HC Deb 12 December 1967 vol 756 cc227-91

Order for Second Reading read.

4.3 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker)

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

I would like, by way of introduction and because there seems to have been some misunderstanding on the point, to make one thing quite clear straight away. Although the Bill arises out of and is in a sense drafted in the terms of the interim injunction granted by the Court of Appeal in the case of Bradbury and Enfield Borough Council, its provisions will not affect in any way whatever the way in which the Enfield authority's proposals for the future of the eight schools involved in the case will be dealt with. These schools are being dealt with and will continue to be dealt with in accordance with the decision of the Court of Appeal on the basis of the law as the court held it to be. There is nothing in the Bill to change that.

To come now to the terms of the Bill, it is a short, but, I am afraid, rather technical Bill. To make things clearer, I have adopted the device of publishing in the Third Schedule the text of the relevant Sections of the 1944 Act as they would read were the Bill to become law. The Amendments proposed in the Bill are printed in heavy type.

I think that it will assist the House if, before I describe the provisions of the Bill in detail, I explain briefly how the present legislation operates, which it is intended to amend or elaborate. Section 13 of the Education Act, 1944 requires that when a local education authority or the promoters of a voluntary school propose to establish a new school, or when a local education authority proposes to close an existing school, they must give public notices to this effect, so that inhabitants of the locality can, if they wish, submit objections to me. After a two months' interval for those objections, the proposal is subject to my approval. In most cases it is clear enough what is meant by the establishment of a new school, namely, the setting up of a new education entity in a new set of buildings.

The present Act also provides specifically for one type of change to an existing school being treated as the setting up of a new school. Under Section 67 of the Act, that is how an enlargement is treated if I determine that the resultant school is so different from the old that it can reasonably be considered a new school. Apart from this, it has been the practice throughout the currency of the 1944 Act—under every Administration— to treat most changes to existing schools as not constituting the setting up of a new school.

The Court of Appeal ruled otherwise. It held that a change in the age range of the pupils of a school or a change in the sex composition of the pupils—even if this occurred in existing premises—was so fundamental as to constitute the discontinuance of the school and the setting up of a new one and thus required the publication of notices. On this basis, large numbers of schools, running into hundreds, now operating in the country have been established without complying with the requirements of the law as the Court of Appeal has now interpreted it. Not only secondary schools involved in reorganisation are affected. The separation of the infants' department of a primary school—if, as was almost always the case, no notices were given—would be an unlawfully established school.

The full implications of the Court's judgment are not clear because it was not called upon to go into this. But we cannot exclude the possibility that any schools that were, under the Court's statement of the law, unlawfully established are now being unlawfully maintained by the local authority, which is unlawfully spending the taxpayers', or ratepayers', money on them. I am sure that the whole House will agree that we cannot leave the legal status of so many schools and the validity of the action of local education authorities in this state of doubt.

The first purpose of the Bill will be to regularise the legal position of those schools. This is achieved by Clause 1 subsections (1) and (4). I make no apology for proposing this act of mass legitimisation. My predecessors of both parties—more on the other side of the House than on this—and the local education authorities have acted in good faith in taking the decisions which have now been shown to be invalid. Their actions have not been a cause of great controversy and the schools in question are undistinguishable from those whose official birth was properly sanctified.

Although this is in one sense retrospective legislation, it is not so in the sense that is often found objectionable by the House. The Bill does not render unlawful anything that was lawfully done. It does not deprive any individual of any legal rights vested in him. Nor does it —as I have explained—reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Bradbury and Enfield Borough Council.

The next main purpose of the Bill is to make provision for the future. This is done by giving statutory force to the substance of the Court of Appeal's decision. If it is proposed to make any substantial change in the age range or sex composition of a school after the end of the summer term, 1968, notices must be issued and two months provided for objections to be made to the Secretary of State, who must, of course, consider them before coming to his decision. This is achieved by Clause 1(2) and (5).

The Bill, in fact, extends the effects of the injunction by providing that any substantial change in the ability range of a school must in the same way be done by notice. The Court of Appeal held that the present law imposes no such obligation. I felt that the law should provide a statutory right to parents and others to object on the question that often concerns them most, namely, whether or not a school should become or remain comprehensive.

Of course, all these provisions work both ways. Parents will have a right to object to any changes in the character of a school by way of alteration in its age range, sex composition or ability range, if it is proposed to make a selective school comprehensive. But they will have the same right to object if the opposite were proposed, namely, to make a comprehensive school selective. In both cases I would have to consider the objections and come to my conclusion.

If such changes in the nature of a school were proposed for purposes other than those I have mentioned, the right of objection would, of course, apply. It may be asked why we did not leave these matters to be settled in future according to the terms of the Court of Appeal's injunction. There are two reasons. One I have just mentioned, namely, the desirability of extending the right of objection to changes in the ability range of a school.

The second reason is technical but very important. If, in the future, we went on the basis that a change in the character of a school is so fundamental as to constitute the closure of one school and its replacement by a new one and thus to bring Section 13 and its public notices into play—if we went on this basis, we would run into technical difficulties over changes to special agreement and controlled schools.

These are matters of great detail which my right hon. Friend will explain if hon. Members wish to raise them further. But I can assure hon. Members that this is a point which makes necessary a change in the basis of the law as laid down by the Court of Appeal.

But let me say again that the substance of the law as laid down by the Court of Appeal is not altered. Indeed, it is extended by the Bill. All that is done is that the effect of this judgment will in future rest upon a statutory basis, instead of upon the terms of the judgment. In this connection, I should refer to Schedule 1, paragraph 3, which should be read together with paragraph 5(c). This is a point which may have caused some concern to hon. Gentlemen opposite.

The effect is to give -the Secretary of State the power to decide whether a change in the character of a school or an enlargement of school premises is significant and, therefore, whether the notices procedure should come into play. The reason for this is exactly the same as the reason why the 1944 Act gave the Minister the power to decide whether an enlargement of a school was substantial, namely, that the absence of such a power would lead to doubt and delay.

I am referring here only to changes in the character of a school which, in fact, continues in existing buildings. The Bill does not affect the existing provisions in regard to a new educational entity in new buildings or out-and-out changes such as turning a boys' school into a girls' school or a secondary school into a primary school.

The Bill, however, provides, in Clause 1(1), that other changes in size and character should not be regarded as replacing an old school by a new one. Nevertheless, under the Bill, such changes, if significant, will be subject to the process of publication of notices and representations.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I have one important question here. Why is there discretion in the Bill, in Clause 1(1,b)? Why does the right hon. Gentleman make this sharp distinction between turning a boys' school into a girls' school or vice versa, as compared with turning a boys' school into a mixed school?

Mr. Gordon Walker

This is because that was really the terms of the judgment given by the Court of Appeal, which talked about a change in the sex composition. I quite agree that, if this is not provided for in the Bill, it certainly ought to be. This would be a change in the sex composition and this is what I am intending to provide for in the Bill. If we find that this is so it could be amended in Committee. I am certainly not intending to exclude a change that really does amount to a change in the sex composition of a school.

Paragraph 5 of the First Schedule defines "significant" in relation to a change in the character or size of a school as implying a substantial change in the function or size of the school. The concept of a substantial change in the function of a school is a new one, which, I think, would be helpful.

The need for such discretion arises out of the wide gamut of changes that can be made in the character and size of a school. At one end, for instance, there might be a change from a single sex to a mixed school. That would clearly be a substantial change in the function of the school and the notices procedure would apply.

At the other end of the scale it might be proposed to admit a small number of girls to the sixth form of a boys' school, for instruction in a particular subject not available in their own school, or two neighbouring single sex schools might wish to organise joint arrangements for giving special help to backward pupils. Equally, quite small changes might be made in the premises of a school that did not substantially increase the number of pupils in it.

It would be idiotic to go through the notices procedure with its two months' delay before quite minor changes in the character or size of a school could be made. But unless L.E.A.s could be given decisions by the Secretary of State about what amounted to significant changes, they might, to avoid challenge in the courts, go through the whole notices procedure for every change they made, however insignificant. This might well cause serious delay in local administration in regard to a whole range of desirable small changes which ought to be made quickly.

If the Bill becomes law, I shall give L.E.A.s some general guidance on this subject. Any change about whose significance there might be any doubt would be referred to my Department.

The Bill makes some change, in Clause 2, in regard to school premises and the securing of proper standards of accommodation. Under the existing law, when proposals for a new school have been approved under Section 13(4) of the 1944 Act, the local education authority or other persons are required to submit for my approval, plans and specifications of the premises to be provided. Here, again, the Bill does not alter the law where new schools in brand-new premises are concerned, or where a school is established in new premises not previously used as a school, such as a country house.

The changes made by the Bill relate to the establishment of a new school in premises which were in use as a school at the time when the proposals for the new school were approved. In such cases it will be for me to decide whether plans and specifications should be supplied by the local education authority. There is no point in requiring such plans and specifications in regard to premises when no change is being made.

I should, of course, require plans and specifications when alterations to the premises are proposed, or in cases when I may not already have sufficient information. This change is effected by Clause 2(1, a).

The Secretary of State has always had power to relax the prescribed standards of schools in certain circumstances. The proviso to Section 10(2) of the 1944 Act and Section 7(2,b) of the 1948 Act enabled the Minister to relax the standards if this was necessary because, in the words of the Act, of a shortage of labour and materials ". These words may have been appropriate in the post-war period—but everyone knows that the rate at which school premises are brought up to standard is governed by the school building programme, which, in its turn, is dependent upon the Government's policy with regard to the control of public expenditure. By the use of suitable words in Clause 2(3), the Bill brings things up to date by stating the true ground on which the Secretary of State may have to relax standards.

By Clause 2(2) the Bill also puts right the anomaly that a dispensation given in respect of premises of an existing school lapses and cannot be renewed, if these premises are taken over by a new school.

There are a number of other detailed points, some of which my hon. Friend will deal with at the end of the debate together with any points that hon. Members may raise. There are also points which we would take up in Committee. Meanwhile, I commend to the House the principle of this Bill, which is a useful and in some ways an important Measure. It is absolutely essential if we are to avoid doubts about the past and intractable difficulties in the future.

I am sure that the clarification and extension of the law, and the simplification and modernisation of our procedures proposed in the Bill, will be beneficial to all who are concerned in the running and organisation of our schools.

4.20 p.m.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to the Secretary of State for his exposition of the Bill. As he says, it is a short Bill, but it has a technical and, indeed, fairly formidable appearance. I should like to thank him for the drafting decision to include the revised Sections of the 1944, 1946 and 1948 Acts as Schedule 3 to the Bill.

I would also underline very much what the right hon. Gentleman said about the guidance which needs to be sent to local authorities when the Bill is passed through Parliament. I venture to say to him that something more than the normal circular will be needed. Local authorities should have a detailed explanation of the implications of the Bill.

The other initial remark which I should like to make is this. I do not want to spend a lot of time in going over the past, but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would disagree that in all probability we should not have had the Bill today if the Enfield parents had not forced the issue. I wish to make two comments on that episode. First, what caused us on this side of the House most concern was not simply the legal aspect of the Enfield affair, but the fact that the right hon. Gentleman laid himself open to the charge in the courts of acting in a "thoroughly unreasonable manner in the circumstances."

Mr. Gordon Walker

That decision does not have any relationship to the Bill at all. The Bill arises from the decision in the case of Bradbury and the Enfield Borough Council. The case to which the right hon. Gentleman refers has no relationship to the Bill whatsoever.

Sir E. Boyle

I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman is literally accurate, because Schedule 1, paragraph 2, deals with the question of articles of government.

Secondly, I think, that the world outside should be clear that the Bill does not in any way strengthen the powers of the Secretary of State against an authority which does not wish to reorganise its existing schools. It is important to be clear that the Bill does not touch on that issue. I make that point because it was only last Thursday, I think, that the right hon. Gentleman emphasised, in answer to a Question, that we cannot afford money at the moment for any large-scale building of comprehensive schools."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1967; Vol. 755, c. 1653.] In these circumstances, we on this side of the House are very glad that, at a time when there is not money to enable viable comprehensive schemes to be provided, the right hon. Gentleman is not taking fresh powers against authorities concerned about their existing schools.

