shown great capacity for leadership in the school in sport and in social activities. This is borne out by the experiment at Wolsingham in County Durham where one or two boys who in the ordinary way would have been almost cast on one side in the ordinary selective system have done remarkably well in showing leadership in that comprehensive school.

I want to concentrate on the Clause relating to extending grants to handicapped children from the age of 15 or 16. I was most disturbed by the way in which my suggestion for dealing with yet another anomaly has been disposed of. The Clause removes an anomaly but leaves another. I have still not had the letter from the Minister of Health which I was promised by the Secretary of State. I do not know whether this means that he denies that the anomaly exists. Perhaps we could be told something about this. It seems ridiculous that because of departmental bureaucracy, or Parliamentary bureaucracy, or some other form of bureaucracy, an anomaly which everybody would want to put right, even though it affects only a small number, has not been rectified with the opportunity which the Bill gave.

The general attitude of the Secretary of State to this question when we discussed grants in Standing Committee was extremely cavalier. He dismissed my suggestion as almost frivolous and yet produced almost nothing himself to give a better system of grants. He fell back on the sort of attitude which we have had time and again from his Department, that the initiative for correcting under-Weaver rates and for preventing other anomalies lay with the public or back bench Members of Parliament. He said: My Department will be interested to received any information about local authorities which pay less than what I have described as the Weaver rates, because I would make it my business to initiate informal discussions which might well help to remove that difficulty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1964; Vol. 697, c. 1487.] It is up to the Department of Education to find out what is going on and not rely on the odd criticism which comes forward. Since the general grant was introduced and the notion of "policing the rates" was stopped, there should have been a new investigation, or at least a sample checking of local authorities, with a view to getting the situation correct. It is not much use merely getting rid of one anomaly without looking at the whole subject of grants.

I may be ruled out of order if I go too far on this subject. I will not say more now, except that, having removed one anomaly, it is up to the Department to investigate the whole position, because, although we approve this particular remedy, it sets up another set of anomalies. For example, when we were discussing the cost of maintenance of handicapped children, the right hon. Gentleman was very brutal—although I do not think that he meant it this way—when he said that the costs of handicapped children varied very much and the costs for a child with an iron on its leg wearing out clothes would be more than for a bed-ridden child who would naturally not wear out clothes. That sounds as though he was saying that the costs for a bed-ridden child were very slight and I am sure that he did not intend it in that way. It is obvious that the costs of giving a child in that situation something approaching a normal life are out of all proportion to the wearing-out of clothes. The same sort of consideration applies throughout the range of handicapped children.

To put this anomaly right is not enough and we need to consider the whole range of handicapped children to see what is required in the way of grant to give them as satisfactory an education as is possible.

I welcome the Bill in that rather tepid way. It is a great pity that not all the anomalies were put right and that the opportunity was not taken to remedy the wide disparity between local authorities as to the variety and amount of grant.

2.15 p.m.

Mr. Hogg

I do not wish to detain the House more than a few minutes on what is really an uncontroversial Measure. I greatly sympathise with the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) in his plea that these educational experiments should be pursued on educational grounds and should not be made entirely exercises in party politics. However, I thought that that plea, with which I agree, came slightly oddly after the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) from the Opposition Front Bench, whose whole delivery was an exercise in party politics.

There are differences between the parties, but they can be exaggerated and usually are. The fact to which hon. Members opposite cannot easily reconcile themselves is the degree, greater than they do, to which we believe in retaining education as a function of local government and the way they desire, to a degree greater than we do, the interposition of central authority. If his claim that under Conservative Ministers the Ministry had abdicated its functions—I think that this phrase was abnegated its functions—does not mean that, I do not know what he was trying to convey.

Mr. Willey

Parliament has recently discussed the raising of the school-leaving age. This will affect secondary education. The decision was taken centrally, but I agree that its implementation is a matter for the local education authorities. The problem has been placed on their shoulders by that decision. What I am saying equally emphatically is that the reorganisation which follows consequent on that and other developments in secondary education is a matter on which the right hon. and learned Gentleman should be able to advise and assist the local education authorities.

Mr. Hogg

Of course I recognise, as both parties do, that there is a function for central Government and a function for local authorities in all these matters, but the hon. Gentleman must reconcile himself to the fact that the difference between us does not rest in our abdicating our functions and in his asserting them, but in the fact that there is a difference in degree between us, he tending to emphasise the function of central authority and we tending to emphasise the degree to which local authorities should enjoy their freedom. I was about to point this out in relation to the speech that he has just made. As we see it, the question whether, the extent to which, and the maner in which, if at all, reorganisation should take place in any particular county or county borough is primarily a matter for the local authority.