Having said those few words on what the Bill does not do, I should like next to follow the Secretary of State and deal with the principal function which the Bill performs. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the Bill gives statutory force to the Court of Appeal's decision. The purpose of the Bill was lucidly expressed by Sir William Alexander, in last week's edition of the A.E.C.'s journal Education. He said: … the Bill acknowledges the grievances ventilated at Enfield, and concedes to parents, local government electors, and other third parties, the right to lodge objections to proposals for a significant change in the character or size of existing schools, by requiring specific notices of any such proposals under Section 13 "— subsection (3), I think— even though the proposals do not constitute the establishment of a new school or ceasing to maintain an existing school. This is an important change in the law, and, speaking as a former Minister, it clarifies what has hitherto always been a somewhat difficult and perplexing issue for Ministers: exactly what in the old days was the precise ambit of Section 13 of the 1944 Act and when should local government electors, parents and others, have the opportunity to lodge objections in accordance with the procedure of subsection (3)? For myself, I always found this a somewhat difficult issue. My own bias, when in doubt, was always on the side of giving parents and others the opportunity to lodge objections.

I do not blame the Secretary of State, because he could act only on the advice which he was given, but I think that perhaps he went a little far in suggesting that on all the points at issue in Clause 1 there had never been any questioning of the legal position in the old days. If he will look—I will not take up the time of the House with the point now—some time at a debate which we had in April, 1957, on the subject of a change at Aylesbury from a mixed school to a single sex school, he will find that I then regarded it as a Section 13 matter. But the point is that the issue is now being clarified once for all. I would advise my hon. Friends to look on Clause 1(2) as an important clarifying step which the House should welcome.

Something on which I should like some more information from the right hon. Lady the Minister of State when she replies is this. Clearly, the force of Clause 1(2) depends very much on the word "significant". What is to rank as a "significant" change? I feel that the more specific the Department can be on this point, the better for the whole education service.

As I understand, and as I understood the speech of the Secretary of State, there is no doubt that a change from a single sex school to a mixed school, or vice versa, will constitute a significant change. Likewise, a change from either a selective school or a secondary modern school to a comprehensive school will constitute a significant change. I take the right hon. Gentleman's point that the opposite way round equally applies. We on this side of the House would recognise that. I imagine that a change from any form of existing secondary school to what is usually called a sixth form college would be regarded as a significant change.

I ask that, because it is exactly at the margin that these matters are important. When the Leicestershire scheme was introduced, 10 years ago, the Leicestershire grammar schools, instead of being selective schools from 11 to 18, became grammar schools with an age range of from 14 to 18. I think that change was not regarded at the time as requiring the invoking of the Section 13(3) procedure. However, I should have thought that if the age range of a school was changed from 11 to 18 and it became a sixth form college that would be a significant change.

Mr. Christopher Price (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Is not the right hon. Gentleman contradicting himself? Although the Leicestershire grammar schools changed their age range only quite slightly, surely they changed from being selective to non-selective schools and yet were allowed to be exempt from issuing Section 13 notices.

Mr. Gordon Walker

That was the then law.

Sir E. Boyle

Yes, and on second thoughts, I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that for the reason which he has given this should count as a significant change.

There are two other types of change which are important. First, let us remember that the Bill presumably also applies to primary schools; it is not solely concerned with secondary schools. Therefore, a change from 5 to 7 to 5 to 11 would be a significant change. Lastly, some of us on this side of the House and some local authorities would particularly like to know more about the position of the middle schools under the Bill. How are the schools with age ranges of 8 to 12 or 9 to 13 placed for purposes of the Bill? I imagine that they will be covered, but I think that their position under Section 13(3), and also the standards and specifications required for them, should have their proper statutory provision in our educational legislation.

There is also the question of what constitutes a "significant enlargement". Here, I think, I know the answer, but perhaps the right hon. Lady could just confirm this. I think that for the purposes of Section 67(4) we have always recognised 25 per cent, as being a significant enlargement, and that would seem to me a perfectly reasonable scale to continue to operate.

Having spoken about Clause 1(2), I should now like just to say something about subsection (1). As I understand it—and I think that the right hon. Gentleman may agree that on this the Bill is somewhat technical—it is exactly here that we meet the essential point in the drafting of the Bill, and it is that the Bill makes a distinction between the procedure for notices under Section 13(3) of the 1944 Act and the procedure for establishing a new school involving as it does the submission of plans and specifications. That is to say, the whole point about Clause 1 is that certain changes do not involve the establishment of a new school even though they do justify the operation of the notices procedure under Section 13(3).

It is at this point that I come back to my question which, I think, I may have put to the right hon. Gentleman wrongly just now, and if I did I apologise. On Clause 1(1), I still am a little bothered about paragraph (b), which says, in effect, that a school is not to be regarded as a new school simply because it has been a mixed school and is now a single sex school or vice-versa.

Mr. Gordon Walker

I agree that this is highly technical. Subsection (1, a, b, c) is dealing with the past. This is retrospective, and it has to be read with subsection (4), which says: Subsection (1) above shall be deemed to have had effect since the beginning of April 1945 up to today. This is the one which clears up the doubts which have arisen owing to the decision. It is only when we get to subsection (2) that we are dealing with the future.

Sir E. Boyle

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that that subsection (1) is to be read in conjunction with subsection (4). Of course, I must accept what he says, and also that this is a matter which we can more profitably pursue in Committee.

But I am, as I say, concerned on this general point, that we should not make a distinction between, on the one hand a direct change of sex and, on the other, a change from single sex to mixed or vice versa. I mention this because we know very well that while the comprehensive issue is most in our minds today, the question of single sex and mixed schools can create extremely strong feeling in local authority areas.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Any sex change.

Sir E. Boyle

Any sex change, exactly.

On the retrospective issue, that is, Clause 1(4), I accept, of course, the right hon. Gentleman's general point that the Bill does not render unlawful anything which has previously been done in good faith and thought to be lawful. We can discuss that subsection upstairs. I have always personally believed, as a former Financial Secretary, that there is, as it were, a spectrum of retrospective situations which can arise; certainly, one felt this about Finance Bills. I do not wish to take up a strong position on this subject this afternoon.

One rather interesting point was raised, again, I think, in Education: was there any danger to authorities which had already done as Enfield proposed without issuing notices if challenged on a district audit for spending money to maintain schools which had been established illegally? Perhaps we can have it confirmed that should that eventuality arise it is something which is seen to by the relevant Sections—I think Section 228 and Section 230—of the Local Government Act. 1933.

Before coming to my concluding remarks, I should like to say something on the subject of Clause 2. Here, I must confess to the right hon. Gentleman that I am a little less happy about what he is proposing. As I understand the situation, it is this. Section 10 of the 1944 Act imposes on the local education authority a duty to secure that the schools which it maintains shall conform to the standards prescribed in the regulations made by the Secretary of State, and the latest regulations are the Standards for School Premises Regulations, 1959, but Section 7 of the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1948, entitles the Secretary of State to approve plans for a new school in existing buildings if he is satisfied that having regard to the shortage of labour or materials it would be unreasonable to require conformity with a requirement of the regulations relating to buildings ". I would agree with the right hon. Gentleman that those words have a rather old-fashioned ring these days. They reflect the fact that in 1948, immediately after the war, it was shortage of materials which was most in our minds —indeed, this was a long time before the present system of control of capital expenditure took its existing form. I think that none of us would attempt to deny that some reform of those words is needed, but I must say that the right hon. Gentleman's proposition just to replace them with having regard to the need to control public expenditure in the interests of the national economy "— simply to use those words to give him an unqualified dispensation from making comprehensive schools in existing buildings conform to the 1967 standards, is, I think, to give too wide a latitude.

May I put it this way to the House? I think that I shall have on this the support of all my hon. Friends. I certainly have never taken the position and I do not take it this afternoon, that it is always wrong to reorganise existing schools and always wrong to have comprehensive plans for existing school buildings which do not conform to the 1967 building regulations. Such a view as that would be quite unrealistic and would rule out a number of perfectly sound reorganisation schemes. I should like to make it plain that I am not asking for anything so restrictive as that.

At the same time, the right hon. Gentleman must be aware, and many hon. Members opposite must be aware, that even among those who are not unsympathetic to the general direction today in secondary education—even among them—there is a great deal of concern about comprehensive plans which involve existing buildings, and, of course, particularly so when the buildings themselves are widely separated. I am not trying to evoke prejudice on this matter, but I heard only very recently of one comprehensive plan involving buildings which are two miles apart.

That sort of thing really does cause very great concern, and the degree to which comprehensive proposals fall short of the 1967 building standards for new schools, is, I think, a matter which legitimately does cause anxiety; I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that his proposed words give him really too much latitude and that we should have something more like: Provided that if the Secretary of State is satisfied… that, having regard to the need to control public expenditure in the interests of the national economy, the proposals of the authority sufficiently approximate to the standards of the regulations relating to new school buildings "; something, in other words, which makes it clear that where a local education authority is planning to bring about a reorganised school in existing buildings, we should aim to get as near as we can to the standards for new comprehensive schools.

Of course, as the House will agree, these are all matters which we can take up profitably in Committee. My present feeling is that we on this side of the House should welcome Clause 1, with the statutory force that it gives in subsection (2) to the Court of Appeal's judgment. This is something which clarifies the law in a valuable way. I feel rather less happy about the ambit of the dispensation which the right hon. Gentleman takes to himself in Clause 2(3).

In conclusion, I would just say this. I have always believed that the law of education is important. We, all of us, including Ministers, move within its framework. Education is about institutions and, among others things, about the legal rights of individuals, of parents, of local government electors. At the same time, no change in the law can make up for the lack of wise policy. Ultimately, the value of this Statute must lie not just in its legal provisions, but in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman or any other Minister operates it, especially Clause 1.

I am one of those who still think that it is right that education should be a local government service. We have to establish the conditions of partnership between central Government and local government in this sphere of activity, as in many others. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is a good deal of feeling today that, with many reorganisation plans, there has been inadequate consultation. One reads criticisms of local schemes on educational grounds from sources which cannot be regarded as biased. The party opposite hooted at me the other day when I spoke to the Enfield Association for the Advancement of State Education. However, that Association is a totally non-political body which is by no means biased against comprehensive schools. As its chairman, Margaret Jepson, has written: The majority of our members are in favour of comprehensive education. In her letter, she goes on to say: We have been critical of the local scheme because we have been concerned not only with the ending of selection, but also with the quality of education to be offered in the new schools. Ultimately, the justification for any education proposals and the success of the workings of any Statute, must be measured by the way in which both central and local government co-operate together towards what is educationally right. We on this side of the House accept that the trend of educational opinion is rightly against patterns which involve segregation at the ages of 11 or 12. None the less, I believe that we shall see before us years in which it will be of special importance both for central and local government to exercise a great deal of trouble, and a certain amount of mutual forebearance, in the devising of plans which are educationally sound.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do all that he can to make local authorities, parents and all those con- cerned with the service feel that educational values must be paramount—and that is vital—so that as many parents as possible can feel that the law, along with policy and financial resources, is being used for the benefit of individual children, to the advantage of the nation, and for their personal fulfilment as well.

4.44 p.m.

Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)

I begin by giving a brief welcome to this very necessary piece of legislation, and perhaps I might draw attention to the very different tone of today's debate from that in which the matter from which it arises was last discussed, on 12th May.

This may no doubt be because, on this occasion, the Opposition are represented principally by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), whose interest in education and whose deep feeling for its real meaning is fully appreciated on this side of the House, and not, as on the last occasion, by the two Conservative Members for the constituencies in the Borough of Enfield, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) and the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry), who made nothing but party political speeches.

Now that legislation is being introduced which clarifies the law and quite rightly extends and makes clear the rights of objections by parents, I hope that the education authority in Enfield will be allowed to get on with its job.

As my right hon. Friend said, this is not a Bill to protect the Enfield education authority. As the town clerk of the borough has put it, in a sense Enfield was a guinea pig which suffered from the disease of litigation in order to gain its immunity. The Bill will now vaccinate the many other authorities which may be in danger of suffering from the same disease.

No one wants to prevent reasonable objection by parents who have doubts about the plans being proposed by a local education authority for closing schools, opening schools or changing the nature of existing schools. But it must be said that the campaign which was waged against the Enfield scheme by a very small number of parents, supported by an association and petitions with signatures collected from widely outside the borough, in addition to the support given to it by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West and an ex-Conservative candidate, was based on a fundamental hostility to the system of comprehensive education itself.

On the other hand, it is the popularity of comprehensive education and the hostility to the selective system which has led the right hon. Member for Handsworth to support the moves towards a system of comprehensive education in this country and to resist pressures from more reactionary members of his party who demonstrated so clearly at their party conference this year and again when the Conservatives won the Greater London Council. If anyone doubts that I draw attention to the petition which has been drawn up by the Enfield Parents' Association and for which signatures are being subscribed by citizens in the Borough of Enfield. It bears a very large number of signatures, and the number is growing.

Sir E. Boyle

If the hon. Gentleman is under the impression that my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) is a doctrinaire opponent of comprehensive education, he has been misinformed. My right hon. Friend has a thriving comprehensive in his constituency at Potters Bar, which, in fact, he opened himself. In his speech, his concern was with the nature of the Enfield plan. It is a concern which I have myself expressed, as has the Enfield Association for the Advancement of State Education.

Mr. Albu

The Enfield Association for the Advancement of State Education is a new body, and some of its objections are based on a lack of information about what is taking place, which is not surprising as it is such a new body. However, the complaints which it is making about the conditions in some schools are already out of date and, in a few months' time, will be completely out of date as the schools are brought up to standard. Meanwhile, I am concerned about the effect on the children themselves, and I have no doubt that these demands and the uncertainties about the future of education in the Borough of Enfield are harmful to the children.

The Enfield Teachers' Association has expressed its concern about the tem- porary arrangements being made for the pupils affected by the injunction, and I urge my right hon. Friend to give his decision on the schools as soon as possible, so that the council can implement its comprehensive plan at the earliest opportunity and both teachers and parents shall know exactly what sort of schools there, will be in the borough to which their children can go. The parents of those children who are already going to schools where the change has taken place have expressed considerable satisfaction.

The improvement in the law which is made in the Bill is welcomed by us all. It is a technical piece of legislation, and there are some difficulties in understanding it fully. I take the points made by the right hon. Member for Handsworth, but I do not accept them entirely, especially that which he makes about Clause 2. However, now that the Bill is to become law, apparently with unanimous approval, I hope that the authorities who are trying to get on with improving their systems of education will be allowed to do so without the sort of partisan intervention which I cannot help feeling took place in the Borough of Enfield.

4.51 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Silvester (Walthamstow, West)

The constituency to which I have just been elected is diminishing in size— the Boundary Commission is constantly looking at it with reforming zeal—but the House will agree that it is showing in its old age a continued independence of spirit. Part of this is due to the work of former Members and candidates, whose work I have the honour to inherit. The House will know that Earl Attlee one represented Walthamstow, West.

I want to say something special about my immediate predecessor, Mr. Redhead. It is appropriate that this occasion should have arisen in an education debate. Mr. Redhead was Member for Walthamstow, West for 11 years. In that time he espoused many causes, but he had a special interest in education, and I know that his period of office as Minister of State for Education was a great joy to him. The House will know better than I the considerable contribution which he made as a Member, and I add my tribute to the work that he did in Walthamstow. He served for many years both on the council and in the House. He was, therefore, in a unique position to look after the interests of his constituents, which his did unstintingly. He was always forwarding their advantage. I suppose that we disagreed on almost every political issue we ever discussed, but it is an honour to recall his service to the people whom I now represent.

This Bill is, in many respects, non-controversial. One aspect which particularly engages my attention and receives my support is that it seems to be safeguarding the local involvement in education. The trouble that I find with most debates on education is that it is much easier to discuss the theory than the practice. The strongest influences in education are the state of the buildings, the quality of the staff and the encouragement of pupils in their homes. These are essentially specific, detailed and local matters. It is, therefore, of great importance that we should give maximum emphasis to local opinion in matters concerning education.

I am glad that this Bill recognises, to some extent, the importance of local involvement. It makes clear that public notice will now be required and local objections may now be given where changes in the character of a school are involved. This, I think, is good. However, as I think was said earlier, the important thing will not so much be the legal safeguards which will be operated as a result of this Bill, but the attitude of mind which will govern the administration of education under the law.

One thing of which we can be sure is that quite small groups of people are affected by decisions in education. We should not, therefore, concern ourselves simply with the numbers of people involved; but with the local susceptibilities on quite a narrow scale.

This Bill arises out of the Enfield situation. I will not go into that again. One thing which struck me about the Enfield affair was that the activities of the parents were motivated by a feeling of frustration in that decisions were being rushed through and they were not, therefore, able to play a meaningful part in the future plans of the schools involved. To some extent, this feeling exists in Waltham Forest, where both the Minister's constituency and my own are situated. There have been many dis- cussions, but they have always been in the nature of trying to wring minor concessions from a predetermined plan rather than a debate on the question: What form should secondary education take in this borough bearing in mind its peculiarities, its resources, and its traditions?

I ask hon. Members opposite to believe that when I speak of delay and tireless discussion about schemes of comprehensive education, it is not from a desire to kill them off. The Minister last Thursday said that there was a general tide in favour of comprehensive education. I think he is probably right. I doubt the wisdom of this in many respects, but I accept it. However. I can see no great case for rushing. There is not enough public interest in education.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)


Mr. Silvester

I think it is true that there is not enough public interest in education, or at least we can agree that we would like more of it. If we rush too much we may damage any enthusiasm which has been aroused, and demoralise those people who devote trouble and time to education. This is something we should seriously seek to avoid.

There is another danger in rushing. We cannot over-emphasise the importance of established schools for the tradition of education in the localities in which they are situated. For many people—particularly working class families and their children—the schools which have existed over a large number of years have been their first major contact with the importance of education. The parental support which some of these schools get is a very real factor in the enthusiasm which parents can give to their children and to their educational development. New schools will in time develop just that same support—I would not suggest otherwise—but it seems to be a danger to try and do this in one go over the whole of the local authority area. There are advantages in going slowly.

There are plenty of cases where urgency is required in education. Nursery schools in high flats is one. An understanding of what to do with the extra year when the school-leaving age is raised is another. If the Minister would like to celebrate my maiden speech with an act of generosity, I can suggest some capital works in Walthamstow, West which we should be delighted to have.

What I am trying to make clear about rushing is that, even if one is a convinced supporter of comprehensive education, there can be nothing but good to come out of a state of mind which will permit one to take it at a more realistic pace. The corollary is that if one goes at a more measured pace and does not stimulate local offence, it may be necessary to recognise that, for a period of years at least, the organisation of secondary education may not be uniform over a whole local government area.

The Minister's reactions to the I.L.E.A. proposal will be interesting, because this is just such a proposal in which comprehensive, grammar, junior and senior high schools and some other secondary schools, and, I believe, sixth form colleges, are planned to subsist together. I believe that is possible. I do not believe that there will necessarily be any administrative chaos.

It will be recalled that in 1965 in the I.L.E.A. it was possible for parents to have a free choice of the schools to which they wanted their children to go. I understand that it was possible for the authority to place 85 per cent, of the children in the schools of their first choice. That was arrived at by parents and teachers discussing the matter together. There is a lot more sense than people give credit for in the way in which parents approach the education of their children.

I have taken up the time of the House long enough. I am very glad that this Bill has been brought forward. It will certainly have my support. I would add that, in the carrying out of this massive programme of reform of secondary education, we should be prepared to accept concessions to local feelings both in the matter of the speed with which we take it forward and the willingness to accept variety in the forms of education in local authority areas, at least for a certain period of time.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. John Forrester (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I am pleased to have the honour of following the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester). I am sure that the House joins me in congratulating him on a most interesting maiden speech. He is obviously well versed in the matters which he has brought to our attention, and he has given us much food for thought, even though some of my hon. Friends would not agree with everything that he said. The hon. Gentleman referred to his constituency and paid tribute to his predecessor, who, I am sure, was well respected on both sides of the House and served his constituents with great distinction. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks will be remembered by those who listened to him and by those who read them. We hope that he will join in these debates on many occasions in the future.

I would like to turn away from the main issue of Enfield and all the surrounding issues and address my remarks to how some of the changes in the character of schools will affect the primary sector of education and to express some fears about this.

We tend to think in terms of changes of school buildings between secondary, grammar and comprehensive schools, and to overlook the effect which this may have on the primary schools. The Plowden Committee suggested that the primary school sector should range from 5 to 12 instead of from 5 to 11. This will mean that in many local education authority areas the main burden of raising the school-leaving age to 16 will fall not on the secondary schools but on the infant schools. This will be especially so with local education authorities such as that at Stoke-on-Trent, which has embraced the sixth form college approach to a comprehensive secondary system of education.

If a purpose-built sixth form college is erected, with a four-year course, as now, in the secondary school, the effect will be that a number of secondary school buildings will become surplus to requirements. One cannot imagine that the new glass and concrete palaces will be those which will be discarded by education authorities, but rather that a number of the smaller, older type of secondary schools which have outlived their usefulness will be put on the market. Local authorities will have to decide whether to sell these buildings, to lease them, or to use them in some other sector of the education service in their cities or boroughs.

The primary school of the future, with a four-year course, although with a different age range from that which now exists, could be affected from the point of view of accommodation, because it is this type of school which is already overcrowded and understaffed. I shall be interested to see whether an 11 to 12 year class in the new middle school will qualify for a teacher-pupil ratio of 1 to 30, or whether it will have to come down to the primary standard of 1 to 40. It will be an interesting exercise, to which we look forward. If it is the former, with an increase in the school population, more accommodation will be needed in tie primary schools.

These schools are not unused to receiving second-hand furniture and equipment, and perhaps they will not be unduly perturbed if they are expected to receive secondhand buildings as well. Although we in the primary school sector believe that education is like one big family and that a good family shares its belongings, we object to being looked on as the poor relation who must live off the charity of its elders, or perhaps even receive crumbs from the rich man's table.

The infants' school will be expected to provide full three-year courses. This means that they will need even more accommodation, as they will bear the main brunt of raising the school-leaving age. The extra accommodation may come from secondary schools which are no longer required, and approval for this will have to be sought from the Minister under the terms of this Bill. In the past the temptation has been to say, "This will do for the primary schools. They will have to manage until we can afford to give them something better". I hope that the Minister will resist any attempt by local authorities to build up superior accommodation for the secondary sector of education, at the expense of the primary school, and will not allow any old building to be designated a primary school because a secondary school no longer wants it. I know that my right hon. Friend will forgive my suspicion, but it has been acquired after many years in primary schools and watching them fall further and further behind their secondary brothers.

I wonder whether, in fixing its targets for raising the school-leaving age, my right hon. Friend's Department based its calculations on what it expected from Plowden and concentrated its efforts on the primary sector, or whether we are catering for new secondary accommodation which may not be needed but which will release these older buildings on which the Minister's decision will be required at some time in the future.

I am not convinced that the Government or local authorities are paying other than lip-service to the cause of parity between the primary and the secondary sphere. I know that it is a comparatively short time since the introduction of the Plowden Report. I know, too, that the neglect of 20 years in the primary sector cannot be righted in a matter of 20 months, but the primary schools would like real evidence of the good will and intentions of the Government and local authorities in this direction. I think that the ideal opportunity for this was lost during the last salary negotiations, which, incidentally, came after Plowden. It became clear then that the powers that be did not recognise the very strong feeling in the schools amongst the teachers against the injustice of the primary-secondary differential, and it has taken this unprecedented action by the teachers to make this point stick. It is for these reasons that I want the Minister to show great wisdom and discretion in using his powers under Section 7(1,c) of the 1948 Education Act, as it will be amended by the Bill.

According to the Press, my right hon. Friend has announced that there will be cuts in public expenditure. No doubt everyone could suggest areas in which cuts might be made, and we could all sit down and agree to differ about our suggestions. In the past the need to control public expenditure in the interests of the national economy has been to the detriment of the primary sector. I appeal to the Minister not to let any emergency work in the same way in the future. Suffer we will in the primary schools if we must, but let us suffer together, and suffer equally.

5.9 p.m.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Brierley Hill)

I am delighted to be the first hon. Member on this side of the House to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester) on his able maiden speech. I am sure that we all enjoyed listening to him, and look forward to hearing him again on many occasions.

It is with some trepidation that I rise to speak, because although since my return to the House I have spoken during proceedings in Committee, this is the first time that I have taken part in a Second Reading debate.

To make one's maiden speech is one of the worst ordeals which one can undergo and I can assure hon. Members that to make a second maiden speech on a return trip is just as agonising. I have been very lucky, because for five years I had the honour to represent Newcastle, East and I was very happy there. Apparently, in 1964 the electors were not as happy with me as I was with them and I had to go. Earlier this year, the people of Brierley Hill took a chance on me and I have become a Midlander. I will live in the constituency, not just to help me in my constituency work, but because I have found such friendship and honesty there that I want to live among the people I represent.