The Minister has functions, of course. We spoke about that on Second Reading. The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) spoke from the Front Bench opposite and put questions to me as to how I was going to exercise these functions. I told her, and oddly enough—I have no doubt that it was a case of second sight on her part—within 10 days I found myself exercising those functions in relation to her own constituency, I think with her approval, but at any rate without any criticism from her.

I have never shown myself at all reluctant to exercise functions, but they are supervisory functions. They are not functions which, in our view at any rate, impose on the central Government the obligation to do what the hon. Gentleman again and again in his speech demanded that we should, namely, in effect to insist that local authorities should reorganise their secondary education on comprehensive lines.

That is a nostrum which he has tried to sell to the House as a universal panacea. We have always recognised that it plays some part in secondary education, but we do not think that it is a universal panacea. When he asks for reorganisaton, we simply do not believe that it is in the interests of every local authority, whether it wishes to or not, to destroy the grammar schools in its area. That is precisely what is involved in a total reorganisation on comprehensive lines. We think that that is an evil if it is imposed uniformly and dogmatically all over the country.

I would not be in order if I were to develop this, but the difference between us does not lie in the fact that we are prejudiced against either reorganisation or comprehensiveness. It resides in the fact that we give a wider range of offices to local authorities and do not interfere when they exercise them.

The same is true on the philosophy of maintenance allowances. The Act, by Section 81, puts the responsibility on local authorities and makes it discretionary. The whole burden of the two speeches to which we have listened from the benches opposite is really a demand that by administrative action I should take away from the local authorities the discretion which Parliament gave them by the Act, and impose my own set of regulations over the entire field so as to ensure that they all do the same thing.

I am not prepared to admit that either for handicapped children or for normal children this would necessarily be an advantage, because if I were to tell them what maintenance allowances they were to give in every case, it would mean that the generous ones came down and the ungenerous ones came up.

Mr. Boyden

Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman could lay down the minima? This is the simplest thing of the lot.

Mr. Hogg

Experience shows that if that is done, over a period of years they become standards and not minima.

Parliament gave a discretion to local authorities under the Act. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that Parliament should take it away, he must legislate, but he is not justified in complaining that a Minister is abdicating his functions when he does the very thing which Parliament has told Ministers to do.

Of course I have supervisory functions in relation to this matter, and, as he has raised it, I can tell him categorically that I propose to examine the question after the Recess—when no doubt either I or some other Conservative Minister will be in firm possession of this office—and I will see whether a greater degree of uniformity is desirable.

During the Committee stage I told the hon. Gentleman that my purpose in applying the Weaver Committee's Report to the extent that we did—because I do not accept that we rejected it—was precisely to secure a degree of uniformity. As I explained in Committee, events overtook us in the shape of the general grant, and a different philosophy became general Government policy. I shall certainly look at the matter again after the Recess to see whether a greater degree of uniformity is desirable in England and Wales, and if it is I shall try to secure it.

But I shall try to secure it by the method of informal discussions rather than by regulations and I shall still allow to local authorities a certain degree of better knowledge than I possess of what local communities wish to have in respect of maintenance allowances. I shall not take away their discretion, nor seek to impose uniformity, but if a greater degree of uniformity is required I shall seek to achieve it.

Mr. Willey

What is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's view about adequacy. This is a matter about which the Government have views, and they should be made known. There has been general criticism of the maintenance allowances being inadequate. There have been many reports inviting the Minister to express an opinion. If he does, he should take steps to implement it.

Mr. Hogg

I think that the hon. Gentleman is tempting me to transcend the bounds of order. The Bill which we are discussing on Third Reading is a Bill to bring a greater degree of uniformity to a limited class of a limited class of pupils over a limited period of time, namely, those handicapped children who are in special schools for one extra year so that they can be brought into line with those in general schools, or with those who are not handicapped.

I do not think that I should be in order—and if I were I would not think this a suitable opportunity—to embark on a general discussion of what is meant by adequacy in relation to maintenance allowances. All that I am saying is that if and in so far as the hon. Gentleman will be in any way assuaged in his criticism that a greater degree of uniformity is required, it is my intention after the Recess to review this matter myself and to see whether a greater degree of uniformity is required.

I embarked on this disquisition—and I hope that I have not detained the House unduly—because of the plea—with which I agree—of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland that these matters should be discussed on educational grounds, and because I thought that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, who was perfectly entitled to point to the differences between the two parties, had failed to put his finger on the place where the difference existed, namely, that—for reasons which they think adequate—they on the whole tend to emphasise the rôle of central Government, while we on the whole tend to emphasise the importance of the rôle of local government in this matter.

Having said that, I think we can say that the Bill has got through with a remarkable degree of unanimity, and I hope that the House will now be prepared to give it its Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with an Amendment.