Brierley Hill is an enormous constituency, with 87,000 electors, which is growing all the time. It has an enormous industrial area, great new housing estates, a commuter belt of people who work in the Black Country and live in more pleasant surroundings, and an agricultural area. It is a microcosm, with just about everything. I pay my tribute to my predecessor, the late John Talbot, whose sudden death caused so much shock to so many people. He represented the constituency for seven years and did an enormous amount during that time to help the people whom he represented.

I wanted to speak on a subject related to education, because for nine years I taught in State schools. Having taken the Bill home to read, I began to wonder whether I had been well—advised, since I found it almost unintelligible. I wondered whether my faculties had deteriorated or whether the draftsmen were much brighter than the common man—

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Alice Bacon)

That certainly is not so. We are all in the same boat over this.

Mr. Montgomery

I am glad to hear that, because the more I read, the less I felt I understood.

The Bill was undoubtedly conceived because of the Enfield case. Writing in Education Sir William Alexander said: This Enfield Bill, as it will come to be called, gives effect to the promise made by the Secretary of State, which was that he would not appeal against the interlocutory injunctions granted by the Court … This comes about because of the valiant fight of the Enfield parents. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) who felt that it was all the parents' fault that there was trouble in Enfield. Had it not been for their fight, we should not have this legislation, because, by their actions and their determination, they showed that the rights of parents have to be heeded. Practically every hon. Member will agree with that.

The Government have only themselves to blame. I do not blame the present Secretary of State, because he was not in charge at the time of the issue of Circular 10/65, which is one of the root causes of the trouble and the political bitterness in education today. I deplore this, because, as far as possible, education should not be a political subject. That circular asked local education authorities to prepare a completely new secondary school system within a year, but without any extra money.

Some people are completely opposed to comprehensive schools—we must face this fact—but an enormous number of people are opposed to getting what they call comprehensive education "on the cheap."They are perfectly happy about purpose-built comprehensive schools serving an area. What they are deeply unhappy about is having linked together two schools, perhaps one or two miles apart, which are then called a comprehensive school. Circular 10/65 was a thoroughly bad circular and the party opposite will soon realise the wisdom of the saying" Act in haste: repent at leisure", although, since my return, I have seen little sign of repentance by hon. Members opposite.

The Bill comes about because of the actions of the Enfield parents. They were astonished at the speed with which the local council and the Department moved. They were not the only ones, because anyone who has ever dealt with Government Departments knows that they usually take a very long time to act. Then, the London Borough Council elections were postponed until May of next year. After the losses inflicted on the party opposite in April and May of this year, one realises why. I can assure them, however, that the holocaust has only been delayed and we will wait with interest to see how the people give judgment on the way in which they were deprived of their right to vote this year.

In view of all this, the Enfield parents felt that their ony recourse was to fight their battle in the courts. The courts decided that, for eight schools in Enfield, no public notices in accordance with Section 13 of the 1944 Education Act had been issued, because the Council said that the Minister had advised it that no notices were required for those schools. As Lord Denning rightly said: The advice of the Minister is not law. Now we have this Bill, aimed at clearing up the confusion. If it becomes law, it will concede the point raised by the Enfield parents and will give parents and local government electors the right to lodge objections to any proposals to make changes in the character and size of existing schools by requiring specific notices of such proposals under Section 13 although they do not constitute the establishment of new schools.

The Bill goes even further, because Clause 1(4) proposes that it should operate retrospectively to 1st April, 1945, which was when the 1944 Act came into effect. Generally, I am opposed to retrospective legislation, which worries me, but I agree in this case with the Minister and with the editorial in Education on 1st September, 1967: What about authorities which have already done as Enfield proposed without issuing notices?…Will they be challenged at a district audit for spending money on maintained schools which have been established illegally? In fairness, to safeguard these people, who acted in good faith, this legislation must certainly be retrospective.

Clause 2 deals with standards of school building. The 1944 Act contained the phrase, "… having regard to the shortage of labour or materials ". Of course, in the immediate post-war years, shortage of labour and materials was of great importance, but times have changed and it was no doubt right to delete those words and insert instead: … having regard to the need to control public expenditure in the interests of the national economy… This makes sense, because we can spend on education only what the national economy can afford. If we can strengthen the economy, we will be able to afford more, and I am very worried whether the present economic crisis will mean that we will not be able to spend sufficient to keep the expanding educational building programme which the country needs.

I return in conclusion to my complaint—it is obviously that of the Minister of State as well—that I found the Bill almost unintelligible. I was consoled not only by what the right hon. Lady said but by the fact that almost every educational journal has complained about this. I would commend to the right hon. Gentleman an extract from the current edition of The Times Educational Supplement, which states: A study of the new Education Bill has given rise to strong observations from the National Secular Society. 'The least literate of Ministries,' it says, ' has now produced a Bill which will be intelligible only to minds that have never emerged from fetid bureaucratic cellars'. Since I found it unintelligible to begin with, that extract raised my morale no end because for once I was on the side of the angels.

5.20 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Price (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Anybody who has seen the Department of Education and Science may have some sympathy with the National Secular Society when it describes the Bill as having emerged from "fetid bureaucratic cellars ", for the accommodation into which we put our education civil servants is some of the very worst in Government Departments.

My first comments must be about the Enfield judgments. It has been wisely said that the Bill is unintelligible, but I suggest that it is a picture of clarity compared with some of Mr. Justice Donaldson's judgments which he handed down last summer in his various pronouncements about Enfield Grammar School, particularly about building regulations. It is not right or proper in this place to criticise judgments made in the High Court, but I believe that those judgments were such that it was perfectly right that a Bill should have been immediately introduced to clear up a lot of muddle which was created simply by the very perverse decisions of Mr. Justice Donaldson, which I do not—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. It cannot be in order to accuse a judge of the High Court of giving a perverse decision. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that adjective.

Mr. Price

I immediately withdraw any implication that I should not have made. Suffice to say that those judgments needed a Bill immediately to clear them up, and that many of the misunderstandings that need clearing up arose out of those judgments. I say no more than that and, before I tread further on any High Court toes, I turn to some other aspects of the matter.

I accept the Bill, somewhat reluctantly, because I feel that a new education Measure, and a far wider one, is urgently needed. However, I fear that the Bill will only postpone still further into the dim and distant middle or late 'seventies the day when we actually get our new education Measure. All this uncertainty about Enfield has been created because the 1944 Act is based on schools and not on the needs of children. It is so based because it was a necessary, I believe magnificent, compromise between the Church and the State, a compromise which no other country in Europe has succeeded in creating. To that extent it was a magnificent Act.

Because the 1944 Act was so utterly obsessed with the rights of particular schools to exist in the state in which they had always existed, it created—and, as long as it is the basis of the law on education, it will continue to create—constant difficulties. I therefore ask the Minister to ensure that this Measure in no way postpones the preparation of a new and comprehensive education Bill to bring the whole of our education scene, from the infants and nursery schools right up to higher education, up to date.

In this Bill the word "character" has been more rigidly defined—again, under pressure from Mr. Justice Donaldson in his High Court judgments—than ever before. I regret this because the word "character" appeared in the 1944 Act for one purpose only; to assuage the fears of Nonconformist and Church of England headmasters that their schools would be taken over as county schools by the State and their religious character destroyed. The word "Character" in the 1944 Act was never intended to apply to where a school was a grammar, comprehensive or secondary modern school. One can go further. There was a lot of discussion before the 1944 Act was passed about whether or not the definitions of "secondary school" should be included in the Act. Because of the efforts of a very far-sighted band of Labour hon. Members in Parliament during the war years, all mention of different types of secondary school was kept out of the Act, which finally simply referred to "secondary schools ".

In the light of that, to introduce in a new Bill, more than 20 years later, the word "character" as being an important element of a secondary school—an element needing a tremendous amount of discussion—is something quite alien to the ideas of the 1944 Act. It is perverting the purpose of the meaning of the word "character" compared with the meaning it held when it first came into that Act.

The effect of the Bill will be to make the issuing of Section 13 notices far more numerous than before. This does not matter all that much; indeed, I do not know how many hon. Members have seen a Section 13 notice. It is a piece of scruffy paper written in unintelligible language—far more unintelligible than this Measure—and three copies of it must be displayed by the authority. Each of the three copies must be placed in a different place. One must appear on the door of the school.

I recall that a Section 13 notice was issued in respect of the school at which I was teaching. The school had been enlarged, and so on, and the notice was issued. It being quite a large secondary school, with 25 doors, the headmaster had to decide on which door to stick it. Eventually he pasted it up on one of the doors, but as a result of a cold snap with some snow, in addition to some larking around on the part of the students, the notice did not stay in place for more than three days.

It is usual to place the second copy on the notice board in the education office. A mixed batch of notices always appears on these boards, including official notices about newspaper deliveries, health clinics and so on. The Section 13 notice was stuck on this board, but it quickly became covered by other notices and I doubt very much whether many people saw it, let alone read it.

The third copy must appear in the form of a single insertion in the columns of the local newspaper. Normally, the notice appears in the column containing law announcement; and I doubt very much if it is noticed. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) will agree that the vast majority —probably well over 95 per cent.—of the Section 13 notices issued have never been objected to, the reason being that nobody, or virtually nobody, ever sees or reads them.

If we are to have a Section 13 notice procedure, it might have been a good idea in this Measure to have made it more sensible and intelligent, perhaps by ensuring that the headmasters and staff are brought into the job of consulting parents. To assume that to insist on local authorities publishing Section 13 notices is to give parents enormous democratic rights is an entirely false assumption. Local education authorities which want to avoid trouble—this implies to the vast majority of them—know how and when to go about issuing these notices to make sure that the vast majority of the notices are never objected to.

I do not think this will make much difference one way or the other in satisfying people that parents' rights are being catered for. It will make it much more difficult for a local education authority which is fulfilling the national policy for education—that is, comprehensive education. It is the Minister's duty under the 1944 Act to lay down a national policy for education. It will make it more difficult for those authorities to operate because of the nuisance of issuing these notices. Sometimes, because of the way of issuing the notices, important plans may be held up for six months, but this will not affect authorities which are defying the national policy for education and do not intend to do anything about their secondary schools but to leave them as they are.

No one expected this Bill to force authorities to comply with the national policy as laid down. It is important that we should note that this is the effect of the Bill. It makes it all the more urgent to legislate quickly to make clear that we have a national policy for education and that authorities should follow it. The 1944 Act gave the Minister, now the Secretary of State, very strong and stringent powers over education. It says: to secure the effective execution by local education authorities, under his control and direction, of the national policy for providing a varied and comprehensive educational service in every area. Those are very stringent and wide-ranging powers to give any Minister in any field.

In the days of the 1944 Act, it was assumed that it would be very easy to exercise those powers because the system of percentage grants operated and enabled previous Ministers very quickly to bring rebel local education authorities to heel. They could simply be threatened that they could not get any more for current expenditure on any project which the Minister did not like. It was very easy in those days to direct education from the centre. Ever since 1958, when the Conservatives gave away that central power of direction by bringing in the general grant for local education authorities, it has been difficult for the Minister or the Secretary of State to exercise his powers under the 1944 Act. That is another reason why we urgently need legislation to enable him to carry out powers over which he has not financial control but which were used before 1958. That is one more reason why I hope that we shall have a far more comprehensive Education Bill in the near future.

A lot of pure hypocrisy is spoken about building standards and about not wanting comprehensive schools to be started in sub-standard buildings. The brutal truth is that we have a lot of sub-standard buildings in our education system as it stands. The argument we hear from hon. Members opposite tends to be that substandard buildings are all right for secondary modern schools which exist at the moment and have existed for 20 years in them. The moment we try to shift children about, often by producing a two-tier comprehensive system whereby every child has a few years' life in a modern building, we have a tremendous howl about inadequate premises and sub-standard buildings. Those premises have been there for 20 years and hon. Members opposite have made no complaint about them.

Mr. Montgomery

The hon. Member has got it wrong. I was not complaining about this. My right hon. Friend and I were complaining about having two schools a distance apart and saying that that comprised a comprehensive school.

Mr. Price

That was not the point I was arguing about. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth raised the problem about putting comprehensive schools in sub-standard buildings. No doubt we shall hear of this again. We have a stock of buildings for secondary schools. We can add to and improve that stock as fast as national resources allow. How we arrange the children in those buildings does not either increase or diminish the stock of good or bad buildings. It very often makes a far fairer and juster distribution of the experience which children have in one sort of building or another.

5.36 p.m.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

Disraeli once said: I marvel at my moderation. I marvel at the moderation in which the Opposition have conducted themselves in this debate, bearing in mind that only a few weeks ago the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) was proclaiming that a vital issue of principle was at stake, an essential freedom was being trodden into the dust, and that it was a matter of greatest importance which had led to the winning of the West Walthamstow by-election. I thought it all nonsense then, and I do now.

We have seen a complete metamorphosis in the Opposition, which has decided to support retrospective legislation which will allow many more such schemes as that of Enfield to go through and to legalise many which have gone through unchallenged so far. If the Enfield scheme was an attack on liberty, I ask the Opposition why they do not think this Bill is an attack on liberty. I can only suppose that the change has taken place because the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) has managed to get a little sanity into the proceedings.

I support the Bill wholeheartedly. There are one or two reservations I make, but I support it basically because it will make our system of government more efficient and will enable the Secretary of State to administer the educational system more efficiently. It will strengthen local democracy. I hope to see eventually an overhaul of the relationship of central and local government as a result of the reform of local government. I hope that will come about in the not too distant future. We may need a new Education Bill then to sort out the problems which arise, and it may be better to leave them until that time.

I want to see a devolution of these powers which are essential to local democracy, but until that time this Bill is welcome. It is wrong to hold up good education schemes against the wishes of the majority merely because of pressure groups. I would be the last to say that pressure groups should not be allowed to make their point known, but they must not be allowed totally to frustrate the purposes of properly elected local democracy.

The Bill goes on to make some further provisions for consultation of parents and teachers. This is of immense importance, as indeed the Plowden Report emphasised. I want to see much more participation in decisions, not only in education but in every other field, by as many people as possible. I hope that the Secretary of State will give some thought to possible new methods whereby consultation can be made meaningful.

Unfortunately, far too often in my experience, consultation has meant a town meeting to which the local chief education officer together with the chairman of the education committee come down and deliver statements, and the public go away with no feeling of having debated the issue or of having participated in consultation. Some thought needs to be given to new methods by which the public can participate in such discussion.

My reservations are primarily concerned with Clause 2. I do not hold for one moment that we should wait upon ideal conditions in buildings, before going over to non-selective systems. I believe, other things being equal, that education in a non-selective school always will be better than that in a selective school.

There are many schemes which will improve the quality of education, even though the buildings will still be substandard, but it is essential to ensure that the new school will not in any way be inferior in its buildings to the existing schools which it replaces.

Hon. Members have referred to the lack of cash. This is one reason why we have to talk about sub-standard buildings and accept the fact that there are some. One other reason why there are sub-standard buildings and why there will remain sub-standard buildings for very much longer than is necessary is the decision to raise the school-leaving age in 1970. I believe that many schools after 1970 will be inadequate in their buildings because of this decision. Many schools which could be made adequate shortly after 1970 will remain inadequate for a further decade or so.

Because of this decision, in my constituency two towns—Bude and Wade-bridge—which passionately want to go ever to non-selective education, will remain selective for the best part of 10 years, unless pressure which can be brought to bear upon the Government makes them change their mind.

There is a two-party conspiracy here. We shall never get this system changed unless both the major parties are prepared jointly to change their minds. Education is caught in a party political trap. Because the Conservative Party made the decision, the Labour Government feel that they cannot go back on it because, if they did, they would be accused by the Conservative Opposition of having failed to keep Conservative promises. I believe that the Secretary of State and the right hon. Member for Handsworth know deep down that the act of raising the leaving age cannot be performed without seriously endangering educational standards.

What about the primary schools? What about the sub-standard buildings? What about the kids in classes of 40 or more? Are not these more important than raising the leaving age? I believe that they are. I believe that the Government should recognise that. I believe that the Tory Opposition should also recognise that.

The Secretary of State's predecessor said something to the effect that any back pedalling by the Government on this issue would cause widespread dismay in common rooms. I do not know which commons rooms he has been in. In the common rooms which I have visited in the last few months it would not be widespread dismay. It would be widespread relief which would be felt as a result of a change in this decision. Therefore, I appeal to the Secretary of Slate and to the Conservative Party to be sensible about it.

Mr. Christopher Price

The hon. Gentleman has spoken of a two-party conspiracy. I understand that the Liberal Party is against this now. How much concern does the Liberal Party feel for the 15-year-old school leavers, mainly, centred in the North and the North-East, who, if the leaving age is not raised, will be deprived of the education which they would otherwise receive?

Mr. Pardoe

They will not be deprived of anything that can meaningfully be called education. Keeping children on for one year in schools which are themselves not adequate—that is what will happen—will not better them one little bit. There is a real danger that many of them will become "dead end kids", because they will be frustrated by the experience of an extra year in schools which are inferior. That is why I am against this.

In any case, if we go on with the process towards comprehensive education, it very largely solves the problem. Seventy per cent, of all children in comprehensive schools are now staying on the extra year or more. Therefore, if we hasten through this process and spend money on reorganising secondary education on non-selective lines, we will to a very large extent cure the problem.

I offer an alternative which is substantially cheaper. I hope that both the Secretary of State and the right hon. Member for Handsworth will consider this. I say that we should substitute the decision to raise the leaving age by 1970 by compulsory part-time further education up to the age of 18. I believe that we could do this for less money. We could do it with exit ting facilities to a very large extent. It would be within the terms of the Education Act, 1944, which made provision for it. I believe that it would be a better system altogether.

Finally, the Secretary of State is being given increased powers by the Bill. By increasing his powers we also increase his social responsibility. I am sure he realises that he will have even greater responsibility for ensuring that these increased powers are used well, for the betterment of education and for the benefit of children. I hope that, where it is necessary for him to use his new powers, he will use them to ensure excellent standards of education.

5.47 p.m.

Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, North)

I appreciate the necessity for the introduction of the Bill, but I do not wish to enter into the controversy about the maverick activities of the Enfield Parents Association and whether they really brought about the introduction of the Bill or otherwise. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has his story and I am prepared to believe him.

One of the important things is that we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater. One of the contributions which the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery) made and with which I had some sympathy was his statement that the Bill is well nigh unintelligible to the layman. In matters of education I hold myself to be a layman, but I was fortified in deciding to press the point I have in mind by the general agreement accorded to the hon. Gentleman's remark by both sides of the House.

I seek an assurance from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that there is nothing in the Bill which will prevent my constituents from exercising, if they wish, the same control over the maverick activities of those who now control the Inner London Education Authority, as they previously exercised. If my right hon. Friend cannot give me that assurance, I ask him at least to assure me that there is nothing in the Bill that will prevent him, if he so wishes, from exercising a firm control over the maverick activities of that body, as it has emerged since last May.

I use that adjective to describe the Authority's activities advisedly. I believe that we can know people by the company they keep. I got to know Mr. Christopher Chataway as a very worthy opponent at the General Election. When Mr. Chataway sat on the Treasury Bench and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) used to hold his hand, he made intelligent noises from time to time. I very much regret to say that he has fallen amongst bad company since. I very much regret to have to say that there has been a continual deterioration in political character ever since last May when he assumed his present office.

If I may give an example of the sort of thing I have in mind, I have in my constituency Brockley County School, which is a good grammar school. If one accepts the philosophy which gives rise to grammar schools, one can have very little objection indeed to the existence of Brockley County School. But the time came for reorganisation of large areas of secondary education in London, and the proposal was made by the previous Inner London Education Authority, which existed until last May, to merge this grammar school into a comprehensive school.

I was glad to hear the intervention by the hon. Member for Brierley Hill in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price). The hon. Gentleman said that there could be no objection to purpose-built comprehensive schools and that what he and his right hon. and hon. Friends were opposed to were botched-up comprehensive schools. I can assure them that, even if there were such a thing as a botched-up comprehensive scheme—and I am not entirely convinced of it—they could not possibly object to the comprehensive scheme which was to succeed Brockley County School. Near the existing Brockley County School there was a vacant site, and there was to be a purpose-built comprehensive school on that site for the pupils of Brockley County School and some other schools in the area.

There were people misled by right hon. and hon. Members opposite before last May, by the thought that, if they voted for their friends so that they became the government of London, their grammar schools would be restored to them, as the phrase often goes. Then, following the election and the return of the Conservative Party to the government of the Inner London Education Authority, a brutal shock awaited many of their erstwhile supporters. The grammar school was not restored. Instead, we have a scheme for the truncation of the grammar school and the substitution therefor of a sixth form college.

I shall not prolong the debate unnecessarily by entering into the pros and cons of the philosophy of sixth form colleges. But it seems to me that to convert an existing good grammar school into a sixth form college cannot be done by any means other than those which will cause the upmost upheaval to the pupils actually in the school at a given time. Some pupils will be going through the school while the whole character of the school which they entered is changed around them. Either they will find forms falling away behind them, the number of pupils going through their normal education being sharply cut away and the school itself gradually becoming vacant until the time comes to convert it fully to a sixth form college, or, on the other hand, they will find themselves gradually swamped by a number of older boys or girls, as the case may be.

It is for this reason that the voters of Lewisham are opposed to this scheme, the parents of Lewisham who are involved are opposed to it, and the community generally is opposed to it. I oppose it, too.

The chairman of the Inner London Education Authority came to Lewisham Town Hall to hold a public meeting and consult parents and people who are interested. The parents have said, in effect, that they want none of this scheme for a sixth form college at Brockley County School. In passing, I can tell my right hon. Friend that the people at that meeting have not opted for the original Labour I.L.E.A. scheme for a comprehensive school on the site near Brockley County School.

Everyone who went to that meeting came away with the firm conclusion that the Inner London Education Authority, having listened to the representations of all in Lewisham who are interested in this matter, intends to go straight ahead with the scheme, which it has put out, for the conversion of this excellent grammar school into a sixth form college, in contravention of the wishes of Conservatives in Lewisham who wanted the restoration of their grammar school, in contravention of the wishes of Labour supporters in Lewisham who want the comprehensive scheme to go ahead, and in contravention of the generally expressed view of a mixed body of the public who, also, want the comprehensive scheme to go ahead.

There is, therefore, general opposition to the scheme, and it is for this reason that I hope that we may look to my right hon. Friend, when the times comes, to restore the voice of sanity to the subject of Lewisham's secondary education.

5.55 p.m.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

I hope that the House has not been as bored as I have been by that constituency speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle). I shall return to the subject matter of the Bill. It would have been refreshing if the hon. Gentleman had read the Bill beforehand. If he had, he would have realised that it does not touch the situation into which he went in such depth. However, lest it should, conceivably, be thought that his view of the changed Inner London Education Authority is a general one, I shall briefly give my own experience as a chairman of governors within the Inner London Education Authority area.

Mrs. Renée Short

I am wondering why the hon. Gentleman should have complained about my hon. Friend's speech.

Mr. van Straubenzee

The experience which I am about to give does not arise in my constituency. That is the difference. I have nothing whatever to gain constituency-wise.

As chairman of governors of such a school, I was faced with a proposal from the former Inner London Education Authority which involved the reorganisation of the school together with two others in South London, each a mile away from the other. We were faced with proposals which would have resulted in a school in three parts, each one mile from the other—a triangle of buildings. The hon. Member for Lewisham, North does not think that such a botched-up scheme exists. It does.

My charge against the party opposite is that, by this kind of botched-up scheme, the direct forerunner of this Bill, incidentally, it has done immeasurable harm to the very cause of comprehensive schooling in practice. This is the practical experience of people who have had to do these things on the ground. Lest anyone should say that this is only a passing phase, I can tell the House further, basing myself strictly on practical experience, of what officials have very frankly said. I think that the hon. Gentleman and I would at least agree that, in terms of officials, the I.L.E.A. probably has the highest standard of any local education authority. The officials dealing very frankly with myself and others have assured me that such a botched-up scheme could last for no less than 20 years. I ask the hon. Gentleman to envisage the attitude of mind of parents, staff, administrators and governors faced with a project of that kind.

When history comes to be written, it will be said that one of the biggest mistakes ever made in education was Circular 10/65—the insistence that, within a year, reorganisation schemes should be submitted to the Secretary of State, but with not an extra brass farthing to pay for them. I am sure that, when the time comes, this will be looked back on as one of the most unwise acts of educational statesmanship ever perpetrated by a Secretary of State.

The situation we now have arises directly out of Enfield, though, as the Secretary of State reminded us with great frankness, it is not in one sense directly relevant to Enfield. It arises out of Enfield because, plainly, the Bill would not have been before us otherwise. We are, in a sense, wasting valuable Parliamentary time in dealing with what has been received by some hon. Members opposite with disappointment. We are spending useful Parliamentary time on a comparatively small and detailed Bill.

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) has now left the Chamber. What a change there is in Liberal hon. Members since they got a kick up the backside from their own supporters! It is very refreshing to see them enlighten our debate. I am sorry to refer to the hon. Gentleman in his absence, but he had plainly not understood either that the Bill is the Little Tich that it is, or that it does not deal essentially with the Enfield problem. What it does is to strengthen the position of parents, and that is why it would be very surprising if there were opposition to it from our benches. When it first peeped its nose out of the stable I thought that it was conceivably a horse with a kick in it, in that it might contain provisions, about which we have sometimes heard from hon. Members opposite, to make recalcitrant authorities take steps in comprehensive education by compulsion. But that is not so. There have been some plaintive cries for such a Bill, but we do not find it here. That is why there is a general welcome on this side of the House.

I had better make it quite clear, since we all know how the electoral tide is running, that it will considerably strengthen the hand of a Conservative Secretary of State against a Socialist local authority which puts up a scheme that is unacceptable to him. It may have occurred to hon. Members opposite that that is another reason why, looking a year or two ahead, we shall be very happy to have it on the Statute Book.

Having been a bit waspish with the Secretary of State, who does not look very worried about such waspishness as I have directed at him, I should like to pay him a very warm compliment. I suspect, knowing a little about the workings of these matters, that he may have had a bit of a struggle to persuade his legal advisers to allow us to have Schedule 3, that is, to have the various Sections of previous Acts set out with the Amendments in heavy type, so that we can see what they will say when the Bill becomes an Act. I have no idea whether he did have that struggle, but if so I warmly commend him on his initiative. In any case he is responsible. I hope that he will, as the long-standing student of government that we know him to be, pass the concept on to some of his right hon. colleagues. It would be particularly helpful, for example, in the Finance Bill— though I must not stray out of order. I want him to know that his doing this has not passed unnoticed. It is very helpful, particularly when we are dealing with a simple and human matter in education.

But I part company with him on retrospection, and clearly I also part company in emphasis with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Sir E. Boyle). We may have chances of debating this in more detail if I am selected to serve on the Committee. I do not like retrospective legislation—period. I believe retrospective legislation is not offensive in principle. I admittedly see a distinction in applying in a backward direction a law that is different from what everybody believed it to be at the time, as compared with stating the law as having been what everyone thought that it was. I do not generally care for backward looks by the House in legislation, and I cannot believe that it is necessary in this case. When one tries to consider what cases may be affected, surely one cannot see any case where it is now likely that an application for an injunction, for example, could be granted? I see the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) nodding. He has great experience of these matters. Perhaps on another occasion we shall have an opportunity of considering this, but he must put up a very good case to persuade me on retrospection. I do not believe that it is a good practice for the House, and, if we are to agree to it, it must be argued very powerfully. When my party were in Government, I did not care for retrospective legislation any the more because it came from us.

I believe that, broadly speaking, the provisions of the Bill are wise. There are some details which we shall want to consider more fully, particularly because, if educational opinion runs as it seems to be running, we shall be examining a considerable number of new kinds of reorganisation as time goes on. I was very disappointed by the intensely conservative view of a sixth form college taken by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North. I have attended almost every education debate since 1959, and they often run across party lines. I must spend the necessary 6d. or 1s. to buy the hon. Gentleman a recent excellent pamphlet en the issue written by Mr. Simon Jenkins, one of the ablest educational commentators. It is published by the Conservative Political Centre, but I know that that will not put the hon. Gentleman off.

If I am right—and I am attracted by the general concept—there will be a number of other such reorganisation schemes of a very fundamental nature which should be closely considered under the terms of the Bill. We should not allow ourselves to think merely in terms of comprehensive secondary education as we understand the phrase at present. If I am sure of anything, it is that local con- ditions, backgrounds and traditions vary so much that it is very dangerous for either party in this dispute—I do not use the word "party" in a political sense —to seek to apply to every given circumstance a certain blanket solution. I have said before that it is a subject which above all others requires a certain degree of humility among Parliamentarians. We may not know all the answers. For that reason I welcome the powers which the Secretary of State—

Mr. Moyle

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to be unfair. If he reads my speech he will find that I said that I did not want to enter into a discussion of the philosophy of sixth-form colleges as against other philosophies, and for that reason I deliberately confined my remarks to a particular aspect of the sixth-form college scheme which had been put before us in Lewisham.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I hope that I have not been unfair, and I do not think that I have. The hon. Gentlemen's objection was that at any one time there must be passing through the school a generation who will be, he feels, adversely affected by the institution of a sixth-form college. That is so, but it is also true of any other reorganisation scheme covered by the Bill. For example, it would also have been true of the scheme which I have mentioned.

Mr. Moyle

I am sorry that this is becoming a bit of a duologue, but I spoke of the specific case where an existing school was converted to a sixth-form college. I made no reference to any case where a sixth-form college might be specially built or provided in some other way.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I must avoid the temptation of carrying this discussion too far or we may both bore both sides of the House, but if the Selection Committee does the work which we hope it will do we may have ample opportunities to discuss at great length the merits of the case, so long as we are both in order.

Broadly, I approve of the powers proposed to be taken under the Bill. They are very different from what many people outside believe them to be, although they would never have come before the House but for the Secretary of State's behaviour in the legal conflict. It was a most unhappy position for any Secretary of State to get himself into. But when he had got himself into it this was really the only thing he could do. I hope that we shall make it as easy for him as we reasonably can.

6.10 p.m.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

I cannot continue the bipartisan approach of the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). I do not agree with anything he said about the Bill. He was good at choosing adjectives and was, indeed, waspish, but I do not suppose that my right hon. Friend is worried much about that.

The Bill is overshadowed by considerations of the Enfield situation. Bearing in mind what I wish to say about conditions in another part of the country, I am surprised by the speech of the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery) because, in the West Midlands, the education scene is reverberating with the misdeeds and suggestions being put forward by Walsall and Wolverhampton Borough Councils, which, unfortunately and alas, are now both Conservative controlled, and where established comprehensive schools are being undermined and destroyed by the Conservative education committees.

In April, 1966, there was a local government reorganisation in the West Midlands. Before then, the Staffordshire County Council, also Conservative controlled but surprisingly extremely intelligent about comprehensive schools, had built comprehensive schools in the area and has set up others. With the reorganisation, some of these areas, and, therefore, some of the schools, came into Wolverhampton County Borough and some went into Walsall.

Very soon after, the staffs of the existing comprehensive schools in the West Midlands met my right hon. Friend's predecessor and expressed their concern about what might happen if politically motivated men took control of the local authorities at the forthcoming local elections.

Mr. Montgomery

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Short

Not at this stage.

They expressed concern lest these men launched an attack on the comprehensive schools. Those fears are now being realised because last spring's local elections led to Wolverhampton Borough Council becoming Conservative controlled and the education committee has passed a resolution which gives parents in the area of the Smestow and Regis comprehensive schools the option to send their children to one of the several selective grammar schools which still exist in Wolverhampton and which the Conservatives are unwilling to change into comprehensive schools.

This has brought protests from the united teaching profession throughout the area—there is no argument about that. I have received deputations from teachers at the various schools and deputations sent by all the teachers. I have also received deputations of parents and have had a large number of letters. Meetings have been held in the comprehensive schools attended by between 400 and 500 parents and they passed resolutions condemning in effect the action of the local education authority.

When I asked my right hon. Friend last week what action he intended to take, he said that there was nothing he could do, that he had to act within the law as it was and that this was a matter for the local education authority. I hope, therefore, that, in the case of established comprehensive schools, the Bill will give him power to prevent local education authorities from destroying established and purpose-built comprehensive schools.

The Regis school was established 12 years ago. It was purpose-built and is internationally renowned. Visitors come from many other countries and from other parts of this country to see it. Its headmaster was knighted for services to education and no one in the area, I believe, supports the education committee in what it is proposing to do.

The chairman of the education committee has said that parents do not need to opt to send their children to selective grammar schools in the area but even if only a small percentage of the children in the area, as a matter of self-defence because the parents are uncertain about the future of the schools, are sent to the selective grammar schools, it will mean doubt generally about the standing of the comprehensive schools, their status and educational achievement. If any of the leaders of the school community—any of the pace-setters—are withdrawn from any comprehensive school, this is undermining comprehensive education and the ideal behind the whole system. Therefore, it is essential that the nature of these schools and the area they serve should remain as they are.

There is also the question of the breach of faith to the parents who have sent their children to these comprehensive schools believing that they would get a good comprehensive education with all the advantages this brings and who are now finding that, in effect, the schools are likely to be changed unless the Secretary of State is empowered to intervene. These parents feel badly let down. Many of them were opponents of comprehensive schools but, since they have seen the advantages—educational, physical and menial—which have accrued to their children since then, they are now ardent supporters.

The hon. Member for Brierley Hill spoke about the valiant fight of parents in the Enfield area to protect their schools. What about the valiant fight of parents in the area served by the Regis and Smestow schools? Does not he support them? I am amazed that he did not say a word about that.

Mr. Montgomery

The hon. Lady is correct. This matter does also come within my constituency. If she were as diligent in her constituency as she is in mine the result would be seen at the next election, but if she wants to fight me in Brierley Hill, let her do so. I should welcome it. The Wolverhampton Borough Council, before the last local elections, was not controlled by apolitical people, but by a political party. Unfortunately, the Conservatives put in their election manifesto a pledge to allow selection or choice of schools—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must be brief. He has already made a speech.

Mrs. Short

I am not interested in representing Brierley Hill. The hon. Gentleman has nothing to fear from me. What he says about the election campaign of his supporters and party friends is so, but neither parents nor teachers who have the interests of education at heart imagined that the Conservative majority would carry out these proposals in the way they have done—without one word of consultation either with parents or with teachers. This is why there is so much outcry, quite justifiably, against these proposals which will affect Regis and Smestow schools.

The position was different when the local authority was Labour controlled, because it was in the process of producing a scheme to present to the Secretary of State. It produced a "White Paper" and consulted all interested organisations, which were invited to submit their ideas. This is in contrast with what the Conservatives have done since they came to office.

This is the problem of established comprehensive schools, but now we have the problem of schools which were to become comprehensive under the council's proposals which are now likely to be prevented from becoming comprehensive unless my right hon. Friend insists that the original scheme goes through, and I am not certain whether the Bill gives him power to deal with this problem. In my constituency there are two schools which are due to become comprehensive. One is the Northicote School and the other consists of two schools built on the same site—none of this business about schools being two miles apart which the Opposition now find as their main objection to comprehensive schools —which were due to amalgamate to form one large 10-form entry comprehensive school.

The Conservative education committee has implemented a decision to reduce the intake to these schools so that there is a creaming off and selection in what was a comprehensive catchment area. There are now about 25 children of grammar school ability going to grammar schools in the centre of Wolverhampton. This has changed the nature of the area and I wonder whether my right hon. Friend is quite happy about Schedule 3(10), or whether something should be added about the territorial intake, or geographical area, or parental choice, to make sure that there are no loopholes in this legislation.

At a meeting of the grammar—Technical school, which is one half of the two schools which were to be the ten-form entry school in my constituency. the Conservative chairman of the education committee was summoned to a simmering meeting of the staff to defend the indefensible proposals of this committee. The House may be interested to hear how he regards comprehensive education. He said: I have often tried to imagine the Comprehensive School like a big Department Store in which you can obtain all sorts of goods under one roof and which has a bargain basement of course, a fashion department on the top floor and it can cater for all tastes and pockets. He also said, at the meeting of the education committee where this decision was made: The choice was whether to featherbed the comprehensives by allowing people to move away from them or whether to allow parents an element of choice. If that is not hypocritical humbug in the extreme, I do not know what is. He regards comprehensive education as a commercial proposition like setting up and organising a department store, and that is the nadir of criticism.

This reference to freedom of choice is always brought in, but we know perfectly well that these proposals will bring back selection and set the clock back 20 years. We know that whether children go to grammar schools is not decided just as a matter of parental choice, but according to the choice of the authority, based on a selective examination.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to reassure me about the suggestion that the Schedule should be amended to ensure that proposals based on territorial intake will in future be absolutely cast iron.

6.24 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

We have had a short and brisk debate and as it draws to an end I am left wishing that the Government's education policy were as crisp, relevant and attractive as some of the speeches we have listened to today, instead of being as diffuse, muddled and obscure as the Bill.

I want to refer particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester) who emerged with such distinction from the ordeal of his maiden speech. The whole House appreciated his graceful reference to his pre- decessor, Mr. Redhead, and the combination of modesty of manner with confidence and competence in the materials which he handled. We shall certainly all look forward to hearing him again in debates on this and other subjects.

Obviously, the Opposition will not vote against a Bill which substantially is a memorial to the courage and persistence of the parents of Enfield; but one wishes that it were a more artistically satisfying memorial. One can spare a moment to be slightly sorry for the right hon. Gentleman who is only an ogre by inheritance, or perhaps one should say by continuance. His predecessor had the knock-about fun and left him with the bills, including this one. I would have had more sympathy for the right hon. Gentleman having to pick up his right hon. Friend's chestnuts if he had not, in an excess of repetitive folly, stuck his burnt finger back into the fire for three days, in almost the same place, and burned it again.

The Bill has no direct connection with the second battle of Enfield, but indirectly it reflects it by its reference to articles of government in paragraph (2) of the Schedule! Personally, I see no objection in principle to a change in articles of government which is bound up with a change in the character of the school and reflects it being made in the same process as the change itself. That is merely replacing two operations by one. But I see some objection—I do not put it higher than that—to empowering the Secretary of State to make such variations as appear to him to be required, then providing, as is provided in lines 22 to 26 on page 6 of the Bill, that the exercise of this unfettered discretion shall be withdrawn from the right of the governors to make representations or objections. However, that is a matter at which we can look more carefully in Committee.

Some anxiety has been expressed about the retrospective element in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), in particular, referred to the doubts and hesitations which he feels about this. One always feels doubtful about retrospection in legislation and to some extent I share the doubts which have been expressed today. However, in fairness to the right hon. Gentleman I should say that I regard the retrospective element in the Bill rather as comparable to a Bill of indemnity covering past matters rather than as a retrospective provision in the sense of some which we have had in the past, like the famous Black and Lord cases. On the whole, my feeling is that any Government after the Enfield decision would have felt impelled to introduce a retrospective provision of approximately this character.

I do not quarrel with Clause 1. The exclusions in lines 13–20 on page 1 are, in general, acceptable and reasonable, but the right hon. Gentleman must have been mistaken when he intervened in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) to say that paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of Clause 1(1) referred only to the retrospective aspect of the Bill.

I think that I saw a telegram being sent from the Box shortly after that. He will realise, looking at Clause 1(5) that, though as it were, speaking now, their only effect is retrospective, after the summer term of 1968, they would be the current provisions. That being so my comment on that generally is that they are broadly reasonable in the light of the new words about "significant change in character" inserted in Section 13 of the principal Act by Clause l(2,a) and by the definition of those words set out in the new subsection 10 of the principle Act, printed at lines 28 to 34 on page 2.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) delivered a somewhat passionate oration about the meaning of "character". He was rather implying, although he did not quite put it that way, that his right hon. Friend had sold the pass of Thermopylae, or some other historic pass, and sought to imply, so far as Mr. Speaker would allow him, some criticism of the recent decision in the Enfield case.

The hon. Member has rather misunderstood that. As I understood the first Enfield case, there was nothing about the word "character" or its meaning, but it was to do with the duty of the authority to maintain and not cease to maintain a school. The word "character" and the comments about it which are to be found are all common law comments, namely that if one fundamentally changes the character of a school then one has ceased to maintain a school.

That is the sole relevance of the word "character". There is no question of an old statutory meaning from the 1944 Act being misinterpreted. With respect to the hon. Member, while I enjoyed his impassioned oration, as I enjoy all impassioned orations, from both sides of the House on all subjects, I thought that it did not have much to do with the Bill.

Mr. Christopher Price

We ought not to get too tied up in what Mr. Justice Donaldson did or did not say, or what he did or did not do. One of the things he had to decide was whether the Enfield Council was ceasing to maintain one school and opening a new school. Among the reasons which might constitute ceasing to maintain one school and the opening of a new one was a substantial change in character, as laid down in the Act.

Mr. Bell

I would agree with all of that except the words "as laid down in the Act". I am not going to be dogmatic on this because it is difficult to look through an Act while someone is speaking, but I am not sure that the words "change in character" appeared in the 1944 Act. Whether or not they do they have nothing to do with the Enfield decision.

What we have to remember in relation to this Bill is that his right hon. Friend is putting in these words as a new addition to the grounds on which a Section 13 notice can be served. It is, if I may respectfully say so, a very good addition, which fairly neatly meets the point which recently arose, providing some kind of answer to it.

As I understand the provisions of the Bill, the local education authority will have to submit proposals to the Minister under Section 13 of the 1944 Act if there is a proposal to make a single sex school a mixed school. That must be so. The parents will have their chance to object. The point which my right hon. Friend was making, and which rather got lost in the bad point about retrospection is that, by excluding change of sex from Clause 1 and putting it in only as part of the fundamental change of character, one leaves out the structural considerations, the need for specifications and plans. This is a matter deserving of thought and I imagine that it will receive this in Committee.

It is quite right that parents should have the opportunity, which the Secretary of State is proposing in the Bill, of lodging objections where there is a change in the sex composition of a school. Opinions vary a great deal about this. I think that it is usually a bad change from a single sex school to a mixed school, at least from the boys point of view, for public education, as distinct from the private education. This is because the main defect of the public sector is an inadequate element or monasticism. [Laughter.] I hoped that that would be provocative and I am not disappointed.

Segregation gives a degree of intensity and we are in great danger of producing rounded pebbles, good mixers and uncomplicated people, to act as prospective Parliamentary candidates for the benches opposite. However, I recognise that this is only one personal point of view. The important thing is that parents should have the opportunity of reacting, as the Bill provides. The same is true of the principle of selection, which is the topic that has engaged most of the time and attention during the debate.

My view may not be quite the same as some hon. Members opposite. I am not utterly devoted to the concept of selection at 11-plus. That has never seemed to me to be the point in the controversy, which is that opinions do vary about this and that every parent should, within the limits of what is geographically possible, be able to back his own fancy—

Mr. R. C. Mitchell, (Southampton, Test)

Can the hon. and learned Gentleman explain how, under the present selective system, a parent has a choice of sending his child to a grammar or secondary school? It surely depends upon examination. He may have a choice not to send his child to grammar school, but in no other way.

Mr. Bell

When the hon. Gentleman rose I hesitated a moment before giving way, because I was going on to say, and perhaps this will deal with this point— and have the chance of sending his child to a selective school if he prefers that and his child can get in, or to a non-selective school if he prefers that.

Unhappily, the Bill does not provide for that vital parental system of choice, but it at least allows the parent to object if a selective school is in danger of being made non-selective.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Or vice versa.

Mr. Bell

Or as the right hon. Gentleman says, or vice versa. He is anticipating political developments, which I thought it unkind to refer to at the moment.

Mr. Gordon Walker

It is logical.

Mr. Bell

How far the parents' objections will get them in practice will depend on the Secretary of State. He must consider their representations, but, having considered them, he may do what he likes. On page 6 of the Bill, lines 29 to 23, there is a provision on which I should comment. Again, in expressing some anxiety, I do not want to put it too high, but the right hon. Gentleman will see that it is provided that the question of what is a significant change is for him. In as much as he will decide in the end anyway, it may be thought that it hardly matters if he also decides whether he even has to consider it. But there is some ground for objection here.

It is not a matter of fearing bad faith. No one would suspect the right hon. Gentleman of other than the most excellent good faith. It is a matter of judgment. I do not see why parents or other local government electors should have to be satisfied on that point with the right hon. Gentleman's judgment. Besides, he may not hold his position for ever. One knows that the Prime Minister likes to have a certain amount of what is called in the steel industry "circulating scrap" in his Government. It might come round for one of them to have a turn at being Secretary of State for Education, and then we should have to be satisfied with his judgment. This, again, is a matter which we must consider.

The value of the right to object is the centre and crux of this controversy. Under the Bill, the check on change will be that the local education authority must propose and the Secretary of State must approve. Only if both are united against the parents can the parents be overborne; and the Minister is responsible to this House. That works well enough if the dominant party at Westminster is not doctrinally committed to the methods of the famous Procrustes. If, for five years, there is a Government devoted to destroying all selective schools, since local control and Westminster majorities often coincide—a thought which is bringing us comfort at the present time—these procedures may, in practice, be quite nugatory.

A Minister from whom has issued a circular like Circular 10/65 will overrule all objections from parents about selective schools. The circular, by implication, indicates that that would be so. What we need, therefore, is not only the additional procedure in the Bill, which is welcome enough in itself, but a national decision which would not be brushed aside by the swaying fortunes of politics each few years. Children are not the raw material for people who like to be called educationists. The hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton—I always forget which division she represents, although I know that it is not South-West—

Mrs. Renée Short


Mr. Bell

The hon. Lady was talking about pace setters, as though they were I he property of the educational theorists lather than people in their own right and whose parents might have views about them. As I say, these children are not the raw material for people who like to be called "educationists" and should not be moulded to execute any central decision about social purpose or the nature of the community, but should be variously educated in as many different systems as possible according to many different ideals and criteria.

In the wide range of modern public affairs, there is no other sphere in which variety, disagreement and difference are so important as they are in education. It is unreal to expect a central Government to arrange such variety. It can be attained only in freedom, and here freedom must mean principally freedom for parents. What a pity, then, that the Secretary of State did not use this opportunity to give some specific meaning and more binding effect to Section 76 of the Education Act, 1944, the side note to which somewhat optimistically states that the children are to be educated according to the wishes of their parents. It may not be too late. I imagine that a new Clause along those lines would be within the scope and Long Title of the Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman did that, he would make for himself a memorable and honourable place in British educational history.

The tragedy of much of this is that right hon. and hon. Members opposite do not, I believe, greatly disagree in their hearts with the general concept of variety and of freedom which I have outlined. They are trapped inside the unfortunate name "comprehensive schools". What they mean is "non-selective", and even that only in a limited sense, because the educationally subnormal, even though not ineducable, do not go to comprehensive schools. However, the word "comprehensive" bedevils their thinking. If any exception is permitted, the remainder will not be comprehensive.

"Comprehensive" has become a party talisman of hon. Members opposite. Yet a moment's thought should show them and the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, who developed this point in her speech, that a contention by one body of opinion claiming to bar all others on the ground that its particular preference can be attained only in abstract perfection by prohibiting all other preferences is hardly compatible with a free, varied and flexible society.

Finally, we accept the Bill on Second Reading with gratitude to the parents of Enfield and acknowledge—it would be churlish not to acknowledge—the rôle, perhaps the rôle of Ganymede, which has been discharged by the Secretary of State. In Committee, we shall seek to improve it and clarify it, give it a little red blood and fighting spirit—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am only halfway through the sentence—so that it may be a more worthy, useful and effective protection in education for the much bruised freedom of the general public.

6.49 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Alice Bacon)

I sympathise with those who found the Bill difficult to understand. However, it looks more complicated than it is. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that the setting out of Schedule 3 has been a very great help.

I should like, first, to congratulate the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester) on his maiden speech, which was very thoughtful. We on this side of the House, in particular, appreciated his reference to our late colleague, Mr. Edward Redhead.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that I would deal with several points. When I looked forward to the debate, I thought of the things which he might not cover in detail and with which I might deal, but I find that they have not figured at all in the debate, whereas others have. Therefore, I do not propose to deal with such things as special agreement schools, the points arising out of the London Government Act, 1963, the alteration about the procedure for changing articles of government of voluntary schools, which has been mentioned only in passing, nor the temporary additional accommodation for pupils in voluntary schools.

I thought that the whole of my speech would be devoted to these matters, but they are things which I think we must leave now for the Committee, and I will try as far as I can to answer the points which have been raised by those who have spoken.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) raised the question of the co-educational school and wondered why the change to or from a co-educational school did not constitute the school's being discontinued and a new one being established. As the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) has said, there is a difference here between what we have been legitimising in the past and what we are considering as the law for the future.

There is a question whether any particular change in the character of a school is or is not so fundamental as to constitute the replacing of the school by a new school. The Bill treats the replacement of a boys' school by a girls' school or vice versa as such a fundamental change—that is, that one school is closed and a new one opened; but the conversion of a single-sex school into a coeducational school is treated as a change in the character of a school. This is partly because it is a question of degree, for if we were to allow 20 boys into a girls' school of 300 I do not think that anybody would suggest that a new school would have been created. There is the question, where the line is to be drawn.

However, Section 13 notices are required in either case. The only difference is that in the direct change from a boys' to a girls' school or a girls' to a boys' school new legal entities emerge. The basis of the distinction can also be put in this way: the direct change necessarily involves a complete changes of the pupils. The other change might involve not more than a 50 per cent, change. I think this is something we can discuss in Committee, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see the reason for this difference.

Sir E. Boyle

Yes, but may I just explain the reason for my concern about that to the right hon. Gentleman— [Laughter.] I mean, the right hon. Lady, and I apologise to her and to the House. I apologise for having said this more than once, but the point is that no one doubts that parents will have opportunities of objecting in either case under Clause 1(2).

The question at issue is whether or not the local authority has to submit plans and specifications. Surely, in the case of a change to or from a boys' school to a girls' school or a mixed school, or a girls' school to a mixed school, there may be need for, say, new craftrooms —new physical provision. It was for that reason that I rather doubted whether this change should be exempt from the local authority's having to put forward plans and specifications.

Miss Bacon

Yes, I quite understand the point now, and it is one I am sure we can come back to in Committee.

The right hon. Gentleman said—and this has been echoed by other hon. Gentlemen opposite—that we would not have had the Bill if the Enfield parents had not taken action. It has been suggested, too, in some quarters, particularly in the Press, that the Bill has led Enfield parents to not continue with action which they had started. But the position with regard to the action before this decision was taken was that, for all practical purposes, the parents' committee could hope to succeed only if it could show that the authority had not been acting in good faith.

This emerged clearly from a letter which appeared in the Enfield Gazette from the Press officer of the committee after the action against the Department, the relevant part of this letter being this: In giving his verdict in July, Mr. Justice Goff said that we could get the courts to set the entire scheme aside as illegal if we can show that it was so unreasonable ' as to be evidence that (the Council) must have acted on a wrong principle or dishonestly'. I do not think that anybody will suggest that that had been so.

I should like to say that my right hon. Friend received a letter on 8th December from Enfield Teachers' Association of the N.U.T., saying: I am instructed to forward to you the following resolution which was passed by an overwhelming majority at the general meeting of the E.T.A. on Wednesday, 15th November, at Rowantree School: We request the Local Education Authority to implement comprehensive education throughout Enfield at the very earliest opportunity. As I have said, I do not think anybody would suggest that what has happened in the past has happened in any way deliberately to flout the law. It has been the practice for a long time for Section 13 notices not to be held as being necessary in certain conditions. A great deal has been quoted from Sir William Alexander's article in Education, which, if I may say so, was a very admirable precis of the Bill now before us, but nobody has mentioned what he said about a draft note which was sent out in 1954.

It is quite true that previous to 1954 there had grown up a practice of issuing or not issuing Section 13 notices, but in 1954 when neither my right hon. Friend nor any other right hon. Lady or right hon. Gentleman on this side of the House was Minister of Education a circular was sent out which, under the heading: "The need for Section 13 notices: Note for Chief Education Officers "said, about changes affecting a single school: Notices are not normally required when it is proposed to make not more than one of the following changes in the organisation of a single school:—(i) the alteration of the internal organisation of a secondary school from one type to another, e.g. from grammar to modern; or (ii) an alteration only in the sex composition of a school, e.g. the conversion of a mixed primary school into a single sex primary school or a boys' secondary school into a girls' secondary school; or (iii) the conversion of a primary school into a secondary school or vice versa. Therefore, I would submit that Enfield and all the other local authorities which have been acting have been acting in conformity with the circular which was sent out. I will readily admit that the circular which was sent out was sent out having regard to the practice up to that time.

The right hon. Gentleman asked what is meant by "significant". In this respect, we would regard the following examples as being significant. We can come back to this in Committee, but we would regard a change from single sex to co-education, or vice versa, a change from selective to comprehensive intake, a change from secondary school to sixth form college, and major changes, of age range within a school, for example, from 11 to 18 or 13 to 18 in a secondary school, or from 5 to 7 or 5 to 11 in a primary school.

In the case of all middle schools—the 8 to 12 or 9 to 13 age ranges—under the Bill, proposals would require notices, as they do already under the 1944 Act. Amendments to the standards for school premises regulations for middle schools are under consideration, taking into account the views of the interested organisations. I think that that shows the kind of matters which we would regard as significant in carrying out this legislation.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised a point about the building regulations. He agreed that the phrase "shortage of materials and labour" was perhaps too old-fashioned for today, and he suggested words which might be used instead of those which appear in the Bill at the moment. I assure him that we will look at these words in Committee and, if necessary, change them to conform with his suggestion.

Then he expressed concern about comprehensive plans in existing buildings which might be two miles apart, and he went on to say that, because my right hon. Friend would be able to dispense with building regulations under this Bill, somehow or another it would lead to that kind of situation. However, on reflection, I think that he will see that my right hon. Friend's powers under the Bill with regard to the building regulations have nothing to do with buildings two miles apart. Indeed, I think that the fact that they are two miles apart is a slight exaggeration.

But whether buildings are apart or not is a matter which is inherent in the acceptance of a plan under Circular 10/65. It is not the state of the buildings: they might be perfectly good buildings which would be suitable under the building regulations. As I say, it is not really a matter for this Bill, but it is one which we have to take into consideration when deciding whether to accept schemes for comprehensive reorganisation.

I was interested in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) and in what he said about Enfield.

I come now to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester). Here I want to say a word of praise for the Borough of Stoke-on-Trent, which has a very good record in education. We all remember with great pleasure the speeches on education made by my hon. Friend's predecessor, Mrs. Harriet Slater.

My hon. Friend drew attention to the way in which changes in the character of schools affect primary schools, and he talked about the Plowden proposal for having the age of 12 instead of 11. He said that the main burden would fall on the primary schools.

Since my hon. Friend has raised the point about the effect of secondary reorganisation on primary schools, I want to refer to what I believe is one of the greatest beneficial effects of ending the 11-plus examination. It is the effect which this has had on the primary schools, because they are now freed from the competition which has always gone on in them and the pressures understandably created by parents for their children to get through the 11-plus.

I have been in my new job for only a short time and have visited just a few primary schools, but I have been most impressed by what I have found in terms of the creative and experimental work which is being done, particularly the outstanding work in the teaching of French and the new mathematics. Although my hon. Friend sounded a note of caution about this, I am sure he will agree that there are some very beneficial effects on primary schools arising out of secondary reorganisation.

The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery) spoke about the rights of parents, and I will return to that topic in a few moments. He also criticised the Government for what he called reorganisation without the money for it. However, he and the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) will realise that this Government have provided a good deal of money for the raising of the school-leaving age, and most local authorities have used that money to prepare for secondary reorganisation and comprehensive schools.

Mr. Pardoe

Would the right hon. Lady deny that the present plans for raising the school-leaving age are at least two years behind schedule?

Miss Bacon

Certainly I would deny that. The present Government have done more towards raising the school-leaving age than our predecessors did. We have recognised that a great deal more building will be needed, so much so that we have, over three years, set aside more than £100 million for school building which will be necessary as a result of raising the school leaving age.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) wanted a new Education Act which goes much wider than the present one, and he asked for an assurance that the Bill will not postpone a major Bill. I do not want to commit myself about the possibility of a major Bill, but certainly, if we were thinking in terms of a major Bill, this Measure would not postpone it in any way. I agree with what he said about the three types of school. Originally, it was to be in the 1944 Education Act, but, in the end, was not put in.

I want now to deal briefly with the speech of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North. He will realise that there has been quite a substantial amount allocated to raising the school-leaving age in his own area. Cornwall's share of the first two allocations is £215,000 in each year, which I suggest is very good from the point of view of the area.

I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) said about the position in the I.L.E.A. As yet, we have not had the new proposals from the Inner London Education Authority. When we have them, they will be considered.

The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) and other hon. Members mentioned a whole scheme for the reorganisation of secondary schools. I want to emphasise what the right hon. Member for Handsworth realises and appreciates perhaps better than anyone else on his side of the House. Comprehensive education is not a political matter as between the Labour Party and the Tory Party. Taking county councils in England and Wales—unfortunately, we have only one Labour county council—25 have had schemes covering the whole or greater parts of their areas implemented, and 21 others have had parts of their areas accepted or implemented.

That shows that there is a great split in the party opposite about comprehensive education. While some people pay lip service to the opposition to comprehensive education, many Tory local authorities in the country are going ahead with it. I do not say that that is so of all Tory local authorities, of course. Some are very much opposed to it, again as the right hon. Gentleman realises.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

My right hon. Friend is making great play with the fact that the Conservative Party is being recalcitrant about schemes for comprehensive education. However, is she aware that Ealing Borough Council has experienced more opposition from her Ministry than from anyone else and has suffered the great humiliation of seeing her Ministry's rejection of its scheme appear in the Daily Telegraph before being officially informed?

Miss Bacon

I cannot comment on that. As my hon. Friend realises, the revised scheme from Ealing is being considered by my Department and it would be wrong to make any pronouncement about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) raised the question of the comprehensive school in Wolverhampton and that in the future parents would be allowed to choose, if they wished, grammar schools in other areas for their children. She asked whether this Bill gives power to my right hon. Friend to deal with this situation. I am doubtful about that. It may be that in some similar case, where such a position substantially altered the character of the school, this Bill could be brought into operation, but I would not like to say that in this instance that would be so. We shall have to watch this very carefully.

I regret, as much as my hon. Friend does, the action of Wolverhampton. I agree with her, from what I have read in the local papers of the meetings which have taken place, that most people in this area are against the council having made this alteration. I can only hope that, because there is such opposition to what is being done, very few of the parents will opt to take their children from the comprehensive school and ask for them to be admitted to grammar schools in other areas.

Mrs. Renée Short

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that even if a small percentage opt to go to the selective grammar schools this would change the character of the comprehensive school and would undermine its comprehensiveness? Would she not then feel that her right hon. Friend could intervene?

Miss Bacon

We shall have to look at this very carefully. If it changed the character of the school substantially, according to the Bill that would be so; but whether the few children—I hope it would be very few—who might opt to go to the selective grammar schools would change the character of the school is a question That I do not feel I can answer at the present time.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Is the right hon. Lady implying, from the disapproval in her words, that she thinks it wrong that parents should have the degree of choice of sending their child to a selective school if they so wish? Is she advocating total coercion for one type, and one type only, of school?

Miss Bacon

The hon. and learned Gentleman need not have got up and asked me that, because I was coming to his speech, which largely dealt with this matter. He said that every parent should be able to back his own fancy, to be selective, if he prefers that, if his child can get in. I agree with the intervention of my hon. Friend in this respect. What choice has there been for the ordinary parent? If a child has not passed the 11-plus or has not been selected in some other way and the parent has gone to the education authority and said, "I would like my child to go to a grammar school", has that child gone to a grammar school? Of course not.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that he hoped that my right hon. Friend would have brought forward a Bill giving parents the right of choice for the education of their children. I believe—and I know that most of my hon. Friends believe—that the proper way to give parents and children the choice of education is for the children to be in comprehensive schools where there is a wide choice of every conceivable kind.

We seem to have strayed from the original Bill. If I have strayed, it is because, as I said at the beginning, I came prepared to speak about the Bill, but I have found more interesting things have been raised during the debate.

The Bill, in short, proposes three main things: first, to validate beyond doubt the existence of some hundreds of schools whose establishment since 1945 has not complied with the requirements of the law, as the Court of Appeal has now interpreted it; secondly, to define and extend the grounds on which local inhabitants have a right to register objections to substantial changes in the function or the size of a school; and, thirdly, to clarify the circumstances in which school buildings are required to conform to the prescribed standards governing new schools.

I believe that these changes, taken together, will provide appropriate opportunity for local public opinion to express itself about proposed school changes while assisting the local education authorities in carrying out their work.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).